Being a series predicated on the concept of a disgustingly large harem, I reluctantly picked up Futakoi Alternative with expectations for a mildly amusing girls-with-guns action flick. Thankfully, I couldn't have been more wrong. Despite an opening sequence that has absolutely nothing to do with the anime itself and a somewhat misconstrued first episode, Futakoi Alternative is neither a harem nor a pointless action flick. In actuality, it's a rather poignant drama mixed with a fair amount of hyperbolically exaggerated humor, and I found myself enormously impressed with how it manages to skillfully pull off this unconventional melding of genres.
It would be important to note, however, that the series starts off somewhat lopsided. The first episode can be entirely disregarded, and the ensuing couple episodes come across as rather average. Fortunately it doesn't waste much time from then onward, and quickly breaks from the mediocrity. As the series progresses, the whimsical, light-hearted guise of the first episodes fades, and is soon replaced by a relatively serious and dramatic storyline. What makes it particularly interesting, however, is that a number of the problems the main characters face are illustrated by means of hyperbolic, over-the-top humor (think a blend between Excel Saga and FLCL - while in the same general mold of those series, though, it tends to much less frenetic and thus easier to follow.) Yet, despite this, the humor is largely symbolic, and can be tied back to the seriousness of the story with ease. Strange as it may sound, this method of storytelling ends up working surprisingly well, as I felt remarkably attached to the three main characters while simultaneously laughing my ass off for a good portion of the series.
That said, the story is told in a somewhat fragmented manner, as it hops back and forth between past and present events quite liberally. It's narrated from the perspective of Rentarou, a dropout college student who unwillingly inherits his late father's private investigator business. He's helped out by two twin girls, Sara and Soujyu, who seem to generally enjoy his presence more than they do the actual detective work. The story pans out their relationship over a two-year period, and does a great job at portraying the growth of their characters over time. Rather than approach the romance from a typical, cliché disposition, it highlights their relationship as one that has overcome many difficulties, and that the nature of their bond is not merely superficial. More importantly, it displays the inability for idealism to carry a relationship, and shows that an active romance requires practicality. This shapes a realistic environment in which the romance develops, as it clearly makes a point to stray from the random one-guy-multiple-girl harem stereotype.
For a 2005 production, the animation is fairly standard fare. Though the characters aren't too overtly flashy, Rentarou and the twins do stand out as above average due to the huge amount of detail put into their designs. Rentarou's cigarette, for instance, was a particularly noticeable recurring theme, and served as one of many small tidbits that highlighted his character. There was also a lot of clever camera play when portraying the twins during rather dramatic moments, which certainly helped reinforce the idea of the their singularity.
While by no means exemplary, the soundtrack does a fine job throughout as well. It pervaded a very appropriate, atmospheric feel that carried the emotional vibes during many of the more dramatic scenes. In fact, I can't think of a single inappropriately placed track, as many of the pieces fit their respective scenes perfectly. One particular tactic that stood out, though, was that the music during the humorous scenes would often slowly transition from an energetic piece to a solemn one. This effectively grounded the humor to fit seamlessly into the story, and it proved vital in making the humor and drama mix work well together.
Be that as it may, the voice acting was most definitely the highlight of the series. Rentarou's seiyuu voices his monologues quite well, and the synchronization of the twins' voices at specific times drives a lot of the humor behind them. Above all, the ability of the actors to deliver their dramatic lines poignantly was by far their greatest virtue, and it certainly contributed to their ability to drive the series forward as powerfully as it did.
Much to my surprise, Rentarou turned out to be a very strong lead; while he certainly has his shortcomings, he comes across as a very believable character. As the series pans out he develops into a surprisingly empathetic figure, illustrated primarily through his internal monologues. His struggle for identity appears realistic, and is perhaps emphasized by all the overblown comedy scattered throughout the series. At the heart of his character is a boy who seeks to define himself as a man, struggling to step out from behind his father's shadow and claim his individuality. I felt him to be the most sympathetic character of the cast, even more so than the twins, and the chronicling of his growth was perhaps the most enjoyable facet of Futakoi Alternative to watch.
The twins Soujyu and Sara also carried a charm of their own. Oddly enough, while physically two different characters, they are developed and fleshed out as if they were a single entity. Despite having distinctly polar personalities, their processes of thought almost exclusively coincide, which causes them to appear as if they are merely two sides of the same coin. This development plays into the concept of the three-person romance astoundingly well, as the twins' design comes across as a clever jab at all the anime that "explore" the concept of taboo romance. However, their relationship with Rentarou evolves in such a fashion that it appears monogamous in almost every way, which creates the sensation of watching a genuine, two-person romance. It's an unconventional tactic to say the least, but the writers pull off this feat with finesse. For all the twins scenarios done so wrong in other anime, it's refreshing to finally see one done right.
