With its self-contained plot, small cast, and punchy finale, the first half of Denpa Onna to Seshun Otoko plays out like a clever OVA. After moving to the big city to live with his aunt, Makoto Niwa juggles a flirtation-filled school life with the thorny problem of his deluded cousin, Erio (she thinks she’s an alien and spends all her time wearing a futon). As he slowly forces her out of her self-imposed isolation and into the real world bit-by-bit, he treats the viewers to a pitch-perfect view of adolescence, where the realities of home life prevent him from doing what he wants. When this segment culminates in a fantastic ET homage designed to shatter his cousin's belief that she is an alien, the series appears positioned to follow the protagonists into the even sticker problem of how to integrate the young girl into society.
But that's not what happens. Instead, Denpa Onna quickly falls into a near-torpor as all the conflict evaporates and Niwa spends most of his time engaging in normal adolescent activity. The sparkling conversations he has with his two classmates, Ryuuko and Maekawa are the highlights of this portion, but even the cute girls barely lift the series above its pleasant atmosphere and meandering pacing. And then comes the ending.
The final two episodes see some small bits of magic come into Niwa's life which work together to transform the feeling and message of the anime. Recast as a parable, the previously charming-but-tedious buildup becomes important groundwork for the story's payload. Given the simplicity of the message and its understated delivery saying more would spoil, however viewers will walk out of the second half of the anime with a dramatically better opinion of it than when they entered.
The unnamed city doesn’t offer much in the way of compelling scenery since the characters remain the primary focus of the show. To this end, SHAFT lavishes attention on each girl using their recognizable combination of strange-angle stills and luscious motion. In addition, the show uses shared visual cues across all the girls to accentuate their commonalities. All the ladies have the same cryptic smile, for example, and the sparkling hair that Niwa first sees on Erio becomes a trait shared by more than one of the people populating his life.
While Niwa, and by extension Miyu Irino, talks the most throughout the series, most of the aural goodness comes from Erio, Meme, and Ryuushi going head-to-head in an all-out moe contest. None of the girls comes out the overall winner, but their healthy competition further enhances the characters' charm. As for the music, only the series clumsily sung OP really stands out. Its raw vocals evoke Erio's inherent vulnerability and drip with self-aware humor.
In the second half of the show, Niwa transforms from a typically bland harem protagonist into a realized character through a trick of self-awareness, and the result vastly improves the cast in retrospect. As his orbit accumulates girls like a collection of moe moons, he slowly comes to understand that his life must be made not experienced. Unlike many harem protagonists who don’t get the chance to show how this new wisdom would change their lives, our hero gets an opportunity to act on his new knowledge. These feats drive the final episodes and help trace a positive arc for Niwa heading into the finale.
Sadly, much of his supporting cast is about as sweet and fulfilling as cotton candy, with two exceptions. The undersexed and overenthusiastic Meme bubbles with an attractive joie de vivire that’s one part mask and one part comic relief. The other gem in the crowd, Ryuushi, bounces through every scene as a charming mash-up of moe traits (adorable bicycle helmet and snaggletooth, anyone?) and genuine insecurity. Like all good contradictions, these quirks add an important dose of realism, painting the picture of a teenage girl desperately trying to stake out a place for herself in high school and Niwa’s life. Erio and Maekawa, however, rarely rise beyond their initial impressions, no matter how cute they become (especially Erio, who grows more attractive with each episode). Erio’s antics and personal history, for example, offer a rich vein that could have been mined for interesting development. But instead of gaining complexity and nunance once liberated from her futon, she flattens into a fawning barnacle.
Denpa Onna’s ending transforms it from an unfocused slice-of-life parable into a careful character study. The attractive art and charming cast help the time to pass quickly towards the show’s conclusion. For people looking to see what Shinbo can do when he lays off the insane editing and lets his characters work, this show is worth checking out.
Makoto Niwa has just moved from his rural hometown to live with his aunt and experience high school life in the big city first hand. Unfortunately, his dreams of an adolescence filled of dates and school activities are soon shattered by having to share his new home with Erio, his deluded cousin who thinks she's an alien and spends most of her time wrapped in a futon for protection! Now, in addition to enduring his aunt’s energetic attention and flirting awkwardly with the girls in his class, Makoto finds himself drawn into helping Erio rejoin regular society and stopping her 'alien' antics.
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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.