Gakuen Utopia Manabi Straight! is a simple moe comedy story about an all-female Student Council set to motivate and inspire the fellow students. There really isn't anything special to it, but somehow, it all adds up to a very, very fine anime experience. Let me explain.
The plot deals with a future in which high school is no longer a requirement; most teens just start working for a living. This is somehow the result of a decline in birthrate, and an aging population. This is not explained much further and, to be honest, it does not at all matter to the rest of the story. It is just to explain why many high school students think about quitting school and starting to work instead, and why student morale is so low.
The school of our focus is Saioh High School, where a quirky and insanely energetic new transfer student, Amamiya Manami ("Manabi"), witnesses a dull start-of-the-year ceremony, and a shy and clumsy girl, Inamori Mika, trying in vain to recruit members for the Student Council. Manabi then joins Mika, actually taking the lead, and together they try to expand the council to be a force that can bring the fun of high school life, back into high school life.
In the process, Mika and Manabi are joined by the sporty, popular tomboy Mutsuki and the serious, studious Mei. More on the background there is video-blogger Momoha, lending a hand in her own way. The five girls start a charm offensive to motivate and inspire the students in a positive way, and have plenty of fun for themselves as well.
It is clear what the moral of the story is: treasure your high school days; have fun and make the best of it!
It must be equally obvious by now, that the characters follow an expected pattern for a school-based anime about a group of girls. This is not a problem at all. Each one is adorable in her own right. What really wins, is the chemistry of the group, and the humour among themselves. There were moments I really laughed aloud, which is quite rare. Actually, the Student Council's antics, their joys and disappointments, managed to touch me deeply. I'd actually have a lump in my throat or shed a "happy tear" (don't laugh at me!) when the young ladies overcame their obstacles. As well as at the end...
There is no ecchi here, and there doesn't need to be. This is heart-melting kawaii-ness all the way, and I am not even so easily charmed by high schoolers. It glorifies the lives of girls but does not sexualise it. After so many ecchi animes, this actually came as a relief. ;)
There is one more character that was such a good find. Shimojima is a teacher who is frequently late due to having been out drinking, and who has no qualms about smoking cigs in the teacher's office while his colleagues are eating - even if they give him stink-eye for it. But he kind of acts as the Student Council girls' protector, and gives up a lot of his free time driving them around. All that, and he's not even a pervert. He's the kind of teacher we all would have wanted.
The animation for this series is very well done. It's very smooth and shiny looking and gives the whole anime a pleasant glow. It's sparkly and colourful, although if the mood changes the colouring changes accordingly. Visual character design is almost irresistably moe! The "camera" is set so that a lot of the humour is quite unexpected and often comes from the background or just outside the viewer's view, giving it the advantage of surprise.
The opening and ending sequences are wonderful in their own right. Especially the claymation ending is absurdly cute. Ah - you'll just have to see for yourself, of course.
All in all, somehow - and I'm still not sure exactly how - UFOtable has created a tremendous feel-good story using minimal resources. What I mean to say is that there is very little that we haven't seen before in animes such as this, but it just WORKS. It works like a workhorse. As I said, it brought me a laugh and a tear almost every episode, and if you're in any way like me, you'll really start to feel like you want Manabi & co. to succeed in their goals.
I think, secretly, this is worth a 9 out of 9. Really high scores in review seem to be unfashionable, but I'll just go with my feeling.