Cassie and I have similar taste in anime, which I find remarkable due to the fact that her list FAR outclasses mine and her favorite genre is shounen while mine is moe slice-of-life. But, when therik's incessant pestering had us buddy-grouping Manabi Straight, our near-uniform reaction to the title could only mean one thing: Joint review. What follows is part conversation, part essay, and all good.
Cassie: It feels like it's been an age since I last watched a slow-paced slice-of-life show and I must admit, I have kind of missed it. Manabi Straight follows a young high school girl named Manabi as she transfers to Seioh Academy. When she arrives, she finds a gaggle of disinterested students and decides to become the Student Council President in order to revolutionise the school and make it more fun. Pretty straight forward, right? Well not really as my main gripe with the whole series is that it doesn't seem to know what it wants to be. It's like the creators couldn't decide what to do so they chucked two parts slice-of-life in a bowl with one part drama, one part comedy, stirred it a couple of times then closed their eyes, tossed it in the air and hoped that a three-course meal would land nicely on their plates. As a result, you end up with a sticky mess all over your kitchen cupboards and a series that has no point - until suddenly you find a lump of something that turns out to be plot. Then, after wading through some more eggy moe-goo it seems there's some hope as that long awaited piece of meaty drama finally surfaces. Sadly it's somewhat stringy and a bit limp, so the series tosses it towards the trash can (can you hear the dull splat as it misses and instead hits the wall?) and decides instead to scrape a previously used plot device off of the floor and fry it up hoping to improve the flavour (also known as "Ooo yay! Let's redecorate again!").
Patches: That sense of disjoint comes directly from the fact that the progression doesn't grow organically, and the underlying narrative remembers or forgets details according to whim and the size of plot hole Manabi decides she wants to walk through. Even the fluffiest slice-of-life efforts such as Azumanga Daioh, K-On!, Lucky Star, or even Kanamemo allow minor plot points to accumulate like so much dust, forcing some kind of advancement-sneeze of character or narrative development. Instead, Manabi Straight allows its characters to act within an apparent vacuum--their actions have little or no influence during most of the student council's tenure. But once it's "go" time, near the series' end, the wheels magically squeak to life in time to manufacture out a "happy" ending.
Cassie: I'm sure therik is crying in a corner somewhere at the thought that K-On! is superior to Manabi Straight. As for the whole "happy ending" thing I don't have a problem with it per se; the climax of episode eleven was ideal - a perfect mix of moe cheese and definite conclusion. Such a shame that twelve felt like a let down in comparison. Yes it has resolution, but the whole momentum that had built up during the previous few instalments just fizzles out like a damp firework. So instead of having that warm glow that I should have been left with, I have to endure a further twenty four minutes of "what happened next" complete with toe-curlingly dodgy slow-mo animation. Also, I swear that they had budget to spare - that's the only reason I can see for the incessant snowstorm of sakura petals that seemed to rain down from a clear blue sky.
Patches: Have you SEEN Kara no Kyoukai? These ufotable guys don't fuck around with audio/visual wank.
Cassie: No, I haven't. And I don't plan to in the immediate future either. Maybe one day, if I ever get my want to watch list below two hundred. :P
Patches: The ufotable animators bring their love of rich color palattes to Manabi Straight. While the character designs are a little lacking, there are hues used in both the background and foreground that I could gaze upon for days, whether it be Manabi or Mei's hair or the grass on top of the school. These sumptuous selections blend with well-executed animations to make the show's visual component easily the best part. Although, maybe I--as a yuri and shoujo fan--am merely bowled over by the choice to use an understated blush when one of the girls got flustered as opposed to a whole face crimson explosion.
Cassie: I must say, Manabi Straight is easy on the eye thanks to its sumptious colours. It still bugs me a little that nobody seems to have ankles, but when all is said and done, it does add to the cutesy moe-ness. The character design fares well, with each girl retaining their own distinct features and small details make this show fun to look at, such as Momoha's pigtail/hair antennae things popping out of her hazmat suit.
