Review

by Theron Martin,

Amagi Brilliant Park

episodes 1-12 streaming

Synopsis:
Amagi Brilliant Park
Seiya Kanye was once a child star labeled as a genius, but he abruptly gave it up a few years ago. He is just an ordinary (if also conceited to the point of narcissistic) high schooler when he meets new transfer student Isuzu, a busty girl with a dry attitude. She forces him at musketpoint to go on a date with her to Amagi Brilliant Park, a rundown theme park suffering badly from mismanagement, to the point that it is in danger of being shut down if it doesn't meet its yearly quota of 500,000 guests within just a few short months. As he soon discovers, Seiya is being recruited to save the park based on a prophecy by its nominal manager, the seemingly-too-young Princess Latifah. But Amagi Brilliant Park isn't any ordinary theme park; it is actually a collection point for Animus, the energy (derived from happiness) needed by the denizens of the magical realm of Maple Land to survive, and most of the workers at the park – from the performing troupe Elementario to the mouse-faced mascot Moffle to Isuzu to even Latifah (who is the actual First Princess of Maple Land) – are such denizens. And for some of them, the park's continued existence is literally a matter of life and death. Though reluctant to get involved at first, Seiya is haunted by a promise he vaguely remembers making to Latifah years earlier, a promise to save her that he wasn't able to fulfill then. The task before him is monumental given the state of the park, but once he sets his mind to it Seiya is not about to let go without dragging every bit of gimmickry and every ounce of effort out of the park and its magical folk.
Review:

In one episode of the anime version of The Twelve Kingdoms, heroine Youko pretended to be an actor portraying an evil visitor from another world to hide the fact that she actually was the “evil” visitor that the authorities were looking for. (For an earlier non-anime example of the same concept, look to the Théâtre des Vampires from Ann Rice's Interview with the Vampire.) Original light novel author Shoji Gatoh, who is perhaps better-known as the original writer/creator for the Full Metal Panic! franchise, expanded that gimmick to serve as the foundation for this entire series: that (for instance) the mascots at the amusement park aren't costumes being worn by people pretending to be magical beings but are instead actual magical beings, and that the park is literally their livelihood. The concept of otherworldly creatures secretly deriving energy from human emotions is also not a new one, but combining these two elements into an amusement park setting is an inspired bit of work, one which provides ample opportunity for all manner of both comical shenanigans and unusual drama. And boy, does the series exploit both for all they're worth.

On the comical side, the series gets a lot of mileage out of the behind-the-scenes behavior of its mascot characters. This is especially true with the flower fairy Tiramie, who has the form of a cute, pink cat but has the temperament of a randy middle-aged man, the kind who cracks jokes about whether or not the pretty waitress at the tavern he frequents is on the menu and would sexually harass Isuzu if he thought he could get away with it. It is also true for Macaron, a music fairy in the form of a cute sheep who is fighting with his ex-wife for custody of his child and suspiciously capable with explosives and a sniper rifle. There's also a shark who does not appreciate how terrifying he truly is, an angsty crocodile, a ferret who went missing for 10 years inside one of the attractions, and Moffle, the combative, hat-wearing mouse who looks exactly like Bonta-kun from Full Metal Panic! Fumoffu? (which is a joke unto itself, since he gets most riled up when accused of being a rip-off) and often gets in fights with Seiya. The most consistent comedy gold comes from Sylphy, the airheaded fairy of air from Elementario, whose enthusiastically random antics are usually good for at least a chuckle. Isuzu also serves well as the deadpan straight woman who gets more than a little overzealous at times in using her magical muskets to threaten or punish uncooperative people, though she is also the long-suffering favored target of a group of demonic children.

Other humor in the series is more situational. Typically it involves either other oddball characters, playing around with misconceptions (such as a new hire who is initially mistaken for being a former porn actress due to an unfortunate choice of abbreviation in her work experience), or ridiculous angles taken on what should be common situations, such as one episode devoted in part to hiring new staff. One regular feature is the “Adventure! Discovery! Attractions!” epilogue to each episode, which features Isuzu highlighting one of the park's attractions to Seiya, who is always perturbed by a serious flaw in the attraction; Tiramie's attraction offers unofficial “backstage tours” only to ladies, for instance.

