The Winter 2018 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Sanrio Boys ?
What is this?
Kouta Hasegawa feels sure that something is missing in his life. Having just started his second year of high school, he feels there's nothing special about him, no passion or talent that makes him shine. Kouta doesn't even feel confident enough to embrace his own interests - though his most prized possession is his Pompompurin doll, he fears being mocked as girly by his classmates, and so he hides the toy his grandmother once gave him at the back of his closet. But a chance encounter with another boy with a fondness for Sanrio mascots just might give Kouta the push he needs to embrace his own nature, and find the radiance that's been inside him all along. Sanrio Boys is a cross-promotion effort by Sanrio and streams on Crunchyroll, Saturdays at 10:30 AM EST.
How was the first episode?
It's very easy to approach a project like Sanrio Boys with cynicism. The anime stars a cast of good-looking guys, each with a soft spot for a particular Sanrio mascot. Essentially, these 2D boyfriend types (and at first glance they all fit a pretty standard type) are vehicles to sell merchandise to older, female Sanrio fans and the anime is just the latest installment in the marketing campaign. This sets the bar pretty low, and I hardly expected the series to kick off with as much earnestness and heart as it does.
Kouta is a guy living a lie. He has friends but he can't be honest with them out of fear of ridicule. Kouta likes Sanrio's Pompompurin character, an interest most people in his peer group would consider feminine and liking girly things is weird. He goes out of his way to not let on that he's even familiar with the character out of concern that he'll be ostracized in high school the same way he was in elementary school. What it comes down to is Kouta cannot be himself and keeping up the facade leaves him feeling that each day is lacking something.
This is kind of heavy for a show about cute mascot characters, right? But it also feels extremely relatable. Anyone who feels drawn to something outside the realm of “social norms” for their gender could find Kouta's plight endearing. Heck, it's not hard to extrapolate the premise to nerdy hobbies that kept a lot of us from being a big hit at parties in high school. But hey, the show isn't a total downer, the episode let's us know immediately that Kouta does find his tribe, so while “not fitting in” is the central theme, Sanrio Boys offers hope for all the pseudo-outcasts trying to get by.
Maybe it's cheesy to find an uplifting message in a show created out of merchandise branding, but I guess I'm not as cynical as I thought.
I have to respect the cleverness of the concept behind this one: use an anime about bishonen who all have some attachment to Sanrio characters as a marketing campaign to promote Sanrio-related merchandise to teenage girls. Okay, so technically this is just the anime branch of a multimedia franchise which also includes manga, smartphone games, and a targeted line of merchandise, but we all understand what's actually going on here, right?
Still, by the end of the first episode it's hard for me to look at the approach too crassly, as the creative team has actually made a serious effort to craft a series that isn't just purely an advertisement for its associated products – at least not so far, anyway. To be sure, it's still a pure bishonen series with a decided shoujo flavor and all of the stock physical and personality types which go with that, and there's no question that one scene involving one of the other boys cornering Kota is framed in a way meant to be titillating to female audiences rather than in the more intimidating way that it would be cast if aimed at a male audience. However, at times the first episode definitely seems to be aiming higher than that.
Most of the episode tilts towards the fun side, including an overly-dramatic opening sequence which looks to be ripped from a Shakespearan production. In fact, it turns out to be almost exactly that, with most or all of the series apparently intended to be an exploration of how things developed to that point from an initial starting position of most of the guys not knowing each other. It's pretty effective in that capacity, too, as the fun parts actually are amusing. However, the more serious elements are what made me sit up and take notice. Despite having good friends, Kota is in a rut because he finds himself too ordinary, too free of ambition. He also gives the impression that he's never quite gotten over the death of his grandmother four years earlier and still bears deep regrets about not apologizing to her for things said in the heat of the moment as a kid. While such elements are hardly unheard-of for a series like this, they are laid on far more weightily than normal. That makes for a somewhat awkward contrast with the lighter elements of the first episode but also lays the foundation for a real story here. Besides, a group of guys connecting over their affinity for collectable items – even if they are ones with a more girlish tilt – is hardly far-fetched, nor is the apparent message that you shouldn't let the impressions of others keep you from enjoying what you like.
