URAHARA is about as cute, unassuming, and completely under-the-radar as you can get. This week in anime, Michelle and Jacob dig in to see if they've been sitting on a hidden gem this season.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network. Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.
You can read our weekly coverage of URAHARA here!
Hey Jake, fun thing I learned: a family can be two moms, a cat mad scientist, and an alien daughter
Ah, I see you are also watching Urahara!
What can I say, I've got a weakness for cutesy stuff.
I wasn't sure that I did myself, but URAHARA exudes a kind of cuteness I can really get behind.
Please appreciate Kotoko's heart irises and ever-so-slightly stoned expression
It's like a preteen's scrapbook come to life! Complete with preteen-level animation most of the time...
Oof, harsh truth.
But I think that's part of its charm too. Shots like this look cheap but in a uniquely endearing way because you can tell there's a sincere but limited effort behind it.
Still, this extremely simple show is NOT gonna be for everyone or even most ppl, no reason to sugarcoat it.
Yeah, the only sugar you're gonna find here is the candy-colored aesthetic.
While it may limit the show's audience, I actually appreciate that there isn't much animation in URAHARA because every frame is like
The show's like what you'd get if you got Hello Kitty to vomit all over a TV screen, and I mean that in the most affectionate sense.
Kind of! Invoking Sanrio gives off the vibe of a clean, round, highly focus-tested look, but I like URAHARA because it's the total opposite of that. Fuzzy, fluffy, wild, asymmetrical, explosive, unrevised. If you'd told me this was a doujin work made by a handful of friends in college, I would believe you. At times it's hard to believe this was an anime professionally produced for TV because it's just so cute and simple and surprisingly intimate. But we should probably say what the actual show is about.
On paper it sounds pretty rote: a trio of girls defend Earth from aliens who've arrived to steal culture. They gain magical girl powers, there's a mysterious conspiracy, yadda yadda. And at first, the show doesn't do anything THAT unusual writing-wise.
At least the space aliens stealing the world's art were nice enough to introduce themselves first.
Unfortunately this is Harajuku, so they just thought he was some eccentric tourist.
Considering how our main trio includes a cyber pastel catgirl, I can see why they don't think a fish hat is terribly out of the ordinary. And it's not like irl Harajuku fashion is much more "normal," let's be real.
Yeah it can get pretty eye-scorchingly colorful there.
The character designs in the show are done by Mugi Tanaka, a doujin-artist-turned-professional, and it really shows: cat ears, thick eyelashes, bizarre details all over. If anything, they're distinctive designs. If only their characterization were anywhere near as memorable as their look :'D
If the aesthetic appeals to you, as it did to me, it's nice to just wallow around in the show like a warm blanket before bed. But yes, the story hasn't been much of anything we haven't seen before. Or at least it hadn't been until recently.
URAHARA got off to a pretty shaky start. There was lots of talk about creativity, but we don't get to see much of what the girls actually do. The most they say about their motivations is that they want to create fashion for all kinds of girls, which is a pretty wishy-washy goal.
We know that Rito draws/designs, Mari sews/models, and Kotoko blogs/EXPERIMENTS, and that they run a shop together with their skills, but this all goes out the window pretty quick when they get magical girl skills to fight off the space aliens. Then all their creativity is funneled into that instead.
Whatever "creativity" is supposed to mean, anyway.
It is sort of a nebulous concept, a je ne sais quois
that the aliens don't have but the girls do.
Right. It's a little hard to take the show seriously when all the "creative" things the Scoopers have been stealing is shit like clothes, cakes, etc. Products, in other words. But now the story looks like it's digging into how much of the stuff the girls make is self-expression vs. product.
Yeah, in light of the show's heavily foreshadowed twist, I feel a little differently about it. Because of all the things it's playfully biting, one influence stands out a little uh...
Look, we all should have seen this coming, the world post-Madoka has certain rules. It turns out that the cute little girl and her magical talking fried shrimp who gave the girls their powers are actually allied with the Scooper aliens, so they can turn the girls into Scooper hybrids capable of creating things instead of just stealing them.
THE FACE OF BETRAYAL
After this revelation, Kotoko comes to the conclusion that maybe they never were creative at all.
Right. It causes the girls to reevaluate their motivations for creating up to this point, with a pretty honest look at feelings of imposter syndrome and why we make things as individuals.
