「こたつ 年末 サンタさん」 (Kotatsu / Nenmatsu / Santa-san)
“Heated Table, Year`s End, Santa Claus”
As the end of Sunohara-sou heads near, so does the end of the year for the dorm house. The finale heralds in the Winter season by showing how the cast prepares for Christmas and New Years festivities. There are fun holiday mainstays like a cuddling by a warm kotatsu, peeling mandarin oranges, and holding vibrant parties, but the main crux of the Christmas segment was Aki’s belief in Santa Claus. Since he never learned about the truth behind Santa, the dorm had to concoct a way to sneakily deliver his gifts without ruining the surprise for him. Yuzu took it upon herself to lay next to him to get him to rest easier, and although it was to protect him from knowing Santa wasn’t real, she did get closer to understanding why she feels the way she does around Aki. There isn’t too much substantial in these regards other than an odd Christmas-themed fever dream Aki had, but it’ll be interesting to see how Yuzu’s feelings would play out in the future if the series heads in the direction of having Aki get closer with Ayaka.
Speaking of which, this is cemented through Aki’s New Years experience. It shared the Christmas section’s desire to check off all of the standard tropes such as serving a New Years soup with shrimp tempura and waiting together until the New Year comes. Reflecting on the past year only unearthed a muscle magazine that Aki kept for his masculinity training that the girls quickly misconstrued as a part of a dirty magazine collection. However, the future of the series seems to be determined based on how part of his prayer at the temple during the final moments of the episode involved getting closer to Ayaka. She gives him a way out by letting him whisper in her ear what his wish was, but he was far too embarrassed to have Ayaka and anyone else hear him. It was on the lighter spectrum as far as final episodes go, but it was a nice and hopeful way of ending the show on a note that reflects on both the progress Aki has made and what the future holds for him.
For all intents and purposes, many viewers came into Sunohara-sou expecting either an ecchi anime that presses those mommy kink buttons like no other or something more niche for those that like shota material. While there is plenty of Ayaka to go around and almost equal parts of Aki getting flustered, it’s a pleasant surprise to see how much class the show has with how it handles its fan service and story. Where it satisfies any of the bullet points that ecchi fans have with mature women, yet also tells a compelling variation of a coming-of-age narrative that takes its characters far more seriously than your garden variety ecchi.
For me at least, Ayaka was a delight, and could easily be considered the anime’s main attraction. She brings a high degree of charm to her motherly traits as she approaches any scenario with a playful and warm demeanor, but is still stern and doesn’t hesitate to give someone a lecture if they aren’t carrying themselves about properly. Ayaka is also endearing in her mischievousness as she’ll handle situations to her own advantage, playfully teases Aki knowing that he’s interested in her, and becomes a larger problem in her drunken state. Even though Ayaka gives Aki enough elbow room to interact with a thicker, older woman, there’s still some maturity she displays despite her bubbly personality. There are several times where Ayaka acts in a very respectable manner such as was when she openly told Aki that she would want Aki to be older before she would be able to approve of a relationship with her. With series’ based in ecchi, shota, or motherly complexes, the trend often steers towards fostering a relationship that is unhealthy or improper, but Sunohara-sou draws the line in the sand by ensuring that it’s not a series defined by Ayaka exploiting Aki’s youth or Aki getting groomed into a relationship too early. Instead, Ayaka likes the attention she gives and gets from Aki, but doesn’t want to take advantage of him like others would have, and as one of the women in his life who outwardly refuses to take advantage of him unless she’s mistakenly drunk and already gave attention to the other girls, it shows the sincerity of Ayaka’s gestures, and why Aki finds himself comfortable around her the most. It might sound like the show trying to have it’s cake and eat it too, but it does an admirable job at not making their bond creepy.
Aki is also a stellar protagonist as he has motivations far beyond just fitting in and trying to impress Ayaka. His goal to be taken seriously has been one of the other aspects of the anime that define it as something special as his growth revolves around becoming independent now that he’s going to school in the city. The battle he has with grappling with his lighter side as he tries to be seen as more manly is surprisingly complex, and treats Aki with respect as he gets past the torment he faced with his sister demeaning him regularly. By breaking away from them and making friends with Ayaka and his dorm mates, he takes respectable measures to address changes he would like to make with himself and those around him for self-improvement. He’s even able to get across to Ayaka that he doesn’t appreciate being made to feel like less of a guy, and puts the wheels in motion for her to be respectful towards his wish to not be overly teased for not looking as manly. As a side note, it’s impressive how well Satou Rina and Kitamura Eri capture their respective voices of Ayaka and Aki as naturally as they do. Where they fit their parts perfectly while going for completely different voices than their most prominent roles.
The side characters also provide far more for the show to work with as each character has their own personality and quirk to have them stand out and add variety. Yuzu’s parallels with Aki as she aims to be taken seriously despite being small, easy to scare, and irate. Her relationship with Aki also carries significance as she shows as much concern for him in his efforts to be taken seriously despite her tsundere tendencies. I wish they gave Sumire more since the show tended to only show the side of her that’s obsessed with Yuzu, though her older sister dynamic with Aki has made for some amusing interactions with Aki trying to cheer her up. I personally enjoy the kind of character Yuki ended up being as the giddy master manipulator whose pastime is gathering pictures to sell for blackmail or extortion purposes, all with a smile on her face and her eyes closed shut. Ayaka’s sister Nana was fun as well with how much she teases and dotes on Aki during the summer break onwards, and tries not to get lectured by her sister on her spending habits. Her friends weren’t as amusing as the seedier and problematic shotacon of the anime, but Nana keeping them in line boosted her own likability. Aki’s sister wasn’t meant to be a pleasant person, but her presence owes itself to showing how far Aki had come since he moved into Ayaka’s residence.
Many people watched the anime for reasons, but what could have just been a niche show to cater towards specific kinks turned out to have a good head on its shoulders while it provided the fan service. The artwork didn’t have any noticeable hiccups, and always showed off Ayaka’s curves in all of their glorious detail. It was engaging to watch everything that happened as Aki got used to his life at Ayaka’s residence along with the student council trio. It had only a few rough patches with Nana’s friends and Aki’s sister, but it was able to accomplish quite the feat in making an anime centered around a mature woman and a young boy that wasn’t shameless. The tastefulness and respect the show has for its characters motivations and personal interests made it a nice watch as a fluffy ecchi. I’d look forward to any future developments that might come from another installment or continuation if that’s in the works.