Solstice Review: Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko

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As mentioned in the last post, I’m hoping to create some kind of structure to this otherwise on-off blog…you know, something I purposely aim to do outside of the column I write for The OASG. And so after some thought, I settled with this: Solstice Review. An ongoing series of posts dedicated to looking at shows/movies/OVAs/ONAs that are seen as a little off the community radar. Here is the first show I’ll be looking at; how many more in the future, well, we’ll see…

Released in April 2011, Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko (Ground Control to Psychoelectric Girl) is a slice-of-life show with a few subtle sci-fi hints to it. This is also the show that SHAFT needed to ‘wind down to’, after releasing the worldwide phenomenon that was Puella Magi Madoka Magica. You could say that they needed something moderately low-key for its staff to work on so they wouldn’t totally be exhausted. You know how bands release hugely successful albums that make them big names and their next release needs to be something not as large scale so they don’t burn out of exhaustion (eg. Deftones’ ‘White Pony‘, or Nine Inch Nails’ ‘The Downward Spiral‘, or The Smashing Pumpkins’ ‘Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness‘)…you could say it was like that for SHAFT. Although you could ask yourself: what exactly is low-key for SHAFT? They are already known for creating shows with detailed and unique animation, with equally detailed and unique character designs and script to compliment them. Sometimes their shows succeed, sometimes they don’t. I’ve loved a lot of their shows, but it has sort of reached the stage where their franchises either need to move on and/or evolve, or end altogether. Will Monogatari ever end? Will Madoka Magica ever truly come back and answer the endless questions Rebellion gave us? Will we ever see this Okitegami thing that they have been teasing us for years now?

So for the meantime, to save some hassle, let’s just call Denpa Onna a ‘low-key SHAFT show’.

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NB: This post contains spoilers for Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko

The show begins with us being introduced to Makoto Niwa, a male protagonist character that isn’t that uncommon in SHAFT shows, in that aside from one personal/private and bizarre aspect (eg. the Monogatari series’ Koyomi Araragi being half-vampire), they are rather dull and normal people content living dull and normal lives. Due to the atypical trait of having parents being sent to work overseas, he moves from the Japanese countryside to the city, to live with his youngish aunt on his father’s side, Meme Touwa.

Makoto quickly discovers that Meme does not live alone; a young girl wrapped in a futon hangs around the house. She claims to Makoto that she is an investigator descended from aliens, and warns him of impending danger. After spending some time together, Makoto realises that this young girl is in fact his cousin Erio, a girl his own age that Meme seems not too concerned about; she lets her stays home from school and do as she pleases. By episode 4 however, Erio’s mind appears to return to normal, and asks for her mother’s and Makoto’s help in finding a role in society. Due to having a shady reputation at school, she ends up finding work at a convenience store her great-grandmother owns.

As well as Makoto, Erio and Meme, we are introduced to two other girls who become Makoto’s classmates at his new school. Ryuko Mifune is a basketball enthusiast who develops feelings for Makoto, while Maekawa (we are never told her full name) is a tall girl with a weak body, who works several part-time jobs around the local shopping district and seems to enjoy wearing cosplay to her jobs a lot despite her supervisors telling her not to.

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Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko seems to enjoy letting Erio take the main role for the show, despite the story largely being told from Makoto’s perspective (some episodes are seen through Meme’s and Ryuko’s perspective as well – more on that later). As for Makoto’s ‘personal/private and bizarre’ aspect, he is a boy who looks at his adolescent life, takes the assorted day-to-day things that happen to him, and grades them. This can be anything from moving his bag on the train so someone can sit down, to ending up in hospital as a result of his oddball cousin’s behaviour…from becoming good friends with two girls at school, to receiving unwanted advances by his attractive but crazy aunt.

Speaking of Meme, I found her to have an extremely interesting character design. From the start, we as an audience see her as someone that Makoto can be very amiable with. She’s unmarried, has a hard-working job (owning a sweet shop), and shows some deep affection for the nephew that has just moved into her home. As the show progresses, we learn more about her, outside of her being Erio’s mother. Despite her eccentricity, her independence, self-confidence and wisdom really stand out in the show, and make us want to cheer her on.

