As a treat for manga readers, the trend these days seems to be bundling Original Animation DVDs (OADs) with volume releases that animate a few parts of the original source material. In the case of ones that had already seen an adaptation like Yozakura Quartet, these bonus episodes also tend to please the purist crowd, who strongly feel that the anime should be an exact moving and talking version of what they read. Whether you fall into that category or the anime-only viewers’ one like myself, this first of three scheduled episodes is a refreshing take on the twelve episode series that aired back in fall 2008 since the only constant is the seiyuu cast. The entire production staff and the studio in charge have been replaced, which is most apparent in the character designs by Sawa Ryoochimo, who also happens to be the director and key animator for this OAD version. Replacing Nomad studio is Tatsunoko Production in collaboration with (the relatively new?) KMMJ Studios, with Kusanagi studio providing the really nice hand-drawn backgrounds. A really pleasant addition is Suemitsu Atsushi composing the music, who is probably more well-known by his solo project name, Suemitsu & the Suemith, and theme song performances in Nodame Cantabile. His music adds a very soothing feel to the series, which the “Hello Hello” ending theme featured here is a perfect example of.
As for the change in character designs, I really don’t mind how it departs from original author/artist Yasuda Suzuhito’s style and provides a more “unrefined” and goofy feel to the overall series. Compared to the television series (of which I covered the first episode), Ryoochimo’s designs definitely have more of a playful feel to them, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing since it opens the door to some of the silly behavior seen in the characters. However, I can’t help but see the irony in it all when I stop and think about which audience these OAD episodes are targeted towards. Compared to the anime series where the story was loosely based and the character designs were closer to the original designs, we now have a faithful story where the characters designs aren’t. In any case, before creating Yozakura Quartet, Suzuhito worked as an illustrator and did the designs for Narita Ryougo’s Durarara light novel, whose anime adaptation saw character designs more akin to the ones Suzuhito had drawn for his own series. Being an anime-only viewer, I really don’t have a preference either way, but do find it a lot of fun watching the same cast voice these very different yet completely similar characters of theirs. If nothing else, the visual change makes this come off as an alternate retelling almost immediately. Incidentally, this episode had laughing more than I ever recall doing with the anime, particularly when 200+ year-old district mayor of Sakurashin, Shinatsuhiko Yuuhi (Matsumoto Sachi), took a chair to back of the head from his assistant Mariabelle (Tanaka Rie) for being a pervert in a young boy’s body.
With regards to the episode itself, someone will probably have to fill me in on exactly where this slots into the overall story, but with all the characters already acquainted with one another, Hiizumi Akina’s (Kaji Yuuki) “Tuning” ability already in regular use, and most of all, the mention of Enjin and youkai hunters such as Kuromaki Zakuro (Mizuhara Kaoru), I’m inclined to believe it takes place sometime after the canonical version of the events in the anime. Interestingly enough, this didn’t come off terribly out of place from an anime-only perspective, which I can’t say the same about the School Rumble OAD that animated the ending of the manga, nor the Negima ones that just cover a handful of the later chapters. The fact that this episode was mostly a lighthearted affair that had glimpses of Yarisakura Hime (Fukuen Misato) and Kishi Touka’s (Tomatsu Haruka) feelings for Akina really helped ease me into things, as did seeing Azuma Rin (Matayoshi Ai) continue working her delivery job and growing accustomed to living with humans. The actual story developments were only covered at the beginning with Zakuro breaking one of the seals (?) on the Seven Pillars that connect the human and spirit world and protect the town, and at the very end with Yuuhi explaining how Enjin’s trying to make those sakura pillars bloom to destroy the barrier that stabilizes that link. There was also Zakuro taking control of Rin and using her to attack Touka’s brother Kyousuke (Ono Daisuke) with those necromancer abilities of hers. (Rin is a Chinese zombie type of youkai.) Normally I wouldn’t mind leaving off on such a cliffhanger, but it is a bit of a long wait to see the continuation. The second episode won’t be out until April 8th, 2011, as it’ll be bundled with the tenth volume of the manga. Oh poo.
For those completely unfamiliar with this series, please see my quick overview in the aforementioned post on the first episode of the anime series. A more complete cast list is included there as well.