Chio's School Road
by Paul Jensen,
How would you rate episode 11 of
Chio's School Road ?
Sometimes the world conspires against you, and sometimes you screw things up all by yourself. It's the latter for both Chio and Manana this week as our heroines are undone by their own inner monologues. Chio is the first to face the music as another late-night gaming binge leaves her too fired up to get any rest. With morning approaching and her sleep cycle completely out of whack, she ends up taking some dubious inspiration from her in-game character. In Manana's case, a talk show causes her to obsess over the subject of body odor the point of paranoia. When she discovers that her best friend absolutely stinks, a lifetime of misfortune suddenly starts to make sense.
The episode starts off reasonably well, with Chio having exactly the kind of late-night gaming session one would expect from her. The goofy, totally-not-Payday bank heist strikes a decent balance between parody and plausibility, and Chio's decision to betray her allies feels very much in character. The same is true of her meticulously choreographed escape plan for when her mom inevitably barges into the room; it's just stupid enough to seem like the kind of idea Chio would cook up. The show also does a nice job with the sleep dilemma that she ends up facing. The problems Chio runs into, whether it's being too wired to actually sleep or needing to plan out and choose the least awful sleep schedule, feel pretty authentic to a late-night gaming marathon. Above all else, this portion of the episode gives the series a chance to step back a little and let Chio be her own worst enemy. When your protagonist has a natural talent for getting herself into trouble, sometimes it's best to let her bad decisions steer the narrative instead of trying to manufacture an external conflict.
Unfortunately, that entertaining buildup doesn't lead to a very impressive payoff. The story tries to throw in a couple of last-minute surprises with Chio's bag mask and Manana's decision to bonk her on the head with a stick, but neither of these work as well as they ought to. They're telegraphed too clearly and too far in advance to catch the audience off guard, which means the shock value of seeing the mask or flashing back to the tree branch beatdown is low at best. At the same time, neither of these things are absurd or goofy enough to be naturally funny without the element of surprise. The end result is that the humor of the rising action fizzles out at the end of the segment instead of hitting its peak, leaving us with an amusing journey to a forgettable destination.
The second half also has its moments, thanks in large part to Manana's constantly shifting emotional state. She jumps from pitying Chio to resenting her at the drop of a hat, then pivots again into evil genius mode as she plots to use Yuki to break the bad news about Chio's body odor. In each case, Manana goes all in on however she's feeling at that particular moment, with both the visual direction and vocal performance contributing to the comedy. That's all well and good, but it's not quite enough to carry half an episode, and that's where this storyline starts to run into trouble. In the larger context of the series (not to mention Chio and Manana's “unique” friendship), the whole armpit-sniffing routine isn't quite crazy enough to make an impact, and the big reveal of why Chio only reeks on one side is underwhelming. Much like the first half, this portion of the episode lacks the strong finish it needs in order to really stand out.
What we have here is another case of Chio's School Road coming tantalizingly close to a good episode but ultimately falling just short. Both of these scenarios have the potential to be hilarious, and the smaller jokes that happen along the way are consistently entertaining, but we never get that magic moment where everything comes together in a single comedic high point. With the next episode scheduled to be the last, I'm hoping that the series will at least be able to pull out all the stops for the finale. If it needs to go completely over the top in order to end on a high note, then so be it.
Chio's School Road is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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