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Source: /r/anime

If you feel like ‘deconstructing’ a show like Denpa Onna, then you could call this a semi-harem show; we have one boy who gets the attention of 3 girls his own age, as well as his adult aunt. I’ve already talked about Meme’s character, but another character I’ve found interesting is Ryuko. As soon as we are introduced to her, it becomes obvious that she wants Makoto to be her boyfriend as quickly as possible. However, her own personal traits are traits that I suppose we would call ‘pretty common’ in a SHAFT show. She is a basketball enthusiast, and is on the girl’s basketball team at school. She is also strictly vegetarian, sometimes referring to herself as a fruitarian. That alone is a little something I found curious: fruitarianism is a discipline of veganism that has mixed responses from the general public. While fruit provides a good amount of carbohydrates, it lacks protein and vitamin B12. Steve Jobs (of Apple fame) was a fruitarian at one point, and the actor who played him in the biographical movie Jobs, Ashton Kutcher, ended up being hospitalised with pancreatic problems after following Jobs’ diet for the role (see The Guardian link below for more). So yeah, fruitarianism isn’t a diet recommended for children and edgy teenagers.

Of course, this is all just a work of fiction; I mean the show separates Makoto, Ryuko and the relative ‘normals’ at school from the eccentricity of Erio and Meme Touwa. But it is this eccentricity that makes Denpa Onna stand out from most other slice-of-life/comedy/school shows.

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But anyway, back to the subject of ‘deconstruction’…

Denpa Onna can essentially be split into two parts: the first revolving around Makoto and his journey from boy-in-puberty to adulthood, while the second concerns Erio and her own mission to just become a recognizable member of society.

By grading the events of his day-to-day life, Makoto believes that whatever ‘final score’ he ends up with will determine what kind of man he ends up becoming when he’s old enough to graduate from high school/become a salaryman/be old enough to drink/etc. At first, he sees his new cousin Erio as a barrier of sorts, something that’ll only lower his final score. If all you care about is doing okay-to-good in high school, going to university, falling in love, moving to a new home, finding a stable job, etc, then having a cousin who convinces herself that she is an alien will only hinder all of that. ‘Becoming normal’ is something that Ryuko wants for Makoto as well, when she learns that he and Erio are cousins and live in the same house. Ryuko knows what Erio did that caused her to leave high school in the first place and give her the local reputation she has, and believes that this is something that can simply be transmitted to Makoto, the transfer student from the country. While it’s something that is subtly hinted, we notice that Ryuko wants nothing more than to be seen as your average plain high-school girl, despite her occasionally bizarre behaviour towards Makoto and her strict fruitarian diet that would make her just as much the talk of the school as someone like Erio would.

“I heard Touwa-san isn’t liked very much, especially at our school. That’s why if you’re seen being nice to her…Bam! Pushed into the corner! That might happen to you, you know. I’m just a little worried about your future.”

Ryuko Mifune to Makoto Niwa. Episode 6, Ryuko-san’s feeling…kinda…glum…

But all Erio wants to do is simply…exist. Episode 3, A Strange Moment for the Girl Bound to the Ground, sees Makoto attempt to dispel Erio’s strange beliefs by proving to her that she can’t fly (by taking her old bike and riding off a hill with her). This attempt ultimately works, leaving Erio begin to come to terms with herself as an Earthling, and Makoto with a broken arm in the process. Even while Erio turns from an amnesiac trouble-maker to a member of society, the show certainly likes to make her stand out, whether it be by slowing down scenes she is in, or by letting her long blue hair or big moe eyes shine bright, or just by having her utter random words mid-conversation. As I mentioned earlier, Erio is the token girl in this show, despite the story largely being told though Makoto.

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Mid-show, the perspective switches to the secondary characters, which I found…interesting. Interesting because I actually felt that doing something like that was something worthwhile, in order to make Denpa Onna be just-not-any-old-slice-of-life-show.

We first turn to Ryuko, who is wrestling with her own emotions – whether she should be ‘herself’ to the boy she likes, and whether she should accept Erio now she is slowly coming to terms with reality (and is no longer the trouble-maker she remembers at high school). Later, our attention turns to Maekawa, who suddenly finds herself the attention of a ‘fan’, who asks her to make him bottle rockets. Maekawa embraces her cosplay pastime, but also embraces her role as a member of society in the local shopping district. Finally, we turn to Meme, who has only just turned 40 (a milestone she was dreading). She confronts the bottle rocketeer, where she learns he mistook Maekawa for Erio, with the initial intention of asking Meme to marry him.

