It seems like this is the “yeah, but…” season – the one where we have a bunch of shows with that one weird elephant in the room. With Ballroom e Youkoso it’s the Parasyte necks, with Koi to Uso it’s the eyes (more on that soon) and with Nana Maru San Batsu it’s Fukami Mari’s voice. That would be Kawashima Umika, who’s so different from what we’re used to hearing that it seems to be close to a deal-breaker for a few viewers. I’m still considering how I feel about her performance (I liked it better this week, once I was used to it) but I do know that female seiyuu who don’t adopt a certain vocal affectation are often called flat and wooden by fans used to that affectation.
At this point Kawashima-san is basically a non-factor for me, as I’m quite enjoying 7O3X in general. It’s the leading candidate for that dubious “best show hardly anyone is watching” honor this season, and a tonally consistent successor to the last one, Kabukibu!. Part of the attraction for me, admittedly, is that (unlike with Kabukibu!, Chihayafuru et al) I have some personal connection to this material. I’ve been a trivia buff since my schooldays. I’ve been on quiz shows and wrestled with the agony of being beaten to the buzzer and seeing the host call on the other guy when you know the answer. And I can say that Nana Maru San Batsu pretty much gets the details just right – and it gets a lot of the high school awkwardness just right, too.
There’s a lot to this quiz business, as I think is already clear even after two episodes. From a plot standpoint we’re still at the stage of Fumaki-san trying to talk Shiki-kun into joining the quiz circle, and it’s interesting to speculate whether she’s knowingly or inadvertently using her feminine charms to do so. Her usage of zettai ryouiki as an example question suggests the former, but I don’t sense that kind of calculation from Fumaki (maybe the seiyuu performance has something to do with that). One thing it certainly does is get Shiki’s classmate Inoue Daisuke (always nice to see Hatanaka Tasaku in another lead role) on-board – as an otaku he’s a more natural target audience for that ploy (intentional or not).
The key moment in sealing Shiki’s fate is a Saturday trip to a neighboring school to “watch” a quiz bowl – ostensibly a learning by watching experience, but in reality a ruse to get the boys on-stage in competition. Here we meet a wide range of friendly rivals – seventh-grade prodigy, cocky ace, haughty all-girl squad (including Fumaki’s best friend from middle school). Here the reality of a full-on quiz competition becomes clear, and Shiki really sees all that goes into it – from the strategy of working your buzzer to the importance of learning the “determination point” of a question. It’s possible most of you will find this mind-numbing minutiae, but for a person like me who’s spent his life in the pursuit of theoretically useless knowledge, it is as gospel truth.
I really liked watching this contest play out, starting with Shiki being so nervous even trying to get the buzzer test right terrifies him. The mix of questions is interesting (there are some tongue-in-cheek adolescent ones), and things get genuinely tense after a while. What’s crucial to note here is the notion of “classics” – questions in the regular rotation at quiz bowls (yes, that’s a thing). Effectively the first round here isn’t a general knowledge test but a memory one – it’s all about remembering these questions and being ready to answer them. And that puts Shiki at a huge disadvantage as a quiz newbie – yet he manages to sneak into the finals (with an assist from a fortuitously-timed glimpse of inner thigh) anyway. And the finals is where the questions get much harder, and start to test knowledge rather than memory. That Shiki was able to survive despite this speaks volumes about his potential for quiz competition – which is the quality Fukami saw in him that made him the subject of her interest in the first place.