Being a series predicated on the concept of a disgustingly large harem, I reluctantly picked up Futakoi Alternative with expectations for a mildly amusing girls-with-guns action flick. Thankfully, I couldn't have been more wrong. Despite an opening sequence that has absolutely nothing to do with the anime itself and a somewhat misconstrued first episode, Futakoi Alternative is neither a harem nor a pointless action flick. In actuality, it's a rather poignant drama mixed with a fair amount of hyperbolically exaggerated humor, and I found myself enormously impressed with how it manages to skillfully pull off this unconventional melding of genres.
It would be important to note, however, that the series starts off somewhat lopsided. The first episode can be entirely disregarded, and the ensuing couple episodes come across as rather average. Fortunately it doesn't waste much time from then onward, and quickly breaks from the mediocrity. As the series progresses, the whimsical, light-hearted guise of the first episodes fades, and is soon replaced by a relatively serious and dramatic storyline. What makes it particularly interesting, however, is that a number of the problems the main characters face are illustrated by means of hyperbolic, over-the-top humor (think a blend between Excel Saga and FLCL - while in the same general mold of those series, though, it tends to much less frenetic and thus easier to follow.) Yet, despite this, the humor is largely symbolic, and can be tied back to the seriousness of the story with ease. Strange as it may sound, this method of storytelling ends up working surprisingly well, as I felt remarkably attached to the three main characters while simultaneously laughing my ass off for a good portion of the series.
That said, the story is told in a somewhat fragmented manner, as it hops back and forth between past and present events quite liberally. It's narrated from the perspective of Rentarou, a dropout college student who unwillingly inherits his late father's private investigator business. He's helped out by two twin girls, Sara and Soujyu, who seem to generally enjoy his presence more than they do the actual detective work. The story pans out their relationship over a two-year period, and does a great job at portraying the growth of their characters over time. Rather than approach the romance from a typical, cliché disposition, it highlights their relationship as one that has overcome many difficulties, and that the nature of their bond is not merely superficial. More importantly, it displays the inability for idealism to carry a relationship, and shows that an active romance requires practicality. This shapes a realistic environment in which the romance develops, as it clearly makes a point to stray from the random one-guy-multiple-girl harem stereotype.
For a 2005 production, the animation is fairly standard fare. Though the characters aren't too overtly flashy, Rentarou and the twins do stand out as above average due to the huge amount of detail put into their designs. Rentarou's cigarette, for instance, was a particularly noticeable recurring theme, and served as one of many small tidbits that highlighted his character. There was also a lot of clever camera play when portraying the twins during rather dramatic moments, which certainly helped reinforce the idea of the their singularity.
While by no means exemplary, the soundtrack does a fine job throughout as well. It pervaded a very appropriate, atmospheric feel that carried the emotional vibes during many of the more dramatic scenes. In fact, I can't think of a single inappropriately placed track, as many of the pieces fit their respective scenes perfectly. One particular tactic that stood out, though, was that the music during the humorous scenes would often slowly transition from an energetic piece to a solemn one. This effectively grounded the humor to fit seamlessly into the story, and it proved vital in making the humor and drama mix work well together.
Be that as it may, the voice acting was most definitely the highlight of the series. Rentarou's seiyuu voices his monologues quite well, and the synchronization of the twins' voices at specific times drives a lot of the humor behind them. Above all, the ability of the actors to deliver their dramatic lines poignantly was by far their greatest virtue, and it certainly contributed to their ability to drive the series forward as powerfully as it did.
Much to my surprise, Rentarou turned out to be a very strong lead; while he certainly has his shortcomings, he comes across as a very believable character. As the series pans out he develops into a surprisingly empathetic figure, illustrated primarily through his internal monologues. His struggle for identity appears realistic, and is perhaps emphasized by all the overblown comedy scattered throughout the series. At the heart of his character is a boy who seeks to define himself as a man, struggling to step out from behind his father's shadow and claim his individuality. I felt him to be the most sympathetic character of the cast, even more so than the twins, and the chronicling of his growth was perhaps the most enjoyable facet of Futakoi Alternative to watch.
The twins Soujyu and Sara also carried a charm of their own. Oddly enough, while physically two different characters, they are developed and fleshed out as if they were a single entity. Despite having distinctly polar personalities, their processes of thought almost exclusively coincide, which causes them to appear as if they are merely two sides of the same coin. This development plays into the concept of the three-person romance astoundingly well, as the twins' design comes across as a clever jab at all the anime that "explore" the concept of taboo romance. However, their relationship with Rentarou evolves in such a fashion that it appears monogamous in almost every way, which creates the sensation of watching a genuine, two-person romance. It's an unconventional tactic to say the least, but the writers pull off this feat with finesse. For all the twins scenarios done so wrong in other anime, it's refreshing to finally see one done right.
Aside from Rentarou and the twins, however, most of the other characters filled purely comedic roles. Of them all, I particularly liked the police chief, as every time he found his way onto the screen it resulted in a number of good laughs.
Were it not for a slightly bumpy start, Futakoi Alternative would have been a fantastic title instead of just a great one. It felt as if the writers were forced to incorporate all the twin pairs from its harem predecessor, and this hurt the series' overall potential. Still, they're excess fluff that is dumped rather quickly, and the dramatic buildup that follows the opening episodes is worth the wait. If you're looking for an entertaining blend of comedy, drama, and romance, give it a shot - you won't be disappointed.
Rentarou has been running the Futaba Detective Agency with the help of his twin assistants Sara and Soujyu since the previous man in charge, his father, died. To top it off most people in the neighborhood refer to him as Nidaime, a second generation man who lives in his father's shadow. His late father was a great man that was looked up to by everyone good or bad including Rentarou. With problems from his father's legacy presenting themselves, Yakuza that sometimes want him dead, a workplace/home that keeps getting destroyed and Sara and Soujyu's growing feelings for him, will he ever live up to his father?
Though I'm a big fan of slice of life and romance, I'll watch just about anything that catches my interest. My opinions tend to be pretty level-headed, but I have been known to be controversial from time to time! Feel free to lay into me if you so desire, as I always appreciate feedback - positive or negative. I hope you enjoy reading!