Patches: Single most surprising thing? Yui Horie's awkward rendition of the school anthem in episode one. She has pipes (Scramble and YAHHO! are two of my favorite anime themes, to say nothing of the deliciously good Silky Heart), but then again, when the anthem comes back in later episode as a full arrangement, the seiyuu does a good job of upping the ante. That said, Manabi doesn't give Hoccan a real chance to shine as the president's moe overrides her strangeness (Horie-san does best with extremely eccentric characters), and my hat instead goes off to Saki Fujita's Momo and Aya Hisakawa's Kyouko Kibukawa. Though these two characters don't get much speaking time (especially the quiet Momo) their deliveries are priceless.
Cassie: I have no particular complaints when it comes to the voice acting, but I agree that the school anthem in episode one was rather poor. As for the rest of Manabi Straight's music, it mostly falls into the realms of the nondescript. Few tracks stand out and those that do - such as the one with all the clapping - are entertaining at first, but can get a little grating after a while - it kind of reminds me of the Geijutsuka soundtrack to be honest. In the end, it works but leaves little impact.
Patches: I have to wholeheartedly disagree on the clapping track. It might have been my favorite part of the cutesy score. Megumi Hayashibara's charming OP, "A Happy Life" initially annoys a little with its sedate tone in relation to the high-energy episodes, but worms its way into viewers hearts and ears as the series progresses, in sharp contrast to the overwrought ED theme. For the most part, the rest of the score complements the antics well, but doesn't generate the same level of affection as the incidentals in Lucky Star, Azumanga Diaoh, or Chokotto Sister.
Cassie: Manabi Straight doesn't do a bad job of trying to develop its protagonists. It attempts to give some back story - yay for Mei's trauma switch being flipped - and places plenty of obstacles in the girls' paths. However, for every childhood DORAMA, there's another character that we learn nothing of. Mikan's social awkwardness is all well and good, but what is Momoha's deal? Similarly, though we get a glimpse of why Manabi acts as she does, we still don't find out much about what makes tomboy Mutsuki tick.
Patches: Eh. I find Mei and the Aikoh student council president to be too half-hearted as characters. Maybe I've been spoiled by Yasuna Kamiizumi (Kasimasi: Girl Meets Girl)? Frankly, I found the near-tsundere programmer more interesting at the beginning of the series when she posed more of a cipher than after her inevitable proper induction into the gang. Similarly, Takako's cameo-like role in the proceedings makes her feel like little more than a post pretending to be a girl. Her soft-spoken delivery and even temperament doesn't help her case much, either.
Cassie: True. Mei's habit of distancing herself yet still managing to get caught up in Manabi's schemes is far more interesting and entertaining to watch. As for everyone else, none of the characters particularly stand out as being loveable in any way. Unlike Azumanga's Sakaki or Hidamari's Hiro who earned my love for their various quirks and rapport with the other cast members, I can't say that anyone interested me. Hell, I don't even have that intense loathing for anyone that I get every time Miu appears in Strawberry Marshmallow, none of the protagonists leave much of an impression. The closest ones that come to it are Manabi, whose boundless enthusiasm just grates on me (though that may be because I'm just an embittered old hag) and nervous yet adorable Mikan, though I do still find myself wanting to slap her a couple of times for just standing there bawling when she can't think of anything else to do. If Mikan and Lag Seeing got together it'd be a very damp relationship... wait, that sounds kind of wrong...
Patches: Like Niche'd put up with that... >.> But I found Mikan to be pleasantly moe (at least moreso than the rest of the girls). Her clumsiness, cat-mouth, and library of cute noises made her the most entertaining when she wasn't in full-on waterworks mode. Momo comes in close second, behaving like a cut-rate Osaka (I especially love the costume she uses during her pirate broadcast) but mostly drifted in and out of the anime instead of finding a place as the consistent funny man. In the end, the series' confused pacing dampens what effective development the characters receive. Mikan, Mei, and Mucchi grow admirably, but the scatter-shot plotting distracted from that narrative. Had the show been a full 26 episodes, maybe the growth would have come through more forcefully, as the characters would be more familiar. But as it stands, I doubt viewers will care much about where everyone ends up in episode twelve.
