The Winter 2022 Preview Guide
Akebi's Sailor Uniform
How would you rate episode 1 of
Akebi's Sailor Uniform ?
Community score: 4.0
What is this?
Komichi Akebi is starting junior high at the prestigious Rōbai Academy in the countryside. It's been her dream to wear a sailor-style school uniform and tomorrow her dream will come true.
Akebi's Sailor Uniform is based on HIRO's manga and streams on Funimation on Saturdays.
How was the first episode?
One thing stands out to me about Akebi's Sailor Uniform (and no, it's not the surprisingly large focus on feet). It's the fact that, despite the name of the anime literally being “ Akebi's Sailor Uniform” and said uniform being the focus of the entire episode, we're not sure why sailor uniforms means so much to Akebi. Oh sure, we know the pop star she likes wears one (as did her mom) but we don't yet understand the emotional basis behind it all—what caused her Sailor Uniform mania in the first place. But what's just as interesting is that, for the sake of this introductory episode, I don't think we need to know.
Regardless of the reason, wearing a Sailor Uniform is clearly important to her—so important she chooses her school based on it. Being part of the process of making it brings her tons of joy—so much so that she happily does all the odd jobs around the house without asking so her mother can focus on sewing. We also see that she views the Sailor Uniform as a way to make friends. After all, everyone wearing the same clothes makes you part of a group by default—and to a lonely kid from the countryside, this is a loophole she most definitely looks forward to exploiting.
The dilemma of the episode itself is that the uniform she loves and what it represents come into direct conflict with each other. In the time since Akebi's mother went to Akebi's school, the uniform has been updated. And while the school grants Akebi special permission to wear the old-style uniform, actually doing so would make her stand out. Instead of being part of the group by default, she would be apart from it. Her already difficult challenge to make friends her own age for the first time ever could be made even harder. So Akebi is forced to choose between being part of the group and her beloved Sailor Uniform—between peer pressure and self-confidence. And after making her choice, she discovers that her worries are not so different from those of her soon-to-be classmates. And more importantly, that everyone has their own silly quirks—be it Sailor Uniforms or sniffing your own feet.
For much of the episode, I couldn't shake the feeling that there was something a bit off about Akebi's Sailor Uniform. The animation was full of fluid motion and the environments gorgeous, but there was something strange about the character designs. There are even postcard shots, an aspect of older anime that I miss a lot. Komichi is a bright, energetic protagonist who, while I can't relate to her struggles exactly, has quite a bit of personality, springing about and doing literal backflips on the road. It should have been a nice, mellow time, but I couldn't stop feeling vaguely discomfited.
Then on her first day of school, Komichi walks into her classroom for the first time. She finds a girl there, sitting alone, with her shoes and socks off, quietly clipping her toenails. And then she sniffs the clippers. Sensuously.
WHAT. I would have been less thrown off if she had scratched her crotch and then smelled her fingers. At least that's a thing people do, albeit something that should be in private, and wouldn't leave gross toenail bits all over the floor!
So naturally, I sent the image to my friends to gawk at the bizarre horniness of the moment and several of them asked me if the aspect ratio was off, because the image looked stretched.
The veil lifted from my eyes. I knew what was throwing the vibes off so harshly! It felt like watching someone's barely-disguised fetish content on a TV back when widescreen was becoming a thing and nobody knew how to set the aspect ratio correctly so everything was just… wide. There are so many long, lingering shots of Komichi's feet. Komichi in the bath. Komichi dressing and undressing. It's never quite enough in the moment to be categorized as fanservice but adds up to a creeping ick in aggregate. And while Komichi is a nice girl, I guess, and it's fun to watch her do handsprings, she's not nearly interesting enough to offset the bad vibes.
I'm not really sure how to describe this show. Or at least, I don't know how to describe it in a way that's succinct or makes sense to anybody but myself. My entire experience watching this first episode was surreal, a little confusing, and seriously uncomfortable at unexpected points. This one is weird, but not in the way we usually mean when we say anime is weird.
Okay, maybe I can start by breaking things down into different parts. So to start off on the right foot, the production on this premiere is practically immaculate. There's an intense attention to detail on every movement, gesture, or facial expression any character makes here, and it's very impressive. The episode starts by just plain flexing its character animation, as Akebi somersaults through the idyllic, rural countryside, explaining how excited she is to go to high school and wear that most classic of anime fashion: a sailor uniform. Fittingly, just as much artistic attention is paid to the fabric of each character's clothes, detailing the folds and creases of Akebi's new uniform with the same passion an '80s mech anime would dedicate to their giant robots. The only real niggle I have is with the characters' faces, which are big and expressive but occasionally dip into an uncanny space that makes them look almost inhuman.
That's very much a detriment, as the entire goal of the writing seems to make things as relatably mundane as possible. It's a similar vibe to last year's Super Cub, which sought to capture the energy of quiet, everyday emotions in ways that felt incredibly true to life. Though this is also where things start to get messy, as the central focus is all about Akebi's obsession with wearing a classic sailor uniform, begging her mom to sew a custom one for her first day of high school. I imagine part of this is a disconnect – I never attended a school with any kind of formal uniform, and those are much more standard in Japan – but it's just enough of a barrier that I struggle to get into Akebi's headspace, which is pretty critical to this kind of show. I do appreciate the idea of a nervous kid trying to hype herself up to make friends in a new school, but the way it's articulated here is just distancing enough that it didn't work for me.