For Mari, it's for the approval of others. This revelation makes her fear that outlet being taken away from her, everyone seeing her as a trend-chaser or just yanno, an inhuman monster. For Kotoko, she's just COMPELLED to create, and this has isolated her from normal kids her whole life. If her friends start to drift from creating, the one thing she thinks binds them to her, she'll be alone. And Rito isn't sure why she creates at all, because she's having trouble connecting emotional expression to her work ever since she's faced the abandonment of her parents' divorce.
And ALL of this just pops up seemingly out of nowhere, seven episodes into wacky adventures about aliens that turn into popcorn
That's been my biggest problem with the show, honestly. For half the show, the characters are barely characters at all, and then all this drops at once. Kotoko's fear of weirding people out is relatable! Rito's urge to draw as a way of processing her feelings is relatable! The show just takes its damn time telling us this. That said, I do appreciate where they're going with these character arcs, now that we're digging more into the girls' personal motivations.
Revisiting some episodes, I think I hit upon the problem: it's not so much the actual dialogue as the lack of resources to serve the execution. On a rewatch, all this stuff was built up steadily and seeded throughout the story. The problem is that you don't know what's important while you're first looking at it. The show is so fuwa fuwa and benign and soothing at all times that it's hard to tell when a moment is considered serious, right from the beginning when the alien invasion supposedly has the girls worried about Harajuku and their families, but you can't really tell by their faces or the mellow musical score.
But they're course-correcting that pretty hard now!
Remember kids, don't eat alien donuts off the ground, even if they promise you fame and fortune.
Then there's Fried-Shrimp-san's perspective on creative expression, which is pretty interesting:
He's a Scooper, so for him, creativity is a thing to be consumed. He's basically a hedonist and a glutton for shiny new things. So even though he means well, he thinks that's what it means for the girls too. In truth, creativity can isolate you from other people and be extremely painful even on a personal level, as you mine your own feelings and desires for something that will speak to others or be worth the effort to yourself as well. The Scoopers kinda remind me of entitled consumers who wonder why people can't just make more things for them, causing more strain on the artists in the process.
Meanwhile, Misa's so childlike that she doesn't quite grasp the kinds of struggles the girls go through as artists.
She's also a human-in-denial who was kidnapped by Scoopers. For her, having been human is a sad thing that she would rather not think about, so what she's doing for the girls can only be good.
I'm eager to learn more about where she came from and why she feels that way.
It's an interesting contrast to the main girls' approach to creativity, for sure.
I guess the question is can you recommend a show like this to people, when its pros and cons are both so strong and so unusual? :'D Personally, I like its oddballness enough to call it the most underrated show I'm watching this season. I really look forward to each new episode. But I don't know that many other people would dig it?
It definitely depends on how invested you get in Kotoko, Mari, and Rito's characters, I think.
I definitely found myself falling in love with the characters, not because they're particularly complex, but because they just seem so "normal." I was expecting hyper-moe archetypes like the kind you see in most Cute Girls Doing Cute Things shows, but for better or worse, these girls just act like humble, sweet, sometimes-bland teenagers.
Like, for as simple as these characters are, they don't feel mass-produced for otaku at all. URAHARA is a show that might really speak to preteen girls. I can definitely see 12-year-old me liking this show a lot. Guess that's what happens when you get a female scriptwriter and director on board! The show feels very much like it's by and for women, and I really appreciate that. It's an offbeat magical girl show, so it has a similar appeal and potential audience.
So I guess if you're either a preteen girl or a longtime anime fan who's tired of extremely polished marketing-heavy anime that's trying to sell you junk, and you just want to see a weird little story about girls sorting through their problems with the creative process in a wee soft candyland, then URAHARA is for you!
If you're interested in seeing artists work out their reasons for doing what they do, this show isn't half-bad. It's no Barakamon, but it's also got that major cuteness factor going for it. You're not going to get BIG FEELINGS from it, but it's definitely charming. Maybe that's enough.
Also consider: Mad Scientist Kotoko is extremely powerful
All in all, Urahara's just plain nice. It'll never be everyone's favorite, but it holds a special place in my heart, warts and all.
It definitely made me wanna walk down Takeshita Street again, haven't been in almost four years!
But god help me if I see one of these things