The Winter 2017 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Urara Meirocho ?
What is this?
High in the mountains, far from human civilization, there lies the magical city of Meirocho, a haven for legendary artisans of many stripes, but especially the "Urara," powerful fortune tellers who can divine your future with their own unique talents. Once they reach age 15, girls from all over the world can take up apprenticeships in Meirocho to cultivate their own fortune-telling style, whether they're from a small town, a foreign country, or even if they were raised by animals in the woods! Chiya doesn't know much of anything about how to behave in human society (even rolling over and showing her belly to apologize instead of bowing her head), but she's hoping to find her long-lost mother and her own place as an Urara in Meirocho, alongside three other girls who have already found their talents in kokkuri, tarot, and ningyo-style fortune telling. But no matter how their studies go, at least they've already made fast friends! Urara Meirochō is based on a 4-koma manga and can be found streaming on The Anime Network on Saturdays.
How was the first episode?
Rating: 2.5Urara Meichoro is pretty cute, for people who like that sort of thing. Not just aesthetically (although the opening scene with the tanuki nuzzling a girl awake sets a precedent), but every single layer, from the main gaggle of cutesy girls, to their constant "kyaaaaas" of distress. The show also has that weird sheen of sexuality, which doesn't necessarily mesh well with the show. The joke about Chiya showing her belly as a means of apology works a couple times—considering how much time she spends with woodland creatures, it's a nod to her animalistic upbringing. But after the second time she tries it with other girls, the joke wears thin. Does one show need that many shots of teenage side- and under-boob? And then there's the lackeys who hang out with the patrol officer. One girl's "I want your cold inside me!" annoyed me probably more than it should have, because I've reached my saturation point on any variation of "I want [this] inside me!" and "[Location], I'm inside you!" The joke is that sexual objects go into holes.
Storywise, Urara Meichoro doesn't have a whole lot going for it just yet, but maybe it'll pick up. The prospect of watching four girls learn how to read fortunes in various ways doesn't really make my heart skip, nor does the idea of watching the old standby gag of little girls eating a lot of food. I think if you're into fortune telling and the folklore behind it, this show might hold a different appeal. It does appear to cover a lot of ground, culturally, so that might be good for certain aficionados.
The girls aren't all bad, though. For every irritating quirk they have, most have some endearing qualities. Chiya's bond with animals does soften my heart, in part because her animal companions are pretty darned cute, especially the dopey snake. Nono's ventriloquist dummy is one of her best qualities, and makes me like her quite a bit, as I've always had a weak spot for the hopelessly awkward. Of all the girls, Kon's maybe my least favorite, because her constant stream of "now I'll never be a bride!" gets old pretty quick. I don't even remember who the fourth one is, if that's any indication of how unmemorable she was to me.
In the pantheon of shows about perky girls doing cute stuff, Urara Meichoro doesn't stand out just yet, but maybe it'll set itself apart in the next few episodes. The fanservice makes me wary of continuing, because I find that kind of humor tiresome, but I'm willing to give it a chance for now.
We've already had a “cute girls do bicycling” series start up this season, and now it looks like we're going to have a “cute girls do fortune-telling” series, too. And really, that's pretty nearly all you need to know to decide whether or not you're going to like this series.
Actually that isn't an entirely fair statement, as the series does offer one other potential angle of appeal: it looks like it is going to explore all manner of fortune-telling types, too. This episode brings up more commonly-known practices like tea leaf reading and tarot cards (although the girl seeking to specialize in tarot seems comically ill-informed about how to use them) but it also delves into types that are probably far less well-known to Westerners, such as divining via ventriloquism and kokkuri, a method which calls upon a fox spirit but otherwise looks identical to using a Ouija board. Some of these efforts are visually dramatized in fairly interesting ways, too. The first episode also has some details about the whole fortune telling business in Urara and clear fan service involved in Chiya's whole “exposing your belly as part of giving an apology” behavior (something which certain animal types do), as those scenes could have easily been done in a light that's less alluring than how it's shown here. It looks like the local female guard captain also has some lesbian admirers. How much this is going to be a regular component is unclear at this point, although I'm betting that the “lesbian admirer” thing is going to be a running joke.
