The Spring 2018 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Yotsuiro Biyori ?
What is this?
How was the first episode?
Having survived the Great Slice of Life Flood of Winter 2018, I've been curious to see what we can expect from the more laid-back episodic comedies of this new season. Yotsuiro Biyori immediately piqued my interest with its focus on an old-fashioned café operating in the middle of the big city. Originally, I thought the Rokuhoudou was literally going to be a magical café operating from an older time, but it turns out to be something much more quaint, just a humble eatery designed to give its patrons the comfort of being removed from the modern hustle and bustle.
This sense of mellowness is probably the show's key feature for me. While it carries the hallmarks of a traditional food-porn show, a la Restaurant to Another World, Yotsuiro Biyori goes a step farther and actually replicates the feel of sitting down in a quiet coffee shop and just letting time pass by in tranquility. The low-key direction and formless plotting may strike some as aimless, and while I had problems with the looseness of the framing story around our unnamed female protagonist for the episode, the tone of the show hits rather perfectly. The art is just good enough to convey the deliciousness of the café's dishes, and soft colors and deliberate editing contribute to the sense of easy relaxation.
The young men who run the Rokuhoudou also do a good job of keeping the episode's vignettes lively enough not to accidentally lull the audience into a nap. Tsubaki makes the biggest impression as the ambitious and somewhat self-serious dessert specialist, but the other boys acquit themselves nicely too. The gag involving Gure's terrifying latte rabbit was one of the episode's highlights, and Sui, much like the rug of a certain abiding Dude, really ties the room together with his calming presence. It remains to be seen if this dynamic will be enough to fuel an entire season's worth of material, but there's plenty of potential here.
My biggest concern regarding Yotsuiro Biyori is that question of sustainability; the story involving the business-addicted woman was a nice enough way to get the show's central message across, but I wonder if the show might not work better with a tighter edit as a series of shorts. The full-length episodes will certainly be able to establish that relaxed atmosphere, but it could also prove to be too sluggish for many viewers. Still, I came out of this episode feeling surprisingly at ease, ready for a warm mug of tea and a power nap. It's not the kind of show I could watch every day, but a once-a-week trip to the Rokuhoudou could be just the kind of stress-relief you need in the middle of an otherwise busy anime season.
Three quarters of the way through Yotsuiro Biyori's premiere, one of the show's main characters seems to offer a direct defense for the show's own existence. Speaking specifically of the Rokuhoudou cafe where he works, he muses on how people don't really need things like coffee or sweets, but the relief they offer is still meaningful and valuable. Iyashikei shows like this act precisely the same way; they won't necessarily change your worldview in the way some thematically charged treatise might, but their dashes of peace and comfort can be just as vital to a happy life. And so it goes with Yotsuiro Biyori itself, which offers a perfectly respectable and altogether soothing first episode.
The show revolves around a cafe called Rokuhoudou, where four attractive young men serve coffee, sweets, and various meal specials to all comers. Over the course of this episode, we're introduced to these four men and the mellow pace of their life, along with a new female customer who slowly comes to appreciate the escape of Rokuhoudou. It's a mild episode elevated by convincing character rapport, simultaneously colorful and subdued backgrounds, and occasional flourishes of expressive character acting. From its alluring meals to its lighthearted commentary on the worries of the day, everything here is successfully designed to make you feel right at home.
If I had to pick a reference point for Rokuhoudou, it'd actually be Shonen Hollywood. The two don't occupy the same genre at all, but their default tone seems quite similar in a way that reflects positively on each. Both shows focus on young men in a professional setting, both shows seem dramatically beyond the manic concerns of high school, and both shows build up rapport between their leads through dialogue that feels far more grounded and realistic than most of their contemporaries. I was genuinely charmed by the friendships displayed in this episode, and already feel at peace within the accommodating walls of their shop.
All in all, Yotsuiro Biyori lacks the aesthetic brilliance to reach the top of its genre, and some of its conversations dragged more than others, but it's altogether a respectable slice of life selection. If you're looking for a soothing show and Yotsuiro's friendly cafe sounds appealing, definitely give it a shot.
Near the end of the episode, one of the show's four hunky guys narrates a line that's meant as an advertising tag for their restaurant but could just as well serve as the motto for the series: “When you want to take a breather, you have a place within arm's reach.” Nothing else I could say about the first episode more succinctly sums up the viewing experience. If you're looking for conflict or drama, you won't find it here, as the most taxing decision afoot is what to put on the seasonal menu to keep it from being a repeat of last year. This shows no sign of being uproariously funny either, as the touches of humor present in the episode are equally light. So just what is there worth watching here?
Honestly, not much, but I think that's the point. This isn't meant to be a series to get so wrapped up in that you eagerly anticipate the next episode, but rather something that's good to watch when you want a light diversion while eating or doing something where you could be interrupted at any time, like waiting at a doctor's office. It's the kind of show that you can relax with, so it fits that role reasonably well. Of course, with four handsome guys manning the store, it's primarily targeted at female audience, but I see no reason why male viewers couldn't appreciate it too.
