In the midst of high-paced action titles, ongoing shounen classics, and sickly sweet romance tales comes a small series with a big heart! Massugu ni Ikou weaves simplistic episodic stories about the bonds of friendship and love to both promote the welfare of dogs and provide some warming comedic moments.
Massugu ni Ikou is only five episodes long and very much a quintessential slice-of-life series, thus there is no overriding plot detail to speak of. However, this is not about high school romances, plucky young teenagers, or impoverished wanderers - this is about dogs! "Ah, so this is for the dog lovers?" I hear you say! Well, yes and no. I am in no doubt that I enjoyed this even more from being a dog lover extraordinaire, but even I can see the universal appeal behind this series. The comedy in Massugu ni Ikou does not consistently find itself within the idiosyncrasies of canine behaviour as one might predict (in the same way that Chi's Sweet Home is funny because it caricatures cat behaviour), but often in the personalities of the characters themselves.
Being episodic in nature, there are lessons to be found in each individual story that is told, but, as suggested in my opening statement, many of these have a deeper purpose. The show deals with the intricacies of being a pet owner - doing what is best for your pet, treating them correctly, and building a strong bond, aswell as delving into the secret lives of our dogs.
As far as slice-of-life goes, Massugu ni Ikou has all the right elements and will not displease, whilst also bringing an important message to convey. Yet, at only five episodes certain areas were overlooked such as Hanako's owners who we are never introduced to. It would have also been nice if Iku had been provided with a running storyline throughout, as opposed to being picked up and dropped in one episode. I can only assume this has something to do with the first season where the relationship of Iku and Akihoshi takes a central role.
A hard one for me to judge, Massugu ni Ikou is composed of a large amount of stills, but did suggest a high budget in other areas, and any movement was animated extremely well. The dogs' mouths do not lip-synch when they talk - only their expressions change to fit the tone; this was the first sign that the series was lacking a decent budget. Yet, at the same time this kind of works for the characters and the series - just like it worked in the Homeward Bound films. Although these animals talk maybe the creators did not want to personify them too much by making it look like they are speaking actual human language to one another. Or maybe the budget was low, who knows? Another factor that suggests this might be the truth is the repetitive use of the dogs in their minimalistic chibi forms (and the humans at points, too) - however, this really did add to the comedy and something I found easy to forgive.
That said, the rest of the animation was particularly beautiful - varied landscapes and backgrounds adorned with rich colours, of which the characters were perfectly blended within. Nothing felt unrealistic or overbearing. The dogs themselves were marvelously detailed and consistently proportioned - with a variation of breeds and sizes, there was nothing to complain about there - except maybe the colour of Mametarou, why was he orange?
Easily one of the strongest aspects of Massugu ni Ikou, the only reason I cannot give it full marks is because the slice-of-life genre really limits the variation in musical styles within an anime. Yet, what we are provided with is supremely awesome and fits each situation like a glove. The OP was a summery number that I didn't skip once, it was really an uplifting track with a deep sense of nostalgia attached to it. Within the story we are treated to various lush sounds from the romantic piano piece to an exuberant accordion and flute combination. Gen-san's theme employs various string instruments to provide the graceful sense of freedom and nature that you will feel this character deserves. The ending track was a unique jazz/swing number that was completely superb with some delicate yet strong vocals! I can't express much more love for the strong soundtrack of Massugu ni Ikou - one to discover for yourself!
The cast were astounding - Hiroyuki Yoshino (who provided us with the awkward paranoia of Takumi Nishijou in Chaos;Head, aswell as being famous for many other roles) breathes the perfect happy-go-lucky air into Mametarou. Sachiko Kojima provides us with the voice of Hanako, bringing out her delightfully simple nature with ease.
Personifying animal characters does not always crossover well when it comes to unique and convincing characterisation and for some people is something hard to take seriously. Yet, Massugu ni Ikou tries very hard and largely succeeds in this area, whilst maintaining a lot of modesty too!
Mametarou, being a cross-breed dog, does not have any personality traits we can assign to the position of his breed (for instance, dobermans are usually potrayed as having stern and aggressive 'personalities'), apart from his insecurities about being a cross-breed itself. This was a unique and clever character device to allow us to be open-minded toward his development and to prevent us being able to predict many of his reactions. In the first episode we learn the most important things about him - he adores food, he adores Hanako, and he adores Iku. He is a well-behaved dog (despite escaping every day when Iku goes to school) who wants to help others and have fun whenever possible. These elements of his personality are simple enough and can probably be said by many dog-owners of their pets. Yet, as the episodes develop we learn that Mametarou is one of the most intelligent dogs presented to us in the series, but unfortunately he retains his insecurities and fails to recognise this. This is not a problem for him, however, because as long as Iku and the dogs around him are happy he is happy, and luckily he is such a determined character that he will always help others overcome their issues.
Hanako is as innocent and pure as her gleaming white coat suggests. Providing some of the strongest comic relief in the series, her naivety and simple nature causes lots of stress for Mametarou but also makes her one of the most loveable characters in the show. Her character is largely one-dimensional but she is also shown to have a deeper underlying sadness about her through being very empathetic towards the other characters.
The support cast is a standard one-dimensional fare, yet they are unique despite this. I appreciated the effort that went into Jack's character, the English Collie... unlike so many foreign characters he does not speak fluent Japanese but actually a blend of English and broken Japanese. Gen-san was exemplary of a personality born from his breed - a strong and dignified purebred Husky, he becomes Mametarou's role model and also contributes to the only revisited storyline within the series. The relationship between him and owner Koboyashi is a touching portrayal of the sacrifices an owner will make for their pet, and gives the show a melancholy element that it may have felt contrived without.
Massugu ni Ikou is the most endearing series to ever appear on my screen, and despite its downfalls has an exceptional element of enjoyability. I am saddened to see how incredibly underrated and unknown it is. Like comedy? Like slice-of-life? Like dogs? Then you need this on your "Want to watch" list immediately! If you're looking for anything more from an anime this might be one you should pass; if you want something relaxing and upbeat look no further.