Have you ever thought to yourself, “That’s some pretty damn good execution there”, when you finish watching an episode of anime? Where it seemed like that specific installment got the point across to you in a profound, unusually interesting, or really clever way? It’s happened to me many times before (such as with that epic Haruhi school festival episode or with a couple of episodes of Haibane Renmei), and it will continue to happen again to me, as evidenced with Gakuen Utopia Manabi Straight episode 4. It reminded me why this show might become one of my favorites when it is done, why I like ufotable, and why I like anime in general.
After watching four episodes of Manabi Straight, I can safely say that the show has taken a hold on me. The characters themselves are very interesting and not at all grating to me, which is always a plus. Manabi, while very optimistic and seemingly headstrong (as her cry of MASSUGU GO – Go straight ahead, to some – indicates), is not overly so on both cases. It’s good that she has some sense which is usually lacking in that character archetype, and her inspirational confidence seems to easily flow out into the other characters. Mutsuki is my favorite so far, since I tend to like people that seem to be the most common-sensical (I know it’s not a real word) of everyone involved (like Yomi from Azu or Kiyone from Tenchi as examples) and she definitely is in this case. She also seems to be “the rock” that holds everyone else together, the essential figurative mover behind the scenes. Mei has lol Natsuki (from Mai-HiME) vibes and becomes the visible mover and shaker of the group; while you could say Manabi is the driving force, Mei steers that force along and directs it to the right path, though she doesn’t want to be taken for granted in doing so. Mikan (:3) is Manabi’s right hand person, who seems to have the will to do what needs to be done, while being a little out-of-sorts in doing it and in everything else. Momo is Momo, and that’s all I can say about her until I watch more.
So far, it really is the same formula over and over again: A problem involving our main group – Initial attempts help the situation, but barely – Manabi says something that inspires confidence and competence/plan to win the day – Day is suddenly and powerfully won, everyone is happy, and I have no problem with it at all. Rinse and repeat for different scenarios, and the Seioh Student Council has another job well done at the end. Go go slice-o’-life. But you don’t mess with what works, and right now ufotable is doing a really good job with that.
The expansion on that basic formula has been excellent. Keeping our attention with interesting character mannerisms, fancy visuals (gradient hair!) and camera work, awesome facial expressions, frenetic action, poignant moments, a good OP/OST and so on, Manabi Straight seems to channel “heart” in all the right places. It does help that ufotable does a really good job in guiding you along with how the characters are feeling. If a character is really happy, you see it with the background, their glowing expression… if a character feels negative, they zero in on that feeling, and expound on it with illustrative metaphor and more awesome facial expressions, or something like that. Episode 4 was a grand example of that, as Mei’s feelings of dispair and pain were palpable and real (for her given situation, that is). 😛 In my opinion, ufotable is a master at conveying emotions and feeling in general, so I’m still amazed at what they can do and glad that they continue to do so.
While this show won’t be for everyone, I feel that for those that do watch it, Manabi Straight has the power to connect with the viewer with it’s “MASSUGU GO!”philosophy. Making that connection is hard for shows to do, and in that moment of bonding with the audience, I feel that anime is at it’s best. I hope Manabi Straight continues to do that as I continue watching.
Of course click pics for cleaner, fuller size. 😛