Monday, April 11, 2011

What's So Good About A-Channel

So far this season, A-Channel is the show that I think is not getting the love it deserves. It is not unpopular, but it appears to be much less popular than the somewhat similar Nichijou, both in Japan and overseas.

Even though I like Nichijou, I am enjoying A-Channel more, through one episode. So I thought I'd lay out, both for myself and for others, just why I like it so far. I'll do that with short captions on a large number of images, mentioning things that really struck me.

I think the details of the animation are excellent, the yuri-moe sentimentality is spot on, the characters are individual, the voice-acting is good (epecially Yuuki Aoi) and the humor works. (Click images to enlarge.)

The 3DCG cherry-blossoms give a full, rich, spring-like feeling.

Great image showing Tooru's loneliness at seeing Run entering a different classroom from her.

I liked the hollow metallic sound of the bat bouncing on the stairs.

The tiny smile that blossomed on Tooru's face as she ran toward where Run was .

The way Run held her fingers when she found the cherry-petal on her forehead,

The OP animation was almost Shaft-like, and Kawano Marina sang well.

The whole meme of Tooru with the baseball bat is so wonderfully outlandish. The "violent tiny girl" trope well done.
The way Yuuki Aoi said "Run-chan" here -- her first words in the show -- makes it one of her great lines ever, for me. It was so full of meanings: warmth, delight, declaration, etc.
Brilliant long-shot emphasizing Tooru's feeling of loneliness, and her apparent stick-like fragility and lack of glamor.

Fukuhara Kaori's "sure, come on over" was beautifully delivered, with all the freshness and affection of her character.

Great use of photo-realistic backgrounds, with the character fitted in between planes of a very homely, real scene.

Tooru's splay-legged run, wearing her dowdy middle-school uniform, worked beautifully.
The whole sequence of Tooru arriving at Run's house was masterfully designed and animated.

The camera angle down into the stairwell was great, as was the animation of Tooru's steps.

The lovely way they had Tooru's fine fingers so delicately on the door handle, rather than fully gripping it.

Tooru absent-mindedly straightening her hair before she enters the room. Details matter.
This whole sequence up to now has brought us right into Tooru's mind.
I've heard it before, but the sound Yuuki Aoi makes in shock at what she sees in Run's room is one of her classics.

Golem Tooru is a hoot.

Sawashiro Miyuki's bored delivery as the disinterested teacher is perfect,
as is the way the character is shown reading a novel and wearing her track suit.

The immediate contrast of Tooru's teacher, who wants to be sure her students understand what they are to do.

Maybe it's because I know the manga, but I love Yutaka's slit-eyed face and delighted smile as she gets interested in Tooru.

Yuuko's fall is not hilarious, but the flat presentation of the whole sequence works for me.

The telepathic connection between Tooru and Run.

Run's sizzling-meat ringtone.
I like the repeated trope of Tooru attacking Yuuko (except for the breast-flipping), but the funnier thing is Run's idea that the conflict shows them becoming friends. And the development of Nagi's reaction makes the three times worthwhile.

Yuuko gazing after Tooru makes me think she is fascinated by her and can't help liking her, despite herself.

I loved this whole falling out the window sequence, and especially the drawing of this scene,
with the accurate way the effort made by Yuuko and Nagi is drawn.

Like the earlier falling sequence, the candy-cutting sequence is not laugh-out-loud funny, but Run's plaintive "I thought it was going to work!" was an unexpected line well delivered by Fukuhara Kaori.

I could see Tooru's disappointment in her eyes, as she saw Run approaching, not alone, but with two friends.

The whole sequence here where Tooru expresses her desire to be close to Run is very touching,
to those of us who like being touched.

Another example of Yuuki Aoi's brilliant acting -- as opposed to her brilliant vocal gymnastics. The moving way she says she wants to take the same courses as Run. Especially where she repeats Run's name at the end. Ao-chan is a bit like Meryl Streep, able to give us a rainbow of emotions in one or two words.

The sappy moe will either move you (as it does me) or repel you, depending on your bent.

Tooru seems to have only one friend, so the idea that the other two could be her friends is a revelation.
This sequence of huge smiles, evolving slowly, is a strong emotional punctuation.

Tooru's delight is like the sun coming from behind the clouds.


