Scuba Summer Scouts and the Bananya Bunch.
I have kept this currently airing anime area sidelined for some time now. But, the balancing act between my work and other outside responsibilities versus this anime website hobby is more even again. Regular, weekly updates will now be able to resume. Both on the deep archive dives and currently airing anime fronts.
To ensure this, I have been far more careful to select shows which fit the writing schedule I wish to keep. This may sound obvious. But I always tried to keep the same posting dates throughout any and all seasons, regardless of when shows held their air times. Or how many series I tried writing about at the same time. Slamming into a metaphorical wall, of course, was an inevitable result. Crunch sessions may work in various settings, for short bursts of required time. But it is for sure not a sustainable way for a free time hobby activity. Let alone a time sensitive one while also juggling a full time job and other duties.
For Summer 2016, I took a careful look at the airing times and chose:
- Mob Psycho 100
- Cheer Boys (Cheer Danshi!!)
For my area, Bananya and Mob Psycho 100 are available on Mondays, Cheer Boys on Tuesdays, and Amanchu! on Fridays. This will allow ample time to get to most of these over the course of my week, room in the middle, and space to have something together for the weekend.
While there are other shows I am quite interested in (Thunderbolt Fantasy, 91 Days, Orange, etc), I can keep my time with them separate from anything here. For this season I want to keep these posts on the lighter side (in terms of themes), which seems fair for a return trip. I have pushed these posts quite long due to raw series volume before, after all. And that built up, resulting in a kind of writing burnout.
Plus, summer is the most important season to take more precautions against burning yourself.
Bananya [Episode One]
In every time. In each era. The banana has been waiting for us.
Ready to delight us with their taste, and entertain us as we fall all over their peels.
Bananya is a mascot character of Q-Lia, a stationery company. On a fundamental level, Bananya as a cute wordplay joke exists to move adhesive note pads. Folders. A charm for a cell phone here, a plush toy there. The natural curvature of a Bananya, given its cat and fruit design, would play well to cuddling.
To be clear, I do not have anything against the raw idea of a company leveraging character goods-based marketing. I like Sega Hard Girls after all. Creations like Hello Kitty, commercial or not, have been able to bring smiles to kids over the years. There is perhaps something more reassuring when a company is so upfront in pushing itself. For instance, the Pepisman character of years ago, who would appear in Fighting Vipers and even their own titular video game.
That “feels” a bit less sinister, at least in my head, versus a random character in a movie picking up a particular branded drink. Careful all the while to keep the label in full view for us watching.
Bananya’s run time is a brisk three minutes. This includes the credits, a series character biography bit, and an end stinger with pictures of real cats. As a result, “practical” episode time floats around the two minute mark.
For a main character who is only capable making “Nya” sounds, and without anyone else for them to play with yet, this is functional. Enough time for them to break out of their peel. Hop around a residential kitchen. Head out into a living room environment to explore. Mess around with the narrator.
A lot is going to ride on said narrator. As a positive sign, the series has managed to land Yoshikazu Ebisu. This is their first anime voice acting role, after decades of live action films and television dramas, in addition to their own manga work. Going this route suggests the production team sees their extensive experience outside the anime industry as an asset, and I am inclined to agree. It still takes a lot of practice to be any good at “bumbling narrator” antics, after all.
Meanwhile, we have the Director. Kyō Yatate has few anime series credits of any kind to their name, and in this case they are biting off quite a bit. Not only do they have their directorial responsibilities, they are also helming Storyboard and Script duties. Plus the catch all bucket that is Production.
Whether this will be the case for each episode remains to be seen, though the prospect is intriguing. Does Q-Lia want to keep the anime staff small so they can better produce short and snappy comedy without having too many cooks in Bananya’s kitchen? Then that is a big positive. On the other hand, if this is to cut costs down as far as possible, then the project will spoil. Fast.
With an ensemble cast relationship chart which would put some drama series to shame, there is a lot more potential merchandise in the wings if the series is found appealing. The question is if Q-Lia is practicing sustainable farming techniques.
