There’s clearly something to mangaka Yasuda Suzuhito’s Yozakura Quartet that compels, because anime keeps coming back to it over and over. But this series is really less about Yasuda-sensei’s manga and more about Ryo-timo, the auteur who directs and provides animation direction and character design. That’s part of the attraction or part of the problem, depending on which camp you’re in. I can perfectly understand why die-hard fans of the manga aren’t enthused at the way Ryo-timo has made the series his own, but for me he’s one of the most interesting artists in the business and the main reason I’m watching the show.
With a long-running manga, several OVAs and now two TV series, the story of Yozakura Quartet is familiar to most anime fans by now. I can see why it draws Ryo-timo in – there’s a restless, frenetic quality to it that suits his hyperkinetic visual style. Superpowered schoolgirls in extremely short skirts, shota smoking cigarettes and groping oppai, giant goldfish, explosions of magical lighting – it’s just another day in Sakura New Town, the place where humans and youkai co-exist peacefully (well…). And every day is pretty much the same – uncontrolled chaos. The series has a way of taking it all in stride, rarely getting itself bogged down in explanations or exposition, because this is just how things are in this world. That lends it a certain workaday believability that neither loses itself to silliness or tries too hard to be “ordinary” in a conspicuous way.
This is an interesting enough premise, but in all its incarnations it was never really the story or characters of Yozakura Quartet that compelled me to watch. I like seeing this franchise in Ryo-timo’s hands, plain and simple. This is yet another series that verily smacks of the old-school Gainax style – raunchy, silly, loud, and boisterous, with a look that also harkens back to the days of Mahoromatic and Abenobashi. Ryo-timo’s resume is a veritable laundry list of some of the most visually striking anime of the last 20 years (Moribito, Noein, Gurren Lagann) and he’s worked a fair bit at Gainax – and this all despite the fact that he’s but 34 years old, having worked in top-level staff positions in his late 20’s. Tatsunoko is a logical place for him, because they’re an old-school studio themselves that seems to have taken up the mantle of classic Gainax (Trigger does in-between animation for this series as well).
It says something for the staggering creative energy that powered Gainax in their glory days that their style keeps asserting itself over and over again – at Tatsunoko, at Trigger, at Khara, at Gokumi. It’s that creative spark that makes Yozakura an interesting watch for me – like everything Ryo-timo does this series just oozes style. Nothing looks conventional, and the focus is less on photo-realistic backgrounds and sakuga than on detail in strange and less obvious places, and cinematography that you’ll see nowhere else in anime. Like anyone this idiosyncratic Ryo-timo is going to end up eliciting strong feelings both positive and negative in the viewer, all the more so when he’s taking a much-loved property and thoroughly remaking it in his own image. This show definitely won’t be for everybody, but I think it’s a feast for the eyes – and continues this season’s trend of old-school anime that provide a great visual experience and a ton of creative energy. Gainax may be for all intents and purposes gone, but their spirit is clearly flourishing.