This episode doesn’t have a real title, because it was divided up into episodes within the episode:
1. The Man Who Won’t Take on Debt
2. The Bridge Under a Large Star
3. Positive Thinking
4. Green Green
5. Green Contents
6. The Truth of Green
7. Ric Under the Bridge
8. Place of Rest
I think that does a good job representing what sense of humor this show has.
All I knew going into this episode was the premise: a proud man who refuses to be indebted to anyone gets his life saved by an odd girl, who asks that he fall in love with her for repayment. So they end up living together under the bridge which is her home, and they meet some other odd figures living there along the way.
And that’s exactly how this episode panned out. Only 3 characters show up in the whole episode: Kou Ichinomiya, the proud man; Nino, the odd girl who saves him; and the Chief, who is a man in a rubber Kappa suit whom Nino truly believes is a Kappa. It seems to be shaping up as an absurdist character comedy, which is right up Shaft’s alley. All 3 of the characters introduced are crazy in their own way: Kou with his manically neurotic personality that prevents him from just walking away; Nino, who is clearly delusional and seems to suffer from a mild case of anterograde amnesia; and the Chief, who’s just in a class of his own.
It’s unfortunate, then, that the character interactions were mainly limited to Kou being the straight man to the ridiculousness happening around him. This is a type of comedy I’ve seen a bit too much before, and this episode didn’t expand on it or bring any new twists. In fact, it seemed a little tame compared to what I’m used to from Shaft and Shinbou. Think more Hidamari Sketch than Sayonara, Zetsubou Sensei. There were a few hilarious moments, though, like when Kou was reminiscing about the time when his father forced him to repay the debt he incurred when he was 1 year old.
But where the comedy faltered, I see hope for a more serious drama unfolding. Specifically, the relationship that is sure to develop between Kou and Nino. It’s hard to tell much about Nino so far, given that she showed little emotion or even signs of thought, but we have 2 people just as damaged or broken as each other as the protagonists, and I can see how they can help each other as the show progresses. In living with Nino and her community, Kou will learn to be less uptight and just how insane and destructive his family motto is, while Nino will become a little more normal, and perhaps reveal more about who she is and how and why she got to where she is. It’s a classic romance story, one that could be very powerful when executed properly. One of her lines, “Do people on your planet help each other only because they want something?” caught me as something that could become significant later on.
That’s just my guess and hope about the direction of the story, anyway.
That said, I’m a little concerned about Nino as a character. One of the main reasons I started watching this show is that Maaya Sakamoto was voicing the heroine, but I didn’t want her to essentially reprise one of her previous roles. And that’s kind of what it feels like right now, with Nino’s ambivalent and detached attitude making her just a little too similar to Shiki from the Kara no Kyoukai series. I kept waiting for Nino to show some personality trait that would differentiate her from Shiki, but it never came. Whatever laughter, anger, frustration that she showed was heavily muted, just like with Shiki. (Also, the name Nino makes me think of the band ROUND TABLE featuring Nino, which did the OP for one of my favorite shows starring Maaya Sakamoto, Diebuster).
And of course, Hiroshi Kamiya playing a neurotic straight man who almost dies in the first episode is going to draw parallels to Nozomu Itoshiki from Sayonara, Zetsubou Sensei. The image of him being pulled up by his tie from the water was reminiscent of Itoshiki’s intro in that show, something that I’m sure wasn’t lost on the animators at Shaft. But Kou’s overly principled and overall decent nature was sufficiently different from Nozomu’s depressed and cynical attitude.
I should note that I really liked the music. The jazz/swing tune used in the first scene was particularly good. But the entire episode was filled with nice little background pieces, mostly light rock that was pretty fast and light-hearted. There was no OP or ED in this episode, which was disappointing, because I wanted to hear the rest of the song that was in the 15 second PV. Anyway, for a Shaft production, the OP and ED are products in themselves, so I’m looking forward to seeing those next week. Hopefully they won’t delay it for several episodes like they did with the 1st 2 SZS seasons.
The art style was alright, with the character designs feeling pretty typical. Many of the shots featured classic Akiyuki Shinbo trademarks, such as the eye-zoom, tilted head, quick background changes, and super-zoomed out view, but it wasn’t excessive.
Anyway, it’s far too early to pass any judgment on this series. It certainly didn’t hit the ground running, but I see potential for both comedy and drama here. And most of the cast has yet to be introduced – I’m looking forward to seeing characters voiced by one of the many big names in this show, like Chiwa Saito, Miyuki Sawashiro, Rie Tanaka, Tomokazu Sugita, or Yuko Goto. With this and Dance in the Vampire Bund, it feels like Shaft and Shinbo are branching out into creating more normal anime, ones that don’t make you feel like you’re on a drug trip. Vampire Bund turned out well enough, with particularly strong character development, and here’s to hoping the same goes for this show.