Shakugan no Shana is one of those shows which is constantly being mentioned here at antiotaku (four times if we count a reference in a caption). It’s one of the original light novel action romantic comedy series that got an anime adaption by J.C. Staff, and certain aspects of it have been enshrined in all the shows that followed it.
Shana has fantasy trappings, with a male protagonist who looks ordinary and powerless but is quickly revealed to have a special ability that makes him able to fight whatever monsters are plaguing the world. It pairs the male lead with a pint-sized, flat-chested action girl, typically voiced by Rie Kugimiya, who falls for the lead even while refusing to admit it. It has an underlying conspiracy and a slowly increasing cast of characters, mostly attractive women. You can see elements of the Shana formula in A Certain Magical Index, Yumekui Merry, and Dragon Crisis, to name just three shows that we’ve covered—with varying degrees of skepticism—on this site.
Given how we haven’t much liked any of Shana’s spiritual successors, one would expect that we wouldn’t like Shana either, but this isn’t the case. Much as most slice of life shows try and fail to redo the magic of Azumanga Daioh, the fantasy action genre owes so much to Shakugan no Shana because Shana became popular by doing it first and by doing it right. Its many imitators might be soulless or simply fail to catch the same spark, but what they are trying to copy is the real deal.
Wagnaria!! (Working!! in Japanese, but called Wagnaria!! on the English DVDs to make the title more unique) is yet another slice of life show based on a 4-Koma manga series set around remarkably unusual people in an otherwise usual setting. Unlike the vast majority of its contemporaries, Wagnaria!! isn’t based around high school life, and wasn’t afraid to have a much higher “adult” population than is usual for the genre. The number of important male characters was also much higher than average, which is to say that there were more than two.
Wagnaria even features a male lead as the official protagonist. Souta Takanashi was continually mistreated by his older, much taller sisters, all of whom have their own odd quirks and neurosis (naturally). This in turn led Takanashi to develop a love for all things small and cute, so when he meets the pint-sized Poplar Taneshima, who is tiny even by Japanese standards, he’s utterly smitten—not romantically, but the way one might adore a kitten or puppy.
Wanting to spend as much time around her as possible, he winds up getting hired at the family restaurant where Taneshima waitresses. There he discovers his own mental hangups are minor compared to those of the rest of the staff.
There’s a stereotype that slice of life shows are primarily aimed at the seinen audience; likewise, one expects shoujo series to be romantic comedies, doomed romantic loves, fantasy epics involving grand romance and/or reverse harems, or something else which involves romance in some way, shape, or form (or maybe BL). The reasons such stereotypes exist is because they are usually true.
Occasionally, however, you find shows that don’t fit into a typical mold. Natsume Yuujichou, based on a long-running shoujo manga series, is one such show. It features a male protagonist, Takashi Natsume, who spends his days helping youkai, the spirits/demons/Shinto gods who make up the supernatural landscape of Japan. On the surface, there’s nothing all that shoujo about it save the bishounen.
But, to indulge in another stereotype, shoujo romances usually outclass shounen or even seinen ones, to the extent what shounen or seinen series do can even be properly called romances. The reason for this is that shoujo works usually have more detail and nuance written into their characters, and that part of the pedigree, at least, clearly gets its due here.
Moshidora is an unusual show with an unusual premiere: released over the course of two weeks, an episode every weekday, this mini-series was actually supposed to be released toward the end of the winter season, before the earthquake and tsunami delayed it for a month. Telling the story of a reluctant manager of a high school baseball team, it covers the year where she turns the team around and leads them to triumph in their prefecture’s summer tournament.
We’ve yet to cover a sports anime here at anitotaku, and arguably we haven’t even with this review. Despite its protestations, Moshidora has surprisingly little to do with baseball, and the games themselves feel like afterthoughts compared to how shows like Big Windup and Cross Game present them. If the author was just looking to maximize the appeal to a Japanese audience, baseball was the right sport to pick, but the plot could be cut and pasted into most team sports with little difficulty. The love of this show isn’t for the sport, but for management. And the show, bravely or foolishly, does little to hide that.
When I last left the anime adaptation of erotic dating game Yosuga no Sora, my interest was at an all-time low. A poorly though out story arc combined with a staggeringly unnecessary and exploitative sex scene all combined to make me lose interest in writing about the show.
But, as you can see, I kept watching the thing, even though the next arc was just more of the same. I kept at because I had a feeling that there would be one moment that would make the whole miserable endeavor worthwhile.
And finally, in the tenth episode, I found that moment.
There’s something of a presumption in fiction that good and pure equals boring. Truly interesting characters are those with shades of gray (and truly “good” people are pompous blowhards anyway). Great plots are ones where the right choice isn’t immediately obvious (and simple moral situations are just sermons in disguise). It’s possible that, in some of my recent reviews, I might have given off the impression that I agree with those sentiments, and perhaps in some limited sense I do.
I can’t endorse the concept completely, however, and Kimi ni Todoke is one of the reasons why. This show gives as a protagonist the sweetest, purest, most selfless and loving character in recent anime history. Sawako Kuronuma is the sort of girl who is, in a moral sense, practically perfect, one meant for a similarly perfect world where everyone would understand and appreciate how basically good she is.
Of course, she does not live in a perfect world; a perfect world wouldn’t have high schools, or more precisely high schoolers—with their insular cliques, catty gossip, and impeccable abilities to locate and ostracize the weakest and most vulnerable members of their community. And the weakest are always those who are alone.
There are different ways for a show to stand out from the usual crowd. One, as I covered recently in my review of Toradora, is to exemplify a standard genre. This method requires skill in vivifying cliches and personalities, but is arguably the easiest method. Another is to try something unique and innovative, eschewing normal models altogether. Tatami Galaxy gives an example of this, as does Time of Eve.
There is a third option, which is redefinition: simultaneously accepting and deconstructing the basic concepts of a genre. A show like this seems to follow a stereotypical mold on paper, but if you examine it closely, you’ll find it doing something else entirely. These shows are arguably the most influential, as they are the ones which spawn the largest hoard of imitators.
One of the more recent of these genre-redefining shows—one we mentioned in passing in very first review for this site—is The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. Melancholy is one of those shows which took otaku both in Japan and abroad by storm, and its popularity demonstrates some of the best and worst trends in the community.