The term yamato nadeshiko implies an unassuming, graceful, submissive young woman – think of it as the “girl-next-door” (or wallflower) of traditional Japan. In our progressive, modern world, shoujo anime seems to be raising a vendetta against this image, grinding out one loud girl after another to shriek their way into the hearts of romance fans. There exist, however, a few specks of color amidst today’s gray mass of brazen, power-hungry female protagonists. One takes the form of Haruhi Fujioka from the seminal Ouran High School Host Club. Another is Tohru Honda from Fruits Basket. The last, and perhaps the most underappreciated, is Sunako Nakahara – the high school pariah of Yamato Nadeshiko Shichi Henge. See, Haruhi and Tohru were at least normal; Sunako, on the other hand, will resonate with what forms the core of most female otaku: the not so normal.
Superficially, it offers nothing more than your typical school-life anime: Filler-oriented plot encompasses a group of friends, who all engage in episodic antics that incites laughs from viewers. While Yamato’s over-the-top humor continually pops up to flash its assets, it frays at the edges as the series progresses. What it has in pure zaniness it lacks in style and intelligence. Yes, Sunako’s volcanic nosebleeds were amusing the first several times, and the boys’ exaggerated “dazzling” features did draw from me a few squeals of delight; there’s no need, however, to have such ploys become stale moves. Add to this the fact that Yamato squanders its shining potential. I mean, how often do we see four drool-worthy bishonen lavishing attention on a socially awkward girl? The foundation is unique and strong, but the actual construction is not; the show manages to stand only by flinging a carefully crafted comedic cover over its relatively weak plot structure.
Critical analysis aside, the show does promise some solid entertainment. Clichéd shoujo tricks are delightfully parodied, and the story does end up evolving, albeit sloppily. More importantly, Yamato holds a direct pertinence over our own lives. Not many of us blush with happiness over dead bodies, or reside in a mansion with the hottest guys in town. Too many of us, though, endure similar insecurities as Sunako: Am I normal? Am I attractive? Do I fit in? Can I make friends? Sometimes it’s just too trite to see yet another social butterfly fill up the screen. We can relish in the fact that Yamato magnifies what brews within practically everyone – and especially within us otaku. It serves as a fun, ridiculous, exaggerated reflection of our own social grappling.
Yamato unleashes its entire animating prowess within the first few episodes; by the twenties, our beloved bishies aren’t quite as beloved or bishy – actually, I’ll go so far to say that they seem to develop into trannies. Clearly, the studio’s budget dried up in the middle of production. As the series progresses, it cannot prevent its stodgy and simplistic animation from bursting from the seams, and we can see with unfortunate lucidity a retrogression in character design quality. For Sunako the animators don't even try, being apparently satisfied with her ubiquitous "diminutive stuffed animal" look.
Where Yamato is a famine to the eyes, it is a feast to the ears. On top of an absolutely stunning performance by Yukiko Takaguchi as Sunako, the boy harem retains their physical deliciousness through voice alone. I was awash in a positive symphony of male sound: Takenaga’s deep, intelligent lilt, Ranmaru’s graceful sultriness, Yuki’s charming, boyish inflections, and Kyouhei’s masculine resonance (with a distinctive “I-want-to-do-things-to-you” undertone) consistently left me in a puddle of aural ecstasy. Musical elements boast a unique ability to gather strength and familiarity with each episode, rather than becoming stale and overused. Perhaps most impressively, sound effects hold a vibrancy and a sometimes disturbing richness that props up the entire show; without such effects, the comedy would wilt. Bottom line: Instead of further deafening your ears at the next scheduled rock concert, stay at home and subject yourself to the pleasing, arousing harmonies of Yamato Nadeshiko Shichi Henge.
The reverse harem anime genre provides plenty of open doors for good characterization. Unfortunately, this show takes a step or two inside a door, shuffles around for a bit, pops out with a small trinket, and then proceeds to shut the door in its own face. At first, I didn’t think Yamato’s characters all that lacking – as forgettable as they were, they still amused me. After happening across three Ouran episodes the other day, however, it dawned on me just how utterly pale Yamato’s male cast seemed in comparison. It is a strange, empty experience when at the end of twenty-five episodes I realize that I know about as much about the inner personalities of these characters as I had in episode one. Revelations, angsty moments, and better-than-average stereotyping? They’re all there. But where on earth is the development?
And I’m sorry, but Sunako is downright creepy. Socially awkward or not, this girl needs to visit a shrink. Period.
The best way I can sum up Yamato Nadeshiko Shichi Henge is to liken it to a handful of sweets: It’s fun to savor and easy to digest, but ultimately unsatisfying. Look up Ouran High School Host Club if you’re searching for a main dish.
Nakahara Sunako, a high school girl whose interests include horror movies, coffins and gore, is sent by her aunt to live in an extravagant mansion with four ridiculously handsome boys. As if living with these “radiant creatures” who give her constant nosebleeds isn’t hard enough, she soon discovers that the boys have made a bet with her aunt: in exchange for free rent, they will try to mold Sunako into a magnificent lady. As someone who has cast aside all her femininity and sworn to live in darkness, Sunako is ready to do whatever it takes to nullify these efforts; but is there a way for the creatures of darkness and light to coexist?
When I first stumbled upon the anime scene, I demanded only slice-of-life high school romance and Naruto (Weird combination!). I've opened up a little bit since then, but I suppose the high school shoujo type will always be my "comfort zone."