A giant walking steamed bun with the ability to transform into other things fights another giant steamed bun in an unknown Japanese city while three high school students wrest control over these creatures out of each others' hands (or, more accurately, minds).
Giant steamed bun number one, whose actual name is Cenco, is handled by a young teen named Tetsu. Cenco has a mind of its own and while he's generally content to listen to Tetsu, there are instances where their relationship takes a turn for the dark and grim. When they're discovered by a young girl named Yuki, it begins to look like Tetsu might not be as in control as was originally assumed.
This is the plot of Cencoroll, an ambitious one-man project by writer, director, animator, and mangaka Atsuya Uki. Ambitious as it may be, however, the story is riddled with plot holes and unanswered questions; it ends up feeling more like a promo or a recap episode of a longer series. All things considered, however, it's well-planned, taking on the "kids and monster pals" trope, playing some things straight and flipping others on their heads.
Cencoroll's animation is crisp, clear, and nicely detailed, especially when considering the fact that it was almost entirely animated by one person. All of Cenco's transformations are smooth and it's obvious that Uki has put a tremendous amount of work into every frame. Characters retain their proportions and there are hardly any instances where things look clunky or unwieldly.
The three human characters are designed to be easily recognizable, even considering that their color palettes are composed of no more than three colors each. In another show, their designs would relegate them to stock characters, but because of Cencoroll's small cast and its shortage of manpower behind the scenes, not much variation is needed. In fact, in Cencoroll's case, the character designs work well, allowing things to be animated well without having to expend energy on vividly colored outfits or odd hairstyles.
Backgrounds are nicely detailed and colored, but never try to function as anything besides backdrops. And there's no reason for them to, since Cencoroll's focus is on its characters and not its setting.
Comprising a nice group of professional voice actors, Cencoroll's cast never really tries to be spectacular, but instead simply serviceable. None of the VAs will win any awards for their work in Cencoroll, but character's emotions and personality are expressed well by each VA.
There's not much in the way of music in Cencoroll, but the ending theme "Love and Roll" is an energetic, sweet piece, done by Supercell, the same folks who performed the Bakemonogatari ending theme. It fits Cencoroll's character-driven sci-fi setting well, interspersing its tender, romantic verses with a higher-energy, electropop-influenced chorus and background track.
With a small cast and only two main human characters, Cencoroll still only seems to have time to develop one of them fully. Tetsu is a loner focused on keeping Cenco and other similar creatures a secret from society at large. He never really receives much development beyond that, and it could be argued that he's more of a plot device to help Yuki, the female protagonist, grow as a person.
Yuki is a girl who discovers the duo and, intrigued by Cenco, tags along with them for a day. While Tetsu initially brushes her off as an annoyance, she eventually proves herself to him with her determination and bravery.
The antagonist, Shu, has very going for him besides being an antagonist. His own steamed bun pet is apparently going to devour Cenco to gain more power and continue to survive, but neither Shu nor Tetsu seem to have a reason for keeping these creatures around or for caring about their continued survival.
Cencoroll is an entertaining, lighter take on the kinds of monster stories that Alien Nine and Shadow Star Narutaru have previously toyed with. What it lacks in substance and plot it patches over with an obvious appreciation for its forebears in the genre and its refusal to take itself too seriously.
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