The Summer 2018 Anime Preview Guide Chio's School Road
How would you rate episode 1 of
Chio's School Road ?
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How was the first episode?
I don't think anything will be able to fill the Hinamatsuri-shaped hole in my heart this season, but the first episode of Chio's School Road comes a heck of a lot closer than I expected it to. It's a potent mix of an absurdly simple premise (Chio deals with obstacles on her way to school) and surprisingly creative execution (Chio decides to do some Assassin's Creed-style rooftop running instead of just detouring around a construction site). Whether or not that's enough to sustain a full series remains to be seen, but I'll be darned if it doesn't work for this opening episode.
Chio herself does most of the heavy comedic lifting here. Her personality is a likable mix of reasonable and ridiculous elements: she knows it's a dumb idea to use rooftops as an alternate sidewalk, and yet she can't resist the temptation to do it anyway. That balance of good intentions and terrible ideas is naturally entertaining, and it allows the show to throw problems at Chio without seeming mean-spirited. When a character actively tempts fate, it's a lot easier to laugh at the results than it is when horrible things fall out of the sky onto someone who's just minding their own business. Chio's inner monologue is also a major factor in her charm, boasting both clever writing and spot-on delivery. As a standalone comedic lead, she hits all the right notes.
Along with a strong protagonist, this episode benefits from good comedic timing and a knack for sneaking amusing details into broader jokes. The first half in particular features some very sharp execution, as it dramatizes little things like the old guy brushing his teeth to the point where the presentation is funnier than the actual situation. Chio's encounter with popular girl Hosokawa in the second half has slightly bigger gaps in between its best jokes, but there are still enough hits to keep that storyline entertaining. I'm not always the biggest fan of comedies that rely on constant inner monologues, but Chio's rundown of possible responses to Hosokawa's greeting is delightfully over the top.
While this is far from the best-looking premiere of the season, the simple art style is a reasonably good fit for the content, and the visual direction is actually fairly impressive at times. The obvious concern with a show like this is whether or not it can stretch its bare-bones premise over a full season, but I'm inclined to be optimistic in this case. The core formula of Chio's School Road is so simple that it ends up being very open-ended: the show is basically free to do whatever it wants as long as those events occur between the time Chio leaves her house and the time she gets to school. As long as the series can keep coming up with new ideas that fit within those rules, it should be just fine. I look forward to seeing how far it's able to go in what will likely be an ongoing quest to one-up the previous week's antics.
If I've learned anything in my time as a reviewer, it's that I'm pretty susceptible to one-joke premises if the joke in question is clever enough. In Chio's School Road's case, I think it's just the right mix of silly and mundane, taking one of the most relatable situations imaginable, Chio just trying to get to school on time, and making her situation as stupidly complicated as possible. While I think this premise could really shine in a shorter format, I'm happy to join in on a couple of Chio's madcap adventures each week, especially if each episode is as charming as this one.
What makes Chio's School Road work so well is Chio herself. She's just the right type of protagonist for this kind of show: kind of stupid, terribly unlucky, but also an adorable dork. The first segment of this episode is my favorite, where Chio plays assassin and used her incredibly lacking parkour skills to try and hop across rooftops to school. The situation is funny because of how far out of her way this girl has to go just to avoid being late, but it also mines comedy from her innate sense of justice (where she kicks a jerkwad rich guy in the face and rescues a kid's balloon) as well as her own penchant for self-defeat (the scene where a man inadvertently hacks up his toothbrush spit all over Chio's face is one of the most satisfyingly disgusting comedy scenes I've seen in a long time).
The second segment, where Chio's social anxiety causes her to horribly screw up the basic art of small-talk with her classmate Hosokawa, is less immediately funny, but it makes up for it by having the audience really relate to Chio's ineptness. She really is trying her best to make the right moves, but she goes about it in such an obtuse way that things can't help but devolve into shenanigans. If anything, I hope this new friendship (?) goes somewhere, because if this episode was lacking one thing, it's a sense of what the cast will be like outside of Chio.
The episode also suffers in the artistic department, not looking bad so much as distractingly inconsistent. Comedy like this thrives on heightening the absurdity of mundane situations, so deft direction and animation are key. We get a couple of beats like that (Chio's dramatic SWAT Turn away from social interaction is funny both times it's used as a gag), but other portions of the two segments feel decidedly less vibrant, especially in the bits with Chio on the rooftops. A lot of comedy could have been mined from her dramatically slinking across people's homes, but a lot of the space in between the big set piece gags feels wasted.
Still, Chio's School Road ended up making a positive impression with me overall. It's a bit messy, and time will tell if the show's single gag can be sustained for an entire season of full length episodes, but I'm on board with it for now.
Chio's School Road feels every bit like a concept meant for a series of shorts. I think it would have played out better that way.
There's definitely nothing wrong with the premise: a girl has all sorts of weird trials and tribulations while walking to school. I've certainly had enough odd experiences while commuting to work to easily appreciate how something as basic as the walk to school could become an adventure under the right circumstances, especially when mixed with a generous dash of chuunibyou. Throw in a few embarrassing situations and a zealous amount of overthinking and you have a recipe for fun.
Or at least it should have been. While I did get a few chuckles out of the first part (about the heroine taking an Assassin's Creed approach to getting around a road obstacle), it was never quite as funny as it seemed to be trying for. The problem was that it overplayed the joke. Despite putting in a lot of side gags, the show drags after a while, to the point that the whole scenario probably would have been funnier at a seven-minute length. That problem is much worse in the second half, which deals with the heroine struggling to handle being greeted by one of her class' most popular girls. Getting through that part was a chore, with only a couple of moments that elicited even a faint chuckle. At least it ended on its strongest note, with the gag about her misdirected greeting.
