If any series ever screamed out “4-koma slice of life” it’s this one. I’ve seen it compared to Sketch Book and Lucky Star, but for me it’s not much like that show at all – much more light-hearted and less built around a central plot. If anything, I see Seitokai Yakuindomo without the student council and the sex jokes – which is odd because it seems like you’d have nothing left, but that’s what it felt like to me. Some of the gags were funny, and there was a bit too self-consciously relaxed and cute tone, and overall the viewing experience was pleasant but forgettable. This is definitely the most low-key I’ve heard Okamoto Nobuhiko in a very long time.
Sankarea – 01
Two very hip trends – zombies and bashing DEEN – come together with Sankarea. And I’m afraid the DEEN bashing is going to have to go on hold for this one, because the series is actually damn good, based on the first episode.
Several things stand out above the norm for this series about quirky first-year high-schooler Furuya Chihiro (Kimura Ryohei). I’m not sure if I’d call him a zombie otaku or a necrophiliac (this series is edgy enough to cast doubt) but he loves zombies, that’s for sure, and dreams of meeting a zombie girl of his very own. He’s the son of the local Buddhist priest, and lives on the temple grounds with his senile Grandpa and sister Rero (Iguchi Yuka, interesting as usual). When his beloved cat Baabu (Fukuen Misato, who I usually like a lot) is killed by a truck, Chihiro decides to put his fetish to work and turns to an old booklet from Northern Japan that he thinks might be the recipe for resurrection. It’s during his nightly attempts to implement his plan that he eavesdrops on 10th-grade idol Sanka Rea (Uchida Maaya) screaming her frustrations into a well. There’s also a slightly-older cousin Ranko (Yahagi Sayuri) who’s seriously warm for Chihiro’s form and tries to mask it by typical big-sister style bullying and teasing.
It’s an odd premise, but the signs are there that this can be special. I loved the very short scene where the siblings grieved for Baabu together. I think the scenes between Chihiro and his two friends at their all-male school have a sharp wit to them, and I love the fact that Chihiro chooses an abandoned bowling alley – highly atmospheric and a nod to horror convention – as the place to try and resurrect his cat. And then there’s Rea, who inadvertently reveals to Chihiro that her father is abusing her (by taking nude pictures of her that’s clear – the only question is whether there’s sexual abuse happening too). Chihiro and Rea have a nice give-and-take with some real edge to it – they’re both shy and awkward, but enjoy testing each other’s limits. And yes, this is a DEEN show that looks good, if slightly SHAFT-y (director Hatakeyama Mamoru is a SHAFT vet under the name Omata Shinichi) – the animation is fine, and the character designs superb. A scan of the staff reveals some real substance – those character designs are by Sakai Kyuuta (Pita Ten, Higurashi, Needless) and the head writer (Takagi Noboru) held that role on Baccano!, Durarara, and worked on Shiki. I also enjoyed the OP and especially the excellent ED by Annabel. All told this was both an interesting premiere in its own right and offered tantalizing glimpses of a dark and complex series to follow.
Shirokuma Café – 01
There was a definite sense going in that Shirokuma Café could go either way for me, and I have no idea how well this style of humor is going to hold up over a full cour. But if it keeps making me laugh as much as it did this week, we’ve got a winner.
I think the moment when I really bought in was when Sakurai Takahiro’s titular polar bear said “You should totally go with the tuna boat”. But I was laughing pretty much from the OP and never stopped. The notion of hearing a preposterously great cast run through their paces as animals living mundane daily lives is the central conceit here. You’ve got terrible puns, sight gags, and some gentle social commentary to boot, and based on this premiere, it seems to be very smartly written. Panda-kun is a lazy teenager, whose mother (hilariously played by the legendary Morikawa Toshiyuki) tries to spur him into searching for a part-time job by sucking him up with the vacuum. Panda-kun isn’t good at much of anything except lying around and eating bamboo – but fortunately he’s able to find the ideal job as a “part-time panda” at the zoo.
Now that’s pretty damn hilarious on so many levels, but there’s so much more. I loved the “service” the pandas were told to provide the preschoolers visiting. Then there’s the motley crew at the Polar Bear café, starting with the deadpan Sakurai and his best customer, Penguin (Kamiya Hiroshi). The failed job interviews, the sloth wanting to live in the yard, “the usual” – it’s pretty dumb, but it’s kind of smart too – and it just simply made me laugh. The notion of animals living among humans is hardly new to animation, especially in anthropomorphically-obsessed Japan, but this is an interesting take – animals getting jobs “performing” as themselves at the zoo being the prime example. As I said, this might not hold up over the long haul, but for one episode the chemistry here is just right.