Enter Kajiwara Sora, a girl who loves to draw, and goes everywhere with her sketchbook. Problem is, she’s quite picky about her subject matter and specific poses, and neither subject nor pose tend to cooperate with her long enough to get a meaningful sketch. Let’s see how this plays out…
As Sora is sitting there trying to sketch a lazy cat, hoping for some cute cat-centric actions, some genki chick that looks like a female version of Kenshin runs by and sees Sora. As genki chicks go, they’re always outgoing and friendly, so this particular Mitsurugi Digicam-ryu one starts asking Sora about her sketching. Problem is, Sora seems to be more introverted than Komori-san, Satou-kun, and 電車男combined, and is only able to reply in strange moe utterances, so the conversation ends up completely awkward yet freakishly cute. The Camurai swordsman runs off (so shoot me, at least I’m trying), and Sora decides that the cat isn’t going to move again, so decides to pack up and move on. Behind her, a crow flies off.
Anyways, Sora walks off as we get a view of the quiet town this show takes place in, with a smooth song called “Kaze Sagashi” (Searching for the Wind) accompanied by an acoustic guitar playing in the back, meshed in with Sora’s inner dialogue as she talks about her sketchbook and love for drawing. Probably not many better ways to kick off a show. Not to mention that Sora is voiced by Hanazawa Kana, AKA Potemayo.
Elsewhere, at the school, we’re introduced to the art class, headlined by a rather Yukari-sensei-ish Kasugano-sensei, who’s voiced by the legendary Hirohashi Ryou (Alice – ARIA, Koyuki – Keroro, Sora – Kaleido Star), as well as some of the students in the class, namely Natsumi (who looks a lot like Natsumi from Keroro) and Hazuki (yep, it’s Makino Yui!). Kasugano-sensei is rather distraught that nothing is working out, as the art exhibit is coming up soon, and the students are distraught that their assignment (draw what your favorite thing is at this moment) is so tough. Kuga-senpai (Tsuyuri – Doujin Work) is the only one that’s not having much problem, happily charcoaling away at her drawing. Let’s listen in to their conversation:
Natsumi> Kuga-senpai, what’s that you’re drawing? Eh…
Sounds like something from Chappelle’s Show. Darkness is spreadin!
So, what’s everyone interested in? Natsumi likes her pineapple stir-fry, and plays out her inner dialogue through two pokemon-ish hand puppets. Hazuki’s mind wanders to the box of miso on sale at the market.
Hazuki inner dialogue: Hmm, that 198 yen sale price is really great, but I can’t draw that… why not draw… the 100 yen coin I saved for buying it on sale… no….. maybe I’ll draw the miso… but then again it’s not the miso itself I’m interested in… it’s not even some special miso… ehh…….
Around this time, Sora walks in. Natsumi and Hazuki seem happy to see her, so we know that Sora is one of those Mugichoco quiet-yet-liked types rather than the rest of the drivel that are slowly taking over our hallowed internets. She’s having trouble entering the room cuz some scary loud guy named Negishi (Ken Robbins – Kaleido Star) is in the way, so Kasugano wields some paintbrushes and loads them onto his head. Hora, it’s not Negishi, it’s a cat that’s not angry at all.
Negishi> Don’t be fooled by something like that nyaaa!!!!
Seems like Sora hasn’t found anything interesting to draw yet, but something out the window catches her eye – yea, it’s another cat. She runs out the room, with Natsumi and Hazuki right behind her. Too late, the cat has already left by the time they get their.
In the trees behind them, a crow flies off.
Here’s some Japanese humor I know I’m missing – two girls come out and start commenting on the missed cat in a haikuish kinda way with some shamisen playing in the background. It’s Ryou (Najimi – Doujin Work, Mariya – OtoBoku) and Fuu (Yue – Negima), and I’m expecting more from this duo as the series progresses.
Sora, Natsumi, and Hazuki head off into town to try to find something interesting to draw. Along the way, one of those great gusts of wind that always seems to attack schoolgirls’ skirts blows along – Sora notices a bird on a telephone wire struggling to stay on. Cute! Must draw! But too late. Time to invest in a camera…
They head to the local shopping district, where something catches Sora’s eye. It’s a udon noodle store called “Kyoumi,” which phonetically sounds the same as “interest” but spelled with different kanji to mean “Flavor of Kyoto,” or something along those lines. I guess Sora’s hungry~
We get another scene involving Ryou and Fuu – you know, I don’t have a clue what they’re saying, so we’re all just gonna have to rely on the subs for their nuanced humor.
So the girls order their bowl of udon, and we enter another one of those three door scenarios you see on those old school game shows:
Door 1: Add no shichimi
Door 2: Add lots of shichimi
Door 3: Add very little shichimi, but the top accidentally pops off and the whole bottle pours out.
Ah, the complexity of the simplicities of life. The scene continues with some Yakitate-esque reactions.
The episode continues with introducing two more characters: Kirihara-senpai (Tamura Yukari in a rather coarse/butch sounding role) and Juju-senpai. They chase some colorful looking bug through the woods and into a clearing that overlooks the town and the surrounding mountains. You know, one of those secret hilltop vista points that’s present in almost every anime imaginable. Finding something that they finally find interesting, the girls settle down and start their sketches.
Sora, meanwhile, is sketching the mascot of the nearby bowling alley, which just happens to look exactly like a certain Martian cat.
The next day, Sora tries to draw the sleepy cat again, but once again fails. However, this time, the cat gets up, gets some muddy paws, then walks over Sora’s sketchbook. Why draw when you have original pawprints!
What a terrific first episode – if this episode is any indication of the look, pace, and overall feel of the series, I’m completely sold. Beyond the obvious ARIA comparisons (staff, music, Makino Yui…), other anime that work quite well would include Potemayo for the offbeat, nonsensical yet alluring style of slapstick humor, and Hidamari Sketch for the sort of roundabout friendship and quirkiness of each character. It feels like a pretty standard 4koma, with the typical slice of life element and a fresh ounce of comedy throughout, combined with a healthy animation budget and nice music to go with it.
Is it a snappier ARIA? A more landscape-based Ichigo Mashimaro? Hidamari Sketch with better animation? A more realistic Potemayo? You could say it’s all those things, which essentially allows Sketchbook to carve its own place out amongst the growing number of 4koma slice of life anime. Frankly, I don’t really care how it stacks up against the rest, because the first episode was an absolute joy to watch.
How so? If I were to point out one thing, it’d probably be the addictive pacing – slow as hell. Not slow in the “goddamn I wish Naruto would stop fillerizing and starting learning SSJ4 Rasengan,” but slow in the way that a sweet, warm honey milk tea flows down your throat. See, I found it weird that I was still entertained throughout the entire episode, which felt unnaturally long, even though it was still usual length. It’s as if the producers made sure things kept happening, while keeping the pace slow – ultimately making it feel like a longer episode. Not sure if this makes any sense, but it’s an odd feeling, and I quite like it.
In short, it’s perfect. And without the fanfare of a Kyoto Animation production, people might just accept Sketchbook for what it is, and not what they thought it would be – to many watching the show, it could make all the difference. Those that take the time to calm their heart and soak it all in will absolutely love it.