Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Anime Review: Yamada and the Seven Witches

I think this was actually my most-anticipated anime for the spring season since I already adore the manga, although the short runtime was making me pretty nervous. It was fun to see all of my friends react to the promotional images however, a lot of them were familiar with black and white comic pages or the drama so it was amusing to see everyone realize what the characters' real, rainbow like hair colors were.

Yamada and the Seven Witches

Ryu Yamada is not enjoying high school. He got into an academically competitive school, is terrible at studying, and can't connect with any of his nerdy classmates as a result. He's petulant, has a reputation for starting way more fights than he actually does, and has just switched bodies with the smartest girl in class, Urara Shirashi. She's actually much calmer about this than he is, and the fact that they switch with a kiss, and the two of them discover that you know, there are some real benefits to this strange "witch power". It turns out that this isn't even the only witch power in the school and they're both about to run into a lot more weirdos while finding out about them.

This was a rushed adaptation, there is exactly one point to end the Yamada story currently and having the series be only one cour long made it seem like someone was actively rooting for it to fail. But the creative team pulled off the impossible and adapted 90 chapters of manga into just 12 episodes without the series spectacularly exploding under the strain. I still maintain that this series would have been much better off it they had had two full cours instead of just one to better flesh out the side characters and the many many subplots but, as far as I can remember not one of those subplots was dropped in this version. I was extra worried when the series started since I've seen the live-action drama adaptation before which is also 12 episodes (and quite silly and hokey) and they went in a different direction in the end, one that was different enough that you couldn't even have a sequel since they forgot to write in a character who has become pretty important! But the writers here ( Michiko Yokote, collective name for a group of ladies who've done other works such as Shirobako) seemed to have a much better sense for what to focus on and what emotional beats the story really needed to hit in addition to the myriad plot points that it was going to just blast through.

What makes this story work isn't trying to tie all of the individual arcs together but the simply the characters, really the arcs exist just to flesh out the series' startling large side cast. I've seen a number of people call the show a harem show and I would argue that no, it's really not (maaaaybe in the manga but that's just because we have even more characters). Aside from when various characters are under the charm power, Shirashi is clearly interested in Yamada and so is Nene, I would argue that even Noa play-flirts with him just to mess with Yamada even more in the same vein that Miyamura does. And Nene's realization of her feelings and self-rejections, deciding not to pursue Yamada because she can see the chemistry he and Shirashi have, is really well done and genuinely makes you feel sad for her (that she won't have the kind of happiness she wants in this relationship). This is one of many moments that despite the rushed pace the anime still managed to nail and I was even startled to see just how clearly they came through.

Seeing the story again even made me appreciate the original manga before. As people can guess from the intro, the manga has continued beyond where the anime stopped, even though that is a perfectly good ending point. I had always wondered if Miki Yoshikawa had been pressured into extending the manga or always planned to do so and when I saw the anime I saw the some elements which made me think it had been planned for a while. There are some still unfinished character threads in the story, like Yamada's own power (and related isolation) and seeing the anime reminded me of how early on this was mentioned and that yeah, it hadn't been resolved yet. At Anime Expo this past weekend her comments make it sound as if continuing the series was the plan from the beginning but that it was her choice and she came up with it in advance (tweets) which fits in with what I was noticing and certainly makes this silly shonen series feel better planned. As an aside, I do think that the reason the humor works well for me here is partially because Yoshikawa is a woman so while there is fanservice that's not the only "comedy" in this rom-com, plus the guys and the girls do equally silly and dumb things. It not only helps keep the series from feeling mean (ie, if only the girls were getting teased about their underwear) but it keeps the characters feeling like real teenagers as well, teens are pretty silly in real life!

The art did start looking a bit off model by the end of the show, it wasn't horrible (well, except for a few walking scenes which just looked odd) but as pointed out here, by this point in the series Yamada, and the viewer, should be seeing Shirashi at her cutest so having off-model art was a bit disconcerting here. The voice acting was great throughout however, it seemed like everyone was having fun being two or five different characters in a single episode, I never questioned that the characters had switched! For the music, I never quite warmed up to the ending song but thought that the opening was adorable each time, nice upbeat song with lots of cute body language cues from all the characters. I do wish the series had been a bit more vague there with who the witches were, especially the seventh given her status within the actual story, but I guess the idea was "if they're in the title then we'd better introduce them as quickly as we can!" That is one area, more or less the only area, that benefits from the extreme speed-up of the material, by the end of the first episode we've been introduced to the idea of witches (as opposed to the end of the first volume) and there's really no reason for viewers to say "but they haven't explained the whole concept yet!" If you want a full story in one single gulp then this is the way to do it! 

So yes, this series gets a hearty recommendation from me and currently Crunchyroll is the only place streaming the anime. But on the flip side, both Kodansha USA and Crunchyroll have the manga rights and I do really recommend that folks still check out the manga. You could start at chapter 91 if you want to but of course I'll suggest you start at chapter one, it's the same humor with even more scenes and if you're going to read a 150+ chapter manga you might as well sit down and do the whole thing, it's pretty addictive once you get going!