The Winter 2018 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Slow Start ?
What is this?
Hana Ichinose is living with her landlord/cousin Shion to attend high school at Hoshio Private Girls Academy. As a newcomer to the school, she's nervous about her first day, but to her surprise and delight she's quickly able to fall in with a group of girls that includes the energetic Tama-chan, the tiny-but-always-hungry Kamuri, and the motherly Eiko, who all befriend her and help her to celebrate her birthday, to the relief of her parents. Slow Start is based on a 4-koma manga and streams on Crunchyroll, Saturdays at 1:00 PM EST.
How was the first episode?
In many cases that I've seen these days, a “cute-girls-doing-cute-things” slice-of-life show will have some kind of gimmick or storytelling quirk in order to set it apart from other members of this fairly crowded genre. “Cute girls travelling to the Antarctic” is one way to go about it, “cute girls surviving a zombie apocalypse” is another, and so on. While these kinds of extra storytelling layers aren't strictly necessary for success, they can certainly help bolster an otherwise tedious setup, as Slow Start proves in its first episode. While there is technically something of a unique flourish in that protagonist Hana is behind in her schooling by about a year (hence the title), it has almost no bearing on how the premiere plays out. What remains is an episode that lacks any real substance, a slice-of-life series that is sorely lacking in the “life” department.
The “plot” goes like this: Hana arrives at a new school, worried that she won't make any friends. Apropos of nothing, a trio of friendly girls approach Hana and accompany her on the walk home from school, during which time they talk. And talk. And talk some more. Afterwards, Hana arrives home, and she tells her cousin that she does indeed have friends. Roll credits.
I know that slice-of-life series are not predisposed to exceptionally complex storylines and character arcs, but Slow Start is thin even within its genre. Hana and her friends are perfectly nice girls, but “nice” does not inherently equal “interesting”, and they lack the strong character traits to establish an interesting rapport. Because of this, the amiable chatter that makes up roughly 70% of this episode is akin to being forced to eavesdrop on the conversations of random strangers on the street: every now and then you might catch a snatch of something funny or engaging, but it mostly ends up becoming noise that fades into the background. Slow Start is a “Cute Girls Doing Cute Things” show that doesn't actually give its cast anything to do, and the result is unbearably tedious.
If this series has anything going for it, it's probably the strength of its aesthetics. While the ultra-saccharine tone and pastel colors of Slow Start's world are not to my personal taste, the show pulls off the style well enough that some viewers will likely be very pleased. The character animation never ceases to have the girls bobbing, nodding, and generally flaunting their unfathomable wellsprings of sparkly cuteness. It's honestly a little overbearing for me, to the point where Hana and her friends resemble one of those Lisa Frank posters from back in the '90s.
Again, these artistic choices may very well work for a different audience; it's the stale writing that I have a much harder time forgiving. Slow Start may very well have the most unfortunately apt title of any anime this season, because I could barely even finish this first episode, much less feel inclined to watch any more of it. If none of this season's better slice-of-life shows are doing it for you, I reckon you'd still be better off going through your backlog instead of wasting too much time on this series.
Man, this season is really front-loading the Cute Girls Doing Cute Things shows, although Slow Start may be simply a Cute Girls Being Cute show. While it may be an exaggeration, it feels like roughly 90% of this first episode is the girls talking, and it's really not doing itself any favors by holding off on the premise – that Hana is a year older than her classmates – until the very end of the post-credits scene. Previous to this it simply seems like Hana is an anxious, shy young woman, to the point where the teacher was out of line to comment on her “low energy” when she very clearly is just nervous. The idea that Hana's shy is more than enough to build the story on, so I'm not quite sure why the eponymous slow start is really necessary.
Having a sister who was a year older than her classmates who maintains that it actually served her very well, I do have a hard time buying the idea that Hana's one-year difference is likely to make that much of a difference in her school experience. Hana thinks it is, however, and that's what's important here – in fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the reason she's living alone is so that she won't run into anyone she previously went to school with. It would be good if the series eventually decided to explain her backstory and to have a non-reaction from her three new friends, but that doesn't seem particularly likely given how long it takes for the revelation.
