During this Spring anime season, I’ve watched a large variety of anime, from the great continuation of the Durarara!! series, to the ecchi-fantasy series Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaou, which I’m currently undecided on whether or not I hate it or like it, to the terrible Kiss x Sis and Uragiri wa Boku no Namae o Shitteiru anime series, both of which I was only able to survive one episode of. Ugh... sometimes, it sucks to have to finish what you start.
And like every season of anime I watch, there’s always a show or two which I don’t expect much out of, and yet am surprised and entertained with them. This season’s underdogs, as I’ve grown to call them, have a few things in common. Firstly, their art styles are both strange, and in some cases, pretty poor. Secondly, nobody I show them to seem to find them very good. In fact, their popularities here on Anime Planet were both pretty low when I first checked.
So this season’s underdogs are: Sarai-ya Goyou (House of the Five Leaves) and Yojou-han Shinwa Taikei (The Tatami Galaxy).
I’ll start with Sarai-ya Goyou. It’s a historical piece, about a ronin, Masanosuke Akitsu, with the most uneasy personality you could imagine. He’s shy, finds it hard to communicate with anybody, and worse, out of a job. Desperate for a job, he takes up a bodyguard position for the enigmatic Yaichi. He’s surprised though, when Yaichi turns out to be the leader of a band of kidnappers, who go by the name of “The House of Five Leaves.” Still, captivated by the strange people he now associates with; he finds it hard to leave them, once they invite him into their group.
This show caught me as a little strange at first. For a historical piece, you’d expect some traditional Japanese sounding music to go along with it. Well, there isn’t much, if any. The OP and ED are both very modernistic, using a lot of synth beats and English. The music is more like a stereotypical France movie’s soundtrack, with plenty of accordion. It’s strange, but it actually fits in with the anime.
Which is sort of what I feel the theme of this series is: the strange, weird and uncommon, and how it can fit together to make an interesting story. More so, the characters also follow this pattern. Each of them are unique, odd folk, that you wouldn’t expect to get along so well. But they somehow get along in a very realistic way, and I’ve found I’ve grown to enjoy the strangeness they possess.
Normally, when you try to combine a large amount of strangeness into one thing, you only get a larger amount of strangeness. Not that it’s a bad thing. Some of my favourite shows have been an onslaught of weirdness after oddity (*cough*FLCL*cough*). But what Sarai-ya Goyou manages is quite admirable: it takes all these strange and uncommon elements, and combines them to make a surprisingly realistic show. Nothing feels irregular or out of place, it all just works. And that’s what makes it a good show.
The next one, is personally my second favourite of the new season, following Angel Beats!. Yojou-han Shinwa Taikei, is in simple words, the strangest thing I’ve watched after FLCL. It takes a college student, who after two years of college life, is incredibly unhappy with his situation, and gives what seems to be an infinite number of retries. Each episode consists of him joining a circle (in Japan, this is similar to a club or sports team) in his early days of college, and experiencing misfortune as he struggles with his painted reality versus reality. However, no matter which circle he joins, all his misfortune seems to be triggered by a strange human (if you can even call him that) named Ozu, who for reasons unknown, always follows our main character, who by the way, remains unnamed, into every circle he joins.
Each episode is a separate story in the same timespace, but some characters seems to be able to carry knowledge over from the previous episode. While nothing has been resolved yet, I’m starting to gather an idea of what is happening throughout the story.
What makes this series so weird is that the animation company, MADHOUSE, seems to have no care for the quality of the series’ appearance. Which is strange. I’ve seen a few MADHOUSE anime before, and they tend to do a very good job with detail. Look at Summer Wars, their latest masterpiece, as an example. Yojou-han, on the other hand, has an awful art style, which nearly made me stop watching after the first five minutes. Seriously... I could draw better characters when I was in middle school. The backgrounds tend to be pretty good though, but they’re often changed between hand-drawn and blurred photos.
Another strange quality of the show is the fast-paced narration. It moves really fast. I even think a person who fluently understands Japanese might struggle occasionally with this show. As a sub-reader, I often have to re-read a line to get what was said. At the same time, it might suddenly slow down, so the pace of this show is something you need to adjust to.
Still, it’s captivated me. Why is the main character repeating his first two years of college over and over? Why is he left unnamed? Just who the hell is Ozu, and why does he look like a monster from a children’s picture book? None of these questions have been answered yet, which means it’s left to the viewers to speculate the answers. This, in my opinion, makes a good anime. If you can make your viewers think, instead of just watch, then you’ve succeeded in making something worth watching.
Well, there you have it. Two shows that I wasn’t sure of, that turned out to be more interesting than I thought. If you want a peaceful slice of life to enjoy, give Sarai-ya Goyou a spin. If you want a complete oddball with interesting concepts to think about, try out Yojou-han Shinwa Taikei. Either way, I’m sure you’ll enjoy yourself.