On the positive side, Chio is the kind of heroine who should be able to carry the weight of such an exercise. She's a game otaku but surprisingly athletic too, with a spirit for finding creative applications for what she's learned in games, but also a self-deprecating attitude when it comes to social status. Hosokawa also looks to be a suitable long-term foil in the role of the popular airhead. (Her blank expression is a joke unto itself.) I assume that we've far from seen the last of her. The artistic merits are nothing special beyond a couple of brief action sequences, though it does make sufficient use of various visual gimmicks to enhance the comedy.
Maybe I just wasn't in the mood for this kind of series when I watched it, so I will probably give the series one more episode to impress me. For me, it didn't hold a comedy candle to Mr. Tonegawa: Middle Management Blues.
Chio's School Road is a show constructed around one central joke: Chio needs to get to school on time, and there's all this crap in the way. Based on the somewhat awkward trailer and the simplicity of that premise, I had serious doubts that a show like this could sustain itself for twenty minutes, much less an entire season. But based on this first episode, we have nothing to worry about - Chio's School Road is looking to be the first great comedy of the season, and earns an emphatic general recommendation.
This episode is divided between two separate morning adventures, each of which demonstrate a variety of Chio's manifold strengths. Chio's first and greatest asset is its heroine, Chio Miyamo. From the start, Chio's internal voice is both entertaining and relatable; Chio is a self-conscious dork who spends way too much time playing videogames, but that hobby manifests itself in genuinely funny ways, like trying to scale buildings in order to avoid construction after playing too much Assassin's Creed. After Chio actually succeeds in climbing past that construction, the show treats us to a lengthy segment of Chio just humming to herself as she walks over houses and fences, letting the baseline warmth of the moment and the fun of seeing your neighborhood from a new perspective carry a confident, nearly wordless segment.
That segment also ends up demonstrating how Chio's School Road is more than just a series of absurd non-sequiturs. Not only do Chio's actions all carry somewhat coherently from one to the next, but the overall segment ends up building a compelling little story out of her Assassin's Creed obsession, as she narrowly avoids old man spittle and ultimately makes an impromptu bridge out of another man's head. Chio's School Road isn't just “this is random, you should laugh,” it presents a series of coherent and funny internal obstacles that all contribute to a larger and also funny extended gag, all while Chio's own character voice keeps things energetic and charming throughout.
The premiere's second segment doubles down on the strength of Chio as a character, as she deals with tremendous social anxiety when a popular classmate seems to notice her. Chio's overthinking in this situation is both hilarious and painfully true-to-life, with her furious strategizing coming across as both absurd and very familiar to anyone who's not comfortable in conversation. This segment demonstrates that Chio's School Road doesn't need absurd conceits to be entertaining - Chio herself is rich, funny, and believable enough of a person to carry the show all by herself.
On the whole, Chio's mix of panicked character voice, warm and minimalist visual design, light absurdism, and fond focus on the suburban experience all give me strong Nichijou vibes, which are some of the best vibes a show can emit. The show isn't necessarily laugh-out-loud funny, but it's clever and charming and a generally pleasant time. I'd absolutely give it a shot.
Chio's School Road is one of those series that could easily have been shorts, but unlike some of its brethren, it doesn't wear out its welcome over the course of half an hour. That's probably because across the two different home-to-school trips in this episode there's a good balance of total absurdity and relatability. There are some parts that are only really applicable if you grew up walking to school, but for the majority of the show, it's all just good fun.
Of the two stories, I definitely found the first funnier. That's the one where Chio, having stayed up all night gaming, finds her chosen route to school stymied by random construction. So instead of finding another route, she instead decides to climb over the roofs and go to school that way. Not only is watching her struggle to climb up onto the roof in the first place funny (life isn't always like a video game, apparently), but the way she just gets into it and absolutely no one notices a random school girl tripping across roofs, balconies, and walls adds a great dose of absurdity as well. The stand off with the gross old man brushing his teeth is a bit much if spit is your button, but overall, it's just entertaining, and if you've ever had to plan an alternate route (or just like doing so; we could definitely get creative), it's particularly funny.
The second half is a bit more of a miss, with Chio worrying about whether or not she can relate to (or even wants to) Hosokawa, a popular girl in her class. Hosokawa looks to us like a perfectly harmless girl, but Chio's anxiety kicks things up to an eleven when she can't decide whether or not Hosokawa is waving at her or someone behind her. While I can relate, diving head-first into a pile of garbage as a means of checking whether or not there's someone behind her might not be the right answer. It's still funny, especially when Chio goes back to using game moves to escape, but it isn't quite up to the level of bizarre that the first half is.
The art is fairly basic, as is the animation, with the one weird detail that breasts are all lovingly animated and apparently are capable of moving without the input of the woman they belong to. That's definitely a pet peeve of mine and not a joke I find particularly funny, but more it simply doesn't add anything to the humor or the plot. While it might later if the opening theme is any indication, right now it just feels like they didn't trust the show to be funny enough and so decided to add in some boobs to keep eyes on the screen.
That aside, this really is a good, simple comedy. If you're missing This Art Club Has a Problem! or similar shows, Chio's School Road should fill that need.
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