Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Complete Series BD+DVD
Natsuki and his three friends have always enjoyed just hanging out together. Now in their second year of high school, their world is opening up to include girlfriends and other interests, but none of this can really put a damper on their relationship. While quiet, studious Naoe is in a serious long-term relationship, Natsuki has just fallen hard for Kobayakawa, Matsunaga is busy chasing all of the skirts he can find, and Keiichi is waiting for the perfect M to his S. Even when nothing comes of anything, they all manage to enjoy their days together.
Based on an ongoing shoujo manga, Rainbow Days' two seasons of fifteen-minute episodes epitomize the slice-of-life school story. It follows a group of four friends in their second year of high school—Natsuki, Matsunaga, Keiichi, and Naoe—as they navigate their love lives, school days, and various other events like group trips and families. While it has its moments throughout—it can be funny, touching, soothing, and exciting by turns—the series largely suffers from a couple of annoying characters and a general lack of forward momentum in the plot. While slice-of-life doesn't strictly have to have much plot progression, it should probably have some, and by the end of this show's twenty-four episode run, not much has happened
The main story within the series concerns Natsuki's crush on Anna Kobayakawa. When he's dumped on Christmas Eve by his girlfriend, Anna finds Natsuki crying near the karaoke box where she works. Seeing him in distress, Anna offers him one of the tissue packets she's handing out. Natsuki immediately falls for her and offers her the scarf he had intended for his girlfriend. He's later delighted to see her at school, wearing the scarf—it turns out that she's in his grade, just in a different classroom. Natsuki thus begins a determined pursuit of Anna, who seems to be largely oblivious to the whole thing. In fact, she seems generally unaffected by anything at all, which is one of the issues with the series; we never really get a grip on Anna as a character. While we're supposed to infer that she's kind because of her actions towards Natsuki and her apparently devoted friendship with Mari, another central character, we only know this because Mari and Natsuki keep telling us that. Anna herself just seems to go along with whatever's happening until over halfway through the series, when we realize that she hasn't noticed Natsuki trying to court her at all, as they ride a ferris wheel together. The final two episodes of the show do finally allow us into her head, by which point we can guess that she's not quite as oblivious because she's accepted Natsuki's Christmas Eve date offer, so it feels like too little too late.
On the opposite side of the spectrum is Mari. She's a difficult character in a couple ways, although she in no way suffers from the same inscrutable qualities as Anna. No, Mari yells her feelings at the top of her lungs, which might not be as much of a problem if Yumi Uchiyama didn't use such a screeching tone for all of her line deliveries. But nails-on-a-chalkboard qualities aside, Mari is an issue largely because of how she is treated by Matsunaga. Of the many things Mari is vocal about, the two most definite are how much she hates all males, Matsunaga in particular, and the fact that she's in love with Mari. Given that we don't see her exhibit any warm feelings for any boys in the story (except for her brother), it seems reasonable to assume that Mari is a lesbian. (Her hatred of men isn't a reasonable reaction to not being attracted to them sexually, but maybe there's more information the show doesn't go into that's provided in the manga.) Therefore, it becomes a serious issue that Matsunaga continually pursues her, touching her in ways she's not comfortable with and making every effort to sway her to his “side.” While Mari's reactions are continually over the top (except when she attacks him after he forces a kiss on her), their entire dynamic and the show's efforts to set it up as romantic is uncomfortable.
It's interesting to contrast this with the remaining two relationships we see throughout the series. Keiichi is an open sadist, and while seeing him carry around a whip at all times is weird, his character is saved by the fact that he never tries to trick any of the girls who confess to him into participating in what he enjoys. Moreover, he warns them off, telling them that he likes what he likes and won't try to change that. It's an interesting change of pace from how this character is often portrayed, and when he does find a girl who is into all aspects of him, it's clear that he can't quite believe it, adding a nice element of innocence to the potential relationship. Meanwhile, Naoe and his serious girlfriend Yukirin form the solid romantic backbone of the show. It's to Rainbow Days' credit that it doesn't make a big deal out of the fact that Yukirin is a cosplayer and that Naoe's an otaku—those are just facets of their characters that don't wholly define them. If anything, it's their stable relationship that stands out to the audience and the rest of the cast, and it's a testament to their chemistry that we don't need to know how they met and started dating to appreciate how much they care about each other.
Rainbow Days is one of Funimation's sub-only releases, despite a dub being made available online. Yoshitsugu Matsuoka is as always a stand-out as Natsuki, particularly in the non-verbal exclamations department. Takuya Eguchi also does a great job as Matsunaga, and his shift from smooth ladies' man to overprotective big brother is particularly well done. In all fairness, Anna's actress, Minami Tsuda, doesn't have a whole lot to work with, given how little emotion her character shows at all times. The four main male voice actors also provide the vocals for the opening and ending themes, which are pleasant without actually standing out that much. Extras are very thin and do not include the specials with the Japanese voice actors that were simulcast with the show's original run.
Ultimately, Rainbow Days falls under the heading of “good enough.” It's sweet enough, funny enough, and tells almost enough of a story to make it worth watching. But it isn't quite good enough to fully recommend, and its handling of Mari definitely has some issues. But if you just want to watch some cute boys pursue the girls they like while going about their daily lives, this is a nice enough series in that regard.
Overall (sub) : C
Story : C
Animation : B
Art : C+
Music : B-
+ Nice voice acting for the guys, pleasant enough to be mildly entertaining, distinct personalities between four leads
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