Review

by Kim Morrissy,

Fragtime

Synopsis:
Fragtime
Misuzu has the power to stop time for three minutes a day. One day, she uses that power to try to peek up the skirt of her classmate, the beautiful Haruka Murakami, but the power for some reason doesn't work on Haruka, and Haruka finds out Misuzu's secret.
Review:

This new yuri OVA by the Kase-san and Morning Glories team is having a limited theater run in Japan. I never watched Kase-san, so I wasn't sure what to expect, although I can say I wasn't imagining anything like Fragtime. The story has an intriguing premise but overall feels rather scattered, without a clear sense of narrative structure or direction. The art style is soft and the visual direction feels gentle and intimate, but the characters themselves are full of rough edges and dysfunctional traits that are never fully addressed by the end. It felt like Fragtime was conflicted with itself about what kind of experience it wanted to offer.

Part of its problems may stem from the OVA format. In terms of length, it's halfway between a TV episode and a theatrical feature, which means it occupies a fuzzy grey area in terms of its aspirations. Should it try to tell a short and contained narrative, or should it aim for a climax with a stronger impact? Fragtime seemed to want to have it both ways: the OVA started off by telling short and sweet vignettes between the two leads, before shifting in a more dramatic direction in its second half. The problem is that the drama isn't developed nearly enough for the resolution to feel satisfying; Haruka is hinted to have some deep, underlying problems that she's working through, but it's all smoothed over in a flash.

It also does not help that the OVA does not start on a great foot. Our heroine Misuzu has the inexplicable power to stop time for three minutes a day. Although she has the look of a shy and introverted girl, she doesn't just use her power to slip out of awkward social interactions; she tries to look up the skirt of her classmate Haruka while time is frozen. This act of sexual harassment is what spurs the plot into motion because it turns out that Haruka is aware of Misuzu's actions while time is frozen. Fortunately for Misuzu, at least, Haruka isn't the slightest bit bothered by what Misuzu did to her, which is the first of many indications that Haruka's sense of boundaries and social niceties does not line up with that of a typical person. But this opening scene is a wakeup call that Fragtime isn't the sweet and wholesome romance that it's been marketed as.

Frustratingly, Fragtime never really goes far enough when it comes to exploring the dysfunctional mindset of its lead characters. Misuzu's initial act of peeking up Haruka's skirt is quickly brushed off in a comedic light, with the explanation behind Misuzu's motivations simply being, "She's attracted to Haruka." There's a bit of exploration in how stopping time affects one's sense of inhibitions, but it's almost entirely focused on Haruka's mentality, as she's the one who openly indulges in sexual exploration during class time. For her part, Misuzu only seems to inadvertently stop time when she's jealous of Haruka talking to other girls and doesn't lash out otherwise. Contrary to her actions in the first few minutes, Misuzu is characterized as a mild and restrained person who primarily uses her power for the sake of helping other people.

Haruka fares a little better as a character, but even then, there's a sense that the narrative is pulling its punches. Her hang-ups drive the conflicts, but none of it gets explored in much depth. It doesn't help that the scenes barely seem to flow together, resulting in an inconsistent tone throughout the entire OVA. In one scene, it seems as if Misuzu and Haruka are getting along great; in the next, they're at each other's throats. And there's one key scene that should have been a major turning point in terms of affecting how the rest of the class perceives these two characters, but its aftermath feels almost completely brushed over. Although I have not read Sato's original manga, I got the impression that this OVA tried to cram in as many key scenes from the manga as it could, making the narrative structure suffer as a result.

I also couldn't help but feel mild disappointment at the production values as well. This sense of "holding back" applies to the animation as well; the storyboarding doesn't particularly stand out, and the character animation is minimal as well. Fragtime does seem to adopt similar soft colors to Kase-san and Morning Glories, but the clips I have seen of the latter indicate a much stronger and more confident direction.

It's a pity that Fragtime was such an underwhelming experience, because yuri anime is still rather scarce, and this is the kind of story I'd love to see more of. Despite its sweet and cute aesthetic, Fragtime seemed to be a story about teen girls having messy and complicated feelings about themselves and each other, and it would have been great if this OVA could have done justice to that tale. As it is, it's hard to recommend an anime that's got too many edges and non-consensual sexual acts to appease fans looking for something like Kase-san, but doesn't go far enough in its messiness and melodrama to appeal to fans of, say, Citrus. Better luck next time.

Grade:
Overall : C+
Story : C
Animation : B-
Art : B-
Music : B-

+ Interesting premise, plays with some intriguing ideas about how stopping time affects one's inhibitions
Inconsistent tone and characterization, sexual harassment is brushed over too easily

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Production Info:
Director: Takuya Satō
Script: Takuya Satō
Music: rionos
Original creator: Sato
Character Design: Tomoko Sudo
Art Director: Takashi Honda
Director of Photography: Takeshi Kuchiba
Producer: Yūsuke Terada

Full encyclopedia details about
Fragtime (OAV)

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