Number of Episodes: 13
Production Company: J.C. Staff
Brief Overview: The story of five very different girls who share in the art of rakugo (a type of traditional stage comedy performed by telling lengthy comedic stories in front of an audience). The girls all have names that can be read as puns.
Episode 1 Summary: Marii, Kigurumi, Tetora, Gankyo, and Kukuru are young women who perform in one of the few remaining rakugo theaters. Their audiences are often sparse and their routines aren't always well-received, but that aspect of their lives is merely one facet. When not on stage, the girls engage in absurd, intense discussions about all manner of topics.
In one scenario, the girls are invited to a party and are asked that they "dress casually," a concept which confounds all of them. In another, they arrive at the theater dressed in their street clothes. Finally, the "cats versus dogs" argument of the ages begins to occupy the forefront of their minds, especially when they can't decide the correct way to write the "dog" kanji.
Thoughts: "Why would anyone turn a manga like this into an anime?" Straight from the mouths of the characters, folks.
For those unfamiliar with rakugo performance, it's an art form that relies a lot on the performer's ability to deliver a short story in a humorous way. It's about action, facial expression, the performer's ability to bring multiple characters to life in a way that distinguishes them from one-another, and their sense of timing in how they convey the story to the audience. This does not, in my mind, make for an inherently uninteresting experience, despite what the characters themselves may claim; in my mind, if an anime were able to capture some more of the performing nuances, or present some of the subject matter that the characters talk about via a performance rather than an unfocused roundtable discussion, then setting the series in a rakugo theater would feel more natural , despite the fact that there's not a lot of opportunity for animation showboating.
However, the bulk of this episode takes place in the actors' dressing room/prep area, or on the street outside the theater, and seems to make little use of the fact that the characters all engage in a very specific, iconic form of acting. Judging from what happens during the first episode, these characters might as well all be in high school, spouting the exact same dialog atop the roof over their lunch hour, or around the table in the student council office. The saving grace (something which I can't believe I'm saying) is that the dialog contains some fairly amusing puns, and the breadth of the subject-matter that the girls discuss is broad enough to seem quirky. It was immediately prior to my viewing of this episode that I learned that Koji Kumeta, author of Sayonara Zetsubou-Sensei, penned the dialog portion of the original Joshiraku manga, and there's certainly some echo of his influence here. The way in which the characters react, one-by-one, to a particular humorous situation as a method of character introduction feels very much like something one would find in SZS. There's also an undercurrent of very lighthearted social commentary that weaves throughout the discussions the characters have. There's a certain element of familiarity here that may interest people who are jonesin' for a SZS fix and don't care that much about the quality of that fix.
The characters themselves also engage in meta-commentary, consistently breaking the fourth wall and remarking about the peculiarities of starring in an anime adaptation. Normally I find this sort of thing funny in small doses, but in this case a lot of what they say is unsubtle and forced. There's a difference between being self-aware and trying to force others to acknowledge that self-awareness with recognition and praise, and this show seems to skew very heavily towards the latter. There is one gag which I found entertaining, though- the characters remark that there's not much opportunity for the animators to demonstrate interesting animation techniques in a series where the characters don't move much; immediately afterwards is a scene in which about a zillion frames are used to depict a character writhing around in response to the comment. Now that's going out of your way for a gag.
I get the feeling that the humor here will end up being very hit-or-miss, but I'm curious to see whether the show finds a good rhythm and/or a more distinctive voice in the episodes to come.
Follow-up Episodes (2-4): "This anime is full of ordinary dialog so that viewers can fully enjoy how cute the girls are."
The episodes continue in essentially the same manner as the first, with segments introduced by the tail end of a rakugo performance and lengthy discussions about nothing of note gaining momentum from the differences in the characters' personalities. There are occasions for them to leave the confines of the theater dressing room from time; in one scene, they take a day trip to Odaiba island and encounter a large group of cosplayers, and in another they discuss the city's different tall structures. There are also a couple of unexplained appearances by an individual wearing a lucha libre mask, and a mystery person in a frightening rabbit suit.
I thought that this show's humor might hit its stride after a couple of episodes, so I started right in on some follow-up episodes. I got to about episode four, then felt myself threatening to nod off in my chair. Thinking that this was due to the late hour, I picked myself up and went to bed for the night. The next day, wide awake and ready to go, I re-watched the episode in its entirety, and again felt my eyelids begin to grow heavy.
As much as I'd like to say that this style of humor just isn't to my tastes, that isn't entirely true. After pondering the similarities to Sayonara Zetsubou-Sensei, which is formatted in much the same way, I realized that it must be something else that's failing to capture my attention, and the answer was staring me in the face the entire time, several times per episode: "This anime is full of ordinary dialog so that viewers can fully enjoy how cute the girls are." The self-stated point of the series isn't to be funny, to tell a good story, or to focus on rakugo or anything highbrow like that, it's meant to be a vehicle for cute girls doing cute things, with the very specific art form of rakugo as a facilitating agent. Yes, I realize that the repetition of the statement is probably meant to be ironic, indicative of a desire on the part of the writers to note that it isn't just a show about girls looking cute... but that's really all it is. And to be honest, they're really not all that cute anyway, and seem to take great pleasure in acting rudely towards one-another.
The one thing I like about the show, though, is its tendency to riff on other anime series occasionally. There's a crowd scene on Odaiba where one could spend quite a while pointing out and naming all the anime characters in the background. There's also a funny reference to SZS in the fourth episode.
The series itself doesn't seem to be all that great, but at least it helped remind me of an amusing form of Japanese entertainment, so I suppose it's not a total loss.
- There are some fun character "cameos" that appear in the background.
- The humor falls flat, and it seems as if the entire point really is to feature cute girls doing absolutely nothing.
- Rakugo plays little if any part in what actually happens in the show.
Recommended? Because this seems aimed at such a specific audience, with humor completely reliant on how much a person is interested in the droning on of a bunch of bland characters, it would be difficult to recommend even if I actually liked it. Considering that it actually lulled me to sleep not once, but twice, I'm positive that I couldn't in good faith convince anyone to watch it. That said, internet research tells me that it does have its passionate fans, and I suspect I may hear word from one or two of them at some point.