Yuuko's odd, old-fashioned profile is striking.

I wonder if there will be more of this hinted no-pan look.
For some reason, this scene just got to me. I somehow received her feelings.

Has there been another moe heroine so friendly with the guys?

Run tapping her papers on the desk to get them straight, and her childish concentration, were so cute.

Tooru's sudden arrival made a strong contrast.

Yuuko's very natural movement, sweeping back her hair as she leant over to talk to Tooru.
I wondered at the time if she was just putting herself in range, lol.

Finally, Nagi agrees with Run that Tooru and Yuuko are becoming closer. I think Tooru fascinates Yuuko, as she does me.

And I like the singing of the four lead seiyuus in the insert song and ED. They do this style of music very well, it seems to me. The K-On five may or may not be better. It's close.

I've seen criticisms that the humor of the manga has been de-emphasized in favor of more moe and  sentimentality. This is true, but since I like yuri-moe sentimentality, that is not necessarily a bad thing, for me. We'll see if they can give us more of the deeply bizarre humor of the manga as we go on. We got some, but it would be good to get more of the manga's flat absurdity.

I know the producers are trying to find a way to help people relate to the characters, by developing some kind of continuous narrative, which the original 4-panel comic didn't really have, and by giving more emphasis to the girls' relationships. This staff did Saki, so yuri moe is part of their stock in trade.

This franchise is definitely an attempt to cash in on K-On. The manga started in Manga Time Kirara Carat magazine a little over a year after K-On started in its sister magazine Manga Time Kirara. And the basic set-up is similar. But I think that comparisons of Yuuko to Mio and Run to Yui are overblown. Yuuko's greatest similarity to Mio is being tall and dark. Run and Yui are quite different versions of the common airhead stereotype.

I lost interest in K-On about halfway through season one. Maybe the same thing will happen here. But I find these characters more interesting, and the humor has more absurdity and bite. I lost interest in Saki, too, so we shall see.

Kotobuki Minako is actually from Kobe, so her Kansai accent should be good, but it is fairly stilted here. I have been told that the script makes her speak the way Tokyo people think Kansai people speak, as opposed to how they really speak. But I still found Mina-chan's voice strong and affecting.

Anyway, this show has just started, but it and Hanasaku Iroha are my two favorites of the season so far. They both have the emotional subtlety I love, although they are at very different levels of seriousness. This show is an absurd comedy (Tooru is absurd in herself) with some nice moe and yuri emotion, and that show is a real drama.

Note the link at the top right of the page to a characters/seiyuus page showing pics of the main characters and their seiyuus.


魔法少女 said...

I totally agree with almost everything you wrote!
First of all, Hanasaku and A Channel are, so far, the best Anime of this season in my opinion too!

Also I can't quite get how can someone like more Nichijou than A Channel. I mean, I'm watching Nichijou too, and I kind of like it but A Channel is far superior to me!
And...even if the two anime have something in common I think they're also very different.

I like the yuri-moe sentimentality so I get easily touched by certain scenes, or expressions, and Aoi-chan's voice is giving a great and wonderful contribute in this way!

Also, I'm a big fan of K-on! and I really liked Saki too (not as much as K-on!). Something in common with A Channel can be seen, maybe, but they're really different things.

Ah, I don't think that Yuuko can be compared to Mio, they don't even vaguely remember each other!
If I should make a comparison, I'd say Run feels like a mix between K-on!'s Yui and Lucky Star's Tsukasa X°D

marinasauce said...

I really wish I could agree with you on most points about A Channel, but I sat through the entire first episode completely bored and unattached to the characters. I do agree, however, that the visuals were fantastic.

I myself am guilty of comparing this to K-ON! in my own blog, but it was a brief mentioning of how I find the characters of K-ON! less generic than the ones presented in A Channel. I find them both pretty generic and presenting moe for moe's sake. The whole Tooru/Yuuko gag was sooooo overdone and I ended up just finding Tooru extremely annoying.

I'm sad at how uninteresting I find this show, since I was hopeful when I first saw the description. I'll most likely give it a few more episodes before I decide whether or not to drop it.

Excellent screenshots, btw.

relentlessflame said...

