SKET Dance Episode 1 – Paint-By-Numbers Originality
High school life is easily the most popular subject of anime, yet it’s rarely normal high school life that is shown. Instead, it’s high school life with mecha, or constant battles, or supernatural incursions. On the rare occasions where science-fiction and fantasy tropes are nowhere to be found, it typically falls into the equally unrealistic harem scenarios, with a bevy of girls inexplicably falling for the bland and clueless protagonist. (And sometimes we get both of those at once.)
The exception to this trend tend to be shoujo romances, which—when they don’t have utterly perfect Marty Stu characters as the male lead—tend to at least attempt a sense realism in character interactions. For a shounen show to avoid any of the above traps, it typically needs to find an outlet other than romance. SKET Dance seems to have found a rather unlikely one: a do-gooder high school club.
It’s a premise which is quite unique in anime; off the top of my head I can’t think of another show like this one. Despite that promising start, the end result is anything but original.
SKET-dan is a three person club devoted to “Support, Kindness, Encouragement, [and] Troubleshoot[ing]” and with a lack of fellow students willing to take them up on that last category, it’s not too surprising that they are seen as something of a joke, with most of their requests for aid coming from teachers for cleaning detail.
For that reason they are eager to make a good first impression with anyone new, and promptly hone in on Teppei Sugihara, a recent transfer student who doesn’t know enough to dismiss them. At first they just try to recruit him into the club, but when a masked man tosses paint on Sugihara, the team mobilizes to catch the perpetrator.
The episode is told primarily through Sugihara’s perspective, which is a reasonably effective way of introducing the members of Sket-dan in a natural fashion. There’s Switch, the computer hacker who insists on communicating through a voice synthesizer on his ever-present laptop; Himeko, the cutesy girl who used to be a violent delinquent going by the nickname of Onihime (demon princess); and Bossun, the brash leader whose mouth moves about three times faster than his brain.
If these characters seem like familiar tropes, that’s because they are. SKET Dance, despite having a setting and premise far less fantastical than most anime/manga series, still doesn’t feel like its breaking new ground. If anything, SKET-dan’s antics seem like a heavily modified SOS-dan, without the otherworldly focus and with a less obnoxious leader. But another thing the show lacks is any sense of irony or a deep creative spark.
The plot for the first episode, which mostly revolves around the masked paint thrower and the quest to find and stop him, isn’t bad, per se, but it doesn’t capture the imagination. The ultimate culprit is obvious, even if there are one or two interesting twists along the way, the conclusion is actually shown at the very start of the episode, which begins in media res before jumping back to introduce Sugihara. So the overall dramatic tension is a bit lacking.
Tossed on to this is an extremely heavy-handed anti-bullying message which gives this episode the feel of an afterschool special. There are some interesting bits to the episode here and there, most notably in how Sugihara, after developing the strength to overcome his history of being bullied, goes on to join the basketball team rather than SKET-dan. But there’s nothing to the opening episode that grabs at the audience, whether through comedy or drama or anything else.
I don’t want to say that SKET Dance is a bad show; I’d need a few other less-than-inspired episodes to make that determination. But I certainly can’t say that it’s a good one, either. It falls into that uncomfortable middle ground of a show that could get past its opening jitters to produce something memorable, or have its lackluster premiere be the high point before a slow descent into complete mediocrity.
Much will depend on whether Bossun, Himeko, and Switch can actually muster real character depth from such cookie-cutter beginnings. If the secondary cast (which looks to be quite massive) is at least somewhat interesting as well, we could have some interesting drama here and there. But what the show needs more than anything else are plots that don’t feel like they’ve been taken off the shelf of cliches. For a show with a premise as unique as this, thus far it’s stayed in very familiar territory. The sooner it breaks out for parts unknown, the better off it will be.
You can watch the episode here.