Reviewby Nick Creamer,
Mikagura School Suite
BD+DVD - Complete Collection
Eruna Ichinomiya hasn't quite decided where she wants to go for high school. Academics are one thing, but which school has the cutest uniforms - and more importantly, the cutest girls? Eruna isn't all that interested in studies, but when her cousin Shigure shows her a pamphlet for his own Mikagura High School, she discovers a reason to hit the books: the beautiful Seisa Mikagura. As it turns out, Mikagura is remarkable for reasons other than its tantalizing student bodies. At Mikagura, every student must join a club, and clubs at Mikagura don't just involve photography or scrapbooking. Each club member is endowed with their own unique magical powers, useful in the school's regular battles over who gets the nice dorms, good food, and generous shower times. If Eruna wants to move up the ranks and impress Seisa, she'll have to fight!
Mikagura School Suite is a bit of a hodgepodge. Starring the wildly girl-crazy Eruna Ichinomiya, it posits a school where joining clubs isn't just mandatory, it dictates where you can sleep, what you can eat, and all other lifestyle amenities. On top of that, club members at Mikagura are all also granted nebulously explained powers, which tend to be themed around their club interests, but mostly just enable them to beat the crap out of each other. With these powers, the students engage in officially sanctioned tournaments, fighting their classmates to gain higher standings and greater kickbacks for their own clubs.
Those battles aren't necessarily the “point” of Mikagura School Suite, though. The show is vaguely framed around a pair of tournaments (a first-year competition in the first half and a general midterm showdown in the second), but the majority of the show just involves Eruna running around, lusting after girls, and enthusiastically making friends with basically everyone. As far as that comedy/slice of life tonal mix goes, Mikagura is a general success.
First off, Eruna herself is an endearing protagonist. Her aggressive personality can sometimes express itself through annoying “loud noises are funny” comedy, but for the most part, her energy is understandable and relatively infectious. Eruna is genuinely good-natured, full of silly ideas, and far from perfect in ways that feel very human. On top of that, she's an unabashed lesbian character who isn't treated as either a joke or a sexual predator. Eruna lusts after other girls constantly, but her lusting is framed in the same way an oversexed male character might be - sometimes aggravating, but only in the way that constant romantic advances by anyone would be. Eruna's sexuality doesn't define her in either a positive or negative way - she's not a threat, a role model, or a chaste ideal, she's a teenage girl who just happens to be horny for other girls.
Eruna is also surrounded by a very solid secondary cast. She quickly makes friends with the majority of the drama club, and a fair portion of Mikagura's episodes play out as silly adventures with friends, as they do things like plan surprise parties and look for ghosts. Mikagura's unique premise allows it to embody the “beat opponents and turn them into friends” philosophy of many action shows, but these friends don't become irrelevant as soon as they join the group. Characters actually grow and have rivalries or friendships outside of Eruna's presence, making their overall rapport feel lively and endearing.
Mikagura's overall structure is a lot less steady than its episodic tone. The show rambles through stories that often stop and start at awkward points, and its character-focused drama tends to be pretty underwritten. There are a number of fights in the show that fall flat because of their lack of consequences, and a number of episodic vignettes feel like they could have undergone a few more revisions. On top of that, the show's humor is decidedly hit or miss - plenty of it is weird or character-oriented enough to ring true, but many scenes also seem to assume shouting and overreacting count as jokes by themselves. It's not Excel Saga or anything, but it can certainly come across as over-caffeinated.
Mikagura's aesthetics are a lopsided mixed bag. The show's character designs are appealing, but its overall art design feels very flat. The show holds back on shadows and dynamic camerawork for the most part, and that combined with the generally underwhelming backgrounds makes for an unappealing visual experience. Lots of the club scenes feel like they could have been shot as a multi-camera sitcom.
On the other hand, when Mikagura pulls it together for a fight scene, the show's animation can really shine. There are about four or five fights scattered throughout the series that brim with dynamic animation, bringing the show's powers to life in delightful displays of movement and enthusiasm. Consistent character models are discarded entirely during these fights, in favor of fluid shapes that make great use of the show's simplified, color-coded character designs. The show's animation highlights are a real treat.
Unfortunately, the animation outside of those specific sequences is basically nonexistent - there's virtually none of the animated character acting that tends to bring slice-of-life comedies to life. Plus, most of those fights take place in the first few episodes, leaving a wide visual wasteland until the show pulls it together for the finale. Mikagura seems like a show trying its best under seemingly harsh conditions.
The music fares a bit better. Mikagura's soundtrack is livened up by a solid mix of interesting instrumental tracks, but the show also switches between a variety of ending songs and even has a bonus opening song for the final episode. The diverse mix of endings amplify the sense that this is an ensemble production, where all of Eruna's friends are equally valuable.
Mikagura's dub generally suits the spirit of the material. Monica Rial really leans into Eruna's energy, offering a performance full of shrill yelling and voice cracks. The dub strikes a more hyperactive tone than the original, but that may just be reflective of the fundamental differences in voice acting styles between languages. The overall script leans toward embellishment for the sake of personality - lines like “what's the dealio?” feel dorky in a way that actually works for Eruna's character.
Mikagura School Suite comes in a standard slipcase, housing the show on both DVD and blu-ray. There are no physical extras, but the discs come with a variety of bonus features. There are the usual textless versions of the opening and closing songs, along with a handful of promotional videos. There's also a pair of commentary tracks by the English cast for episodes nine and ten. The second commentary track in particular is fairly interesting, as it features the three actors who worked as the show's first audio director, second audio director, and adaptive script writer. There's plenty of funny material here (all three lament how often they're cast as characters who die), but also lots of shop talk about their work at Funimation. If you're interested in actor takes, it's a solid addition to the release.
Overall, Mikagura School Suite strikes me as a show on the borderline. There are plenty of things to like here, but it's also messy and underwhelming in a variety of ways, and the overall package is anything but consistent. Therefore, it comes with a tentative recommendation based largely on genre interests. If you like goofy club shows, are intrigued by the action scenes, or just want a show where the main character is gay without that attribute defining them, definitely give it a try. If you want something more polished, or the thought of hyperactive comedy puts you off, I'd give it a skip. Overall, I had a fine time with Eruna and her friends.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C+
Animation : B
Art : C+
Music : B
+ Eruna and her friends are charming, the animation highlights are excellent
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