Don't expect much compelling characterization from the core cast yet. Each has his own specialty – latte art, making sweets, etc. – but most of them have little more definition to their personalities than slightly different shades of “pleasant.” The sweets maker seems a little more intense, though only relative to the rest of the cast; he'd be the most mild-mannered character in a series like Black Clover, for instance. The one customer who gets focus in this episode (I suspect that will be a regular pattern) has a little more definition, but she still falls within the “pleasant” range. Her personal crisis is hardly a big problem in the grand scope of things.
The artistic effort does nothing extraordinary beyond a good amount of setting detail, though I did sometimes think that the guys had heads just a little too small for their bodies. On the plus side, all of the café's special dishes are highlighted in a way that suggests an intended foodie appeal. Overall, the episode does a pretty good job at being calming, but it offers nothing that will get me to watch more.
Sui's description of the Rokuhoudou café near the end of this episode turns out to be equally relevant to the show itself. With its slow pacing and lack of significant conflict, this looks like the kind of series that serves as a calming respite from the season's “must-watch” shows. Instead of jumping on each week's episode as soon as it airs, you can watch it at your own pace. It's a style of storytelling that I'm definitely on board with, even if it's unlikely to pull in the same number of viewers as something more directly compelling.
This episode does a respectable job of introducing the café and the four guys who work there. We see the place from the perspective of a new customer, an approach that works quite well for restaurant-themed shows (think Polar Bear's Café without the animals). There's a nice balance of character traits here, with each member of the main quartet fitting into a clear role without leaning too hard on stock personality archetypes. Sure, there's a passionate guy and a carefree guy who play off of one another, along with the calm guy and the sincere guy, but those traits tend to influence their actions instead of completely defining their existences. It lessens the impression that the characters were designed to fill specific niches and makes them feel more like regular people who happen to be super handsome.
The slow pacing is a good fit for the overall atmosphere, but I do wish this episode had explained more about the unnamed event planner's dilemma early on. It's obvious that she's focusing too much on her work to properly enjoy the café, but her job actually puts her in a prime position to appreciate the work that Sui and the guys are doing. If the script had done more to establish her perspective in the beginning instead of waiting until the end to reveal it, she might have had more opportunities to observe and comment on little details that the audience might otherwise miss. It works either way, but it seems like a bit of a waste, especially if she's not going to be a recurring character.
Yotsuiro Biyori is on the border between “good” and “forgettable” right now, which is a very familiar position for shows in this niche. With the pacing being as slow as it is, it will likely take a few more weeks to figure out if there's more to this than just a relaxing break from the daily grind. Even if it doesn't get any deeper or more insightful, the presentation of its basic genre elements is strong enough to make it worth a look. If you prefer your slice of life titles to have a predominantly male cast, Yotsuiro Biyori looks like it'll be right up your alley.
If you're looking for soothing food porn this season, Yotsuiro Biyori has you covered. Taking place in a charmingly old-fashioned café tucked away from the eyes of the world, this first episode equally introduces the setting and the four attractive men who run it, while also conveying the restful attitude of the entire piece. It's lazy in the way that laying on the bank and watching a river flow by is lazy – the sort of motionlessness that soothes rather than stagnates.
Of course that means that the pacing for this episode is fairly glacial, which is probably going to turn a few viewers off. This introduction follows an unnamed young woman as she discovers Rokuhoudou café, quite literally off the beaten path, and learns how to at least start thinking about a work/life balance. Since she never does get a name, she's possibly a one-off character, so this series may take on an anthology format, with each episode focusing on a different person stopping by the café. Our named players are the four handsome men running the place: Sui, in charge of tea, Gure, in charge of coffee, Tokitaka, who I think makes the plates and mugs used, and Tsubaki, the chef. Right now Gure and Tsubaki have the most defined personalities, with Gure being a perky force of nature and Tsubaki being intensely serious when it comes to making desserts and creating menus. If I had to guess, I'd say that Tokitaka is the gentlest of the group and Sui the most serious and caring, but that still remains to be seen. That's actually a good sign, as it suggests that there's more planned for character development beyond just a surface trope glaze over their designs meant to appeal to a female audience.
You have no idea how badly I wanted this to turn out to be a time travel story when the heroine of the episode seemed to suddenly notice the gates of Rokuhoudou and its old-fashioned pathway. It isn't, but that did lead me to a close study of the background details as I scoured them for proof of my strikingly wrong theory. More interestingly, apart from one thing in the kitchen that looks a bit like an older microwave, this almost could have been: there are no truly modern devices in the background of the shop. Everything from the cash register to the coffee grinders and tea tins could be early-to-mid twentieth century in provenance, and the men's kimono feed into that illusion. Even in the kitchen there's just that one microwave-like box, and when we see Tokitaka make a phone call, he's using a clunky mid-century corded phone. Doubtless this is meant to create a world where modern worries don't exist, at least for the brief time you spend within Rokuhoudou's walls.
Perhaps that's why Sui keeps shooting worried glances at the young woman with her computer, earbuds, and smartphone – not that he doesn't know what they are (I really tried to make my theory work), but rather that he's concerned she's not fully absorbing the restful calm he's trying to impart. (Gure's terror bunny latte art is presumably meant to do the same thing, but let's just say he needs to work on that.) Rokuhoudou may not be literal time travel, but it should make you feel like it is. If Yotsuiro Biyori can maintain this level of calm and balance it with character development, it just might succeed.
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