Of course, the cute girls and their equally adorable instructor are where the core of the series lies, and boy, does the first episode try hard to win viewers over in that regard! Each of the four central girls is already displaying her own individual personality, charm, and quirks, and numerous scenes practically drown viewers in fluff, whether it's the scene where everyone gathers around Chiya because her hair is so soft or the scene where they figure out that Kon is actually wearing a ribbon rather than possessing animal ears. (Frankly, I wasn't sure at first, either.) Chiya is the clear stand-out as the Uncivilized Girl who makes friends with the animals, and I'll admit that I came away feeling curious about what kind of fortune-telling she would eventually get into.
In terms of technical merits this series falls towards the lower end of the scale of series which have debuted so far this season, although it does have a couple of stand-out visuals. Despite that, the cute factor combined with the light humor and fortune-telling details is just cloying enough to keep the series afloat.
As a “cute girls doing cute things” series, Urara Meirochō could stand to lay off the caffeine a bit. This first episode feels entirely too rushed for its own good, jumping from scene to scene and throwing out jokes at a rate that would be better suited for a high-energy comedy. The art style and premise suggest that this is supposed to be a relaxing show to watch, but that constant restlessness kills the intended effect for me. One can only hope it'll calm down now that it's managed to front-load the introductions for all of its main characters.
As far as those main characters are concerned, Urara Meirochō has a fairly standard balance of personalities in place. We've got an energetic girl to cause chaos, a shy girl to be flustered by it, a rich girl to be annoyed that things aren't being done properly, and a serious girl to calm everyone back down. The apprentices also seem to have a neatly tailored set of mentors hanging around, complete with a stern authority figure and a gentle teacher. Out of all of these, feral girl Chiya is the only one who really stands out by virtue of her animal-based social customs. It's just a shame that those customs tend to act as a vehicle for out-of-place fanservice.
The only truly distinctive element here is the fortune telling that the characters are ostensibly here to practice. We get two scenes of characters' fortunes being read in this first episode, and the show does a decent job of making these moments feel appropriately mystical and otherworldly. If Urara Meirochō can dial back the boneheaded comedy and make more room for the supernatural stuff, then it stands a decent chance of improving in future episodes.
At the moment, though, I'm not sure I care enough to stick around. The bar for supernatural slice of life titles is fairly high thanks to shows like last year's Flying Witch, and Urara Meirochō just doesn't seem like it has the chops to compete in that arena. If you're in need of a cutesy series full of colorful sweets, it may be worth giving this one a chance. It at least has some nice candy-colored backgrounds, and it wouldn't take much to refine it into a serviceable genre piece.
I've never really understood the appeal of slice of life shows with fanservice. In my mind, slice of life shows generally prioritize making the audience feel invited to some private and soothing world. Whether defined by their setting, characters, or the relationships between them, great slice of life invites you to appreciate these things as an equal participant, a friend among friends. Fanservice is basically the opposite - it implies you're leering at these characters in a completely unequal way, and likely a way the characters themselves wouldn't want. It makes it clear that you are an outsider in this world, and adds a predatory tone to what should theoretically be a warm and welcoming experience. The intrusiveness of fanservice feels like it'd be completely at odds with what most slice of life are trying to do.
Anyway, that's one of my major problems with Urara Meirochō. The show is much too obsessed with the bellies of young girls for my tastes, particularly since these specific girls look and act far younger than their ostensible ages (they're supposed to be fifteen, but all of them have the look and personalities of nine-year-olds). Of course, even without that issue, the fact that Urara Meirochō hangs on the most aggravating styles of anime comedy would also condemn it for me. Meirocho sticks pretty close to the “loud noises, overreactions, and misinterpretations” school of humor, where someone will do something silly and then everyone else will fall down. There's also the fact that none of its characters sound anything like people - they all adopt a childish affectation that makes them feel even more like the archetypes they already are.
Urara Meirochō isn't particularly interesting in a visual sense, either. I like the show's stylized background art, but its character designs are generic hyperdeformed fare, and there isn't much animation to speak of. Shows like this often lean heavily on expressive character acting to bring personality to their casts, so its absence here definitely doesn't help. Meirocho is a generic slice of life with simplistic characters, aggravating humor, and intrusive fanservice. The show will likely mess around with its fortune telling premise in some ways, but it seems like the default mode will be the genre's usual “girls hang out and talk about nothing much.” It's maybe worth a look if you're desperate for anything in the genre, but it's definitely not a show to seek out.