Cheer Boys!! (Cheer Danshi!!) [Episode One]
Be it in themed musical acts, television series, or otherwise, forging something with an ensemble of young men to market has often been big breakout business. Most attempts will fall flat or never go far, sure. Sometimes you manage to land as a competitive third or second tier fan favorite. And a select few end up as record smashing success stories. In time, those leaders step back as new faces work their way up.
To that end, anime in the Summer of 2016 has found itself on a rather particular precipice. In 2013, we had Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club. For 2014, Free! – Eternal Summer. At the tail end of 2015, High Speed! -Free! Starting Days-. After so many thousands of units sold over these last few years, the runaway success Free! enjoyed has inspired quite a few companies to greenlight ever more competition. Shows filled to the brim with boys are an ever bigger business. And it often takes a few years for the production committee system to get their research in order, select their bets, and be ready for market.
All of which is to say: there are a lot of shows all hitting at the same time now which are angling for similar space. Cheap knockoffs and also-rans will not stand a chance. Folks have a so many options to choose from for their boys of summer, which I see as a great positive.
This is the environment Cheer Boys!! is entering, which I feel is crucial to keep in mind both now and in the weeks to come.
For a series using cheer as its activity of choice, most of its introduction episode time goes to conversations. We see far more Judo here than cheer. These twenty four minutes or so is a transitional piece. Haruki Bandō comes from a Judo family, but due to a shoulder condition can no longer participate at a competitive level. It was even something he was able to do with his best friend, Kazuma Hashimoto, since childhood and into university. In turn, we see them reminiscing on rooftops at sunset, flashbacks to younger days, and so on. Haruki giving up Judo due to practical physical reasons. Yet also Kazuma too coming to resign so he can try something new to bring his old friend into.
By the end of the episode, setting up the circumstances for us to learn why he wants to create an all men’s cheer team.
The result is a slower, more deliberate pace than one may expect for a show about a sport folks tend to identity with pep rallies. When you consider the sheer number of uniformed young men shown in the credits, it may even seem dangerous. There are well over a dozen teammates to meet, introduce, convince to join, practice with, and so on.
However, I feel this is on point for where the series seems to want to go. A series like Free! could leverage things like its more exaggerated character designs through momentum and energy. Characters can act quite over the top at times and fit in fine. Its world makes sense, given its ultra low body fat percentages and one character having shark teeth inside their mouth. Cheer Boys!! is deploying more muted palettes for things like hair colors, and the general aesthetics of the series are more grounded in reality. Going for a slower, purposeful pace clicks with its design sensibilities right at the start. This allows the situations and relationships of the main two characters to be better established, rather than just a fact presented by the series. If it wants me to take in a serious moment down the road, it is aiming to set building blocks for that early.
On a far and away pie in the sky level, a series like Ping Pong The Animation works for me despite often going for long periods of time without much ping pong. A sound, tight character drama.
The caveat, of course, is Cheer Boys!! is asking us to trust it will take a while for it to set everything up. It is not in any rush to introduce us to all the boys it would want viewers to buy collectibles of. While it has some interesting real life parallels, it is also an anime-original series as well. While this is always welcome, the flip side does mean we lack the comparisons or positive word of mouth to know if there is potential for strong payoff down the road. Given the crowded state of the market at this time, it is tempting to worry.
If the drama does not work out long term, that will hurt this series far more than it would a mere merchandise parade.
Series Composition is in Reiko Yoshida’s hands, which I feel is a relief. She has had a very interesting mix of writing successes, ranging from Girls und Panzer to Maria Watches Over Us to Yowamushi Pedal. These are series with sizable ensemble casts and sub-units to balance screen time between, as well as needing to juggle various tones which often turn on a dime. Given the massive sales success enjoyed by these projects, I am more than willing to follow her to this series and she where she goes with it.
Director Ai Yoshimura also gives me reason to hold out positive vibes. She has bounced around various episodic roles over the years, including things like Daily Lives of High School Boys (Nichibros). In full directing capacity, she has delivered the critical darling of My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU (Oregairu). Pairing her with Yoshida for a television project where they can explore these custom characters is promising to me at this stage.
