The “Otona Joshi” project is a series of ten episodic anime adapting works by prominent Japanese female authors, brought to life by a variety of studios and directors. As you can imagine it’s going to offer a product quite a bit different from your typical LN adaptation with a 14-word title. The first episode, “Supper”, the story of an unhappily married woman who falls in love with a garbage man, was quite good. This episode, based on a story by Kakuta Mitsuyo, ratchets things up to a significantly higher level.
I wholeheartedly support everything about this project, from taking anime into areas it doesn’t normally venture to giving new directors a chance to show their stuff. In this instance that would be Miura You, who seems to be a rising star in the BONES stable. He directed three superb episodes of Eureka Seven: Astral Ocean – including the “Bruno” episode (#6) and the fantastic episode 12, where Ao met Eureka – and the blockbuster episode 20 of Zetsuen no Tempest, where Hakaze ventured back in time and stared down Aika on a rooftop. It can be hard for young directors to get the big job taking charge of an entire series, but projects like Otona Joshi can prove a great opportunity for them to make an impression.
I liked pretty much everything about this tale of a single woman about to turn 40 who’s getting ready to attend her middle-school reunion. In many ways this reminded me very much of a French animated feature, with it’s jaunty Latin jazz soundtrack and pastel color scheme. The themes are very French too, more than typically anime: angst at the approach of middle-age, nostalgia, and an obsessive idealizing of one’s first romance. Nakatani Miki (who’s had a career much more full of live-action roles and working as an animator than doing voice work) plays Hatoko, the woman in question – almost 40, working in a decent but boring job, never married and never close.
To say Hatoko is the sort of main character we rarely see in anime (outside this project, anyway) would be a wild understatement. As an adult myself I appreciate that her concerns are so real-world – dealing with stupid young people, wondering why marriage hasn’t come along and if there’s something fundamentally broken about her that’s the reason, being glad not to have a spouse and kids and feeling guilty about being glad. The only guy she’s ever loved was the boy she dated in 7th-grade – for three weeks – and gave her first kiss to. He’s also listed as being on the organizing committee for her 25th middle-school reunion, which is why she attends – and the reunion itself (and aftermath) is a hoot. I won’t spoil the surprise, but to say it takes an interesting turn would be an understatement.
It’s more than just the concept behind Otona Joshi that I like about “Life’s Best Ten” – there’s plenty that stands out about the art in itself. I love the music, the whimsical visual style, the maturity, and the clever little touches like the way Hatoko’s friend describes the act of trying to spot a middle-school friend inside a middle-aged stranger as a “horror movie” (and the visual conceit chosen to illustrate it). I’ll be keeping an eye on subsequent episodes of this series as they become available, and cover them on a case-by-case basis.