Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Nov 26th 2009
Episodes 1-6 Streaming
High school is hard enough without romance, and romance is hard enough when reciprocal—and straight. So when you're a high school girl with a one-sided crush on your best, and female, friend, well, that's really hard. As Sumika Murasame, model student extraordinaire, finds out the hard way. Respected, liked, and—in certain quarters—feared for her intelligence, coolheaded leadership, and ungodly martial-arts skills, Sumika is the epitome of the statuesque “cool beauty.” Unfortunately best buddy and unrequited crush Ushio, while very lesbian, is strictly interested in seriously cute girls. And she's also thicker than a double-reinforced concrete wall. It would take an act of god to bring Sumika's feelings to her attention, and the gods seem more occupied with dreaming up ways of making Sumika's life hell. And Sumika isn't helping things. Reserved and devoted to a fault, she's content to watch over Ushio as a friend, despite the fact that both Ushio's obsessions with other girls and her pain when shot down cut Sumika very, very deep.
It's fairly common for manga, particularly yuri manga it seems, to come by serialization by accident. The author will write a one-off story, which by a twist of fate or raw talent proves popular enough that they are called on to revisit it on a continuing basis and wham! You have a serial. Sasameki Koto feels like one of those accidents.
Its first episode is a hard-polished gem of doomed romance, an autonomous study of interwoven affections that describes, in less than thirty minutes and with perfect conviction, a complex and achingly sad relationship. It's an amazingly tight and accomplished little work, as much a short film as a pilot episode. With economical strokes it paints a lonely yet lovely picture of a girl whose need to hide her feelings has placed her in an untenable emotional position. The characters are gracefully sketched, their emotions convoluted yet painfully comprehensible, and their romantic entanglements all too real. And it's all—plot, cast, and emotions; pointedly unresolved though they may be—beautifully, seamlessly self-contained.
But once the episode is wrapped up, the series goes on as if blindsided by its own longevity. It spends most of the next five episodes drifting; treading water and killing time with silly humor. Sumika and Ushio's relationship advances with the mad alacrity of a doped snail, their cowardice and cluelessness, respectively, allowed to continue unaltered until both begin to seriously rankle. In the meantime the secondary cast gets top-loaded with characters that qualify more as comic complications than integral parts of the series. The antics of cross-dressing classmate Akemiya and floridly lesbian lovers Tomoe and Miyako are so relentless and ubiquitous that even level-headed Sumika gets caught up in them, acquiring a pretty serious patina of goofiness in the process. It's the performance of a series that has been left unexpectedly rudderless, and after the excellence of its inaugural episode, the disappointment is palpable.
But not lethal. Even after taking several steps down, Sasameki is still a couple of steps above your average romantic comedy. It never completely loses its melancholy edge, secreting little emotional stings like razor blades in its big blocks of laid-back humor. It also doesn't flinch away from the isolation its quartet of girl-loving girls feel thanks to their sexuality, nor does it hide the perverse (and perversely entertaining) undercurrents of some of its humor (Akemiya's gender confusion in particular). But most importantly, it knows how to have a good time without wearing out its welcome. Neither spastically overzealous nor dully complacent, whether chronicling a Geneva-Convention-defying cooking contest or Sumika's ditz training (lesson one: how to slip on a banana peel), it can paste an effortless smile on your face that won't fade until long after the end credits roll.
The series shoots for a simple, solid look that complements its modest ambitions well. It's blessed with good, though not spectacular, background artistry that delineates spaces and sets moods without being obtrusive or flashy. Character designs are distinguishable without being distinguished, cute and suitably expressive, but with inflexible, detail-deprived hair and generalized, slightly cartoony faces. It's limited scope requires little from its animators—nothing more active than, say the inevitable reckoning with that aforementioned banana peel—and they rarely invest more than absolutely necessary. Which is perfectly fine, especially given that the series is at its most distinctive and effective when pinching pennies with its unique and very funny brand of SD humor.
The series has basically two moods—sad and silly—and first-time anime composer Shigeomi Hasumi handles both, and several gradations between the two, with a smooth deference that belies his inexperience. Highly enjoyable and surprisingly sensitive, it heightens feelings and subtly bolsters humor without ever drawing undue attention to itself. As good a start to an anime music career as one could want.
It's hard not to be a little bitter that the series doesn't live up to the power and promise of its perfectly formed pilot. But even if the remainder of the show feels like a sequel to its first episode, at least it's a fun sequel. There's plenty to enjoy here: likeable characters, laugh-aloud jokes, and over it all a faint pall of heartbreak to temper its rampant lightheartedness. To ask more, even given the knowledge that it is indeed capable of more, seems a bit churlish.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B-
Art : B-
Music : B
+ An enjoyable and often very funny romantic comedy with a hint of darkness flitting about its edges; superb opening episode.
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