First Impressions: Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko

SHAFT series are relatively rare in one aspect – they’re never boring. Sometimes I end up loathing them, usually because the pretentious dialogue and visual tics get out of control. But even then they’re at least interesting. It’s the funhouse mirror of a studio in a sense, incapable of showing anything that isn’t distorted in some way.

Denpa Onno has a lot going for it. For starters, it’s a true lead role for Miyu Irinu, the best go-to seiyuu in the business for teenaged males (even if he’s in his 20’s now). As usual, he’s spot-on – but he has something to work with here, too. Makoto doesn’t come across as timid or vanilla – he’s a boy with some sass and snark to him. Naturally he’s happy to get out of his boring life in the countryside to go live with his (employed!) Aunt in the city, figuring that it improves his chances of losing his virginity quickly.

It also has really eye-catching character designs by Asako Nishida – cute but not too cute, just distorted enough to be interesting but still attractive. It has a really catchy and clever ED. And courtesy of the light novel it has a pretty interesting premise – the mysterious girl wrapped in a futon who thinks she’s an alien, and is totally ignored by her mother. It’s played for laughs in the premiere, but there will be darker aspects to that going forward, I’m sure.

But that clever premise is also a trap, as anything clever in SHAFT’s hands is a double-edged sword. For they’re always trying to be cleverer than clever, to show us how SHAFT-y they are. Sometimes that cleverness can come in the form of excessively twitchy and annoying animation – something we saw hints of in the first episode. Sometimes it can be in the form of self-reverentially (not to be confused with self-referentially) clever dialogue which spins out of control and consumes everything around it. This has already been compared to Bakemonogotari, which was certainly an egregious example of that curse. I’m also having a bit of a struggle with Ai Nonoka as wacky Aunt Meme – not with the character so much, but the performance. She’s an acquired taste, and this woman sounds so much like her Fuuko (“Clannad”) that it’s a bit hard to get past.

For now, this is most definitely an “incomplete”. A keeper for sure, as there’s no way in hell to know what we have here. But there’s the potential for something excellent with a seemingly smart plot, a terrific lead seiyuu and a great look to the show. As always with SHAFT, I’ll hope for the best.


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