I liked the first episode of A-Channel as well, and for many of the same reasons. But the one comment I would have about the episode is that it always felt to me like the show had this real directorial tension, as if it was constantly trying to tell itself "slow down! sloooowww dowwwwnnn!" for the whole episode. Perhaps this is the tension between the 4-koma comedy and the sentimentality they are trying to inject... and I'm honestly not too sure if they've found quite the right balance yet in this first episode (at least for my taste). It just wasn't quite "smooth" enough at blending the elements (though all the elements on their own were quite good). This sense of timing and balance is something of a black art, and it's something that "the competition" has pretty much gotten down to a science at this point.

So anyway, my reaction was essentially that I'd need to see what they did next, but my overall opinion was certainly favourable. I honestly haven't even been too interested in checking out Nichijou since it just seemed a bit too absurd for my tastes (the human dynamic of this show seemed more appealing) but I guess we'll see.

Andrew said...

Yes, I definitely enjoyed the artistry of this show, and I for one thought the CGI was well-integrated with the drawings.

It wasn't quite the most innovative show of all time, but it certainly has its charms, and I'll keep watching.

I think one of the main differences between A Channel fans and Nichijou fans is whether your prefer sentimentality or absurdity. The artwork in A Channel is gorgeous, and KyoAni is taking on a challenge with a more simple, sketchy style very similar to Kiyohiko Azuma's.

Anonymous said...

Persoanlly I thought the animation was too serious to fit a gag anime like this. But again, gag is not the only focus of this show.

I do like the idea of a new insert song every episode, something I look forward to.

Anyway I think you made a mistake for the singer of the opening theme. Its Kawano Marina, not Kawada Mami.

hashi said...

@Anonymous -- Interesting point about the animation style. I think they used the style they were used to, but also your point about gags not being the only focus is probably significant, too.

Thanks for the correction. I should know by now not to go from memory for names I'm not familiar with. Fixed.

caitlyn said...

I thought Kotobuki's accent sounded weird, too, but I'm not a native speaker so I wasn't about to jump to any conclusions. Interesting that I'm not the only one who thought she sounded 'off.'

perceefinesse said...

I haven't gotten a chance to see this show yet, unfortunately, but I can safely say that I'm greatly captivated by the art and animation style. It's not really anything that I haven't before seen, but it seems to be of a very high quality with immense craftsmanship and much attention paid to most details.

Even though this seems to be more of a gag anime than a serious anime, I like that they used the styles that they did for the show... it gives the show more sophistication and refinement, as well as what I think will prove to be more mass appeal for all ages (kids can watch it for the gags, and adults can watch it for the excellent visuals).

And the all-star cast and great comedic/emotional timing you described only seem to make it appear to be even better. I can easily see this becoming one of the top animes of 2011, without question. Thank you for doing this article... hopefully other people will be able to see the potential this show possesses.

Matteas said...

I really like A Channel, my judgment being based on the first episode. I loved K-ON, so I think it would be strange if I didn't enjoy A Channel, because the main concept and even the focus is quite similar. Yet, neither I agree that Run can be compared to Yui and Yuuko to Mio. If anyone can be compared, then it's Yuuko and Mugi. The reason is obvious, of course.

I had been looking forward to hearing some Kansai dialect from Minako, but I was disappointed because, as you say, it was far from the real way of speaking in Kobe. I've heard Minako in the film she played when she was a bit younger, Ghost of Yesterday, and compared to this, there was a world of difference. I guess they made her speak more in the standard way with just a bit of Kansai flavor to ensure that everyone can understand without difficulties.

ronelm2000 said...

Just saying. When it comes to comedy, for me Nichijou wins it, but when it comes to Slice-of-Life, I looove A-Channel.

marinasauce said...

The 2nd episode was a definite improvement on the 1st and lifted my hopes for this anime.

Kat said...

Technically I LOVE this anime series ! Nagi being my favorite- the awkwardness she has when she talked to herself, and the whole losing weight gemic (yeah idk how to spell) I see a LOT of myself in tooru though - I used to only have one friend - and when I seen her with other friends I felt lonely I have tons now but thats besides the point- Tooru is my 2nd fave then Run C: She reminds me of my BEST friend ditsy and crazyy kinda- That and im very protective over her like Tooru is. Yuuko- she's kinda annoying xp lol but tolerable :P Shes ight.