Cheerleading is all about trusting in mutual support, after all.
Amanchu! [Episode One]
Everyone dives into any given show with their own experiences and contexts. That said, I am in something of a different boat than a lot of other folks as I paddle over to this one.
Chief Director for this series is Junichi Sato. The last time I tried episodic writing on one of his programs it turned out to be M3: The Dark Metal (M3: Sono Kuroki Hagane). The series infuriated me to a level where, to be honest, I never even proofread my scattershot writing on it. Which is not something I am prone to skipping out on. Sato does have a well loved and widespread fan reputation. Projects like the anime adaptations of Aria, the Princess Tutu project, and so on. But as of this writing… I have never seen these works. I have seen a fair share of anime over the years, and Sato’s accomplishments are on my eternal length to-do list, yet… here we are. Just a situation of circumstance. I mainly know the bad side of Sato, as it were.
Likewise, I have no experience with Aria in manga form either, and Kozue Amano is the creator of this water-based series as well. As such, Amanchu! is a kind of longed for creative reunion well with built-in fan bases on various fronts. Far more hype than one tends to see for “healing” style scenic romps and character moment television time. It is an unusual but quite fun thing to see play out. These kinds of calm shows do not often come barrelling into a season with this caliber of buzz and excitement.
And here I am, flapping flippers on the seashore. Understanding it all in theory, and why the current is moving as it is. Yet only able to draw upon a past miserable time and wondering if Sato is going to bite me again.
Which, in a sense, perhaps that will not be such a terrible starting point for me and this series.
Our setup is simple enough. Amanchu! takes place in an out of the way seaside town. Futaba Ooki is a quiet girl who just moved in before the start of her high school years, now separated from anyone she knew before. Hikari Kohinata is a carefree local girl in the same year. She sits behind Futaba in class, and loves scuba diving. Futaba is bound to open up to her new area and make some friends by getting roped into Hikari’s scuba scene. Odds are the hyperactive Hikari may overstep some bounds and get a few accidental lessons in mellowing out.
Plot is more or less irrelevant to this kind of series, like Non Non Biyori or Flying Witch, which I do not mind at all. I like having a quiet, relaxing, rural-set show in my week. Anime has been rather kind to me in this respect over the last few years. Comedic timing and such still require a lot of care and attention to get the slow pace to “feel” right, of course. There is a high risk of turning any kind of potential comfy warm blanket sensibility into full on tranquilizer territory.
Amanchu! has a stylistic quirk any time a character breaches a certain level of emotional threshold. Embarrassment, enthusiasm, anger, and so on. Hit a certain point, and their entire head morphs into shapes not at unlike Sesame Street or similar Muppet style characters.
For this first episode, it does create some sharp dividing lines. Times where the show is being sweet, serene, full of soft guitars and scenery, and A Joke Has Happened.
Taken on their own, I feel these bits even handle themselves well. Circle faced Hikari aiming to capture a cat, and all either of their oversimplified selves can do is coo and meow at each other. That works as a silly thing in that kind of exaggerated style. But it does feel somewhat at odds with gelling with the rest of the series. These are not a rare occasional cutaway gag or the like. It is a visual airhorn used for any and all jokes.
On a certain symbolic level, Futaba and Hikari are coming into contact with each other with drastic differences in how they carry themselves and see the world. This episode more or less is all about focusing on these initial interactions. It would be a neat kind of shorthand to show these stark tone contrasts so much now, if also over the course of the series we end up seeing fewer of these faces over time as they get to know each other. I would hope Futaba finds Hikari to be a bit less like a curious alien over the episodes to come, after all.
Silly faces are cute and effective sometimes, is the tricky thing. I do not want them to outright go away. But I also want characters in these kinds of shows to laugh or joke or show embarrassment in their subtler ways as well.
And I hope the girls get to also do that together.
Their school uniform tails make them look like lilac land mermaids.
Impractical, sure, but for all this talk of being fish out of water, it feels about right.