The Winter 2019 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Pastel Memories ?
What is this?
How was the first episode?
My unvarnished first impression from watching the first few minutes of this series was that the name was misspelled; it should have been called “Pastel Mammaries” instead, because the camera goes out of its way to emphasize the ample busts of the Rabbit Shed's waitresses from just about every angle. This might not be as noteworthy if the series actually had much fanservice beyond that, but it doesn't; neither the tone of the rest of the episode nor its content suggests a lurid sort of show. Maybe that element will show up more as the series progresses, but right now it just feels incongruous.
The series is conceptually odd as well. Aside from the ominous black cloud at the beginning, most of the first episode plays out like a slice-of-life “what if” scenario, with the supposition in this case involving a sudden and dramatic loss of interest in anime and manga, to the point that only six otaku-oriented stores remain open in all of Akihabara. It gives the impression of being a slightly melancholy rumination on a hobby in steep decline, with the hint that these girls are serving to salvage otakudom in some way. Then the last couple of minutes arrive and we learn that these waitresses can use some kind of mechanism to enter stories and fight off the mysterious virus that seems to be destroying them, which means they'll be donning sexy battle gear to do damage in action scenes starting with the next episode. Wait, what?
Pulling a dramatic twist like that can be successful for some anime, but the successful cases (like School-Live!) always give at least some hints about that change in direction if you watch for them carefully. This one doesn't, which is why the transition is so jarring. It remains to be seen how well this shift in priorities will be executed, since our protagonist and her friends are world-hopping as the episode ends, so I'll reserve full judgment for one more episode. As it stands, many potential themes could be read into the “decline in otakudom” premise, but this is based on a phone game after all, with the suspicious absence of the owner (i.e. the player) being the clearest giveaway.
This one certainly won't win viewers over with its lackluster artistic effort, and it's nothing fresh on the personality front either. While I'll probably watch another episode just to see what the story is really doing, this series isn't showing a lot of promise.
It's a little tough to completely assess Pastel Memories on the basis of this first episode, as it's essentially an episode-long fakeout. For its first twenty minutes, the show is a very low-energy slice of life, where Izumi Asagi and her friends work to find an out-of-print manga series within the fleeting shops of Akihabara. In their world, Akihabara has basically lost its otaku luster, and otaku culture in general seems to be dying out. Because of this, it takes them a very long and not particularly interesting period of time to gather all the volumes, ultimately leading to the sudden reveal that our stars are actually fantasy fighters of some kind, and their goal is to protect people's memories of beloved otaku media.
If that premise sounds weirdly specific and not particularly compelling, I'm right there with you. Even Pastel Memories “true plot” seemed contrived and uninteresting, and its fake plot for the first twenty minutes was genuinely dire. It's my general policy that even if a show's going to undergo a big genre fakeout, it must still be interesting before that fakeout, in order to give us something to invest in. Otherwise, replacing one premise we have no attachment to with another just doesn't carry any emotional impact. And in Pastel Memories' case, this first episode was so predictably written, lethargically paced, and generally clumsy that I don't really have any faith Version Two will be much better, nor any reason to actually care about these characters. Even the jokes were too obvious and familiar to really land, meaning this was a pretty dire first episode in all narrative respects.
Pastel Memories' visuals don't fare any better. The show's backgrounds are flavorless CG sets, lacking the sense of detail and specificity that gives truly notable slice of life shows their charm. Worse than those backgrounds are the character designs, which look so awkwardly stiff and inexpressive that I found myself repeatedly wondering whether they were actually CG models. Considering one of the main appeals of this show is theoretically its cute and charming cast, it feels pretty unfortunate that that cast is neither cute nor charming. Couple all that with the general lack of animation, and you end up with an all-around unappealing visual production.
Pastel Memories isn't actively terrible in any way, but nothing about this first episode felt particularly compelling or effectively executed. This one's an easy skip.
