The Fall 2020 Preview Guide
Adachi and Shimamura
How would you rate episode 1 of
Adachi and Shimamura ?
What is this?
Adachi and Shimamura, two young women who attend the same high school, are inseparable friends. Whether playing table tennis, chatting about favorite TV shows, or just relaxing together, they're happy to share their days. When Adachi's friendship turns into romantic attraction, the relationship begins to change, one day at a time.
How was the first episode?
Excuse me waiter, you've served me male gaze when I clearly asked for female gays. I'll take it anyway, but please be more careful next time.
Much like this season's other yuri series, Assault Lily Bouquet, Adachi and Shimamura really likes thighs, and occasionally breasts. The way the camera ogles the characters is a bit jarring, considering how chilled out and grounded as a whole the episode is. I know that in yuri, it's natural for the storyboarding to try to reflect the girls' attraction, but this didn't feel like it was trying to reflect the view of a female subject's attraction to other girls. It felt objectifying, which is just out of place in relation to everything else.
Adachi and Shimamura, the titular characters, are just two disaffected high school girls who like cutting class and hanging out with each other. Adachi starts to realize she's attracted to Shimamura. That's pretty much all there is to it. While I never ditched in high school – my parents paid way too close attention to my attendance record for me to get away with it – I knew people who did. Few of them spent the time, I don't know, getting into drugs and joining gangs. Most of them just went somewhere they knew they wouldn't get caught to hang out and just enjoy the feeling of being anywhere but in class.
Most of the episode is explained through Shimamura's narration, but it seems more like she's just the kind of person who has a running internal monologue, rather than the creative staff using it as a shortcut to tell instead of show. As she reflects on her feelings, relationships, and choices, the same information is imparted through her body language, expressions, and dialogue. It's a tough balance, and they manage to thread the needle admirably.
It was a lovely premiere, both in terms of visuals and writing, and yet I found myself sliding off of it. I'm not entirely sure why – the fact that it's the tail end of premiere season and I'm exhausted probably has something to do with it, but I don't think that's entirely it. I'm highly suspicious of the tiny astronaut, who seems just out of place. I also don't know much about Adachi yet either, especially compared to Shimamura.
This season has already offered a quiet romance in TONIKAWA, and a yuri series in Assault Lily Bouquet. Adachi and Shimamura, in its soft mundanity, looks to be the superior choice in both arenas. Just, get that male gaze out of here, and leave me with my female gays.
There are two brains driving Adachi and Shimamura's first episode, and while they are not totally at odds with each other, they are most definitely not on the same page creatively. The first brain wants to craft a slow, somber, indie-film like romance between a pair of disaffected high school girls who end up forming an unlikely bond during the fleeting moments they share skipping class. The second brain really, really wants to see those girls' thighs, and possibly their butts and maybe one of their friends' big boobs, and keeps yanking the hypothetical cameraman around to zoom in on high school uniform skirts fluttering in the wind.
That wouldn't inherently be a problem if it weren't for the framing. Plenty of yuri romances get plenty saucy with their central couples in ways that aren't in opposition to the goal of their story. Kase-san and... comes to mind as a series that effortlessly crafts an endearing romance while letting both girls and audience get eyefuls of each other. But there the sexuality is about building and expressing character, as the central couple grow more comfortable with their attraction to each other and their physical relationship advances. With Adachi & Shimamura that's not the case at all. While there are a couple of lingering glances from Adachi as she stands in awe of how cute her companion is, the camerawork here feels barely removed from a typical fanservice or harem anime. It makes me wonder if director Satoshi Kuwabara just couldn't turn it off inbetween directing The Quintessential Quintuplets and the next season of How NOT to Summon a Demon Lord. This is supposed to an intimate story about two characters slowly letting one another in, but the voyeuristic, often invasive framing is totally alienating.
And that's really a shame because there is a compelling, if understated, character drama waiting to spring forth in this show. Shimamura gets the bulk of the narration duty, and we learn quite a lot about her outlook on life from it. She's somebody who's uncomfortable, even afraid of letting people get too close. She has some friends at school, but keeps them at arms length and not-so-nicely remarks on their personalities and appearances in her head. She's at once happy for the companionship she finds with Adachi, but not sure how to handle their burgeoning connection in the context of her otherwise shallow high school life. We spend less time in Adachi's head but get an equally interesting picture of an awkward, even anti-social girl who may just be growing into her sexuality with the first friend she's just barely made. There's a lot of great material to work with and build off for a potential romance story, and it's endlessly frustrating how frequently the cinematography pulls us away from that to pan across the characters' hemlines.
I really do hope things even out from here, because I really want this show to work for me. I love a good romance, and since TONIKAWA let me down as hard as it could, this is the only other option for the season. So it'd be really nice if I could go along with it. Just...maybe give the director a cold shower before the next episode, please?
I don't think that I could pick two series this season whose opening episodes more starkly contrast each other than the two which debuted today. Whereas Akudama Drive is all about flash, bombast, and violence, Adachi and Shimamura is about as soft, understated, and relationship-driven as you can get. But whereas Akudama Drive thrives on the extremes it goes to, this one may be too passive for its own good.
Even without looking at the advertising blurb, where the series is going should be very obvious very quickly to any veteran anime fan. Ostensibly it is about how the two titular characters meet and become friends partly through a common spirit of delinquency (i.e., skipping classes), but the show does not even pretend that it is not going in a yuri direction; nothing romantically overt happens here, but subtle signals abound in this episode if you look for them and the Next Episode preview in particular makes that clear. Shimamura is the more sociable one and the one who more classically fits the bishoujo image, while Adachi more distinctly comes across as a loner; she has no other friends, and seems quietly miffed when Shimamura is hanging out with the friends she had before meeting Adachi. This creates the only real tension so far in this scenario, and I have to think that it may be a bigger issue down the road. Given the overall tone, this series does not seem like the type to have one of its characters drift in a yandere direction, but by the end of the episode it does give off the impression of being a little weird.