Cassie: If I had to think of a way to describe Manabi Straight I'd call it 'ambitious'. Had it not decided to try and ram some semblance of plot in there, this could have been a great little moe series about nothing. Sadly, while it's pretty to look at, what bit of narrative there is feels disjointed and undeveloped.
Patches: Conversely, if they'd doubled the episode count and given the plot some time to steep, the setting had the makings of an intriguing narrative on the future of Japan given its declining birthrate. However, Manabi Straight wanted too much of the moecake (no, not the "boo cake") and its aimless nature squandered the good base materials with which the series had to work. While the show certainly diverted, viewers would do much better checking out Blue Drop for an involved plot or Azumanga Diaoh for some aimless fun.
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.
Another day another anime another review where i have to come up with interesting things to say about said anime.
But this is not just any other day,it's a rainy day and i'm dead tired.Only thing keeping me awake is my pure hatred which i'll try to transfer into this review as best as i can.
And where to start really?When an anime such as Manabi Straight is so devoid of..Anything to be honest.
Let's get the story part out of the way since there's no story to talk about..It's just another slice of life anime..Cause we needed one in 5 minutes,correct?Well no we didn't need another Moe-SOL anime in our lives but market says otherwise and the rest of us who were not hit in the head as children have to suffer for it...Basically all you need to know about this anime is that it's about a school FULL of girls and more specifically the student council which tries to overcome some problems such as "oh no my nail just broke,what is the society gonna think i won't be able to get married" and "oh my god the festival we planned is gonna get cancelled OMFG i'll die"..I would commit suicide too if those were my only problems in life..
And don't whatever you do be fooled by the description and think of this as an anime where dark themes are explored in any way at all..You might have thought that they would at least explore the reason why kids choose not to go to school or why school is deemed unnecessary or at the very least a mention of the ever decreasing population ..And you'd be wrong,very wrong..In fact this anime is just about cute girls and their cute things.Sure there are times where they try to pull off some dramatic scenes but they are so obviously fake that even a 3yr old would die laughing.
And speaking of kids why don't i share some thoughts on the characters?
Well there are characters for sure and many of them but who cares?Did the writers care?Not in the least it seems cause apart from Manami the rest of the cast is like watching a dead horse race.
I'm prepared to bet you all of my hair that the stuff had a meeting and said "right lads,moe sells..So to prove how idiotic the moe lovers are i have a proposal to make..Let's make only the main character interesting in some way and not bother at all with the rest of them,see how that pans out".
And boy did it work cause anyone with working brain cells could plainly see that this cast is a farce.To put it into perspective Manami while offering nothing new in terms of characterisation,is at least a joy to watch and full of energy..In contrast the rest of characters are like they overdosed on these new zombie drugs.In fact if you search the term "generic archetypes" a photo of this cast is gonna show up..Somwhere along the way they did try to breathe some life into them but it was hopeless.The show was already consumed by the moe-fog and as a result you can't connect with them as characters to the point that if someone came into the school and killed them all you wouldn't even notice.
So even if it had a story it woudln't have the characters part right.
Visually i can't say i'm dissapointed but i'm not over my self with joy either.The character designs consist of a faux chubby loli style which is all the rage in the circles of child molesters in the late years.No facial features whatsoever,with huge eyes and they look like they're a LOT younger than they're supposed to be.The backgrounds and the tone is well done,nothing fancy but they cleverly hid that under tons of vibrant colours..So it's like sleeping with a woman who has tons of make up on and when you wake up next morning you are next to a 40yr old man.
This might be the result of the absence of a director.The role of the director was taken upon by a team of creative staff members.Now i can't very well sit here and say the whole thing worked cause yes the visuals were nice-y but again it lacked story.
In their defense the last episode was at least a lot better than the rest of the series.So there you go,if you want an anime with fluffy shit all around and a cherry hid in the mountain of shit,go ahead and watch it.
Now before you march in with your opinions and whatnot i want you to do an experiment with me..Try and read every review,every comment and try not to find the words cute,moe,romantic or other similar words to describe the show.
Manami is at best a generic mediocre borefest..And we had enough of these already,in fact 80% of the shows produced are the exact same copy of each other.So yeah sure they're heartwarming and all that crap but in the end they're not special..In fact they're not even worth of mention.