「セックス・アンド・ザ・アマーズ」 (Sekkusu ando za Amāzu)
“Sex and the Amars”
Almost as weird as Manglobe taking on The World God Only Knows, Brains Base also steps out of its usual genre territory and decided to do an adaptation of the Shoujo/Josei series Kuragehime. Mostly known for Baccano, Natsume Yuujinchou, and the very recent Durarara!!, Brains Base has quite the resume of adaptations. For those unfamiliar with the Josei genre, this analogy might help: Shoujo is to Shounen as Josei is to Seinen. While yes, Josei is targeted towards to females in their late teens and up, the more popular ones generally have a much more androgynous nature. Since Kuragehime mostly deals with issues related to women, there’s no less attention to broader themes that anyone can get something of value out of. Even then, it’s not like the female issues will fly over your head if you weren’t born by two X chromosomes. Incidentally, Kuragehime won this year’s Kodansha Manga Award for best shoujo manga, an award that Kimi ni Todoke had won back in 2008. Given how much I enjoyed KnT, I’m hopeful Kuragehime might provide a similar experience. Despite these facts, I began watching the first episode with absolutely zero expectations, and only knew that it centered around a couple of girls who weren’t your typical bishoujos.
Tsukimi Kurashita is an average girl, a very plain one at that, and has been influenced to love jellyfish (kurage, hence the title) from an early age. Imagine my surprise when she first spoke and the all too familiar Hanazawa Kana characters just flew through my mind. At this point, that was already a plus to the show for me. Anyway, Tsukimi lives in an apartment complex with a bunch of other females, all of whom she met and became familiar with as online friends. Apparently they call themselves Amar, a play on the word “nun” (don’t ask me how that works). The owner of the apartment, Chieko (Saitou Kimiko), had presumably invited all of them to live there, most likely due to specific individual reasons that may be delved upon later on. An implication of Tsukimi’s mother having poor health may have left her alone, leaving her no choice but to find company with others, but this was only subtly hinted at throughout the episode. The main problem is, all of the girls are hardcore otaku nerds, sharing lack of care for personal appearance and an extreme love for their own individual interests. As aforementioned, Tsukimi is infatuated with jellyfish (leading to an unfathomable knowledge of them as well), with tons of illustrations on the walls of her room, and whether or not that lead to her being an illustrator or the other way around, is again another question for the future. Chieko loves Japanese porcelain dolls, Mayaya (Okamura Akemi) is infatuated with Chinese generals, Banba-san (Kumai Motoko) with trains, and Jiji (Noto Mamiko) with… jiji’s (old men). Surprisingly, their interests are quite harmless, with the exception of Jiji, whose love for old men comes off a little too creepy, but makes a nice extremity as there are in real life (like pedophiles). Kuragehime has what I call, a half star cast, as Hanazawa, Okamura (Nami from OP), and Noto Mamiko (funnily enough, Sawako from KnT or Kotomi from Clannad) are all pretty well known in recent years. On the other hand, Saitou and Kumai have received comparably lesser known roles, but maybe these will help their careers.
Of course, without an anomaly to stir things up, otaku can never change (I’m looking at you, Satou), and thus comes Koibuchi Kuranosuke (Saiga Mitsuki). Now, up until this point, Tsukimi is well aware of her looks and rung on the ladder of society. She constantly contemplates about the beautiful “princesses” around her, and is quite afraid of dealing with humans, especially men. From her mom describing the tentacles of a jellyfish to look like laces on the dresses of a princess, Tsukimi had decided she would grow up to be one as well. As you can see, that didn’t go so well, and she mopes around often with the burden of failing her mother. With that said, Kuranosuke is one of those princesses, but coming with a twist. She is actually a he, despite the fact that his looks can conceivably allure men. Kuranosuke’s character is basically a play on beauty’s shallowness, making fun of the importance of appearances by “her” being a man, and most likely acting as a foil for Tsukimi later on. And with that, the plot is set into motion, a story of presumably self discovery with many obstacles along the way.
With the ever growing emphasis on being beautiful in society, Kuragehime seems to take a stab at this often rather under the surface issue. I don’t know if they’ll discuss the morals and ethics of appearance oppressions or just parody society, but it’s a rather open topic with no right or wrong ultimatums. Yes, forcing constant pressure by the media to have a warped reality on appearances is wrong, but how can you go against human nature? On top of this issue, Kuragehime also deals with the otaku/neet subculture, an issue in Japan that some consider to be a growing problem. Albeit seemingly more lighthearted than some counterparts (Welcome to NHK!), I enjoy these types of stories pitting human against society because there’s usually just so much raw emotion within them. To be fair, I don’t expect another NHK, if simply just because most of the characters aren’t that far gone. It’s hard to tell from just the first episode, but this is good anime folks. It’s got plot, lots of potential development, likable characters, of which are probably reasons why the manga won awards. If you can’t get over the fact that the show isn’t filled with an uncannily concentrated abundance of perfect, well built females, since having average to bad looking girls is what makes the central themes of the show even work, then I can say it’s definitely not your show to watch. In the midst of all the continuously churned carbon copies of harems, ecchi, and moe plot lines (of which do have their charms at times), Kuragehime deserves a little praise for uniqueness. While I can’t say it’s a diamond just yet, it’s definitely got the rough makings of one.
Rev1: Updated the beginning paragraph with a better definition of the Josei genre and where Kuragehime lies.