Review

by Theron Martin,

Anime-Gataris

BD+DVD - The Complete Series

Synopsis:
Anime-Gataris BD+DVD
Minoa is a first-year high school student who has a lot of enthusiasm but no direction in life, so she envies her best friend Yui's devotion to the track team. That changes when rich girl Alice overhears Minoa mention a recurring dream about an anime she saw as a little girl and assumes that Minoa is a fellow otaku. Though not one herself, Minoa respects Alice's passion enough to help her restart the school's defunct Anime Club, and they soon attract four other members, including the light novel-focused Miko, the cosplay-focused Erika, the idol-focused Nakano (aka Aurora), and the chuunibyou Kai. While they conduct typical otaku activities, they must also contend with a Student Council dead-set on shutting them down for unknown reasons, and a cat that only Minoa knows can talk. As Minoa gradually becomes immersed in the world of anime, she begins to wonder if it's possible to get too deep into her new hobby.
Review:

Anime-Gataris has an unusual origin, as its original form was a series of shorts played during intermissions for animated films at one theater chain in Shinjuku during 2015-2016. This 12-episode TV series from 2017 is essentially a prequel to those. The two college girls featured in the original shorts appear slightly younger in the series as one of the main ensemble members (Erika) and as the elder sister of protagonist Minoa (Maya). Absolutely no familiarity with the original shorts is expected, as this series stands well enough on its own.

To some extent, Anime-Gataris is a massive exercise in misdirection. For most of its run, it looks to be following in the footsteps of Genshiken: a straight-up slice-of-life story about otaku who gather together in a club to exercise their passions. In this case, Minoa takes on the role of the audience stand-in, an outsider who gradually gets drawn deeper into otakudom as she marvels at the love affairs that others have with their hobbies. Although Minoa is very much the prototypical Genki Girl, the way she grows to love anime is clearly meant to make her relatable to viewers who are otaku themselves. Her clubmates are a fairly standard but very diverse collection of otaku archetypes, with the only conspicuous absence being the lack of a game-focused character. (Miko is later revealed to be doing double duty as a BL fan, but this is not initially apparent.)

Through episode 8, the story almost entirely consists of characters going through the expected paces for an anime club, such as going to a Comiket-like event, visiting Akihabara, and having to prove the worth of their club to the student council. Plenty of screentime is devoted to characters ruminating on issues that will be familiar to any established anime fan, such as the Three Episode Rule, debates over adaptations of light novels, the merits of merchandise, and so forth. Along the way, tons of thinly-veiled verbal and visual references to other anime titles get dropped, the most frequent of which include Gurren Lagann, Precure, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Re:Zero, and Love Live!. Characters also describe what anime has meant to them personally, such as Erika's story about how anime helped her make friends during a stint in America, and a decided emphasis is placed on anime's ability to bring people from different cultures together, as shown with the introduction of Chinese fan Beibei during the Comiket episode. Conflict comes from a curiously hostile Student Council that puts the club's existence on the ropes at multiple points, giving them something to fight against.

However, there are indicators early on that something a little weirder is afoot. Talking cat Neko-senpai wouldn't be an odd character for many slice-of-life anime, but he seems conspicuously out-of-place in a series where everything seems otherwise mundane. The Student Council's actions being part of a bigger conspiracy can also be explained away as just spicing things up, and prohibition against opening the closet in the club room can be explained away with ordinary circumstances as well. However, any semblance of this being just a Genshiken clone gets ejected out the window with great force as episode 9 turns the last quarter of the series into a jaw-droppingly bizarre existential mind trip with an anime fandom twist. Suddenly fantastical elements are not only omnipresent, but get taken at face value by everyone but Minoa. As things progress, the visual world starts to distort from Minoa's perspective to take on various elements of anime from different eras, one character is revealed to have an unexpected origin, and even the fabric of reality seems to be twisting badly enough to repeatedly shatter the fourth wall. All of this leads to a grandiose conclusion, with the implication being that a mess created by an over-exuberance for anime can also be solved the same way.

