The Summer 2018 Anime Preview Guide Asobi Asobase - workshop of fun -
How would you rate episode 1 of
Asobi Asobase -workshop of fun- ?
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How was the first episode?
I get the feeling that reactions to Asobi Asobase are going to gravitate towards extremes. There's not that much wiggle room with a show like this - you either love its style of shrill, gleefully mean-spirited comedy, or you find it to be too much. Asobi Asobase is a very sturdily constructed comedy, it's just aiming for a love-it-or-hate-it tone that will make its broadest audience the people who receive choice clips from the brave souls who actually watch this thing through.
Asobi Asobase falls into the Always Sunny or KONOSUBA school of “awful people being awful to each other” comedies, starring three high school girls who are each kinda terrible in their own ways. One of them has blonde hair and pretends to be a foreigner even though she was raised in Japan, one of them is terribly bitter about friendship and only in this relationship to learn English from the first one, and the third is just kinda going along with the flow, adding inane suggestions at every turn. In this episode, they bicker over nothing, hurt each other with sharp school instruments, and ultimately make a mess with a kiddy pool while trying to discover whether bathing trunks can float.
The actual story isn't really the point, though. The actual point is the rapid-fire rapport between these three girls, the snappy timing of unexpectedly vicious jokes, and the show's myriad procession of absurd facial expressions. The fact that these girls are so cruel on the inside seems to always express itself in their faces, as they contort into wild grimaces and smile wickedly at the thought of tricking each other. These three are not so much friends as they are “alternately terrified and disgusted by each other,” and Asobi Asobase's understanding of comedic timing, delivery-based punchlines, and sheer comic invention are all very strong.
In spite of all that praise, I personally am not that inclined to continue this show. Asobi Asobase's mix of hyperactive humor and sheer meanness just kinda exhausted me; I prefer comedies that make you care about their characters, and twenty straight minutes of cruelty as pronounced and gleeful as this isn't really my scene. But if you're in the market for a snappy, creative, and high-energy comedy about people who are terrible, Asobi Asobase pulls off a strong premiere.
The advertising blurb for the series and its perfectly pleasant opener do everything they can to pitch standard “cute girls doing cute things” fare, but that's a bait-and-switch play. While the first episode definitely focuses on a trio of cute girls, and many of the activities they do would normally be “cute things,” calling the presentation of those activities cute would be a huge stretch. The heavy metal closer sung by the three main seiyuu and featuring the trio of leads in a band is much closer to the actual tenor of the content than the opener. In that margin between expectations and reality is where at least half the humor lies.
The episode is broken into four segments that are loosely-connected by Olivia's efforts to dodge having to teach English to Kasumi and the formation of the Pass Club. Each of the characters and her particular quirks are clearly established through these four pieces: Kasumi is super-intense about everything, Hanako is more concerned with being popular than being a top athlete (even though she is one), and Olivia is pretending to be an exchange student just for jollies when she was born and raised in Japan and doesn't actually know English. Since Kasumi is intent on increasing her scores in English, that presents a real problem for Olivia. Much of the humor comes from the misunderstandings that arise from this situation, especially with all three characters trying to take advantage of their peers. The last segment, which involves putting a kiddie pool in the empty classroom they're using for the club, devolves for a while into matters of relative breast size, but otherwise the content remains mostly clean.
The temperament comes through in much more pronounced fashion through the visuals. All of the characters make awkward or distorted faces at points, such as how Kasumi's glare is depicted as dark, shadowy, and menacing, with the emphasis being not-cute-at-all alternate visages. These kinds of visuals are commonplace in standard gag series, but they are so out-of-place in a CGDCT series that their appearance rings as a joke unto itself. While it's funny for now, I could see this aspect wearing out its welcome over the course of the series.
In general, the first episode is pretty funny, so I'd give the series a mild recommendation. I'm a little concerned about the concept's staying power, but comedies like this have proven me wrong before.
The first episode of Asobi Asobase might just be the biggest genre bait-and-switch of the year, and I think I like it. Judging by the casual game club premise, the pastel art style, and the impossibly mellow opening theme, the average viewer would probably go in expecting a very laid-back slice of life series. For a couple of minutes, it looks like that's the direction the series is going to take, but then the switch gets thrown. This is actually a rapid-fire gag comedy full of over-the-top facial expressions and schoolyard games cranked up to dangerous levels of intensity. By the time the heavy metal ending song rolls around, it's clear that Asobi Asobase is only using its slice of life trappings to catch the audience off guard.
To its credit, the unusual tactic works remarkably well. Its fast-paced approach to comedy relies heavily on the element of surprise, and the quick shift in genre forces the viewer into a natural state of uncertainty. When you're no longer sure of what to expect from a show, just about everything comes as a surprise. That's definitely a factor in this episode's positive ratio of comedic hits to misses, but its timing and delivery are also pretty solid. There's a nice mix of personality quirks, quick-fire dialogue, and naturally ridiculous situations in this episode, and the script doesn't linger on any one joke for too long. The format of having multiple short storylines also helps out by allowing Asobi Asobase to move on quickly once it's extracted a sufficient number of laughs from a scene. It's not particularly deep or clever humor, but it works well for what it is.