For all of its comedy antics, though, the series does also have a serious side which runs throughout. Most of that either directly or indirectly involves the situation of Princess Latifah, a seeming 14 year old girl who is, indeed, named after hip-hop star/talk show host Queen Latifah. (Seiya is also in part named after rapper Kanye West, incidentally.) As Seiya eventually learns, she is in the most precarious situation of all of the Maple Landers due to the effects of a curse which leaves her in fragile health and has one other particularly nasty aspect, one which is only faintly hinted at until late in the story. How Moffle fits into that picture is an additional wrinkle, as he is Latifah's very protective uncle, but certain comments he makes suggest that he is very conflicted, too. And Seiya, as it turns out, has his own baggage as well. The result is a final couple of episodes which can get fairly tense as desperation starts to set in.

So yes, the series is not only playing the heavy moe card with Latifah, but it is also throwing in the “tragic girl” kicker. That being said, though, it plays those cards masterfully. Latifah is so adorable and so innocent in the trouble that has befallen her that it is difficult not to be swept up in hoping that things turn out okay for her, and that can make certain late scenes surprisingly emotional affairs. Seiya also brings more to the table than one might initially expect, as he quite effectively pulls off the “lovable jerk” role. Other neat touches help flesh out the characters and comedy, too, such as how Isuzu has some odd notions about appropriate use of emoticons or the begrudging respect which develops between Seiya and Moffle as both come to understand the other's sincerity and commitment.

Kyoto Animation did the production work on the series under the direction of Yasuhiro Takemoto, who also directed the Full Metal Panic! franchise titles. They definitely brought their “A” game for this effort, as the quality control on its visuals and animation is distinctly higher than in most anime series. Its animation is crisp when it needs to be, its color are bright and vivid without being garish, and character designs almost without exception are attractive and appealing when they are supposed to be; Latifah's dresses are a particular highlight here. Perhaps most impressively, Takemoto and crew draw a lot of expressiveness out of the mascot characters, even in cases where they are not using creepy alternate visages, but seeing those incongruous alternate looks is a big chunk of the fun. Fan service is very limited outside of the closer's visuals (the first episode, which has the most, gives a false impression on this) and generally tasteful.

The series does not do anything spectacular on the musical front, and some of its numbers can be a little bland even as amusement park-flavored music goes. It hits the right notes in the most crucial scenes, however. Opener “Extra Magic Hours” is a suitably enthusiastic number by Akino (Aquarion and KanColle themes), while closer “Erementario de Aimasho,” which features the seiyuu for the four Elementario members, is a light J-rock number. Neither is especially memorable.

At the time of this writing Crunchyroll only has rights to the twelve episodes which form the main story. Episode 13 is only an OVA-like side story, though, so viewers are not missing anything important. In all, the episodes that are available find a better and smoother balance than most series do between silly fun and more serious drama; in fact, Amagi easily tops Gatoh's earlier efforts in how effectively it integrates the two. It is an entertaining, involving, and well-produced work that will appeal to a wide variety of audiences.

Grade:
Production Info:
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A-
Animation : B
Art : A-
Music : B-

+ Strong concept, fun characters, surprisingly strong emotional appeal.
Some aspects (especially backstory) could have used additional development, a couple of episodes have a "side story" feel to them.

Director: Yasuhiro Takemoto
Script:
Shoji Gatoh
Chika Ishikawa
Maiko Nishioka
Fumihiko Shimo
Yasuhiro Takemoto
Storyboard:
Haruka Fujita
Tatsuya Ishihara
Eisaku Kawanami
Noriyuki Kitanohara
Taiichi Ogawa
Yasuhiro Takemoto
Takuya Yamamura
Ai Yukimura
Episode Director:
Haruka Fujita
Tatsuya Ishihara
Eisaku Kawanami
Noriyuki Kitanohara
Taiichi Ogawa
Yasuhiro Takemoto
Takuya Yamamura
Ai Yukimura
Unit Director: Yasuhiro Takemoto
Original creator: Shoji Gatoh
Original Character Design: Yuka Nakajima
Art Director: Mikiko Watanabe
Chief Animation Director: Nobuaki Maruki
Animation Director:
Seiichi Akitake
Kayo Hikiyama
Kazumi Ikeda
Nobuaki Maruki
Futoshi Nishiya
Rie Sezaki
Hiroyuki Takahashi
Chiyoko Ueno
Sound Director: Yota Tsuruoka
Director of Photography: Norihiro Tomiita
Producer:
Shinji Horikiri
Shunsuke Matsumura
Tomohito Nagase
Yoshihisa Nakayama
Yuichi Yamada

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Amagi Brilliant Park (TV)

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