At least some of what was intended by this unexpected last quarter is clear; the production staff wanted to toy around with the metaphysical concept of anime, including how it looks and how it is produced. The effectiveness of this approach and what kind of message (if any) was intended by taking things this direction is much more debatable, to the point that I'd love to see more behind-the-scenes info about it. In context, it feels like Minoa is experiencing a psychotic break that causes her to have trouble distinguishing anime from the real world, so much so that I half-expected the series to end with her waking up in a padded room, and yet the ending strongly implies that it all really happened. Other aspects make the last quarter come off as a cautionary tale about getting too engrossed in anime. Of course, the intent could also have been purely frivolous entertainment, but if so then why wait until 2/3 of the way through the series to show its hand? Why not introduce the reality-warping concept closer to the start?

Regardless of what that last third is supposed to be, the technical merits of the series are consistent until they are suddenly not. This rare lead production effort by Wao World (Showa Monogatari and Time Travel Girl are their only other production lead efforts) results in fittingly anime-typical character designs, a fair amount of detail work in the backgrounds, and a generally competent animation effort. The color scheme leans on the bright side but not obnoxiously so and, except for one hot springs episode that plays around with “God light” censoring, fanservice is limited to shots of Minoa's friend Yui at track practice, forming the series' most persistent running joke. The final few episodes also deliver a number of alternate character design and animation styles from older eras of anime. One idol performance by the Anime Club is done in the CG style commonly-used for such productions; if it's not a pure cost-cutting measure, then that could be taken as a cheeky nod to idol anime.

The musical score for the series is mostly unremarkable through its first two-thirds, providing good support for the various dramatic and comedic moments but not doing anything memorable. It becomes much more active in the final third as it ramps up the series' drama and absurdity. Neither peppy opener “Ai Kotoba” nor closing theme “Good Luck Lilac” is memorable, except perhaps for the idol choreography in the latter.

Funimation's release of Anime-Gataris is basic by their standards. It includes both Blu-Ray and DVD versions and access to a digital copy, but the only on-disc extras are clean versions of the opener and closer and some trailers. It does include the English track, which does actually dub the performance song in episode 8 but is not otherwise one of Funimation's stronger efforts. The main problem is that Dawn M. Bennett never sounds quite right as Minoa. She's definitely got the enthusiasm down, but she comes across a little too sharp; a slightly softer tone might have worked better. The singing effort also leaves much to be desired. Most other roles and performances are fine, with a highlight being Brad Smeaton's Brooklyn-themed interpretation of Neko-Senpai. The way Beibei was handled to convey her foreignness is interesting; Trina Nishimura voices her more haltingly to give the impression that she is not a native speaker.

If all you want out of Anime-Gataris is just to have fun watching otaku be otaku, then the series will serve you just fine, provided that you stop watching at the end of episode 8. Going beyond that will take you down a rabbit hole into a much more ambitious but also much more chaotic reality.

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

+ Likable main cast, tons of clever anime references, finds creative ways to poke fun at anime standards
Last third is very messy, overall themes are unclear

Director: Kenshirō Morii
Series Composition: Mitsutaka Hirota
Script:
Mitsutaka Hirota
Megumu Sasano
Daisuke Tazawa
Kenichi Yamashita
Storyboard:
Makoto Hoshino
Yoshiyuki Kaneko
Hiroshi Kubo
Kazuo Miyake
Kenshirō Morii
You Nakano
Takeshi Ninomiya
Satoshi Shimizu
Episode Director:
Kazuya Aiura
Shin'ichi Fukumoto
Makoto Hoshino
Yoshiyuki Kaneko
Hiroshi Kubo
Rion Kujo
Yusaku Saotome
Unit Director:
Yoshiyuki Kaneko
Hiroshi Kubo
Music:
Keigo Hoashi
Kuniyuki Takahashi
Character Design: so-shi
Art Director: Hiroshi Gouroku
Chief Animation Director: so-shi
Animation Director:
Mayumi Hidaka
Eri Iizuka
Tomoaki Kado
Shinichiro Kajiura
Shou Kawashima
Takahiro Miura
Mamiko Mizutani
Fumiaki Murakami
Yoshitaka Nagata
Tōko Nakamura
Toshiko Sasaki
Kōki Sugawara
Yoko Sugita
Akio Uchino
Shouta Ueno
Sound Director: Yukio Nagasaki
Director of Photography: Norimasa Teramoto
Producer: Naoto Kimura

Full encyclopedia details about
Anime-Gataris (TV)

Release information about
Anime-Gataris - The Complete Series (BD+DVD)

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