In a sense, Uta Kata is a unique series in that it doesn't specifically have an antagonist - you could consider the mysterious woman who likes to stand on rooftops 'observing' the main characters as a villain of sorts, but she's not the usual "evil" kind. And I think this is actually where the series starts to fall down; it has no motive behind it. I completely disagree with the synopsis provided on the Anime-Planet Recommendations Database that suggests that Ichika is attempting to bridge the gap between nature and humanity, because that just doesn't seem to happen. Yes, there are times when her temporary powers are used to help people (though largely in the face of natural disasters, not human-made ones), but in the end, it seems more like a pointless exploration of power, largely because there is no resolution at the end.
But let's backtrack: Uta Kata opens on the last day of term before the long summer vacation, soon to be enjoyed by the protagonist, Tachibana Ichika. While cleaning a coincidentally-placed unused school building, she loses a trinket given to her by her crush, which leads to her meeting a girl who appears from a mirror, named Manatsu. They quickly become best friends and Manatsu reveals that she can let Ichika experience the powers of the Djinn, godly beings related to different abstracts (for instance, the Sun Djinn, the Moon Djinn, etc). The series follows her transformation as a human after experiencing such consuming power.
Interesting, you say? Perhaps the idea is, but the execution is lacking. For one, it begins to follow the concept-of-the-week idea (similar to the villain-of-the-week) and the final decision to be made by Ichika, which appears to be the crux of the series, is much too over-dramatized to make any real sense. Another reason would be that it tries too hard with the hackneyed "coming-of-age" theme that it builds its train tracks on. The transition from innocence to experience is presented with too heavy a hand, and it feels like some of the exposition is merely added to hammer in that theme.
I suppose what it lacks though, as I've already mentioned, is motive. There is no point to it - and when the writers attempt to shoehorn a point into the plot, it comes across as being preposterous to say the least.
And now forget everything I've said about the story - because the animation is awe-inspiring. The landscape shots are beautiful, especially the beach episode and the various dream sequences. Colour is used lavishly and even the night scenery, particularly the festival, are utilised to their maximum effect both visually and symbolically.
Even the character designs themselves are unlike anything you'll find elsewhere in anime. Despite the characters being fourteen, they are made to look younger and cuter than their age - not on the same scale as Manabi Straight or Lucky Star where the characters are noticeably older than their character designs - but it's fair to say that their implied innocence is brought to the fore through the animation style. The irises are huge compared to their respective pupils, giving them a unique look that I haven't seen in any other series. The few adult characters dotted around the storyline, however, are much more natural-looking but without being too contrasting, combining the two different styles effortlessly.
Another original part of the animation are the costumes. Uta Kata is probably the only series that can boast it has as many costume-changes as Cardcaptor Sakura. The costumes are in fact a collaborative element, where artists from well-known series "guest-star" as weekly costume designers. Such artists include Koshi Rikudo (Excel Saga), Akamatsu Ken (Love Hina) and Ueda Hajime (FLCL). This makes each costume eye-catching and with a great deal of variety.
The only thing that lets this score down is the persistent need for fanservice. While the characters are portrayed as innocent, a lot of skin is uncovered and there's one memorable nude scene - which I personally think it was unnecessary. But then again, I know people who will now watch the series because I've commented on nudity, so who am I to say what attracts the fans?
The OP and ED are two of my favourite songs in anime history. Not only are they wonderfully atmospheric pieces of music, but they also fit the series snugly. I cannot think of an OP or ED that I've replayed more than these two. The sound in the series itself sounds very whole. It treats your ears to some pleasant background music, relying on the woodwind section (particularly flutes) to portray a sense of summer and innocence.
The seiyuu themselves are pretty well-suited to their characters, though I think it's fair to say that Ichika will get on your nerves after a while, but I wonder if that's more her character than the voice itself.
The two characters in this series are Ichika and Manatsu. While the supporting cast are focussed on in certain episodes, they're rarely interesting and only lightly explored. Bubbling beneath the surface of this series, there's hints of child abuse and other sexual encounters, but these feel tacked on - as if trying to make Uta Kata more sinister than it actually is. So I'll ignore the support cast and focus on the two main characters.
Ichika is an unusual choice of protagonist, who seemingly takes things too seriously (and is told so by a number of people) and whose sense of humour is pretty lacking. She's extremely introverted and without Manatsu's presence, we'd probably consider her an anti-social being, perhaps even to the extent of her being misanthropic. As the viewer, we are not really given the chance to empathize with her - we can only see her being influenced by the great powers bestowed upon her, but the experience is so far out of our own field of knowledge that we can only sympathize with the effects... but even then, some of her actions seem abnormal reactions, despite her extraordinary circumstances. Her violent dreams and the emotional breakdowns she experiences throughout the series never endear us to her personality. Ichika is a weak person, both emotionally and in terms of willpower. And yet, she finds strength through her experiences with the Djinn, and by the end of it, we realise that she's not naive any more, but in fact, a strong-minded individual who has dealt with all the hardships fate has thrown at her and come out the other side with her humanity intact.
Manatsu is her flipside. By contrast, she's energetic, she speaks her mind and nothing seems to faze her, even Ichika's angst. Somewhat stereotypical, Manatsu only saves herself from becoming a cliche because of her relationship with Ichika and the mystery that enshrouds her character. She maintains her role as Ichika's confidante - and in a sense, Ichika's conscience - even though she reveals little about herself. I would even go as far as saying that Manatsu doesn't really exist without Ichika - she doesn't seem to be a character in her own right, more an extension of Ichika. By the end of the series, it becomes clear that Manatsu is the guiding hand that leads Ichika into the experienced world.
Uta Kata has always confused me as to its intent: on the surface, it seems like a warm story of two best friends experiencing otherworldly adventures - but underneath lies a dark, emotional world, so heightened that it becomes abnormal and frightening. I don't dislike series that set out to be intentionally strange, but Uta Kata gives mixed messages to its viewers. Narutaru had a similar effect on me, but was much more striking and I was much more willing to be whisked away by its story, whereas Uta Kata doesn't seem to understand what it's driving at. While being a coming-of-age story, it also appears to want to tell its viewers about gods and hatred towards humanity - but it fails to register a tangible point on both counts. Its emphasis on the dark, sinister emotions endured during growing up seems too over-the-top, rendering the actual plotline motiveless.
However, the one reason you should watch this series for is the animation. It's like luxury chocolate ice cream for the eyes, and I cannot think of any other project that has incorporated so many popular anime artists on one series. I find it a shame that the decision wasn't made to focus on the storyline a bit more than the animation, though.
In the end though, Uta Kata is worthwhile only as eye-candy. While it strains to be intelligent and philosophically-daring, it falls at every hurdle.
On the day before summer vacation, Ichika discovered an old mirror in an old school building. From within it, the mysterious Manatsu looked out and offered to trade favors: if Ichika will do her "homework" (experience the power of the spiritual life forces and write about her feelings) then she will return the charm that Ichika has lost. As Ichika struggles to absorb the raw power of nature, those who watch from the other side of the mirror eagerly await her decision at the end of trials. Can a 14 year old take on the sins of the world and mend the rifts between nature and humanity?
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