Cassie and I have similar taste in anime, which I find remarkable due to the fact that her list FAR outclasses mine and her favorite genre is shounen while mine is moe slice-of-life. But, when therik's incessant pestering had us buddy-grouping Manabi Straight, our near-uniform reaction to the title could only mean one thing: Joint review. What follows is part conversation, part essay, and all good.
Cassie: It feels like it's been an age since I last watched a slow-paced slice-of-life show and I must admit, I have kind of missed it. Manabi Straight follows a young high school girl named Manabi as she transfers to Seioh Academy. When she arrives, she finds a gaggle of disinterested students and decides to become the Student Council President in order to revolutionise the school and make it more fun. Pretty straight forward, right? Well not really as my main gripe with the whole series is that it doesn't seem to know what it wants to be. It's like the creators couldn't decide what to do so they chucked two parts slice-of-life in a bowl with one part drama, one part comedy, stirred it a couple of times then closed their eyes, tossed it in the air and hoped that a three-course meal would land nicely on their plates. As a result, you end up with a sticky mess all over your kitchen cupboards and a series that has no point - until suddenly you find a lump of something that turns out to be plot. Then, after wading through some more eggy moe-goo it seems there's some hope as that long awaited piece of meaty drama finally surfaces. Sadly it's somewhat stringy and a bit limp, so the series tosses it towards the trash can (can you hear the dull splat as it misses and instead hits the wall?) and decides instead to scrape a previously used plot device off of the floor and fry it up hoping to improve the flavour (also known as "Ooo yay! Let's redecorate again!").
Patches: That sense of disjoint comes directly from the fact that the progression doesn't grow organically, and the underlying narrative remembers or forgets details according to whim and the size of plot hole Manabi decides she wants to walk through. Even the fluffiest slice-of-life efforts such as Azumanga Daioh, K-On!, Lucky Star, or even Kanamemo allow minor plot points to accumulate like so much dust, forcing some kind of advancement-sneeze of character or narrative development. Instead, Manabi Straight allows its characters to act within an apparent vacuum--their actions have little or no influence during most of the student council's tenure. But once it's "go" time, near the series' end, the wheels magically squeak to life in time to manufacture out a "happy" ending.
Cassie: I'm sure therik is crying in a corner somewhere at the thought that K-On! is superior to Manabi Straight. As for the whole "happy ending" thing I don't have a problem with it per se; the climax of episode eleven was ideal - a perfect mix of moe cheese and definite conclusion. Such a shame that twelve felt like a let down in comparison. Yes it has resolution, but the whole momentum that had built up during the previous few instalments just fizzles out like a damp firework. So instead of having that warm glow that I should have been left with, I have to endure a further twenty four minutes of "what happened next" complete with toe-curlingly dodgy slow-mo animation. Also, I swear that they had budget to spare - that's the only reason I can see for the incessant snowstorm of sakura petals that seemed to rain down from a clear blue sky.
Patches: Have you SEEN Kara no Kyoukai? These ufotable guys don't fuck around with audio/visual wank.
Cassie: No, I haven't. And I don't plan to in the immediate future either. Maybe one day, if I ever get my want to watch list below two hundred. :P
Patches: The ufotable animators bring their love of rich color palattes to Manabi Straight. While the character designs are a little lacking, there are hues used in both the background and foreground that I could gaze upon for days, whether it be Manabi or Mei's hair or the grass on top of the school. These sumptuous selections blend with well-executed animations to make the show's visual component easily the best part. Although, maybe I--as a yuri and shoujo fan--am merely bowled over by the choice to use an understated blush when one of the girls got flustered as opposed to a whole face crimson explosion.
Cassie: I must say, Manabi Straight is easy on the eye thanks to its sumptious colours. It still bugs me a little that nobody seems to have ankles, but when all is said and done, it does add to the cutesy moe-ness. The character design fares well, with each girl retaining their own distinct features and small details make this show fun to look at, such as Momoha's pigtail/hair antennae things popping out of her hazmat suit.
Patches: Single most surprising thing? Yui Horie's awkward rendition of the school anthem in episode one. She has pipes (Scramble and YAHHO! are two of my favorite anime themes, to say nothing of the deliciously good Silky Heart), but then again, when the anthem comes back in later episode as a full arrangement, the seiyuu does a good job of upping the ante. That said, Manabi doesn't give Hoccan a real chance to shine as the president's moe overrides her strangeness (Horie-san does best with extremely eccentric characters), and my hat instead goes off to Saki Fujita's Momo and Aya Hisakawa's Kyouko Kibukawa. Though these two characters don't get much speaking time (especially the quiet Momo) their deliveries are priceless.