In a best-case scenario, anime about otaku culture can be fun, relatable, and insightful. Sadly, the first episode of Pastel Memories is not even close to a best-case scenario. It starts off as a slow-paced slice of life story that will test the patience of even the most devoted genre fans, and then gradually devolves into a bland mobile game adaptation. It's not completely without merit, but it runs into a minefield of issues that are all too common with these kinds of shows.
Izumi and her coworkers all fall neatly into well-worn moe archetypes: the clumsy protagonist, the no-nonsense girl who likes guns, the girl who inexplicably talks like a cat, and so on. I suspect that much of the blame for this can be placed on the show's mobile game origins; depth tends to fall by the wayside when you're inventing dozens of characters for players to collect. That relative lack of originality translates into predictable interactions amongst the main cast, and it only gets worse as more girls are introduced. The café uniforms reduce the differences between character designs to hairstyle and bust size, and while everyone's steampunk gear might add some variety in future episodes, I doubt it'll do much to improve on the mediocre art and animation quality.
The plot does at least start with the relatable and mildly interesting hook of trying to track down volumes of an out-of-print series, though that premise gets dragged out for so long that it loses any sense of excitement. Instead of imparting the urgency of trying to save otaku culture or a sense of loss over all the closed bookstores, the majority of the episode sticks with a neutral, “no big deal” vibe. Aside from Izumi's brief speech outside a closed bookstore, we never really see an articulation of what the decline of anime and manga means in this fictional world. By the time Izumi teleports away to save the manga they've been collecting, the episode is so devoid of narrative momentum that it's hard to get fired up about it.
If anything's going to save Pastel Memories, it'll be the way the script handles the business of fighting viruses and preserving fictional worlds. I'd love to see a unique approach that allows the girls to highlight the appeal of each imperiled series and discover why people liked it so much. That would open up plenty of opportunities for character drama and industry insight, but I worry that we're just going to end up with another show about magical girls fighting CG shadow monsters. Either way, this premiere is too much of a slow-paced slog to be worth sitting through, so I'd skip this one unless it turns out to be something really special.
When I started watching Pastel Memories' first episode, I was bored. When I finished watching it, I was confused. The story seems to be pulling a little bait-and-switch here, beginning by looking like another “cute girls doing cute things” tale about girls in a café in a post-otaku Akihabara, but at the end it suddenly shifts to being about steampunk magical girls who go into the worlds of anime and manga to take care of viruses that threaten the stories, sort of like a moe version of Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next novels. That's inherently more interesting to me than candy-colored girls with various cute speech affectations running around hunting for out-of-print manga, so that may mean that, more than usual, this is not a first episode to base an opinion of series watchability on.
On the other hand, if you've ever known the pain of trying to collect a full series, there's a lot of relatable truth here. The plot of the episode hinges on the girls trying to find all seven volumes of an out-of-print series, and having spent years attempting to collect several antique children's series, I can say that the episode really hits that particular nail on the head. (I'll have you all someday, Polly Brewster books!) From finding shops that carry the type of book you want to the inexplicable math behind print runs that give some volumes far more copies than others, both the joy and the frustration of trying to find that one book you're missing is nicely captured. The caveat is that it's not nearly as exciting to watch as it is to comb the bookstores yourself, and the episode's gimmick of otaku culture being on the verge of disappearing (physically; there's some mention made of ebooks) can bog things down.
The other chief issue is that the girls really don't have any distinguishing features. They all fit comfortably into basic tropes and types, from the perky innocence of the pink-haired heroine to that one girl who inexplicably says “nya” (“meow”) all the time. There's also something that I found mildly off-putting about the character designs; something about the ratio of the faces I think – the eyes didn't seem to fit with the rest of the designs. That said, the steampunk magical girl costumes are very appealing, so if the rest of the series runs in that direction art may be less of a problem.
Getting through this episode if you're not into cute girls to get to the payoff at the end is definitely a chore. It's easy to forget the ominous dark cloud from the beginning, or to interpret it as a metaphor rather than an actual evil coming for otaku culture and goodies. If it does turn out to be more of a real thing and the magical girl aspect becomes prevalent, this could be worth getting through the first episode. We should know pretty early on in episode two if that will be the case.
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