That weirdness pops up in the form of what appears to be a child walking around (or floating down the river) in a cutely-styled astronaut spacesuit. This seems so incredibly random and incongruous with the rest of the content that I have no idea what to make of it or how it is supposed to fit into the story; time will tell, I guess. While the only overt sexual element to this is one of Shimamura's friends groping the other (and properly getting smacked for it), the way certain shots are framed suggests that a more subtle brand of fanservice is fully intended here. The presentation also seems to be aiming for plenty of symbolism, as all of the ping pong shots seem carefully considered.
In general, everything about this first episode is soft and subtle, even the artistry. Perhaps because of that, this one comes up short on spark. It does not achieve the level of being fascinating on its own, and that is a critical shortcoming for a series like this.
I love anime that let their teenaged characters actually behave like kids. Don't get me wrong, plenty of shows capture the mood and the perspective of youth, but even really well-written series can fall into the trap of making their moody teenagers sound more like jaded twentysomethings than real adolescents. Aside from the fact that its titular main characters seem to be heading towards a romantic relationship that isn't doomed to drown in perpetual subtext, what I liked the most about Adachi and Shimamura is how its two leads were allowed to be kids: Awkward, moody, self-obsessed, irresponsible, uncertain, and never as eloquent in the real world as they are in their own minds. It makes for a much more endearing tale of friendship and romance when the central characters don't feel like a grown-ass adult's idea of what a teenager is like, and instead just get to be people.
There's something about Adachi and Shimamura that is keeping me at arms length, though, and I'm not sure what it is. Maybe it's the non-linear structure of the story, and how reliant it is on a lot of moody, reflective narration. Maybe its because I still don't quite have a read on Adachi, which makes it just a little harder to buy into her chemistry with Shimamura, though I suspect that Adachi's emotional distance is a big part of the arc of this pair's relationship, so it isn't exactly a flaw per se. Maybe it's because the incredibly treacly direction and music, combined with the way the narration often speaks of Adachi and Shimamura's relationship in the past tense. I don't know where the story is going exactly, but I sure hope that these two are given more time to just go on adventures without having to be interrupted by wistful musings all of the time. I also really hope this isn't the kind of Sad Gays love story that ends with one or both of the girls deciding to grow up and be straight, or with one of them getting hit by that damned truck that keeps killing all of our love interests. Also, what the hell is going on with that kid in the space-suit?
Whatever my misgivings are, they're minor compared to the genuinely lovely production on display in Adachi and Shimamura, and I'm totally on board to see where this story goes. I was beginning to get worried that this fall would have very few shows to get excited about other than the obvious handful, but pleasant surprises like this one are what make the deluge of new seasonal premieres so fun to explore.
When I learned that Hitoma Iruma's yuri novel series Adachi and Shimamura was getting an anime adaptation, two thoughts crossed my mind:
- Isn't it kind of a slow series for an anime version?
- I really hope they leave out the character from Ground Control to Psychoelectric Girl.
Now, having watched the first episode, I'm very sorry to say that the character from the author's Ground Control to Psychoelectric Girl is, in fact, still present and still adding pretty much nothing, but besides that, while on the slow side, the main story makes the jump from page to screen better than I had hoped.
That really shouldn't have been a concern, upon reflection. Although the action is largely internal, Adachi and Shimamura are both characters who give the impression of proceeding through life very carefully, for reasons that have not yet been touched upon. As the episode goes on, we can see that both of them are leery of forming relationships with other girls their age, with Adachi generally acting mistrustful and Shimamura simply keeping things as superficial as she can. Unlike Adachi, she's got a couple of friends in their class, but Hino and Nagafuji were childhood pals before Shimamura ever met them, and she feels like a comfortable third wheel to their duo – she'll do things with one or both of them, but, as she puts it, the distance between them varies, with Shimamura often standing on the outside looking in. Because that poses less of an emotional risk for the girl who sees friendships as sinking into deep water, she's generally fine with that. It's Adachi who poses a bigger threat to her equilibrium.
It's very clear that Shimamura's relationship with Adachi, despite its short duration, is more genuine than her surface friendship with the other two. With Hino and Nagafuji, Shimamura mostly is quiet and hangs back, speaking to respond but not really initiating. Adachi, however, brings out Shimamura's more boisterous side: she laughs, skips and jumps, smiles, and even offers to do things with or for the other girl, something entirely lacking from her behavior with Hino and Nagafuji. That she's not sure why she's doing this comes across without overwhelming the viewer with too many feelings right at the start, allowing us to navigate the relationship as carefully as Shimamura is.
For Adachi's part, she comes across as much more timid. Despite the fact that Shimamura is the one with the dyed hair, Adachi has skipped so many classes that Hino isn't even sure she's IN their class. She's perfected the leave-me-alone-blank-stare, as well, so that Hino is actively afraid of her, something that Adachi seems to interpret as a rejection. She's just really uncomfortable around other girls her age, and she's not sure why Shimamura is an exception to that – or even if she truly wants to embrace it. But she's fascinated by the other girl, as the entire incident with the cicada shows more than anything.
Adachi and Shimamura isn't going to be an intense ride or even an exciting one. But it does stand to be thoughtful and beautiful both in its development of the girls' relationship and its imagery. Now if they just keep Psychoelectric Girl and Hino (whose antics are toned down from what we usually see but still obnoxious) in the background, this could be worth following.
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