It’s been a long time indeed since an entire anime series has moved through my life so rapidly–in this case, in the space of a week and a half from start to completion, for a full 26 episodes no less. That already tells you something about this infectious, frequently hilarious, and satisfying comedy, which has just enough heart to make it genuinely sweet as well. For once, the harem show has been done right.
The heart of this show is Nagasumi’s coming of age, and though I criticized him initially for being as blank and hapless as most harem leads, I’ve come to realize that that was wrong by the end. At last, a male romantic lead actually becomes more mature and manly as a result of his devotion and love for another–Masa fetishes aside! At last, here’s a guy who actually meets the challenges he faces, stands up even to his friends when they do wrong (like Mawari), and doesn’t hesitate to protect his loved ones at cost to himself. You can actually see why he’s likable. It helps a lot too that neither San or Lunar are doormats, though San wants to give the appearance that she is–but it’s all her idea based on her outlandish notions of “mermaid/chivalry” and nothing Nagasumi ever demands at any point. (Even her bout of self-blame following the impending marriage of Nagasumi and Lunar is quickly followed up by Swordswoman San slashing through two yakuza gangs’ worth of henchmen.) I’ve noted before that I think harem and romance comedies work best when the “promised girl” is obvious from the outset and in not too much doubt, and this is yet another example. The other “rivals” for Nagasumi’s affections are mainly put in for comedic purposes.
For it indeed is a harem show, and that becomes much more obvious in the show’s second half (after episode 13). The fan service quotient, which was abnormally low in the first half, goes up considerably. Otaku references start showing up. The number of girls after Nagasumi increases, from already introduced characters like Mawari (the shafted childhood friend, as usual), to relatively out-there characters like the Class Rep. A few of the episodes devoted to more typical harem type elements were a tad annoying, like episode 19, in which the entire female cast downs some mermaid juice and unleashes their true desires. That plot device didn’t work in Star Trek (original and Next Generation), and it feels just as clumsy and obvious here. Indeed, a good part of the second half was less consistent than the first half, which was almost nonstop laughs for me; there were even a few episodes which only got some mild chuckles, especially anything invovling Mikawa Kai, who I simply thought was annoying as a character.
Until episode 20. What a turning point. Commenter voodoomage alerted me to how funny it was. And it was everything promised–one of the most riotous sendups of otaku tropes since, well, the best episodes of Excel Saga and Abenobashi. What’s more, the show turned a corner after that, and recovered the high level of comedy of the first half until the somewhat more serious two-part conclusion came, which is fine, because we expect that out of conclusions even in comedies. Even Mikawa Kai’s episode in that section was incredibly funny, precisely because it was over-the-top and verging on genuinely moving and earnest. This show seems to have a knack for how to push a joke in very far directions without making it stale. A literal war between idol factions. The Setouchi Home Shopping Network with its
penis tailfin enlargers. Mikawa Kai’s disease spawning an entire Jerry Lewis-style telethon. Fathers who think galgames are a great way to understand teenage girls. I could go on and on.
Did I mention how straightforwardly good the ending was? It didn’t leave any major loose ends hanging. It completed the process of maturation that Nagasumi had been undergoing from the beginning. It sealed the relationship of San and Nagasumi and ended, like the classical definition of comedy, with a virtual wedding. You don’t realize just how rare these kind of very traditional, straightahead (dare say Western?) endings are in a lot of anime until you watch a lot of anime that prefers obsfucation or irresolution as a final note. Sometimes fan defend such endings by saying that it reflects real life, which may be true, but we tell stories to give meaning to real life–and one of those ways is by having the characters come to some kind of resolution or completion. I haven’t felt that kind of satisfaction in watching an anime TV show in a good long while, and it’s worth pointing out and celebrating. Plus, the ending is just damn funny. It encapsulates everything that makes this show funny and symbolizes the distance its once put-upon protagonist has traveled. Plus a few years at the gym.
I’ve already mentioned before about the much larger role family plays in this show. It’s actually amazing that both romantic leads in the show have intact nuclear families, if not huge extended ones in the case of the mermaids (well, extended in the metaphorical sense, and “family” as in the “family business” kind of family). And these characters actually play significant roles. This is perhaps one of the main reasons why though the show adheres to many standard harem conventions, it doesn’t quite feel like a standard harem romance. There’s too many other people around who aren’t other members of the harem–and I include Masa-san as a harem member. 😉 Another byproduct of this focus on the family (har har har) is the much more balanced ratio of male to female characters, which began to teeter a bit by the end of the show but was generally true throughout. Commenter smashingtofu noted that this might be because the manga author, whose labor of love was prematurely ended in order to produce this story, never particularly liked the harem genre to begin with despite its financial rewards.
Not that I care; I just want it to be funny and entertaining, and if this is the result, then I want more grudging projects please!
I’ll say again what I said before: this is a formula show through and through, and it’s a formula show done right. It almost never stops being funny. The characters are likable, actually interact with each other meaningfully, and the male lead actually grows up. The ending makes sense. In a way we should ask this out of any comedy, and it’s a shame that simply by telling a simple story competently and humorously, that makes it well above average as an anime. This is, after all, an entertainment medium, and this show admirably fulfills that first of duties before all else.
Anime Diet Daily Recommended Allowances
Animation: 80%. This is a Gonzo+AIC production, and with Gonzo involved you can be sure that the animation quality is relatively high throughout (Welcome to the NHK! excepted–but that was hardly a problem given how incredibly well-told the story was). The more outrageous slapstick scenes were especially stylish and hilariously directed. I do have a few quibbles with the character designs, particularly hairstyles–they’re much blockier than is typical today, especially San’s.
Music/Sound/Acting: 75%. The music soundtrack is not particularly memorable. What is is the OP, which is one of the catchiest and most infectiously memorable in a good while for an anime OP–a wonderful 60s pastiche that fits the summery, rollicking nature of the show perfectly. The first ED is much better than the second ED, though the latter is inexplicably memorable too. I’m not sure why shows will frequently exchange a perfectly good ED song at episode 14, only to return to the first at the very end. The first season of Honey and Clover did it, much to my chagrin, because that was also one of the best EDs I’ve ever heard.The voice acting is dominated by one figure: Halko Momoi, the otaku fangirl who made good and who had such difficulties at Anime Expo this year. She does a wonderful job as San, who is required to express a wide range of emotions, and really, she makes the character come alive as a much more well-rounded person than is typical for most harem female leads. That she is the sole writer and lyricist of the OP is icing on the cake, though it adds to my respect for her immensely.
Story: 85%. This is a perfect example of (a set of) stories which isn’t excellent, terribly profound, or even all that insightful. What it is is consistently entertaining, with characters you can actually root for and gags that actually stay fresh. It accomplishes what it set out to do, and more. At one point it threatened into mediocre sitcom land, but it recovered after the satirical genius that is episode 20. Plus, it has an actual ending, which already puts it ahead of so many anime.
Overall: 82%. The best comedy, largely f0rgotten by many fans, of spring and summer 2007. See it if you are tired of harem stereotypes but enjoy the kind of situations harem comedies find themselves in. Or if you just like good old fashioned, slap-the-hapless-guy-around comedy, with some yakuza stereotypes to boot. You might even start rewatching it after finishing it. Like have.