Top positive review
7 of 7 people found this helpful
on February 19, 2012
There have been quite a number of series over the years that depict otaku life. Some cover the ever-elusive female otaku, a mythical creature of beauty, talent and purity that just so happens to be intensely into anime and manga. Of course the possibility exists for such a thing to be true, but what these shows neglect to examine are the other kinds of otaku and what the vast majority of them actually look like and what their lives are really like. Kuragehime comes like an answered prayer to fill that void.
This series stands strongly as one of the only close to accurate depictions of fujoshi, otaku and just general misfits ever made. Of course there are exaggerations and some unbelievable elements for the sake of the story and comedy, but at its core, Kuragehime does not turn its heroes into superhumans. They aren't all physically attractive but that's clearly a matter of opinion. They don't have the perfect three sizes, but that doesn't stop them from being beautiful. Take a look at the overwhelmingly obvious depictions of female otaku in anime and manga over the years. None of them are like the women of this anime. And interestingly, none of the Kuragehime women are all the same nor are they just female versions of male otaku.
Kuragehime follows Tsukimi, a young woman who moves to Tokyo to become an illustrator, but finds most of her work is doing extra pages for the mysterious BL mangaka who lives upstairs and just passing the days quite energetically with the very fun, very strange co-inhabitants of her apartment complex. None of them have the same interests but they exist cohesively. Tsukimi loves jellyfishes for one. They've always been her thing, perhaps more so because her late mother loved watching them as well with her daughter. All decked out in her ugly grey sweat-suit, uncombed hair and messy eyebrows, life might not be exactly what she wants but she likes it as it is. Until of course, trouble brews. Amamizukan, her new home, is being threatened by developers. And it's with the help of all the Amars (her roomies) and a very odd young man that she tries to save the only place that people like them feel like they belong.
Linearity and simplicity characterise the story, but it is far from being anything unworthy of being called "excellent". Kuragehime handles the development of its little tale with wit, humour and sincerity which allow this entire show to be a pleasant experience. It even manages to subvert typical stereotypes while being based on a handful of them. You might go in expecting at some point that these girls will suddenly undergo grand make-overs and reveal their "true beauty" to the world, and in some ways that does happen, but they know that's not who they are, and their real beauty is the fact that they love the way they look, and they love their lives. They understand clearly their position in the social ladder as outcasts and geeks, but they have a sense of dignity in their own right. They're not ashamed of themselves.
Kuragehime's story kind of diverges in two directions that ultimately keep crossing one another. Firstly there is Tsukimi, Kuranosuke and the Amars trying to save Amamizukan and secondly, there is Kuranosuke's politician brother Koibuchi Shuu and his "misadventures" with the one who wants to tear down the building, Inari Shouko. Both stories interweave with one another in various regards considering just how much each has to do with the other.
Artistically speaking, Kuragehime does not look very much like other series. It has the typical josei effect for some of the characters, namely Kuranosuke, "fashionable Tsukimi" and Inari, but generally Tsukimi and the Amars have distinct, rather unique appearances. When was the last time you saw a girl with an afro in anime for instance? Interestingly, you cannot see the eyes of many of the Amars. There can be a number of reasons for that, but if they don't wear glasses, their hair usually blocks their eyes away. In some ways, it provides a cartoony effect for them and largely, they are kind of cartoonish with their over-the-top and funny personalities, but perhaps there might be some deeper analysis for that decision. Animation-wise, the series runs smoothly for the most part. Brains Base has been building a reputation for their works animating movements as naturally as possible and for having that distinct solidly colourful look as well.
The sound aspect has to be the absolute greatest thing about this series. From the voice acting to the background music, everything is en pointe and excellent. Cast as the protagonist is Hanazawa Kana, a voice actress who brings the right amount of genuine sweetness and cuteness to the role without ever sounding saccharine. She manages all kinds of scenes whether they be humorous or emotional and hits every note the right way. A role like Tsukimi's vacillates between moments of high comic energy and pensive reflection and Hanazawa pulls it all off. Voicing Kuranosuke is the very androgynous-sounding (and -looking) Saiga Mitsuki and perhaps this might have been the best choice all around for character such as this. Interestingly, Clara/Kurara is voiced by an eleven-year-old newcomer Morohoshi Sumire, and the kind of command this young girl has can throw any listener into thinking that the jellyfish is voiced by someone in their twenties or thirties.