The production values here aren't bad, either. Damn, between this and IDOLiSH7, this season is sure trying its hardest to get me to actually follow a bishonen series for a change. . .
Sanrio Boys, how dare you be this good. You're supposed to be a lazy and unabashedly exploitative tie-in designs to sell Hello Kitty products by attaching them to cute boys. You're not supposed to be thoughtful, funny, and altogether charming. You're not supposed to have a positive message, likable characters, and surprisingly sharp direction. Where do you get off being a wholly competent and perfectly watchable production.
Anyway, yes, Sanrio Boys is a lot better than its “let's pair cute boys with sailable products” premise would suggest. This premiere starts off by introducing us to Kouta Hasegawa and the Sanrio boys-to-be through a goofy stage play, a choice that offers our first hints regarding the show's fond self-awareness and generally energetic tone. Early scenes between Kouta and his friends at school bolster this impression; Sanrio Boys has just a slightly smarter ear for comic timing and snappy dialogue than most shows, making its cast feel that much more alive and its narrative progression that much more engaging. That ear for dialogue combines nicely with the show's equally just-above-par visual vocabulary, resulting in a number of standout moments like Kouta's phenomenal stone face, or his realistic and charming conversation with a lost child.
From there, the show segues into an unexpected flashback detailing the original source of Kouta's anxieties: his relationship with his grandmother, transposed against the Pompompurin doll she gave him. Killing a grandmother to underline Kouta's love of Sanrio felt a little inherently exploitative to me, but taken on its face, this segment was both smartly executed and centered on a very real and compelling conflict - the fear of being mocked for liking things that fall outside your gender-dictated acceptable interests.
The episode's last act merges those two strengths, contrasting more well-timed comedy against the first two sanrio boys defending their love of cute mascots. “Buy Sanrio products” isn't a theme that necessarily resonates with me, but “loving cute things even if you're a boy is totally valid, and a fine thing to define as core to yourself” hits a lot harder. This episode articulated that theme in resonant ways throughout, while embellishing itself with plenty of snappy little jokes and cute visual tricks. I probably won't be sticking with Sanrio Boys, but if you're in the market for a charming show focused on a bunch of cute boys, this one gets a solid recommendation from me.
I did not go into Sanrio Boys expecting much. In part that's because the only Sanrio product I was into as a five-year-old was Poochie, and I've just found out (as in seconds ago) that she was in fact a Sanrio knock-off produced by Mattel. I do know a bit more about Cinnamoroll from reviewing the manga, but basically I went into this with the vague idea that it would be Bronies: The Anime. While that's perhaps not entirely false, once you cut past the corniness and blatant fujoshi fodder, this is actually kind of a fun episode.
The basic conceit, apart from trying to sell Sanrio to boys, is that it really shouldn't matter what you like, despite what anyone says. That's a nice message, and one that played out fairly well when Aya Oda used it as the base for her manga Otomen, so that definitely gives Sanrio Boys more of a leg to stand on that you might expect. Our point of entry into the story is Kouta, a second-year in high school who feels like a nobody with nothing going on, especially since he keeps comparing himself to the beautiful people. (In fact, it looks like he's doing pretty well with a couple of good friends and supportive parents.) What really seems to be the problem, though, is that he's still feeling guilty about how he never got to tell his grandmother that he was sorry for ignoring her before she died. When he was little, she gave him a stuffed Pompompurin, who Wikipedia tells me is a golden retriever who enjoys pudding, which he loved until some boys made fun of him. It's clear that he associates his grandmother with the doll, and that bringing it out of storage may help him to feel like he's reconnecting with her.
Presumably the other boys in the show have similar stories, although playboy Yuu just appears to like My Melody because she's cute. It's definitely off-putting when the show suddenly goes full advertising mode (look what you can buy!), and the shipping bait is so obvious that it's funny – when Shunsuke backed Kouta against a wall after a scene where Yuu watched him shower, I admit that I just started laughing. But Kouta's story is sweet and relatable, because a lot of us have been told that we can't like or do this or that because we're the wrong gender or some equally silly reason. If Sanrio Boys can keep that premise alive as it goes on, it could be a surprisingly watchable show.
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