Reviewby Theron Martin,
Sub.DVD - Collection 2
Three more alternate-timeline story arcs explore “what if” cases involving Junichi Tachibana hooking up with three other girls who have, until their feature turn, been background characters. First up is Ai Nanasaki, another first-year student who is a classmate/friend of Junichi's younger sister. Though Ai devotes most of her time to her swim team efforts, she also gradually finds space for building a relationship with Junichi and ultimately pursues it just as aggressively as she does her mastery of the backstroke.
Next up is Rihoko “Rihocchi” Sakurai, a childhood friend of Junichi, who has long held an unrequited love for Junichi in her heart. (He is, of course, oblivious and thinks of her only as a friend.) Despite her klutzy ways, general airheadedness, and diet woes, Rihoko is the last hope for maintaining the Tea Club once her senpai graduate, and both she and those around her see Junichi as a perfect match for her in that endeavor.
Last is Tsukasa Ayatsuji, Junichi's class's industrious and efficient class rep, whom Junichi starts to build a relationship with after he volunteers to assist her in organizing the Founder's Festival. Even learning that Tsukasa's public face is a cover for a harsher and more calculating personality does not dissuade him. Bigger problems arise when the Festival preparations start to fall behind and Tsukasa starts to show the strain, however.
In the first of two one-shot stories, long-time secret Junichi stalker Risa Kamizaki works up the courage to finally confess to him, though she has good reasons for not wanting to be publicly seen dating him. In the second, little sister Miya concerns herself with how her brother can have so many girl friends but no true girlfriend.
The first half of Amagami SS set a standard that, for the most part, the second half rigidly adheres to: each of three main four-episode arcs shows central character Junichi building a relationship with one of the girls who exists as a supporting character in the other arcs. Personalities, affiliations, and the general thrust of events remain constant from arc to arc, but details change dramatically. Part of the fun is, of course, seeing how the girls act differently (or not) when they aren't in the limelight and the subtle jabs that events in certain arcs take at other arcs. And, of course, there's also the very dating sim-like appeal of seeing Junichi have a romantic chance with several different girls. The problem with blandness seen in the first three arcs also, unfortunately, continues – but this time it is only a big problem in one of the three main arcs.
The tone and storytelling quality vary more significantly in these options. The fourth arc, which focuses on a girl who had very limited screen time in the first three arcs, features the plainest and most boring of the six leading ladies in a story which is almost entirely devoid of conflict and crisis. As a result it is the least entertaining of the lot, though it is also most forthrightly the sexiest and has the most pronounced fan service. The fifth arc, contrarily, is the most fun, as the humor which has always been present in small doses comes to the forefront. A lot of the credit goes to Rihocchi, who comes across as one of anime's most lovable ditzes. She is the classic girl who's just a little on the plump side and constantly fails at diets because she gets so easily tempted by sweets, yet she feels far less calculated in her cuteness than most recent moe princesses. Her senpai in the Tea Club, who look out for Rihoko in their own way, also give her the most entertaining supporting cast of any of the leading ladies. Rihoko's arc also stands out amongst the others for featuring the Christmas Eve Founder's Festival early in the arc, rather than as a climax, and ending without completely resolving its love story.
The sixth and final full arc is the best of the lot, however. Tsukasa has been a prominent supporting presence in all of the previous arcs, and while she has always given the impression of being a friendly, responsible, industrious girl, she has also occasionally shown faint hints of a second side to her personality. That comes out fully in her feature arc, making her the most intriguing of all of the leading ladies. In some respects she harkens back to His and Her Circumstances' Yukino, a character who projects a carefully calculated façade to hide a more selfish and pride-driven side, though Tsukasa represents a more forceful and adaptive take on that character concept; she's even willing to change her personality entirely to achieve her goals. The arc is hampered a little by never fully explaining one early point (i.e. exactly why Tsukasa is so uptight about her planner) and pulling a bit of a cop-out with one part of its climax, but the neat “ten years later” scene makes up for it.
The arcs in the first half showed a propensity for involving Junichi in some sort of role-playing activity with his girlfriends, but that is only present here in the fourth arc. Junichi's friend Masayoshi remains a constant comic relief presence, however, and other non-featured girls continue to make regular appearances, particularly including Hibiki's ongoing efforts to rein in Haruka. These arcs do significantly increase the blatant fan service content, giving it the feel that someone told the producers after the first half that the series wasn't sexy enough. Even though the extra peeks still leave the content tamer than most recent anime romantic comedies, the TV-PG rating cannot be considered accurate with moments like the hot springs scene in Ai's arc figured in.
The first of the two one-shots, which was the series-ending episode for the original TV broadcast, focuses on a girl who was a hidden character in the source game and the one lead heroine who never appears as a background character prior to her feature episode. It ties the other six arcs together in an amusing way and provides the long-awaited explanation for what really happened two years ago to set Junichi's love life down a troubled path. Its conclusion lets the heroine off too easy for her shenanigans, however. The second one-shot, which focuses on Miya, was originally a Blu-Ray/DVD-only episode. It also features elements from all of the other arcs and even includes a guest appearance by Risa. This is more a “sister concerned about brother” affair than anything seamy, however. It also, finally, explains where the name of the series comes from.
The technical merits also maintain standards set in the first half, although the quality control slips a little in a few places. The artistry is at its best in giving all of the girls interesting, distinctive, and at least vaguely appealing looks without resorting to outlandish styles or cookie-cutter anime stereotypes; this is an ideal series for a male viewer who can appreciate a wide variety of good-looking young women without needing blatant cutesiness or sex appeal to motivate him. (Although Haruka's “Miss Santa” outfit in Tsukasa's arc is rather hot.) Director Yoshimasa Hiraike also uses some interesting camera angles from time to time, such as occasionally showing a voyeuristic bent in how it looks through Junichi's wandering eyes and having one character painting over graffiti at one point actually seeming to paint the screen.
The musical score has, unfortunately, not improved since the first half, as it still relies heavily on the stale dating sim game hold-overs and comic ditties used in the first half. The opener updates to “Kimi no Mama de,” a song which is sung by the same artist and in such a similar style to the original opener that only the changes in the opening animation could tip off some that there even is a change. As with the first half, each arc gets its own closer sung by the seiyuu for the arc's featured role. These are uniformly bland and forgettable.
Sentai Filmworks continues the pattern established with the first half by also releasing this half subtitled only and placing each arc on its own separate disc. (Tsukasa's disk also gets the two extra episodes.) Subtitles are good, with numerous side notes added to explain more obscure foods, with one exception: “champagne” gets misspelled in one episode. Clean opener and closer are provided for each arc on that arc's disk.
Overall, the second half continues some of the problems seen in the first half but also shows some improvements in its story telling, especially in its sixth arc. If you found the first half to be at least tolerable then the second half should work well to you, too. More is also coming, with a sequel series planned for the Winter 2012 season.
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B-
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : C
+ Funny Rihoko arc, better-conceived and better-written Tsukasa arc.
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