Hidamari Sketch Series One Collection (Cert 12)
2 Discs (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 276 minutes approx.
One of the more esoteric genres of manga is the slice-of-life four-panel or 4-koma comic strip, random affairs due to their brevity which embrace the quirkier side of Japanese humour.
With the standard formula being a quartet of (mostly) quirky schoolgirls musing on their daily endeavours and getting into a quandary over the most innocent of situations with often chaotic results, popular stand out titles include Lucky Star, Azumanga Daioh and K-ON!, along with this late-noughties hit from Ume Aoki, Hidamari Sketch.
The basic premise – there is no real story to speak of – revolves around four girls attending the Yamabuki Art High School, all of whom live in the nearby Hidamari Apartments. Yuno is the main focal point as the newest arrival on the scene, with most episodes beginning with her morning battles with the alarm clock and ending with her taking a bath. Next door to Yuno is a fellow first year student Miyako, a capricious talent who is permanently hungry due to her modest family background.
Situated in the rooms below are two second year students who act as mentors to Yuno and Miyako – Hiro, the ditzy sweet lover who gets paranoid about her weight, and Sae, the Sue Perkins look-a-like and designated “serious one” of the group, a published author who wants to illustrate her own work. Adding regular support are the school principal, an old man with a sausage shaped head, and Yoshinoya, the immature teacher and cosplay addict who regularly dresses up in inappropriate costumes at school.
Despite not having anything resembling an overarching storyline each episodes is set during one specific month although the running order doesn’t follow the usual chronology of the calendar, jumping at random from one month to another. However, there is a thematic undercurrent exploring the development of the relationship between the four leads.
The group bond over cooking, drawing (natch), shopping and tending to each other when illness strikes, along with other mundane everyday trials, such as food shortage, leaking roofs, overdue homework and the like, while the now familiar set-ups of the summer fireworks and school culture festival play their part in the stories too.
Due to their omnipotence in slice-of-life based anime these skits practically write themselves meaning with the large gap since the show’s debut in 2007 and viewing this now in 2016 the audience can pretty much foresee how they will turn out, even if the journey takes a slightly different path.
The main interest and indeed appeal of this show therefore lies with the characters and I am sure many will find them endearing and will have picked a favourite before the viewing of this set is over. But again time has not been too kind on Hidamari Sketch and newcomers will assuredly be able to spot the DNA of their favourites from other shows in the cast members here.
More recent shows such as Nichijou, A-Channel, Mitsudome, Yuru Yuri, Kill Me Baby and Non Non Biyori recreate this formula with similar tropes and set ups and, in the frank opinion of this writer, did it much better. This show has many neat off-the-wall ideas but the execution is very laid back and lethargic while its above-mentioned successors are fast paced and vibrant.
The animation is also very rudimentary and the designs feel rather dated for a show made in 2007, resembling the inert style of the web anime which was a brief fad a few years back, where the characters seldom moved except for their mouths and backgrounds would be barely drawn. They regularly slip into chibi mode for cute comic effect which must have saved the artists a whole heap of time.
Production is handled the maverick studio Shaft, whose unique aesthetic and trademark disregard for normalcy and convention is very prevalent here. Their unorthodox method of using random cutaway images, obscure angles and changing art styles is present throughout, with the surreal addition of photo images for things like food, buildings, animals, utensils and the like.
Because the overall atmosphere created is meant to be light, fluffy and easy going the voice actors don’t sound particularly enthused, lacking the energy required for such excitably quirky characters. Only the outrageous Yoshinoya gets to be a bit juicy and let loose but there are times when even her gregarious personality wears a bit thin – not to mention the question of how someone with such personal hang-ups and propensity for inappropriate attire made it as a teacher remaining overlooked!
Maybe it’s because I had the flu when I watched this show but while I usually enjoy the entries in this genre and wanted to enjoy this one too, for whatever reason it simply didn’t resonate with me or capture my imagination on the same level its many successors have.
A large percentage of the jokes were either lost in translation or the laid back style of the show obscured their impact leaving the overt comic reactions to carry the humour. Similarly the characters spend way too much time in chibi form – especially Miyako – which while a cute device for a raising a smile or two it soon outstays its welcome, and to be honest, it took me a while to remember the character’s names since they barely stayed on model long enough to sink in, although Shaft do help with a little on screen aide-memoire in the form of a symbol relative to the cast – a “X” for Yuno’s cross shaped hairpins or glasses for Sae.
For this write Hidamari Sketch is a fine enough show but one which suffers from being usurped by those which followed in its footsteps thus comes across more as a rather uninspired template than a paradigm changer. I am sure however that there will be a more receptive audience out there who will enjoy seeing where the current crop of slice-of-life shows get their inspiration from.
Japanese Language w/ English Subtitles
Bonus Episodes 1&2
Clean Opening Animation
Clean Closing Animation
Rating – ** ½
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