Reviewby Carlo Santos,
Doki Doki School Hours
DVD 2: 2nd Hour
Pint-sized Mika Suzuki and her oddball students are back in school after the summer vacation, but can they get over the post-holiday blues? Maybe some fresh air on an art field trip will do the trick. Then it's time for the school cultural festival, and Mika's class puts on a play, while aspiring artist Watabe tries to recruit students into the manga club (membership: one). Christmas and New Year roll around soon after, with way too many opportunities for Mika to pack on the pounds. After that, it's Valentine's Day—but with such a misguided, mismatched class, who knows where the chocolates will end up?
Was it really that smart to release Doki Doki School Hours around the same time frame as Bottle Fairy? Comparisons between the two are inevitable—offbeat comedy structured around the Japanese school year; a colorful art style bordering on chibi; simple characters whose traits provide the humor. Unfortunately, it's Doki Doki School Hours that comes out looking like the illegitimate younger sibling, as its lighthearted (and now predictable) jokes try desperately to fill up each half-hour episode. Compared to other anime attempts at comedy, though, it's still a cute diversion that will leave you mildly happy rather than annoyed or offended.
With nothing to drive the plot except the passing seasons, these four episodes follow a structure already established in Volume 1. Some school or seasonal event comes up, Mika and the students react to it, and hilarity ensues. Or at least, shadows of hilarity. In a show that relies heavily on gags, not all of them are going to work. Everyone's got a different sense of humor—I cracked up when Mika did her demented skipping of joy, even though it's just an odd moment rather than a true setup and punchline. Seki's narcissistic cross-dressing is always good for a chuckle, as is the sheer cluelessness of Watabe's new manga assistant (a dotty first-year girl), but often you'll have to sit through long stretches of ho-hum jokes before reaching one that's worth a laugh.
With both Christmas and Valentine's Day being romantically themed holidays in Japan, this disc marks the point in the series where people start pairing up. Of course, some couples were already obvious in the first volume—Kudo continues to pine for Suetake (doubly hindered by Suetake's thick-headedness and Kudo's constant nosebleeds); Mika is still fending off the advances of Kitagawa and her fetish for small women. What makes these same-sex couples funny is that they're treated like any other oddball couple, mismatched personalities and all. For something less silly and more sweet, turn to the boy/girl couples: Watabe and Nakayama go shopping for art supplies before the Christmas party, which is just damn cute, while Iincho and Oyaji ("Old Man") are gradually becoming an item with their politeness to each other.
A simple sense of humor calls for a simple style of delivery; the animation accomplishes that with its limited motion and flat character designs. Although the characters are nothing special to look at, you soon realize that even despite the large cast, it's easy to tell them apart. The colors might lack nuance, and the only fast movement consists of repeating back-and-forth frames, but this show achieves visual flair in other ways. The ever-shifting backgrounds and fantasy sequences contribute a lot to the comedy aspect, along with sound effects and on-screen text that add deadpan commentary to the characters' moods.
The series' lighthearted tone is reflected in its pleasant but unremarkable background music; apart from a couple of obvious Christmas carols, there's hardly a melody worth remembering here. The opening and ending songs, however, are dangerously catchy, and heaven have mercy on your soul if you should get the hook from the main theme song stuck in your head.
Geneon's casting for the dub is surprisingly appropriate here: with no standout voice taking a star role, it's a vocal free-for-all where everyone sounds like, well, an ordinary person. (Of course, the characters' personalities are far from ordinary, but...) This understated style of voice acting brings out the day-to-day nature of school life, but perhaps it's too understated: one switch to the Japanese audio reveals how much emotion we're missing. The dub script is a fairly close adaptation of the original text, sometimes matching entire lines. Meanwhile, those looking for extras will find textless and original versions of the ending.
Doki Doki School Hours confirms most of what we already know about high school: yes, it's kind of boring, but sometimes it gets weird. And funny. With a nutty classroom like this, it certainly ups the odds on something bizarre happening. Volume 2 conveniently happens to collect the episodes with the major "love holidays," so expect some misguided matchmaking in this one. It's far from perfect, and there's sometimes that nagging feeling that they're stalling for gags until the eye-catch or the ending song, but you've got to give credit to a show that tries so hard to cheer you up.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B
Animation : C
Art : B
Music : C
+ Some genuinely cute and funny moments exploring the second half of the Japanese school year.
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