Manami NumakuraReina UedaMinami TanakaAimi Tanaka
Episode 1 also reviewed here: Anime 1st episodes 2014: H
Medium: TV, series
Year: 2014
Director: Atsuko Ishizuka
Original creator: Sou Hamayumiba
Actor: Minami Tanaka, Reina Ueda, Kaya Okuno, Manami Numakura, Megumi Toyoguchi, Tsuyoshi Koyama, Yuka Otsubo, Aimi Tanaka, Ayano Yamamoto, Chiaki Mori, Chiaki Takahashi, Haruka Shimizu, Hiroki Touchi, Katsuhiro Tokuishi, Kosuke Goto, Kouji Takahashi, Maika Takai, Mayu Yoshioka, Minako Saito, Misa Kobayashi, Nanami Yamashita, Rina Honizumi, Ryuichi Kijima, Shiho Kokido, Toru Ohkawa, Toshiko Maeda, Yuji Ueda, Yuki Wakai
Keywords: anime, favourite
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 12 episodes
Website category: Anime 2014
Review date: 14 March 2015
It's a lovely show. Girls in middle school form a club to practice the traditional Japanese dance of yosakoi. It's about friends and relationships, plus of course yosakoi.
As traditions go, mind you, yosakoi's something of an upstart. It started in 1954 in the city of Kochi. It's generally team-based and combines traditional Japanese dance moves with modern music in a freestyle way. It's also very energetic and has distinctive props and costumes.
Far more important than that, though, is the cast! That's what the show is, after all. There is drama and it's even quite affecting, with our heroines struggling with external obstacles and their inner flaws, but what we're here to watch is fundamentally the characters themselves. Why are they doing this? What they're attempting doesn't intrinsically matter, after all, unless you're them. Most of them weren't even interested in dancing until they got caught up with each other, each for her own reasons. One of them's clumsy and timorous. Another either dislikes dancing or has always found it difficult. (The line where she says that could have either meaning.) A third keeps insisting that she's a club member in name only and doesn't want to participate.
Some of them are a bit broken. They heal each other.
The catalyst girl is Hannah, an American who loves Japan. She speaks Japanese like a native, although she struggles with certain school subjects, and she's crazy about yosakoi. She wants to dance, but she can't do it on her own and she's having trouble finding teammates because her personality is too full-on for most people. She's like an eight-year-old, in your face all the time and blasting you with enthusiasm. Lovely girl, but she doesn't know how to slow down.
The main character, though, is Naru, who's terrified of drawing attention to herself. She spends ep.1 running away from Hannah. She also has two left feet.
There are others, of course. You'll know from the opening title sequence that there will eventually be five, although that's only true for a few of the episodes. What's interesting is the rich variety of relationships among them. There's the thirteen-year-old girl equivalent of romance, with Hannah and Naru's first encounter ending in what's metaphorically a marriage proposal and Yaya turning it into a love triangle in ep.2. (Yaya's jealousy is so cute.) Soon Naru's acquired three admirers (or stalkers, i.e. Hannah), which would be enough for a harem anime. Ep.11 is huge if you're following this reading. You could perhaps choose to see this as the show being playful with lesbian subtext, as symbolised by the cherry blossoms, lilies and evening fireworks, or else simply as a truthful representation of the intensity of many girls' friendships at that age. Besides, that soon stops being the show's paradigm as the club's composition semi-stabilises and the girls get into their dance practice in earnest.
No boys, by the way. The only male characters are father figures, either literally or metaphorically (i.e. Sea Monk). Varying kinds of father-daughter relationships complicate matters, as do other family connections (viz. two sisters who used to be very close). Characters have other clubs, responsibilities and loyalties.
They're all terribly likeable. They're trying so hard, while their way of making up in ep.7 is hilarious. Sally-chan-sensei at times seems to have a dubious view of her charges' selling points, but she's capable of being useful when necessary.
Another admirable thing about this show is how hard the girls have to work for their cause. It feels honest. No one's brilliant overnight. They have to practice and practice and practice, but even that doesn't take them to an unrealistic level for five first-time schoolgirls. They also have to do their own music, costumes and choreography. Then there's the question of getting permission to do it all in the first place, with fathers to be negotiated and school bureaucracy to be feared, e.g. rules about the difference between an official club and a mere activity. They have to pass their exams. The student council can be officious bitches too.
One of the most interesting reviews I've seen from this show was from a dancer, by the way. She loved it and thought the show got lots of things exactly right, although admittedly she did find Naru's clumsiness over the top. (Personally, I thought that worked.)
The show's title is built from the first syllables of its five heroines' names, incidentally.
Is there anything I don't like? Well, I'd have preferred more of the voice actors to be using natural pitches. However I couldn't be happier that Hannah doesn't speak in American-accented bad Japanese, so I think I'm ahead there. Otherwise, no problems. The show's adorable. The emotional moments are strong, the comedy is funny and I love the way it builds its simple idea into something so sweet and likeable.