The three main characters maintain a reasonable balance of personalities, though I suspect they work better together than they would individually. Olivia's “fake foreigner” routine is at the biggest risk of wearing out its welcome, but it does help to set up some amusing tension between her and the deadly serious Kasumi. Hanako seems to be acting as the group's wild card, overreacting to the others' antics when needed while also instigating her fair share of silly ideas. They're backed up by adequate animation and an art style that makes the most of its sudden shifts from light pastel colors to much more vivid imagery for sight gags and exaggerated facial expressions.
Asobi Asobase runs the risk of fizzling out now that it's revealed its big opening twist, but as with any comedy it has the potential to sustain its premise throughout the season as long as it can keep coming up with new material. At the moment, it makes for a nice piece of ridiculous fun, and I'm curious to see what else it can come up with. Frankly, my biggest worry is that a good portion of its target demographic will take one look at the key art, mistake it for a leisurely slice of life series, and skip right over it. If fast-paced comedy is your thing, give this episode a try.
Based on its cutesy title and the equally sugary OP, I never would have expected Asobi Asobase -workshop of fun- to blow me out of the water like it did, but here we are. This is far and away the most fun I've had with a premiere so far this summer, an episode so packed to the brim with manic energy, copious amounts of charm, and so much pure, unfettered ridiculousness that I have a hard time believing that any comedy will be able to top it. It's that good.
Asobi Asobase starts of strong with it's cast, three unrepentant dorks who end up becoming friends out of your typical teenage mixture of earnestness, malice, and generally being kind of stupid. Olivia is a blonde-haired, blue-eyed white girl who was raised in Japan and doesn't speak a lick of English, though she has built something of a reputation for herself as being a foreign exchange student from America. Hanako thinks this is incredibly cool and quickly becomes her friend, but the grumpy Kasumi only wants to play games with the two to rope Olivia into helping her get better at English. Olivia doesn't want Kasumi to know her secret, so she and Kasumi begin squaring off in a series of increasingly silly pastimes, to the point where the trio just end up becoming friends and starting their own weird club. The girls are written and performed excellently, feeling like real teenage girls who waste far too much of their time on dumb, occasionally dangerous nonsense, which is the best way for any group of teens to bond in my experience.
The show then ups the ante by taking what could be a generically fun slice of life premise and cranking every single scene up to eleven, using a mixture of superbly directed animation and delightfully weird storyboarding to imbue everything with a bizarre sense of demented glee. Director Seiji Kishi is really cutting loose with this one, and Studio Lerche seems more than up to the task for it. It's what would happen if Cromartie High School had a baby with K-ON!, where simple conversations and pastimes can become pointed jabs at the heightened drama of high-school life, and games of five finger filet or thumb wars become intense battles of life-and-death. In the episode's most bizarre sequence, the girls find a way to sneak a kiddie-pool into their club room, which eventually devolves into their principal suspecting (and tasting) the pool water because it may or may not be Olivia's pee (complete with a Detective Conan reference, because of course it would).
It's this exact mix of stupid crassness and innocent naiveté that I think truly defines high-school life, and Asobi Asobase nails it perfectly. Olivia, Hanako, and Kasumi make for anime's own Three Stooges, and their brand of absurdly banal shenanigans is exactly what I was looking for this Summer. Plus, the ED is a rocking, Babymetal-esque metal anthem, and the next-episode previews are done with puppets. What more could I say to possibly convince you? Go out and watch Asobi Asobase immediately.
Humor, more than almost anything else, is subjective, and what tickles one person's funny bone won't touch another's. That's where I'm sitting with Asobi Asobase – workshop of fun – pretty untouched by its efforts at humor. There certainly are moments, such as Detective Conan's cameo appearance or Olivia's entire situation, but for the most part it simply feels like it's trying too hard to get a laugh out of its audience.
There is some brilliant misdirection to start with, however. The opening theme, lip-synced by the girls, is all flowy white dresses and images of lilies, and it belongs to a totally different show. That makes the first gag, Olivia and Hanako playing a version of rock-paper-scissors that involves violence, particularly striking, because if you don't know anything beyond “girls playing games” going in, you're expecting a soft, beautiful yuri story. Surprise! That's not going to be happening in this show! Instead there's an almost instant drop in the quality of the character animation (which is deliberate) and slapstick humor prevails. The ending theme, with its metal overtones, is much more in keeping with the episode's brand of humor.
That humor is largely misdirection or slapstick based. Nothing works quite as well as the difference between the opening theme and the first segment, however – the bit with the teacher at the end is mostly just gross and a lot of the jokes, such as Olivia's fake foreign accent or that Hanako isn't all that bright, wear with length of use. This probably would have been a better show if it were three-to-five minutes long, because the repeated gags wouldn't have come quite so hard on each other's heels and would hold up a bit better.
The best thing I can say for this episode is that it really tries – the changes in animation, the exaggerated physical reactions, and the fact that Kasumi flat-out tells Hanako that body type is a genetic issue all are putting in their best effort in terms of mixing things up and keeping us on our toes. But it's a little exhausting and not quite as funny as it needs to be to carry the full half-hour, no matter how hard it tries.
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