The music itself is rather lovely, and the score for this series is a blend of various styles. The theme songs in particular are quite wonderful; they wrap around the main body of the show like a blanket that fits perfectly. chatmonchy performs the OP, "Koko Dake no Hanashi" which is an extremely unique, noisy, very pretty song that absolutely characterises the entire show's unusualness. The song has a nice coupling with parodied scenes from popular, mostly American movies such as Singin' in the Rain, The Graduate, Star Wars, Kill Bill and many others. It makes no sense, but it's kind of hilarious all the same. Sambomaster, known for their belting, rough tunes come with a song that perfectly captures the emotional parts of the show as well. It features all the main characters in a playground, possibly as children though it's hard to tell, and it's just so... nice.
Kuragehime's cast of characters might be described exactly as that-- they're just so nice. Tsukimi is cute and likeable. She has the typical sad past of her mother being dead so she's on her own trying to make a living. But rather than dealing with a set-up like this heavy-handedly, the anime works around and through it with a quiet, peaceful sweetness. Her reflections probably show the best moments of her younger life, and rather than deal with the memories with tears and a pity-party, she just thinks of all the nicer moments she has had with her mother. These scenes are warm and loving, and can make anyone smile and see just how much Tsukimi probably would have liked having a strong female influence in her life.
Which is where Kuranosuke comes in, funny enough. He might make you think twice about everything you have ever assumed about a cross-dresser. He likes dresses and pretty clothes, but he doesn't think of himself as a woman or feminine-- in fact, he's pretty manly in his own right, but he looks damn good in a skirt and he knows it. Most characters like him end up being "better women" than anything else, but Kuranosuke doesn't forget he's a man and is very secure in his masculinity. Who said guys can't like dresses too? He comes into Tsukimi's world just fascinated by her lifestyle and the Amars. He knows how uncool they are but sees how happy they are as well, and that to him is the coolest thing he's ever witnessed. He comes in as the popular, attractive guy who can have any girl he wants (yes, even though he wears a bra from time to time but his confidence is through the roof and girls like confidence!), but all he wants to do is hang around and help that weirdo who he's taken a liking to. And slowly, is falling in love with as well.
The supporting cast is a bundle of fun from no matter the storyline to which they belong. A lot of time is spent on Shuu who starts off as being a kind of shallow, stand-offish character but later we realise that he has a lot of issues that kind of ruined his personality and how he deals with women especially. He's pretty old-fashioned and virginal to life for a reason. His exact opposite comes in the form of Inari, a person who might be described as a "scarlet woman" but who ends up being a truly fascinating, funny character. She recognises that she is a beautiful, sexy woman and uses it shamelessly to do shameful things to secure her position in the workplace. She has an honest look at the only way she can counter the glass ceiling in a severely patriarchal system such as the Japanese workplace. And for that, she just oozes awesomeness, even though her methods are not commendable or even moral.
The women who inhabit Amamizukan are just all loveable as well. There's the hyperactive Mayaya, a total nerd for the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Banba, the pint-sized afro girl with a strange affinity to trains, Jiji, who is probably called that as a response for her intense liking of old men, Chieko, the daughter of Amamizukan's owner who enjoys those creepy Japanese dolls that inhabit mostly horror movies, and finally there is the reclusive mangaka who lives upstairs whose face we never see but who clearly has the most respect and authority in the house.
Kuragehime's characters, its extremely funny and absorbing story, the pretty art and beautiful music all come together to make a show that stands head above many others in its genre. It is a series handled so sincerely by its creators that it ends up being a viewing experience not filled with exploitation and fanservice like others of its kind, but one chock-full of funny moments, tender ones, and warmth from beginning to end. Just the fact that it shows otaku doing other things in life than just pouring over manga or looking upskirt of their figurines and playing eroge makes it a refreshing experience. And the fact that they don't look like models allows the viewer to relax into this show.
It's kind of ironic how most otaku anime these days fight to show that not being "normal" doesn't make them freaks, yet they all mostly look like the kind of people who step out of magazines. Especially the girls. It's okay to be an unattractive male otaku but female ones have to be beautiful! Of course the primary audience for these shows in particular are guys. Kuragehime seems to cater to a real female experience of being an otaku but it's not limited to just women because it handles simply the "real experience". Of course, as real as it can get, anyway.
Not all otaku are the kinds you see popularised today in the mainstream media. Amen to that.