Episodes 1-3

by Lauren Orsini,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Urahara ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
Urahara ?

How would you rate episode 3 of
Urahara ?

A few short weeks ago, URAHARA was my most anticipated anime of the fall season. With adorable character designs by newcomer Mugi Tanaka, a bubblegum pop opening number, and a fascinating core concept about three girls saving their creative neighborhood with their own creativity, it's one of those shows that sounds really good from a distance. However, the reality has been somewhat lacking.

Three episodes in, URAHARA is only beginning to break out of its painfully constant exposition to show us some of its potential instead of always telling us about it. While the design has been consistently unique and beautiful to look at, the story has been sluggish, like it's crashing after too many sugary Harajuku treats. Instead of action, we get expository dialogue that doesn't resemble human speech, in which the girls explain what's happening, who they are, and what their next move will be. It's only in episode three that we get to some of that interesting creativity they're always talking about, in the form of the girls' artistic accomplishments. I'm relieved that this anime is looking up, but I'm worried that not many viewers will stick around to say “it takes three episodes to get good...ish.”

What might encourage people to stick around is the art style, all bright pastels and fashion-forward fantasy elements. If they turned a scrapbooking and stationery supply store into an anime, URAHARA would be the adorable result. This show is deeply committed to its aesthetic, and everything from people to food to buildings to alien invaders has the feel of a girl adding stickers and enhancements to her purikura photos at the mall. It utilizes a lot of split screens and textures, more in a manga style than anime (and URAHARA did actually begin as a manga: PARK Harajuku: Crisis Team!). Our heroines are stylish girls who inexplicably wear devil horns and cat ears all the time. And when it comes to the sweet treats that fill their lives, everything from macarons to crepes to donuts are overwhelmingly embellished. It's an acquired taste to be sure, but it makes for a fun and flavorful atmosphere.

Less promising so far is the plot. The gist is that an alien invasion of “Scoopers” has come to Earth to steal culture, or more specifically, Earth's greatest creative achievements. It's not a stretch to assume Harajuku, Tokyo's hotbed of fashion, could be included in their selection. Thanks to a talking fried shrimp and Misa, a mysterious girl with an odd way of speaking, Rito, Mari, and Kotoko are tasked with becoming Harajuku's defenders by warping to a closed-off version of Harajuku, “Urahara,” in order to fight. Each vanquished Scooper manifests their wishes, usually cravings for snacks. It was easy to describe that quickly, but the way the show delivers this info is through a two-and-a-half episode slog.

But at long last, it feels like the establishing sequence is over, and it's time to allow Rito, Mari, and Kotoko's personalities to progress the plot through their actions, their woefully unexplored personalities, their affection for one another, and their respective creative goals. (I was upset when the Crepe Lady showed up because I know so little about our main three and Misa, so I didn't want the show to pile on more characters before it was ready.) If URAHARA were a still image, it'd be an A+. But this show's clearly heartfelt outpouring of style isn't enough to make up for an underdeveloped story or cast. I'll be watching for it to improve next week.

Rating: C+

URAHARA is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Lauren writes about geek careers at Otaku Journalist.

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