Photo Kano Complete Collection (Cert 15)
2 Discs DVD/2 Discs Blu-ray (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 306 minutes approx.
Anime knows how to corrupt young minds especially when it comes to teen romance, proffering a number of unique and improbable ways for awkward young men to win the girl of their dreams. Photo Kano posits the idea that intrusive photography is the way to go.
Our protagonist is Kazuya Maeda, a teenage boy given a camera by his father. At first things are innocent enough when Kazuya’s vain female classmates Haruka Niimi and Nonoka Masaki happily offer to pose for him. This draws the attention of the school’s photography club, a group of nerdy perverts – including a female – who specialise in taking covert photos of the girls in the school.
Because of how the girls easily gravitate towards the mild mannered Kazuya, he is able to create a number of opportunities for the others to get their shots of girls usually out of reach to them. For Kazuya, these encounters help the girls open up about themselves, lowering their defences and even leading to a personal relationship developing.
The above synopsis makes this show sound rather sweet and dreamy with love being in the air, and in places it is, but unfortunately there is always going to be a pervasive element of lasciviousness which is down to the photography part being used to indulge in some blatant wish fulfilment and fan service clichés, without wanting to appear directly prurient.
Seasoned anime fans will of course be very aware of this without having to watch the show, the cover of this release featuring a few of the classroom cuties who fall under Kazuya’s spell being enough to give the impression of what to expect from this show. But is it misleading in any way?
Well, the answer is yes and no. This isn’t a harem show in the traditional sense in that Kazuya is beholden to girls squabbling for his affections, due to the source material writer-director Akitoshi Yokoyama is working from. Photo Kano is in fact a spin-off from a dating sim created by Enterbrain, which involves the player navigating Kazuya through the wooing and winning over all of the girls in random and differing scenarios.
This makes for a frustrating viewing experience in anime form insofar as consistency of the character’s behaviour is concerned, since one conquest – for wanting a better term – is forced to resume a secondary and uninvolved role like nothing had happened while the focus shifts to another potential romance.
Making this more obvious and distracting is the imbalance of time allotment to each girl and her situation – to it: the first six episodes are concerned with establishing the set-up of Kazuya and introducing the girls before fixating on Haruka Niimi. Being his childhood friend (and crush) Kazuya is protective of Haruka, especially when his club name her Miss Photogenic, meaning she is to be the subject of their illicit photos.
Kazuya therefore disrupts every chance the others have to get a decent shot, while she consents to him getting the best poses, all the while they both fight to confess their repressed feelings for each other and you can guess the rest. For the remaining seven episodes, we settle into Groundhog Day-mode with each girl getting an episode each as Kazuya’s single status returns to ground zero.
Following Haruka as Kazuya’s love interest/photographic subject is loner Hikari Sanehara from a rival photo club, strict Student Council president Aki Muroto, athletic long time friend Nonoka Masaki, shy gymnast Mai Sakura, busty cooking expert Rina Yunoki, timid wallflower Tomoe Misumi and finally, Kazuya’s younger sister Kanon.
Oh yes they go there – well sort of. I could reveal how they handle this but I will say that it’s not that icky in the final analysis, but one could argue that they didn’t need to go down this route in the first place, but you know, anime. If the idea of implied or even teased incest is off-putting then it’s best to stop watching at episode twelve, which has a defined climax anyway.
Most of the girls, as is apparent, fit a familiar trope making the individual developments either credible or farfetched. Sadly the most interesting girl, stealth photographer Yuko Uchida, doesn’t have an arc, limiting her to comic relief. Elsewhere top-heavy student teacher Momoko Ōtani keeps getting lost while a tacit yuri relationship is hinted between the two members of the rival photo club.
Somewhere beneath the panty shots, teenage angst and tawdry comedy is a potent message about the power of photography to create and capture everlasting memories, buttressed by exploring the medium as way to bring out someone’s personality and inner truth, either for their own esteem or to endear them to others. Not that this is made a priority because panties > philosophy.
In terms of fan service this doesn’t tip the scale as you might think given the subject matter and lurid intentions of the supporting cast, something which even Kazuya isn’t totally immune to. Yet the way the girls willingly adopt certain cheesecake poses robs certain moments of any innocence they demand, painting both the photographer and the model in a lascivious light.
Therefore the opportunity to excite viewers about taking up photography has been squandered, or at least on a meaningful level, in the same way K-ON! encouraged girls to form rock bands. This won’t encourage someone to pick up a camera to create art with the message that all women are either vain enough to pose for you or lose their inhibitions if you whip out your Nikon.
Competent production values and fluffy comedy aside Photo Kano is in the odd position of being inoffensive through lack of substance whilst the lecherous content and disjointed narrative is a sufficient deterrent for some viewers. There is an audience for this kind of title but its reach beyond that is questionable.
As a snapshot of tacky anime there are certainly far more unappealing titles around than this amiable but irritatingly flawed effort.
Japanese 2.0 w/ English Subtitles
Disc 2 Only:
Clean Opening Animation
Clean Closing Animation
Rating – ***
Man In Black