This is one to file under "I can't believe it's not Studio Doga Kobo" because Urara Meirochō is a candy-colored, chipper-yet-relaxing comedy where four cute girls do cute things together until you buy character goods of them. Doga Kobo themselves have a pretty hit-and-miss track record with these (New Game! was a hit, while Three Leaves, Three Colors was a miss), so a J.C. Staff imitation of their style sounds like bad news at first, but I thought Urara was pretty okay as these things go.
While one obvious strike against is a total lack of the fluid character animation that Doga Kobo is able to provide their cute-girls shows, the art design largely overcomes this hurdle with imaginative fortune-telling sequences in wild colors and patterns in a magical town reminiscent of the bathhouse from Spirited Away. (Not with those kinds of production values obviously, but it's the thought that counts. It looks much better than the equivalent spirit world in The Morose Mononokean, for what it's worth if you like Japanese folklore anime.) Even though it's animation-lite, the show looks good for what it's trying to achieve.
Unfortunately, that brings us to the writing, and if you're not here for moe girl fanservice, you probably won't get many laughs out of the comedy on this one. Gags are uniformly typical "these cute teens don't know nuffin' about nuffin', but they're still great friends!" pabulum with a heaping helping of pseudo-yuri and shiny knees/boobs. If that is your bag however, Urara smartly adopts the same tactics as New Game! by giving its cast specific goals to achieve and jobs to perform that makes it easier to tell them apart from the start and gives you things to look forward to as the threadbare plot develops.
They've got a little bit of a Shonen Jump road ahead of them, learning their own individual style of fortune telling and ascending through the various ranks it takes to become a true Urara, so that's a nice touch for what can be a very repetitive genre. It's definitely not going to bring in the audience who wasn't already here for this kind of treacle, but it's got a solid start if you were already looking for your requisite "tea and cake and moe" half-hour this season.
This rating comes with the caveat that if you don't like shows about cute girls doing cute things in cute ways, you probably won't like Urara Meirochō. That's because this first episode is saturated in soft, sweet adorableness – from the brightly colored town of fortune tellers to the character designs of the four protagonists (and their “villain”), there are no sharp or harsh edges to this candy-coated world. It's equally as likely to make you smile as to give you cavities.
For an entry into this genre, Urara Meirochō’s first episode does a pretty good job at making itself unique. Three of the four main girls seem fairly cookie cutter – and then there's Chiya. She's a feral girl from the mountain wilds where she's apparently grown up surrounded by her animal friends and one mysterious (possibly human) someone named Setsu. Whoever Setsu is, she didn't spend much time teaching Chiya human customs, and instead Chiya relies on the animals to teach her what to do. This primarily comes out in the episode in her firm belief that in order to properly apologize, you have to show your belly. Anyone who's ever had an animal with a past knows that this is the ultimate surrender, and so when Chiya misbehaves in town, she just yanks up her shirt to show off that tummy. (That we also get some underboob is a perk.) Unfortunately this results in the local cop, Saku, thinking she's some sort of harlot who somehow uses animals in her work, a misunderstanding that never gets cleared up.
If this had been the only case of Chiya and her belly, it would have been a fun, cute affectation. Regretfully it is not, and the show takes it way too far, with Chiya insisting that everyone display their stomachs and forcefully stripping them to make it happen. Then there's the camera's preoccupation with Chiya's tummy in general, which quickly begins to feel creepy. It also isn't clear if Chiya has animal ears or has somehow learned to manipulate her hair after spending so much time around her furry friends; hopefully that will be explained going forward, because there's clearly something strange about her past. The other three girls aren't nearly as memorable at this point, although Nono and her creepy doll stand out the most. Nono's doll is also one of the most effective parts of the episode, getting some good mileage out of the joke and Kon and Koume's reactions to it. Other parts, such as Saku's way too devoted lieutenants, work less well.
With its bright shades, pretty designs and animation, and using kokkuri for actual fortune telling rather than to set up a terrible misfortune at night in a high school, Urara Meirochō looks like it could be a little dollop of sweetness in your week. It needs to sort out its obsession with bellies and those two girls who work with Saku (“I want your cold inside of me?” Really?), but if you're looking for cute, this seems like a very safe bet.
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