Here’s the story, of a lovely family.
Family is so often mined for drama, and siblings relationships have unique challenges in the anime medium. Joukamachi no Dandelion ended up dodging most of those issues, to give us a story as built around the theme of family as Uchouten Kazoku, but with a much fluffier, sillier, and more idealistic bent. It’s a good little show, if a touch uneven.
I went into this show oddly hyped up. I blame Enzo; on the summer preview, he picked it out as a potential sleeper, and I’ve learned to pay attention to the shows Enzo gets hyped up on. Doesn’t mean they’ll always be good, but he has good instincts. But don’t tell him I said that, *tsuuuun*.
The premise is silly. A royal family, cameras everywhere, special powers, an election for the next king, and we’re expected to believe that royalty would live in a normal house, and the kids wouldn’t be spoiled rotten by power and privilege? You have to know going in that this isn’t trying to paint a terribly “realistic” view of the human condition. I use the word “realistic” there because I’ve always considered realists to be cynics who don’t want to admit it. Why not be optimistic, even idealistic? It’s better than being jaded, and idealism need not abandon prudence. But Joukamachi no Dandelion is far enough from how history would suggest that most royalty acts. You have to accept that going in. It’s the price of admission.
One in, the first few episode were … shaky, to be honest. Not bad, but nothing especially worth talking about. That’s why we didn’t end up publishing an intro post, though I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that “Not enough hours in the day for those who were watching it” wasn’t the more correct answer.
But as it went on, it got better. Part of that is because we got to know the characters better, and with a main cast of nine siblings, requiring an episode or three to nail everybody’s personality down is reasonable. Another part is the introduction of more characters—friends for princes and princesses of every age, though Teru and Shiori, as the youngest two, got less development there (and throughout). That not only opened up more avenues for comedy, it gave more opportunities for character development as well.
Character development was the key. The first few episode mainly consisted of gags. Once again, they weren’t bad, but I can only watch Akane get embarrassed about someone seeing her panties so many times before I grumble about putting some pants on and change the channel. When the storylines started really digging into how each character ticked, and what they wanted to do/be, the episodes got better. Of course, there was still variability—if you didn’t like a certain character that much, and they were the focus of two-thirds of an episode, it could be a real bummer. But even then, most episodes touched several characters’ stories. True, maybe I wanted twelve episodes of Shu and his new girlfriend Hana, who were weapon’s grade adorable together, but that’s because I’m a hopeless romantic. And they were adorable. Friggin’ adorable. Can not emphasize enough!
Not that all was peaches and cream. My biggest gripe: The incest undertones in several relationships. Now look, I have no problem with incest as a theme. I wrote an editorial about it! In real life it’s icky, sure, but do whatever you like in fiction. The forbidden fruit is fascinating for a reason. But I felt like this isn’t a story that benefited from it. Here’s where I get into telling the author how they should have done their job, and not in a storytelling sense (which could be considered an execution mistake), but in a decision that was likely deliberately made. I brushed on this in an Arslan Senki comment earlier, about how tricky it is to do that. It’s their story, not mine! That choice can’t be wrong, though it can certainly be something I didn’t like (wrong for me, if you will), and something that detracts from my enjoyment of the work.
But there it is. Were I to be advising the author, I would take out some of the incest subtext between the two pairs of twins, Kanade & Shu, and Misaki & Haruka (and occasionally Shu & Akane). And who knows, maybe those weren’t there in the manga, and maybe it only feels like they’re there because anime has trained us to look for love where other people wouldn’t. But I know that No Game No Life managed to portray siblings that were extremely close to one another, yet had almost no incest subtext. It’s possible, and it must be managed carefully if you’re working in the anime & manga realm. So I didn’t like that part so much.
Save for that, and for the shaky start, I ended up enjoying Joukamachi no Dandelion quite a bit. And as for who ended up becoming the next king (spoiler alert, watch the episode first…), I was surprised that it ended up being Shu. Surprised and pleased, mostly. Aoi’s withdrawal in the last episode took what seemed a won race and threw a wrench in the works, which I liked because it was so clearly what she needed to do for her own development. I quipped on twitter that Shu beating the former runner-up Kanade gave a sort of Obama/Hillary feeling, and he was still usually behind Akane as well, but in truth the citizens were voting largely by age, which is entirely reasonable when the oldest candidates are still in high school.
No, the only two characters that could have the come-from-behind victory and conceivably take the crown were Shu and Akane (or maybe Misaki, but she was pretty distant in the polls), and since Akane, as the main character, seemed the most obvious choice, I’m glad it wasn’t her. That wasn’t her arc. And everyone did have an arc (save for perhaps Shiori, and Teru and Haruka are both debatable), which is a pretty sweet trick for a twelve-episode series with nine main characters.
In the end, this was as good of a series as I expected going in. That is: Better than most people expected, but not the season-defining revelation that we’re usually hoping for when we call something a sleeper. Which means that you probably didn’t expect anything out of this series, and may not have watched it. Give it a shot! I felt it was worth it in the end.
My first novel, Wage Slave Rebellion, is available now. (More info—now in paperback!) Sign up for my email list for a FREE sequel novella. Over at stephenwgee.com, the last four posts: My morning routine, True Ends, Rejection, the secret place, & fundamentals, and What are your two skills?