Ray couldn’t quite put his finger on it. I confess that I still can’t quite, either–though here’s an attempt to try to figure out what makes this odd comic drama stand out not just this season, but in anime in general.
The basic premise of the show is not terribly unusual, and has been done before in anime: a young man is, through various circumstances, forced to take care of a much younger girl as a younger sister or even as a child. Think of Aishiteruze Baby on the shoujo side, or arguably Chobits on the shonen side for respectable examples–and quite a few lesser ones since the moe explosion hit and imoutos became fetish objects. Here, the boy is still in high school, and the forced parenting is a result–here is where it starts to become strange–of his moonlighting as a hired bodyguard and thug for various underground jobs. His handler is a meganekko in his school. His face is that of the usual wimpy harem lead, but his attacks are swift and bloody. (A fact pointed out within the show itself, by the way.) These elements, put together as they are, feel jarring; realistic and rather unrealistic elements jostle against each other side by side. What’s going on here?
This is on top of the fact that the writing and dialogue is also unusually witty and “sophisticated” for anime, too. And it’s not just because the BGM is mostly jazz. This is one of the few animes where the characters often talk and interact as if they were older than their apparent ages, rather than the opposite. (I’m thinking of the interaction between Yuuna and him, especially in the three-way argument when she, Murasaki, and Shinkurou find each other at the foot of the stairs, as well as dialogues between Shikurou and his handler.) Even Murasaki, the seven year old, is (while cute) not even close to being “moe.” Her voice is not incredibly high pitched. She is irritating and bratty, not to mention spoiled, though by episode 3 we realize she has a moral core driven by already-terrible life experiences. The back-of-forth of the dialogue has a rhythm and drive to it which is immediately apparent, a much more natural one than in most TV anime. The nearest equivalent I can think of is in The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, but even that one has a totally different atmosphere to it. It sticks out in an otherwise normal anime school setting, where we expect much more typical and cliche things to happen.
In fact, the only other show this vaguely reminds me of is Code-E, and like Code-E, my main fear is that the complex setup we have been given will lead to a future lack of focus. There are plenty of mysteries to be solved: who is Benika, really, and what is her goal? How does Yuuna’s family know Murasaki’s? Why is Shinkurou doing the job he’s doing at all? Not to mention the neo-feudal, traditionalist milieu of the Kouhouin family with its concubine dramas. So far the show is mostly about Shinkurou’s challenges in taking care of this headstrong seven year old, which is where it should be. It’s a novel twist on a relatively old idea, but is being executed in a manner that suggest that there are a lot of layers to be peeled back and explored. I’m not sure whether this will work in the long run, because of all these disparate elements that are getting pulled in. At times it really seems to be trying to be a realistic drama; at other times, a mild love comedy; and yet at other times, a labyrinthine conspiracy/gangster story. The overall feeling is of a show that almost seems realistic, but never quite reaching there.
I can see why so many of my blogging colleagues have taken a shine to this title. It’s not mindblowing, nor is it seeking to be. If it subverts anything, it’s the simple expectation of cliche voice acting and cliche writing that this situation almost certainly would have triggered in most other shows. It’s a show that, for once, doesn’t talk down to its audience so much, and for that I–a twenty seven year old man in seminary who still likes to watch cartoons–am grateful.