The real issue here, however, is that all four of the lead characters are painfully bland. From the bouncy Tamate with her flesh-fang to sleepy, hungry, tiny Kamuri, there's not much that really stands out about any of them. Eiko has a little more promise simply because Tomomi Mineuchi delivers the lines in a very believable way – her laughter sounds natural and she just does a generally good job of making Eiko stand out, especially when her lines are on the sarcastic side. Hana's anxious personality so far feels relatively realistic, which nicely offsets that ridiculous cowlick on the side of her head, which just annoyed me more and more as the episode went on; it makes her look like a phone charm waiting to be strung.
Pastel enough to be baby decorations and syrupy enough to pour over your ice cream, Slow Start is the kind of cute girl show that I have little patience for. It isn't terrible, but it also is burying what could be setting it apart, and that leaves it feeling like the palest of several similar shows to debut thus far.
So was I the only person whose first thought upon watching this episode was, “hey, did they decide to make a sequel to Kotoura-san?” (Compare them side-by-side: Hana is practically a dead ringer for Haruka Kotoura.)
That aside, the first episode of this one is a little annoying because a major element of the series’ premise doesn't come up until the very last lines of the epilogue scene: that Hana is actually a year older than her classmates because since she spent a year studying to get into this school rather than coming directly from middle school, and she's uptight about that. That such a thing could actually happen at the high school level in Japan is a revelation to me, as I don't think I've ever seen that gimmick brought up in anime before, and it doesn't alleviate questions about what kind of special circumstances (if any) might be involved in bringing that about. It does explain why her parents seem relieved to hear that she had quickly made friends, though, and adds an extra later to her adult cousin's jokes about donning her school uniform again.
I'm not expecting much more elaboration on that matter because this doesn't seem like the kind of show that will dwell on serious elements; in fact, the first episode is almost pure fluff. Really, all that goes on is the establishment of the main character, her cousin, and Hana's main group of friends. Beyond that, most of the episode is Hana observing casual banter on the level of a Lucky Star between the other three girls and trying to keep up with it. An opening scene emphasizing how busty Hana's cousin Shion is suggests a fan service angle, but this is played much more as a joke than as fan service appeal, so I wouldn't expect much there. It just doesn't feel like the kind of series that will trend that way anyway.
Director Hiroyuki Hashimoto was successful enough helming Is the order a rabbit? to guide it to earning a second season, so I don't think we have to worry much about material about a bunch of cute girls doing inane things being competently handled. The production is by A-1 Pictures but this isn't one of that studio's sterling artistic or animation efforts. Still, it looks good enough for what it is.
Overall, Slow Start looks like a perfectly pleasant little series which should make a nice diversion from the season's darker and weightier fare. Sadly, its timing couldn't be worse, as it is coming out in a season already stacked with thematically-strong “cute girls do cute things” series, so it may have trouble standing out.
Slow Start is the slice-of-life at its syrupy sweetest. A cast of infantile high schoolers hang around discussing the kanji variations on their own names and blushing fervently at the very consideration of calling one another “friends.” These aren't representations of real girls and the longer the episode went on it became harder to pin-point who these caricatures of female relationships are even for.
When the episode started, I thought the show was going to be a blend of doe-eyed incompetence and outright fanservice. Hana is a quivering waif while her (sister? Cousin?) Shion is buxom and air-headed, her chest existing in an alternate reality beset by boob physics. That's the extent of the fanservice, outside of some lingering shots later in the classroom. I'm not sure sex is really the appeal here, at least not in the up front sense. Someone is supposed to get something out Hana's nervousness and Tama's energetic silliness (think Satania from Gabriel DropOut). The icing on the weird cake is Kamuri, who even compared to the rest of the series' stylized cast, is even more infantile and is barely able to speak in full sentences.
I prefer my slice-of-life to have a little more real life involved. I'd like my cuteness for cuteness sake to stay attached to things like cats, hedgehogs, and bunnies. Slathering the same aesthetic all over high school girls down to the point where they can barely carry on a conversation is a step too far. It doesn't help that the stunted conversations aren't interesting either, since the girls don't have a particular hobby in common.
This one is a hard pass for me. The art style, cast personalities, and dialogue are too unappealing for me to tolerate for 10 minutes, much less 25.
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