October 17, 2010

Kuragehime Pilot Episode: Ugly Ducklings

Posted in Kuragehime tagged , , , , at 12:25 am by meotwister5

I wasn’t actually supposed to start blogging this show today since I have semestral finals next week, but due to the fact that the first episode greatly impressed me I ended up doing this earlier than expected so I wouldn’t forget what I was supposed to post.

It was sort of strange, considering that I haven’t read the original material, that I was having a YM conversation with a friend regarding how anime and manga these days are always trying to increase the value of inner beauty as opposed to physical, outer beauty.  I was initially assuming that being a NoitaminA show classified as Josei, I thought it would have been more female-centric with a an “inner beauty over outer beauty subtext”, which is a theme pretty much every damn show is doing these days, but once you get the glamorous cross dresser infiltrating their secluded life… well…

Off to Shibuya!

Tsukimi’s a jellyfish otaku.  Yeah it might sound strange to you, but anyone can be an otaku of anything these days.  The above screenshot shows that she’s… not like the pretty lead females we almost always see with every series that comes out.  She’s a freckled, plain, short and probably flat-chested meganekko who lives “with her kind”, and by her kind I mean a group of other women who have their own obsessions.  One has a creepy Ningyo (Japanese dolls) collection, one seems obsessed with idols or politicians or something, another is a Romance of the Three Kingdoms fanatic and the one who’s probably the head of the dorm is likely a NEET who doesn’t leave her room.  All in all, they consider themselves a bunch of “eccentrics” different from the hipsters and princesses of modern day Japan.

So much so that they consider a trip to Shibuya an adventure.  For the uninitiated, Shibuya could be considered one of Tokyo’s trend centers for fashion and the “in” things, kind of like how Akihabara is the otaku holy land.  The first episode has Tsukimi and at least one of the other residents try and get into Shibuya, presumably part of an effort to control a fashion-related agoraphobia of sorts, coming up to her trying to convince a pet store clerk to do something for a jellyfish in one of their tanks, and culminating in Tsukimi getting amazed in meeting of the princesses she’s been so fascinated about.

Then she’s sees that he’s not all he seems to be.

Do they like worship this woman?

My first real comment would be on Hanazawa Kana’s work.  I’m not exactly a fan of hers, though I did enjoy her work in Kobato and Angel Beats, however I don’t think I’ve ever heard her perform anything that would really set her apart from all the other VA’s in the business.  While you could instantly recognize her voice in an instant, kind of like for Nakahara Mai or Kugimiya to a slighter extent, I don’t think I’ve ever been really impressed with her work.

That would probably change with this series.  It’s only one episode in but I am thoroughly impressed with her performance as a socially awkward jellyfish nerd.  I’ve really only heard her perform cutesy and adorable characters, so hearing a very subdued performance from her that starts as an introverted girl, then switching to panicked anxiety then to jellyfish scholar was quite impressive.  This might be her first defining performance as a VA for me.

He's so beautiful!

I initially came into this series because of the director, who also directed Koi Kaze, one of my favorite series of all time.  This show of course is whole different affair from the incestuous angst of Koi Kaze, but as a comedy of stereotypes it manages to deliver the rather believable personalities of society’s more unconventional members.  A lot of shows cover the usual otaku for effect, but this show handles the type very well and very differently; that is to say, the comedy comes not from the show making fun of how weird or eccentric the otaku are, but rather it comes from how the otaku act and try to be themselves.  A lot of shows poke fun at the stereotype a lot to make us laugh, but I enjoyed this for how it humanizes them rather than alienate them, showing through comedy that even while these fringe geeks have their own problems and issues they work through, they still try enjoy life to the fullest in their own ways.

Part of that effect is because we aren’t really shown more socially adherent people to compare them to.  We can’t make easy judgments because all the characters we’ve seen, excluding the minor ones, are part of their “group”.  Aside from Tsukimi’s issues with beauty and being like a princess, there’s no clash between their group and society at large, so we get to see the more eccentric members of society in their own natural habitat as opposed to being compared and criticized for not conforming to social standards.  In this way, seeing the manner in which the residents live their lives feels more natural and normal, so to speak.

Yup. That's a guy.

And because the show focuses more on the character’s daily life as opposed to being compared to everyone else, to me it really brings out a lot of Tsukimi’s mindset and her feelings of being something of an “Ugly Duckling”, hence her obsession with princesses and her difficulty relating to other people.  While we really haven’t seen enough yet to try and understand why she has her self confidence issues, we could tie some of it up to the fact that… well when you look at her in the first screenshot above, you really wouldn’t think she’s a looker, would you?

In a way it is understandable that she would see herself as inferior to the prettier ones out there like Mr. Trap, but then again wouldn’t Mr. Trap represent the fact that anyone, and I mean ANYONE, can be beautiful if they tried?  Tsukimi herself isn’t even ugly, hell I’d insist that with enough alterations (and an Animesuki poster rightfully pointed out those eyebrows) she could look quite pretty.  Running around in what qualifies as PJs isn’t.  I would say that much of it lies in Tsukimi’s only personality and psychological profile, so I would expect to see more of it in the future.

It’s so easy for stories to fall into the cliche of inner beauty and all that, while easily forgetting that physical beauty is part and parcel of really wanting to improve oneself.  Inner beauty is great and all, and I consider it paramount, but in the same way that inner beauty can be cultivated, so can physical beauty.  You don’t need to stop at the inside and forget the outer, because you can have both.

A very... pretty guy.

The fact that the only beautiful person in this entire show is a cross dressing trap of unverified sexual orientation is hilarious in and of itself, but it doesn’t make us forget the other problems stewing under the apartment building in the comedy.  It intrigues me as to why these women have willfully decided to forgo and isolate themselves from the more beautiful and conformist members of society.  I can only hope to see more of it in the following weeks.

This could easily be the sleeper hit of the season.


1 Comment »

  1. Kazu said,

    “Do they like worship this woman?”

    Well, that woman is a BL (yaoi) mangaka. In other words, she’s the real deal, a fujoshi, the archetypal otaku girl, so it kinda makes sense for the others to worship her.

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