Reviewby Theron Martin,
Kandagawa Jet Girls
episodes 1-12 streaming + OVA
Rin Namiki grew up idolizing her mother, who was a champion at the sport of Jet Racing before she died. When Rin reaches high school age, she sets out from her rural island home to go to school in Tokyo, where she seeks to race on the Kanda River, just as her mother did. By chance she learns that her boarding house roommate, the shy Misa Aoi, was quite a prominent Jet Racer herself in middle school, though she has half-heartedly sought to leave the sport behind as she advances through high school. With Rin as the Jetter (pilot) and Misa as the Shooter (who uses water guns against opposing racers and their machines), they seek to reestablish Kandagawa Jet Girls, the long-defunct Jet Racing club at their school, and contest against a variety of colorful Jet Racing duos in eventual pursuit of the Kandagawa Cup.
This series from the Fall 2019 season is the anime branch of a multimedia project which (wholly unsurprisingly) also includes a PS4 racing game. Its first episode did not fare well in critical reviews and got only mediocre community ratings during the Preview Guide that season, which probably contributed to it not getting voted in for episode reviews that season. With a follow-up OVA also now available on HIDIVE, I decided to go back to it and see if anything of merit got missed there. The short version is that the series is pretty much exactly what the first episode advertises it to be, for better or worse.
The basic structure of the story is mostly standard for competitive sports series: an enthusiastic newcomer teams up with a jaded counterpart who's thinking about giving up. Both are naturally carrying some baggage concerning the sport which is related to relatives who were athletes, and equally naturally, numerous exotic rival teams (undoubtedly designed with the video game in mind) serve as both foils and examples for their efforts to master jet racing and get in sync as a team. However, using the word “rival” to describe them only truly fits in one case: that of the rich girl and her maid, and even that never gets too heavy. In the other four cases, Rin and/or Misa end up hanging out with the duos before and/or after competitively racing them and everyone winds up friendly at the end. In fact, the opposing teams, for all of their eccentricities, are more commonly used to portray the gap between where Rin and Misa's relationship as teammates should be and where it actually is. These comparisons dominate the middle episodes, where the racing action is lightest.
The content of the series consists of three major components: the racing, the relationship development, and fanservice. Of these, racing is what defines the premise of the series. The best way to describe the sport without seeing it is to imagine two-woman chariot racing on water: one drives, the other serves as both offense and defense. The sleek, exotically-designed jet racers only vaguely resemble traditional jet skis (again, the chariot comparison applies) and come in a variety of types that each have their own strengths and weaknesses; Rin and Misa's Orcana is good at everything but a master of nothing, for instance. Shooters can interfere with opposing racers by hitting designated targets on each racer, which can cause a temporary power drop if enough hits are racked up, though races are more straight-out speed and cornering competitions than anything else. Obstacles and ramps can also be involved. Five one-on-one races are featured before the six-way finale at the end. On the whole, jet racing is a neat concept, though some of the machines seem a bit too fragile for what they're doing and the races conveniently ignore practical details like safety gear (none is worn), how the weight of the two riders might affect the performance, and how the river course can be shut down to normal river traffic at the spur of the moment.
While the racing defines the premise, the relationship development lies at the core of the story. Rin is pretty much the standard genki girl, one who is childish in many respects and both physically and emotionally expressive. Misa, contrarily, is largely the standard shy, aloof girl, one who is initially overwhelmed by Rin and lives in her own head a lot. Over the course of the series they gradually learn to care for and trust each other. This can be cute to watch, especially Misa's halting efforts to open up a bit, and one of the series' most effective elements is how adorable Misa is in these tentative efforts. The problem here is that the character development is far from balanced. Misa changes a lot, while Rin barely changes at all; her only real advancement is adjusting her approach to piloting, and the effect of that is more implied than shown. The other teams each represent a different cliché, including Japanophile Americans, gyaru, practicing idols (who in their right mind thought that Hell's Kitchen was a good name for an idol duo emphasizing cuteness?), shrine maidens, and the rich girl and her always-hungry maid. Each have their own quirks, and they can be entertaining to watch at times, but mostly their interactions with Rin and Misa (and with each other) form the most banal parts of the series.
And oh, yes, we cannot forget the fanservice, which is pervasive to a fault and the glue which unites the other two components. There is so much of it, and the series is so in-your-face about it, that it cannot be ignored. It ranges from things as simple as having the sport be all-female so that more girls can be shown in swimsuits (really, no other logic is offered for that) to a camera which almost inevitably focuses first on bust shots first to sexy, cleavage-baring day-to-day outfits to even bathing and changing scenes that will almost certainly include nudity in an uncensored Blu-Ray release. There's even a mechanism in the races where hits on the Jetter and Shooter from rival water gun can cause the covering over the girls' swimsuits to break away; never did understand the practical point to that. The series also offers one probable yuri pairing (the shrine maidens) and so much fuel for potentially shipping most of the other duos that it had to be intentional.
The visuals do not impress much beyond machine designs. CG is used heavily for the race sequences, with varying results; any attempt to show depth and 3D movement looks stiff and artificial, but the animation does not look as bad when it isn't trying to get fancy. Both in races and out, the most consistent animation attention goes to jiggling chests and exercise sequences (possibly because these also typically involve jiggling chests), with big shortcuts often taken elsewhere. Character designs are also generally a strong point, with most common otaku tastes being pandered to; surprisingly, regularly-appearing non-racer girls are even allowed to not be sexualized. However, the visuals in general make it clear that sex appeal is at least as important to Jet Racing as the actual racing.
A musical score heavy on synthesizer provides a serviceable enhancement for the series and is arguably at its best in some poignant piano pieces backing one of the few somber parts. Opener “Bullet Mermaid” is a remarkably solid number by lead seiyuu Riko Kohara (Misa) and Yū Sasahara (Rin), one which outshines its visuals and I could see being a hit independent of this series. Closer “RIVALS” isn't bad but isn't memorable, either, beyond a steady stream of additional fan service.
An English dub has not been made yet for this series, and nothing has yet been announced about it getting one. However, an OVA episode set after episode 12 is now available. It follows a structure similar to the last episode of Amagi Brilliant Park, with all of the duos getting together to make a promotional video for Jet Racing and each team's vision on it having comically disastrous results. If you at least tolerated the rest of the series, it is worth watching.
Overall, Kandagawa Jet Girls has moments here and there where it aspires to be more than just a trashy fan service fest, and there is a cloying sweetness to the development of the Rin-Misa relationship. However, it seems mostly content with just being a trashy fan service series. If you cannot enjoy it just for that aspect then the series is not worth wasting your time on.
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C+
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : B-
+ Fan service galore, development of the relationship of the main duo
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