Cassie: I have no particular complaints when it comes to the voice acting, but I agree that the school anthem in episode one was rather poor. As for the rest of Manabi Straight's music, it mostly falls into the realms of the nondescript. Few tracks stand out and those that do - such as the one with all the clapping - are entertaining at first, but can get a little grating after a while - it kind of reminds me of the Geijutsuka soundtrack to be honest. In the end, it works but leaves little impact.
Patches: I have to wholeheartedly disagree on the clapping track. It might have been my favorite part of the cutesy score. Megumi Hayashibara's charming OP, "A Happy Life" initially annoys a little with its sedate tone in relation to the high-energy episodes, but worms its way into viewers hearts and ears as the series progresses, in sharp contrast to the overwrought ED theme. For the most part, the rest of the score complements the antics well, but doesn't generate the same level of affection as the incidentals in Lucky Star, Azumanga Diaoh, or Chokotto Sister.
Cassie: Manabi Straight doesn't do a bad job of trying to develop its protagonists. It attempts to give some back story - yay for Mei's trauma switch being flipped - and places plenty of obstacles in the girls' paths. However, for every childhood DORAMA, there's another character that we learn nothing of. Mikan's social awkwardness is all well and good, but what is Momoha's deal? Similarly, though we get a glimpse of why Manabi acts as she does, we still don't find out much about what makes tomboy Mutsuki tick.
Patches: Eh. I find Mei and the Aikoh student council president to be too half-hearted as characters. Maybe I've been spoiled by Yasuna Kamiizumi (Kasimasi: Girl Meets Girl)? Frankly, I found the near-tsundere programmer more interesting at the beginning of the series when she posed more of a cipher than after her inevitable proper induction into the gang. Similarly, Takako's cameo-like role in the proceedings makes her feel like little more than a post pretending to be a girl. Her soft-spoken delivery and even temperament doesn't help her case much, either.
Cassie: True. Mei's habit of distancing herself yet still managing to get caught up in Manabi's schemes is far more interesting and entertaining to watch. As for everyone else, none of the characters particularly stand out as being loveable in any way. Unlike Azumanga's Sakaki or Hidamari's Hiro who earned my love for their various quirks and rapport with the other cast members, I can't say that anyone interested me. Hell, I don't even have that intense loathing for anyone that I get every time Miu appears in Strawberry Marshmallow, none of the protagonists leave much of an impression. The closest ones that come to it are Manabi, whose boundless enthusiasm just grates on me (though that may be because I'm just an embittered old hag) and nervous yet adorable Mikan, though I do still find myself wanting to slap her a couple of times for just standing there bawling when she can't think of anything else to do. If Mikan and Lag Seeing got together it'd be a very damp relationship... wait, that sounds kind of wrong...
Patches: Like Niche'd put up with that... >.> But I found Mikan to be pleasantly moe (at least moreso than the rest of the girls). Her clumsiness, cat-mouth, and library of cute noises made her the most entertaining when she wasn't in full-on waterworks mode. Momo comes in close second, behaving like a cut-rate Osaka (I especially love the costume she uses during her pirate broadcast) but mostly drifted in and out of the anime instead of finding a place as the consistent funny man. In the end, the series' confused pacing dampens what effective development the characters receive. Mikan, Mei, and Mucchi grow admirably, but the scatter-shot plotting distracted from that narrative. Had the show been a full 26 episodes, maybe the growth would have come through more forcefully, as the characters would be more familiar. But as it stands, I doubt viewers will care much about where everyone ends up in episode twelve.
Cassie: If I had to think of a way to describe Manabi Straight I'd call it 'ambitious'. Had it not decided to try and ram some semblance of plot in there, this could have been a great little moe series about nothing. Sadly, while it's pretty to look at, what bit of narrative there is feels disjointed and undeveloped.
Patches: Conversely, if they'd doubled the episode count and given the plot some time to steep, the setting had the makings of an intriguing narrative on the future of Japan given its declining birthrate. However, Manabi Straight wanted too much of the moecake (no, not the "boo cake") and its aimless nature squandered the good base materials with which the series had to work. While the show certainly diverted, viewers would do much better checking out Blue Drop for an involved plot or Azumanga Diaoh for some aimless fun.
Saio Private High School has a long tradition of quality education. However, like many other schools its enrollment and traditions are failing. School is no longer a necessity in the path to quality employment and for that reason, many teenagers are choosing to skip it entirely; this isn’t the case with the newly-transferred Manabi. She may be a whirlwind of humor and vision with her motto of “go straight forward”, but Manabi has the drive to bring the students of this small school both a new understanding of its purpose, and possibly a new joy in life.
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These days I load up on comedy, slice-of-life, and horror shows, but I'll watch almost anything that sports a good voice cast, an interesting story, or looks particularly pretty. I tend to relate anime I review to other shows I've seen, because that's just how my mind works. Whether my warped view on a particular show totally misses the mark or you believe I've hit the nail on the head, I'd love to hear from you and welcome feedback and intelligent discussion of just how wrong I might be.