Then there's the weird stuff, and that's a little harder to explain. There's no individual plot beat or moment that sours things, exactly, but an aggregate of subtle elements that made this premiere feel oddly discomforting by the end. First it was the considerable number of close-up shots on Akebi's feet. Then it was the extended sequence of her changing into her uniform, with numerous close-ups and tracking shots of her body that felt way more uncomfortable than any gratuitous cleavage or panty shot in My Dress-Up Darling. Then it all came to a head when Akebi walked in on her classmate clipping her toenails, and we were “treated” to delicately rendered closeups of her toes before she brought the clippers up to her nose for an uncomfortably long sniff.
Individually, all these choices wouldn't be too egregious (okay, the foot sniffing part would still be weird) but in aggregate they just left me feeling icky in a way even World’s End Harem couldn't. Contrary to what the narrative is trying for, these sequences and how they're framed are alienating, taking me out of the heads of the characters on top of just being creepy. On a purely visual level, this is likely one of the best-looking shows of the season, but I cannot say I recommend watching it outside of individual animation highlights.
Akebi's Sailor Uniform is set in an idyllic pastoral wonderland, and if I could own paintings or posters of the background art for this series, I'd do it in a heartbeat. Even the outside of the Akebi home is exquisite; it looks like it should be inhabited by a kindly old woman who distributes baked goods to all and sundry. This attention to glorious detail extends to Komichi's new school, where the worn patina of the old wooden floors gives you the sense of what it would feel like to tread on them, and to characters' hair…and feet. Huh. Things took a turn there, didn't they? But yes, the other areas of greatest care in the art and animation of this episode are the tops and bottoms of the characters. The hair makes a bit more sense, because Komichi fiddles with hers when she's feeling uncertain and its length means that she has to pull it out of her collar and from under her backpack. The feet? That's a little less justified, although it starts innocently enough with Komichi flexing her toes while she talks on the phone. The lovingly animated toenail clipping scene that I had hoped my colleague was joking about? I think there may be a different reason for it being there.
This isn't to say that this is a fetish show (or if it is, it's very, very mild) and the real fetish for the character is sailor uniforms. Of course, Erika, the toenail clipper, finds the sound of nail clippers soothing, so there may be an undercurrent of everyone having that one thing that they love that no one else quite understands. And since Komichi is just starting middle school at a prestigious local academy where her mother once went, she's definitely in the market for some new experiences, especially since she was the only student in her class in elementary school. (Lest you think this isn't common, that was the norm at my hometown school; a big class was seven kids.) She's mostly excited to attend because she's always dreamed of wearing a sailor uniform, but this very quickly becomes a fraught issue when she realizes that the uniform has changed since her mother's day…and she's the only one wearing a sailor uniform.
I appreciate that this isn't the screaming end of her middle school social life, even when she opts, with the school's permission, to keep wearing the sailor outfit. Middle school is a cruel time, and this could have been a much darker episode in a lot of ways. That it isn't is nice, although it doesn't make up for it being kind of dull in terms of plot. We do get a very good sense of who Komichi is as a person from the very first moment she does a gymnastics routine right into the canal beside the road, and her varied emotional reactions throughout the episode are believable and good. It's just that there isn't quite enough story to really support that so far. I could see this getting more interesting as the cast expands, and the backgrounds alone may make it worth sticking around to find out.
I'm just going to say it: There absolutely is such a thing as making an anime look too good. Between this and My Dress-Up Darling, CloverWorks seems to be going all-in on the “lovingly animated cartoons with fashion-adjacent themes” angle, but where My Dress-Up Darling felt playful and romantic, Akebi's Sailor Uniform tries to mix the wistful drama of its titular character's adolescent years with so many hyper-detailed shots of young girls' feet. And young girls taking baths. And young girls getting dressed and undressed very meticulously. Are you starting to how all of CloverWorks' high-falutin' production values end up coming around to being points against the show's favor?
I'm not going to go so far as to say that Akebi's Sailor Uniform is out-and-out obscene in how it frames Akebi throughout this premiere, but a lot of the shots were so specific and lingering that I couldn't help but feel really uncomfortable as I watched it, to the point where it distracted me from enjoying the actual plot and characters of the story, which were…okay. They were fine, and nothing more, but that could have been enough! Akebi is a nice girl, and while I don't quite get why specifically wearing a sailor uniform is such a thing for her, I've been a teacher long enough to know that teens can make just about any random hobby or fixation into a whole identity. More power to her, I guess. The drama around Akebi somehow not being told that her new school doesn't even use sailor uniforms anymore—even though Akebi made it very clear in her interview that the sailor outfit was, like, the whole deal for her—feels awfully contrived, but I guess it kind of works as a metaphor for the combination of fear and excitement that comes from standing out amongst your peers?
Again, though, there just comes a point where the excessively detailed presentation of the show makes it feel like I really am peering into the private moments of a young girl's life and home, and when so many of those private moments involve shots where that young girl is framed as vulnerable and often in various states of undress…I don't know, man. It feels kind of gross. And what is with that girl who is just straight up clipping her toenails and sniffing the clipper right in the middle of class? Why is any of this necessary in a slice-of-life show about a kid who just wants to look cute in a sailor outfit at school!?
Thinking about Akebi's Sailor Uniform even this much has made me alternate between feeling like a creep and feeling kind of bored, which makes it easy to cross the show off of my Winter Watchlist altogether.
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