Not a single psychic power between the lot of them.
A lot of anime are set in high schools. You don’t need me to tell you that. It’s not just a matter of target audience too; even works aimed for older viewers find themselves set in high schools or featuring a teenaged cast. Evidently, high school is simply the most interesting time of life for the average anime watcher which, in a pressure-cooker society like urban Japan may well actually be true. But for all the anime about high school kids, relatively few of them are actually strictly about adolescence. Teenagers will battle with superpowers, 14-year-olds will pilot giant robots, but rarely do they sit down and just ponder what it’s like having society expecting them to make decisions on what they’re going to do for the rest of their lives. Sure, there are coming of age stories aplenty and some thoughtful slice-of-life shows, but for the most part anime is sought after for escapist fantasy, and nobody, actual high school kids included, want that bogged down by mundane worries.
Enter Shoujo-tachi wa Kouya wo Mezasu, which is just altogether extraordinarily normal. Take the male lead, Buntarou. He’s not secretly a ninja. He can’t see ghosts. He’s not cursed by anything. Even in his role as a writer, he’s hardly exceptional, just sort of good and gets writer’s block like anybody else. He’s an honest-to-goodness normal high school student. Often when I’m writing synopses for anime I will describe a character as, ‘an average high school student, but,’ but in Buntarou’s case, the sentence stops there. He gets along with people, he works part time, he hangs out with friends. He’s a normal person doing normal things. And so it goes with the rest of the cast, mostly. It’s standard in a drama for its characters to be horribly broken in some way, whether it be some terrible secret, or family troubles, or a terminal illness, something to generate angst. Not Shokomeza (comedically misanthropic Atomu excluded, but he’s played for laughs). The heaviest punch it winds up is Kuroda Sayuki’s brother’s debt, and like real-life debt is dealt with but never fully resolved. There is a certain naturalistic style that pervades Shokomeza, and it’s maintained until the very end.
It’s partially because of this style that I don’t think it’s really right to compare Shokomeza to Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata, a series that is similar in style but not in scope. Saekano is, ultimately, a character deconstruction, with a focus on comedy. Consider this: Saekano was very willing to reach through the fourth wall, while Shokomeza at most prods at it. I think a better comparison is probably Shirobako, the anime about making anime. Shokomeza, instead of being about making anime, was about indie game development, which is a less complicated process perhaps but was still treated with the same respect for procedure as anime was in Shirobako. I’ll even say this for Shokomeza; while Shirobako couldn’t help but dip into into the fantastical sometimes at the expense of its realism, Shokomeza never did. It’d goof off too, sure, but it never resolved any obstacles by having its characters throw out Street Fighter moves. To do other would undermine the point Shokomeza, that things worth doing are worth toughing it out for.
So yeah, I’m actually impressed how excessively normal Shokomeza was. I understand it’s also something which may turn off people who look for something flashier in their anime. The drop in both art and animation quality certainly didn’t help; disappointingly, after a very functional pilot the aesthetics started going steadily downhill. Fortunately, they pulled themselves together to some degree in the finale, and even at its worse Shokomeza was not an anime that heavily relied on visuals. At least, even with off-model characters and jolting animation they tried, because keeping the cast lively is a big part of what prevented a show about the gritty work of game development from being dull. Some of them were more developed than others, to be sure (with relatively more focus on Buntarou, Sayuki and Yuuka), but for the most part they kept Shokomeza from being too normal i.e. flavourless. In the same way, the story wasn’t really about all that much in the end, but a confident pacing, good music and snappy banter made it all a very solid showing.
‘Solid’ is worthy compliment, by the way. Not all anime manage to get to ‘solid’; many just fall apart. But Shokomeza went through its motions, did everything it seems like it wanted to do, and ended well. In particular, I think it was important that Buntarou didn’t just haphazardly put down ‘game developer’ or something on his careers sheet. That would have been far too simplistic, and I would have been disappointed if Shokomeza condescended in that fashion. He’s still young, he has a short term goal, why does he have to decide the rest of his life now? I am reminded of Hyouka‘s ending, where indecisiveness was also a key feature of adolescence.
And let us not downplay how hard it is to do ‘normal’ well. With the fantastical one can go wild. But with the normal, one needs restraint. The audience knows normal. And so they are less forgiving when it is done wrong. And on top of that, one has to make the normal interesting, or at least worthy of watching. So, hats off to ‘normal’ anime everywhere. Not everyone needs to aim high. More important is to know exactly where you’re aiming.