This is one of the shows I have higher hopes (if not expectations) for, seeing as it’s based on light novels that are closer to actual novels, and the premise, art, and everything surrounding it remind me of Hyouka, which is a masterful show when it comes to dealing with the small moments of human interactions. The preview made this show look very pretty. The director and vice director are inexperienced, so I’m going into it mostly blind. But seeing as it’s a mystery, you’ll all be pleased to know that the series composer worked on Mawaru Penguindrum and Yuri Kuma Arashi, so should be up to the task of handling potential complexity.
Story / Theme:
I thought before this show even began airing that it reminded me of Hyouka, and it might have caused me to find more similarities as I kept watching the show, but boy do I feel this show is trying to be Hyouka in various small ways. It’s really not a bad thing, just as Psycho-Pass trying to be Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and paying constant homages to it wasn’t a bad thing, seeing as both Hyouka and Stand Alone Complex are two of the better anime shows ever made. But it’s there, and more than that, all those psuedo-poetry like lines, all those “so cool” line about how this world stopped moving, or the nature of death feel as if they try to appeal to a certain crowd, of which the protagonist Aku no Hana would definitely be a member.
But still, let’s talk a bit more about what we actually have. The male protagonist, Tatekawi Shoutarou, is a “healthy” young boy, you could stuff it into style under presentation as well, but there were quite a few moments that were fan-servicey, but were clearly delivered through his eyes, so we’d know that’s what he focuses on. Even if technically he and Sakurako-san aren’t romantically involved, he’d wish to be. Even if he acts as her chaperone and tries to head off trouble, his opening monologue clearly paints him as one who wishes for a change. “Memories of the past dwell here, quiet and kind,” while being an example of the “oh-so-literary” tone the show often adopts, isn’t Sakurako’s role exactly to unearth those memories, to show they’re not so quiet, not so kind? And his attachment to her reveals this desire of his.
If the male protagonist is Togashi Yuuta from Chuunibyou, then the female protagonist, Sakurako Kujo, is his other half, Dark Flame Master, combined with Hitagi Senjougahara (Monogatari), and Makise Kurisu (Steins;Gate). While casually speaking lines such as “The sea is blue, the sky is blue, and the ocean breeze is most pleasant,” she is supposed to come off as slightly more sophisticated, and lines about the “eloquence of bones”, or the unfortunate lack of deaths try to paint as an other, as mysteriously different, and also as slightly fey, such as when we came across her, just standing under the cherry tree. But there’s the other side of hers, the impulsive, who throws tantrums and ignores logic as she tries to get what she desires, and who cares for those around her even as she wishes to not be seen as such. If I had to summarize it, I’d say that Sakurako is childish, whom the show is trying to paint as a bit more mature.
And then of course there’s her skills, and how she shocks others, and this is the realm into which Shoutarou steps, as we could see from his classmates, and especially his friend, trying to distance themselves from him. People do not wish to see the unpleasant, but wish to distance themselves from it. Not so Sakurako, and not so Shoutarou.
This show is really uneven right now. The fan-service (especially when Sakurako basically straddled Shoutarou and he almost burst) reminded me of its Light Novel origins. It’s a bit too chatter-box-ish, which detracts from what it does by showing rather than telling us. It’s trying to sell us a bit too hard on the faux-literary/chuuni fantasy. But it could still turn out great, if they handle the mysteries and character development with enough care. It could still be another Hyouka or Steins;Gate, but only if they let the content breathe a bit more (I mean, “Straight and unyielding, like a femur”? Really? :P).
OP – Sound only this time, I like it overall. The music felt a bit loud and discordant at times, especially before the vocals started, but overall I liked it. Reminded me a bit of Ayumi Hamasaki.
Let’s talk about where the show shines, move to where it’s uneven, and end with where it’s struggling, here. So, the great stuff – the backgrounds are amazingly vivid and lush, both colourful and beautifully drawn. Next, the sound design. The light piano tunes that accompanied much of the episode, the escalating violins when Sakurako was describing how drowning makes people act that underscored the heightening tension and discomfort on the side of Shoutarou and the young policeman. It was all very good. The music was also appropriately moving when we went into Sakurako’s “mind’s eye” mode, which looked fine, even with CG.
In the middle section, I’d say that the character designs were usually pretty nice, and sharp (except the policeman’s idiosyncratic lips), but the characters often appeared muddled, as if the borderline between them and the backgrounds weren’t fully set.
Well, I already said what I thought of the fanservice. Yes, yes, “male gaze”, but a character saying her name while we stare at her breasts? I think we can do without for a “serious show”. Unless the actual purpose here is to underline Shoutarou being uncomfortable at looking others in the eye, which didn’t seem to be the case. And while the backgrounds were great, and the characters so-so, I also felt a lot of moments were stilted animation wise, such as 2:30 in, when his “friend” half-turned from him.
Then there are all the Hyouka moments. I actually like it, like that they focus on the fidgety hand-motions, the gulps by Shoutarou as Sakurako describes the effects of drowning. The lighting, Sakurako’s poses, all make me think of that show as well. This show is doing it pretty well thus far, but it doesn’t feel as if it fully earned those aspects yet, especially when it mixes them with light fan-service. How can I tell if you look at someone’s hands to focus the camera on their feelings, or because Shoutarou has urges?
So just like the themes/characters, this show has a lot going for it, but it’s sometimes trying too hard, and is lapsing elsewhere. So, we’ll see. Hopes are still high, but expectations ever-so-slightly lower than those hopes.
You can also check my notes for this episode (taken as I watched it) here.