Aside from Rentarou and the twins, however, most of the other characters filled purely comedic roles. Of them all, I particularly liked the police chief, as every time he found his way onto the screen it resulted in a number of good laughs.
Were it not for a slightly bumpy start, Futakoi Alternative would have been a fantastic title instead of just a great one. It felt as if the writers were forced to incorporate all the twin pairs from its harem predecessor, and this hurt the series' overall potential. Still, they're excess fluff that is dumped rather quickly, and the dramatic buildup that follows the opening episodes is worth the wait. If you're looking for an entertaining blend of comedy, drama, and romance, give it a shot - you won't be disappointed.
If there’s one thing I can credit Futakoi Alternative for, it’s for consistently surprising me; the show changes gears so rapidly throughout the 13 episodes that it’s basically impossible to predict what will happen next. Just when you think the show is running along the lines of some GAINAX tripfest, the series will abruptly switch to slice-of-life. The creators will wait a few episodes for you to get used to that, and then swerve violently into the angsty romance genre. Then, just as you think that the show is going to consistently do the opposite of what you’re expecting, the anime will follow formula to a “T” and shit out a hackneyed hot-springs episode… just to prove you wrong! I can’t think of any show more wildly schizophrenic; even FLCL had the decency to be dependably bizarre.
The show feels almost like a game that my brother and I play when we’re watching something especially lame and predictable. At random moments, one of us will spout out something absolutely random that completely breaks the mood of the show. For instance, our hero could be in the midst of confessing his love to some particularly buxom bride- to-be, and I’d scream out, “EAT HIS FACE!”
Imagine this, except replace me with some totally messed up Japanese dude who happens to have suffered through the original Futakoi series in its entirety. You can imagine where this is going. “Instead of some boring plot where a heroine loses her memory, let’s have a giant squid attack the city! This romantic comedy needs more neo-Nazis! Why doesn’t this show have more FIRE?” and so on and so forth.
However, the real question is whether the series is actually entertaining. Honestly, I’m not so sure. The director goes in too many directions at once, and there’s a limit as to how seriously I can take some cheesy romance scene when I know that weird wacky comedy will be coming 20 seconds later. Also, the show is actually fairly boring at times, despite the rapid changes in pace. Particularly in episodes 3-7, where the anime is slowly developing the setting, there are many dull and uninteresting moments.
That said, there were several moments when I laughed out loud, and several others when I was actively interested in what would happen next. While certainly not perfect, it’s hard to deny the stubbornness with which the creators tried to do something different.
It was fun for most part, though the angst part was not. The way the angst part got resolved seemed cheap. The craziness reminded me a lot of FLCL. Anyone else noticed NGE reference in the last episode? There was plenty more references through the series, but somehow I already forgot most of them. It seems my review this time does not have a proper form, let me fix that a bit (though I can't guarantee it's not going to be vague).
Story: Romance story between a guy in his twenties and teenage twin girls. This one takes a strange turn, because there isn't any angst on the guy's part nor the girls' part caused by the fact that there is 3 of them. They seem to be perfectly fine with being in this love triangle. I kind of like when the characters in romance series simply enjoy spending time together with their loved ones and this series actually delivered a bit of that. Nonetheless there was some angst in the series somewhere towards the end and it wasn't all that great. Did I mention that storytelling and comedy was totally crazy? No? Well, it is. Think the likes of FLCL. The series ends with a status quo, but it's different here from many other series. In romance series and many harem ones, status quo endings mean that characters' relationships haven't got anywhere. However if those relationships got somewhere before the series ended and that series has a status quo ending can be actually good in it's own right. I mean if characters reached a happy conclusion halfway through the series, status quo ending means it's just going to continue.
Animation: Nothing mind blowing here. I'd say it was ok, but the design of many female leads was so-so and had that galge feel to it.
Sound: Voice acting was ok, but the BGMs were really good (at least most of them).
Characters: Aside from Rentarou and the twins no other character had any big role, so everything just revolved around the main triangle. Those three were pretty fun to watch. Rentarou is an improvement over many shounen and even senien male leads, though my opinion of him went a little bit down during the angst part of the series (he spent a whole episode thinking of "what if"s and feeling down instead of doing everything he can to stay together with his loved ones and there was also the fact that he was too willing to let go of them). When I was watching the series I though the twins were ok, but now, shortly after finishing it, I can't really say much about them (seems they're not all that memorable characters).
Overall: The first part of the series deserves an 8, but due to the later angst part I had to lower it to 7 (the ending was still good though). So, was it worth watching? It sure was.
Sorry if my review isn't very coherent, I guess I'm too sleepy right now to write it properly.