Reviewby Carlo Santos,
Doki Doki School Hours
DVD 1: 1st Hour
Mika Suzuki is a teacher at Okitsu High School, but it's hard for anyone to take her seriously when she stands under five feet and looks younger than most of her students. Making her job even more difficult is the fact that her students aren't quite normal: a cross-dressing bishounen, a wannabe manga-ka, and a well-developed girl with a fetish for small women (including Mika, of course) are just some of the misfits in Mika-sensei's class. From the start of term to sports day to exams to summer break, school is hard enough for the kids, but that's nothing compared to the toll it takes on a teacher.
Great, just what the world needs—another high school anime. But has there ever been one that's so utterly focused on school itself? (Okay, I'll give you Azumanga Daioh, but that's ONE.) While other shows use the Japanese high school as a setting for all sorts of romantic, dramatic, futuristic, horrific, and sometimes just plain soporific adventures, this is one of those oddities where school itself is the adventure. And who would be crazy enough to make a teacher the main character? This unexpected setup is the beginning of a comedy so cute and likable that even when it falls flat, which it does a few times, you hope it'll pick itself up and continue on its cheerful way.
Most school comedies stumble because of their weak excuses for plot—maybe it's about a boy trying to decide which girl he likes best, or a girl trying to get someone special to like her. Doki Doki School Hours sweeps that aside and says, "Okay, you're only watching this because you want to see crazy funny stuff, so guess what? There IS no plot!" While other shows use the events of the Japanese school year as a background for the main story, here it's the events that become the story. Everyone is familiar with the classic pillars of schoolyard anime like the Start of Term, the Swimsuit Episode, and the Summer Festival Episode. With no long-term plot or emotional baggage to worry about, it's one lighthearted gag after another. However, pure comedy is difficult to sustain for a full 25 minutes, and the show's entertainment level depends a lot on your sense of humor.
So just what kind of sense of humor is needed to enjoy this series? If you've ever rooted for the side characters in a school-based anime, you're sure to find something appealing here. Narcissist bishounen Seki is his own punchline, earning many of the best laughs with his flamboyant ways and frequent cross-dressing. Conversely, bespectacled class rep Iincho seems like the most normal of the bunch—but don't let her get started on her favorite idol singer or she'll never shut up. Puberty seems to have come early for Kitagawa, whose busty figure is the envy of the other girls, but she's too busy fawning over Mika-sensei to care. And of course, what would a school comedy be without a hardcore otaku—Watabe gets away with drawing manga in class only because Mika wants to know what happens next. These characters and many others form a cast that's memorable and quirky without being annoying. None of it would be possible, though, without Mika at the center; her small size and long-suffering camaraderie with the students make her the lovable underdog.
The straightforward visual style of the show is well suited to the "ordinary school days" theme, but does it have to be so plain? Simple character designs and flat layers of color create an inviting, friendly look, but that lack of sophistication gets tiring on the eyes. It doesn't help either that the animation is rudimentary at best; some scenes are so static that the only thing moving on screen is a flapping mouth. What the series lacks in motion and nuance, however, it makes up for with abstract techniques—the animators aren't afraid to use the visual language of manga, whipping out patterned backgrounds and sparkles wherever necessary. Text also plays a key role in the artwork (fortunately, it's all sub/supertitled), drawing attention to visual gags as characters express their emotions in ways that are not only visible but also readable.
Watch enough comedy anime and you'll swear that they all use the exact same background music—all except for Doki Doki School Hours, which breaks the mold and goes for a lighthearted orchestral sound. Just when everything seemed to have been synthesized and honky-tonked to death, composer Yoshihisa Hirano proves that it's still possible to write an original-sounding score for a comedy. The theme songs, meanwhile, are outbursts of pure energy, matching the cheerful mood of the show.
A series about everyday school life calls for everyday voices, and sure enough, the dub track features none of the English-speaking "superstars" of voice acting. Whether this was a conscious casting decision or not, the result is an honest, natural-sounding performance, just like regular schoolkids. The cast's inexperience also has its disadvantages, however—many of the lines sound stiff, and everyone uses the same tone of voice. For more vocal variety, switch to the Japanese audio. The adaptation from subtitles to dub script is most concerned with the flow of words; although it tries to be faithful where it can, there are some figures of speech that come out more easily if converted to something else entirely in English.
In real life, school is a boring everyday routine, and sometimes Doki Doki School Hours is like that too, collapsing under the pressure of having to be funny all the time. However, as long as the quirky students (and their quirky teacher) at Okitsu High keep running into each other, laughs are sure to pop up. The art isn't the prettiest, and the jokes are hit-and-miss, but if you're tired of other school shows that pretend to be deep and momentous and emotional, then turn to the one honest series that isn't afraid to admit: sometimes, you just want to see the crazy funny stuff.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B
Animation : C-
Art : C+
Music : B
+ Cute, harmless fun with a memorable cast of characters.
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