(Due to UnimeTV’s servers having major issues, all my posts there have been deleted, though I managed to salvage two of them. So here they are.)
Talk about the ultimate late bloomer.
The anime adaptation of Amanchu provided the creative canvas for a highly anticipated reunion of mangaka Kozue Amano (Aqua / Aria) and Satou Junichi (Aria the Animation, Princess Tutu, Tamayura) as chief director. The two individuals’ collaboration on the Aria series has deemed it one of the most highly acclaimed titles in the Slice of Life mega-genre, held in high regard for its rich and atmosphere-based storytelling, detailed and gorgeous setting design and immersive thematic explorations of human compassion and curiosity. Alongside series director Kasai Kenichi (Honey and Clover, Nodame Cantabile) and Deko Akao (Flying Witch, Noragami, Snow White with the Red Hair) handling series composition, Amanchu has the creative minds behind it to make it a charming Iyashikei title.
After three episodes, all indicators suggests yet another great genre advocate to add to the increasingly crowded pile contributed to by shows from 2016.
Storytellers in Their Infinite Forms
In understanding the sub-genre specifics of Iyashikei within the illy defined genre of slice of life, Amanchu’s setting and its thematic construction are based upon a philosophy to ‘heal’ its audience, through a uniquely rhythmic episode phasing, soothing and poetic imagery, sound design and music. Inspiring messages written in the hopes of sparking compassion, moments of creativity and spontaneous callings of nostalgic warmth? They come as common and appreciated bonuses in the genre, and Amanchu just happens to feature them in spades.
One of Aria’s defining personalities was its constant framing of characters as storytellers: this evocative relationship between the characters and their adventures are in turn experienced by the audience through internalised dialogue that romanticises the story; Akari being the one most guilty. However, subverting this notion that storytelling is ‘only’ through written or spoken words, the series utilises the entire city as an alive and visual setting that seems to exemplify the idea of storytelling. In other words, the city itself is also a character, a character that interacts with the human (and feline) characters, and in turn, generate new canals of narrative and storytelling. In this way, Amanchu aims to replicate this cinematic construct with a different set of subject matters.
Amanchu’s PV and its OP sequence features the ocean prominently, with fittingly overwhelming imagery that sparks with inspired lighting, cool colour palette and lively but subtle background animation. The show’s cast are shown to be in tune with the ocean, surrounded by it and engaging with its never-ending horizons. This visual relationship between the cast and the ocean’s character is essentially the heart of the show, though Amanchu is also willing to dive deeper (pun intended) into the relational dynamics between individuals and how inspiration can be found everywhere, if one’s willing to look, and embrace the hand that reaches out.
How To Describe a Feeling Without Saying a Word?
As a character-driven story that does not rely on the guide ropes of plot development, Amanchu’s cast starts out small and intimate, with newcomer Futaba, affectionately nicknamed as Teko by Hikari, who takes up scuba-diving as a hobby. With ample characterizing, the show was capable of generating pulses of identifiable traits for the two seemingly polar opposite characters, all within the first episode.
Quickly establishing Futaba as a socially awkward individual who finds it difficult having vocal and interactional relationships with those around her, the show initially framed her phone as a constant presence, as if intending to utilize it as an object representation of her cherishing nature when it comes to memories, since she has a habit of taking pictures with it. However, her constant checking for emails/text messages also alludes to her sense of isolation from old friends, of whom she left behind after moving away from Tokyo.
From a narrative standpoint, it would make perfect sense to make her the main catalyst for external goodwill, expressed by cheery characters, who slowly drag her out from her own shell. For the most part, it would seem that Amanchu is aiming down this path, but it would hardly seem fair to judge the show as being formulaic or unenthusiastic about this premise.
Throughout the first episode and into the second, Futaba’s phone slowly disappeared, as she finds herself becoming more willing to attend school and more readily prepared to get out of bed in the morning, as she started conversing with Hikari, the resident walking ball of eccentric optimism.
Hikari is an oddball, and quite frankly, the show knows it and is all too eager to utilise the personality for some pretty charming interactions between her, Katori the home-room teacher and some one-sided personality clashes with Futaba. Quite interestingly, Hikari is shown to be rather self-aware of her personality, opening admitting to Futaba in episode three about her inability to properly express herself through vocal or expressive methods: a clever mirroring of the latter’s social anxiety. Nevertheless, Hikari’s open nature and the ability to strike up conversations with everyone and everything more than makes up for her shortcomings in the communications side of things, making her a perfect interactive counterbalance with Futaba.
In fact, Amanchu is at its absolute best, when dialogue is shared between the two girls, supported by the show’s passionate aesthetic and sensual mastery.
Colour, Music and Light
Episode two’s final minutes demonstrates a perfected fusion of every element animation production brings to the table. Not unlike the conductor’s opening wave of the hand, the music begins when Hikari reaches out her hand. The next few minutes proceeds to sensually describe the phenomenon of inspiration and the mystic pull of diving into water. The background music’s utilisation of a lush strings section, with light electronic keyboard accompaniment that manages to evoke a subtle, albeit stereotypical soundscape that musically describes water. Soon the piano joins in with chords that imitates the ripple effects of raindrops landing on the surfaces of bodies of water. The visual elements also aligns in harmony, as the intense blue of the sky and water is fittingly contrasted with the diving suits’ warm orange and the snow pink of the petals, while the camera experiments with medium and close-up birds eye shots and underwater framing, rippled light rays as sunlight penetrates the water, to fully depict the feeling of weightlessness and boundless curiosity.
Then the lone wordless female vocals leads in, whose only lyric is ‘awwww’: the music is literally trying to convey a sense of awe, though the note progression of the vocals were fittingly composed to maintain a fine balance of majesty and grounded simplicity. The scene reaches its peak in terms of emotional presence, as Futaba finally joins Hikari in the water surrounded by cherry blossom petals, upon realising that her reluctance has melted away. She lies speechless and in awe, as Hikari convinces her to join the diving club.
In the Spirit of Inspiration
In many ways, Amanchu is a show that embraces the simplicity of optimism: a landmark trait of most shows that proudly don the genre tag of Iyashikei. The third episode essentially had Hikari leading Futaba uphill to reach a road lined with fully bloomed sakura trees, where Hikari quoted the following words from her grandmother:
“Those who are happy living in the moment will find happiness anytime, anywhere!”
Certainly, realists and pessimists may cringe and roll their eyes, but for Amanchu, its imaginary world is essentially perfect: it attempts to breathe life back into the minds of those who seems to have lost their sense of curiosity, and it attempts this task with brutal generosity and with an unmistakeable sense of passion, fully willing to pursue ambitious heights of artistic clarity. The baton is now passed to the viewers: the show has done its job, will the audience take a leap and embrace it?
Amanchu is amazing.