Number of Episodes: 12
Production Company: Sunrise
Brief Overview: Four friends have grown up together in their small agricultural town. One Summer, they gather at a special rock and make a wish. Before one of them moves away, they'll spend their final Summer together experiencing miracles and magic.
Episode 1 Summary: Natsumi, Yuka, Rinko and Saki are four girls who have been friends for a long time. Unfortunately, Saki has been distant lately, and hasn't come early to tennis practice with Natsumi. Natsumi and Saki get into an argument about it, and vow to quit being friends. The others soon learn, though, that Saki's distance has to do with her impending move and school transfer, which she has kept a secret.
In order to repair their bonds of friendship, Yuka and Rinko trick Natsumi and Saki into gathering around the giant rock where the group has spent many moments together, and they try making a wish. Strangely enough, when the four align their desires, miracles begin to happen. They hope that they may be able to spend one last Summer together experiencing the magic only they, as friends, can produce.
Thoughts: From what I understand, this anime series is meant to be a star vehicle for the four members of a voice-actress group (which is something I can really only see existing within Japan's idol culture, to be honest) who are also singers. Normally I'm very skeptical of projects like this because they're so obviously meant to cash-in on the fame of people who probably won't be on the scene for very long. Unlike AKB0048, which is a series starring members of an idol group playing members of an idol group... in space(!), this show takes the more nuanced approach of featuring four normal girls who aspire to sing as a group as the protagonists. That might seem like a minor semantic difference, but in terms of taking the show seriously, it makes all the difference.
That said, its goals as a show are pretty obvious, even from the first episode. The characters make several very obvious mentions of an idol group that they once enjoyed (and that a couple of them still do), and fondly remember the Summer of their fourth-grade year where they placed first in a talent show for - guess what? - performing as a singing group. I don't think there's any pretending that this isn't meant to feature the talents of the women who are acting as the main characters, although the mechanisms for getting the characters into that situation are a bit more creative and have the potential to involve more characterization than might otherwise be required.
What was once a factor that wasn't really on my personal reviewing radar and which has now become something that I seek out in anime (and really, media of any type) is the portrayal of the relationships between female characters. Surprisingly, as much as a lot of anime fails profoundly in its portrayal of girls and women, I've noticed that there are quite a few series that focus on the relationships between female friends and even use those relationships as the primary source of storytelling. This anime doesn't do an especially creative job of setting up its main characters and their relationships with one-another - there are lots of stories about middle-school girls floating around out there, after all - but it is heartening to see another series where the main focus of the plot isn't about fighting over a boyfriend or bullying for the sake of bullying.
As for how I feel about this series' supernatural magical component, it really remains to be seen whether subtlety will win out or whether the plot device of the sacred stone will become too obvious for me to be able to suspend my belief. Right now I get the impression that the magical elements are merely necessary to set the more personal, emotional elements in motion, and to those ends I can see the appeal. The problem will be whether or not the magic itself becomes the sole problem-solving mechanism rather than a vehicle for the characters to develop their own solutions.
Overall my initial impressions are favorable despite the fact that I don't find much of the first episode all that compelling. I think there's an opportunity for the show to subvert some of the expectations one might have of an "idol" anime, even if it doesn't manage to subvert all of them.
Follow-up Episodes: Admittedly, the more I watched of this show, the more I got really hung-up on the mechanics of how the rock was granting wishes. One of the primary issues this show seems to have is the fact that the wish-granting system doesn't appear to have a lot of rhyme or reason, beyond "will this be convenient for the plot?" Sometimes two characters will wish for something and the wish will go unheard. Other times one of the characters will make a wish on her own and it will be answered. Sometimes it'll grant the same wish twice, other times it won't. It's like a magical grab-bag every time.
Here's another problem: the characters in this series get involved in a lot of wish-related hijinks, but it seems like very little of what they do leads to any substantial character development. Saki and Natsumi resolve their argument after spending what feels like half an episode chasing the other two characters through town whilst literally attached to one-another at the hip (a result of the rock's power). There's also an episode in which the characters experience a body-swap. These mechanics are very gimmicky, but I feel like they have the potential to introduce a lot of revelatory moments to the characters through forcing them to see things from another persons' perspective. Yet my impression is that the series often stops just short of actually allowing these "a-ha!" moments, instead leaving them up to the viewer's assumption. It's difficult to explain properly, but in essence I get the feeling while watching the show that things are very static, when the plot elements are trying to suggest that they are not. It's disorienting and unsatisfying.
Overall this series reminds me of Hanasaku Iroha, not only in that it focuses on the interpersonal problems of a group of teenage girls and takes place out in the country, but also in that it often spends too much time on the aspects of the plot that I don't care about. It's not a bad series and, for something created to further the careers of a group of industry idols, it is certainly higher-quality than I would have expected. It's just a series whose more whimsical elements are redefined as it suits the convenience of the plot, and whose characters don't seem to be developing in pace with expectations. A good time-waster, but difficult to actually recommend.
- The show focuses primarily on female friendships and how the characters relate to one-another.
- Much better than one would expect for a star vehicle for an idol group.
- The show feels very static and the characters' growth doesn't seem to keep pace with what's happening on screen.
- The internal logic of the show's magical element seems to focus on convenience rather than consistency.
Recommended? Since this isn't streaming anywhere and at best I'd classify it as enjoyable-but-mediocre entertainment, I can't really recommend that anyone go out of their way to find it. It's pleasant enough, but on further examination a lot of its elements don't hold up well.