OP: “Small worldrop (スモルワールドロップ)” by Annabel
The new season kicks off with a special preview of one of the more hotly anticipated shows of Spring, Red Data Girl from P.A. Works. As always with Niconico I apologize for the poor quality of the images, but even so, it’s clear to see the usual P.A. Works art style carries the day. It’s hard to describe just what I find so appealing about their look – I suppose it has a sort of romantic quality to it, an “art for art’s sake” sensibility that strives for beauty over accuracy. Character designs are by Shiba Minako (off templates from HanaIro designer Kishida Mel), yet another longtime industry veteran in a staff full of them.
In terms of story, there are definitely some growing pains in the premiere, but I see the bone structure of a very interesting premise showing through. Even by first episode standards this one had a huge amount of exposition to get out of the way, and the flow of the episode suffered a bit as a result. The first-flush impressions of the characters are a bit standard as well, certainly nothing we haven’t seen before. My suspicion is that this is a mostly a first-episode issue, but not having read the novel I have to take that on faith. Unlike LNs – most of which seem written with possible anime adaptations in mind – novels don’t necessarily lend themselves to seamless transitions in premieres. The premise is pretty grabby right from the start though, for me at least.
My initial take on RDG was that it was going to be wholly Shinto-based, and middle-school heroine Suzuhara Izumiko (Hayami Saori) is indeed a Miko. But she’s actually at one of the Kumano Shrines, which are deeply rooted in practices even older and are really more historically associated with Shugendou, an ancient religion of mountain worship that combines elements of Shinto, Taosim and especially esoteric Buddhism. That comes into play well into the episode with the introduction of Sagara Yukimasa (Fukuyama Jun), the man standing in as Izumiko’s guardian while her father is in America and her mother is apparently wandering Japan permanently. Sagara is a Yamabushi, one of the mountain ascetics who practice the Shugendou faith – though he little resembles the stereotypical image.
We meet a number of other characters in this very busy first episode: Izumiko’s father Daisei (the great Inoue Kazuhiko), several schoolmates including kind but slightly creepy Wamiya Satoru (Rie Kugimiya, who really should stick to girls, prepubescent boys and cute animals) and most importantly Sagara Miyuki (Kouki Uchiyama). He’s apparently Yukimasa’s son despite referring to him by his given name, and his fate in life is to be the servant (and I’m assuming guardian-protector) of Izumiko. It’s strongly implied that Izumiko is a Goddess (in Shugendou all mountain Kami are female, which is why women have historically been forbidden from holy mountains – they make the Kami jealous). Izumiko has the interesting trait of causing any electronics she touches to go haywire (although this seems not to apply to helicopters) which means she can’t use computers or cell phones. Naturally this makes her a bit of an outcast from middle-school society, though there are clearly girls in her rural school sympathetic to her plight.
Izumiko and Miyuki are clearly going to be the focus of the story, and it’s going to take some time for them to break out of their somewhat cliche “beauty and the beast” roles, I suspect. She’s a classic shy megane-girl, someone who wants to fit in but can’t do what everyone else does. He’s a sort of iconic bad boy, an angry and sullen brat who clearly disdains Yukimasa’s “anachronistic” belief system. Izumiko’s father wants her to attend high school in Tokyo (reasons not stated) but she wants to stay local, so Yukimasa makes the executive decision to force Miyuki to transfer in rather than have them attend school together in the city (he’s none too thrilled). However, given the synopses, it seems clear that the two of them at least are going to end up in Tokyo anyway sooner or later (which will make me sad if it deprives us of P.A. Works’ legendary bucolic scenery porn, very much on display in the premiere).
I can see where not everyone will be overly impressed by this episode – I wasn’t blown away myself – but as I said, I see the makings of something quite interesting underneath. In addition to the lovely visuals I like both the OP and ED from two terrific singers, Annabel and Masumi Itou (Ito’s ED song is especially winning). There’s clearly a willingness to go dark, as witness Yukimasa beating up Miyuki to compel him to play along with his plan (using the classic child abuser excuse “He fell down”). With the introductions out of the way I expect the premise to really take off, though I do worry that it seems to have too much scope for a one-cour adaptation. What will really tell the tale is whether the two leads emerge as interesting and original creations or stay safely inside well-defined cliches – I think that’s what will determine whether Red Data Girl is a good series (the plot alone is enough to carry it that far, I’m guessing) or an exceptional one.
ED: “Yokan (予感)” by Masumi Itou