Towards the end, we are introduced to another girl who dresses as an astronaut and claims to be an esper with supernatural powers. We later learn that she is in fact a runaway girl called Yashiro Hoshimiya. Curiously enough, neither the show or the original light novel (by Hitoma Iruma & Biriki) alludes to whether she genuinely has supernatural powers or not, leaving us thinking that the world in Denpa Onna isn’t as binary as we initially think.

As each episode passes, we look at each character’s ‘role’ in the local district that they all live and work in, and by the end, one thing dawns on us: that in the end, it doesn’t really matter what each person’s quirks are – a loving community is a loving community. People who want to see themselves as ‘normal’, like Makoto and Ryuko, may look at others in the community like Erio, or Yashiro, or the bottle rocketeer and see ‘barriers’, but by interacting with them and becoming friends with them, they see that this ‘barrier’ they were so worried about never existed in the first place.

Perhaps, as I talk about local communities in Japanese cities, some of our minds might turn to how we, as the protagonist of Persona 5, present ourselves as the outsider/transfer student/kid with criminal record to the people around us – whether we become amiable to them, or work part-time at their businesses, or fall in love with them, or take their hearts, or so on.

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Source: /r/anime
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Source: /r/anime

So yes, Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko is a show about being who you are in your local community. Every district in every village/town/city in every country across the world has their own unique communities. People in these communities may well want to do whatever they feel is necessary to protect their communities because they want stability, they want comfort. As time passes, some of SHAFT’s shows post-Denpa Onna bring up the topic of community as well, from Hidamari Sketch to March Comes in Like a Lion. We can all joke how SHAFT brings up many many themes in their works; we can even play SHAFT bingo as we watch them, and tick off the little things, like baseball, and text flashes, and unmoving plaid, and lesbianism, and of course, the many head tilts.

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Source: /r/anime

I have so far called Denpa Onna a show about community, but it can also be a show about self-acceptance. Makoto arrived in the city as someone who was just happy with whatever, and Ryuko was happy to just become a ‘normal girl’ even if her ‘abnormal’ traits sort of get in the way. It isn’t just people like Erio and Meme and Yashiro that let our protagonists evolve; Maekawa may appear a normalish girl on the outside, but she is far more positive than Makoto and Ryuko. While the two of them are struggling with adolescence, we see a girl like Maekawa who embraces self-acceptance and self-confidence. Always look on the bright side of life, you could say.

But, as we watch, it is curious how the least-developed character design comes in the form of the token girl herself. We get to spend time with Makoto, Ryuko, Maekawa, Meme, Yashiro, even the bottle rocketeer…but when we see Erio in-shot, she is just…sort-of…there, and nothing more. For instance, the show doesn’t really give us an explanation why she went missing in the first place, or what actually happened at high school to give her the local reputation she has. As I review this show, I wouldn’t call Erio a boring character, even despite this weak character design of hers – well, weak compared to the character designs of the people around her. Are we just to assume that this is all down to how the show simply wants to present Erio as the moeblob character in a moeblob show?

Yes, and no. There’s no denying Erio is moe, just as the other girls in the show are. But there really is more to this show than meets the eye, and I think SHAFT still did a fine job in adapting this. This was a studio that was all worn out after the phenomenon that was Puella Magi Madoka Magica, and the more recent events of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami may well have given them time to reflect. We’re left with a show full of outstanding visuals and good character designs, as well as oddball humour. Okay, so not everything was explained by the end of the show, but as we absorb the show, we learn not to mind so much.

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Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko was released in Japan in the Spring 2011 anime season by studio SHAFT, from April to June of that year. It received a North American license by NIS America under the name Ground Control to Psychoelectric Girl, and was released on Blu-ray and DVD on January. 08. 2013 (Premium Edition) and December. 09. 2014 (Standard Edition).

Sources: NIS America / SHAFT (Japanese) / The Guardian

Images in this post come from screenshots taken from the NIS America release, except otherwise stated.

Well, that was my first review in my new thing for my blog that I’ve had for like forever but not really done much for. Feel free to air your opinions on Denpa Onna or whatever in the comments below…

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