Sunday, July 4, 2010

Anime review: Suzuka

The anime adaptation of Suzuka covers only about one-third of the entire manga series. Whether this was done deliberately to avoid the more adult themes explored later in the manga or if there were plans to continue the anime that never fell through is unclear. However, this review is about the anime as a separate work from the manga, as personally disappointed as I am that the anime did not continue the story.

The series follows Yamato Akitsuki as he moves to Tokyo to attend high school. He lives in an apartment complex owned by his aunt and has his rent paid for in exchange for his janitorial services. One day Akitsuki notices a girl practicing the high jump after school and becomes intrigued with her. He discovers her name to be Asahina Suzuka and shortly thereafter realizes that she lives in the same apartment complex. Smitten with Suzuka, Akitsuki decides to join the track and field team. However, Honoka, a girl from Akitsuki’s past, has feelings towards him that she has been harboring ever since they were young. Determined to overcome her shyness, she joins the track team as well, acting as the team’s towel/water girl.

Early on, the series sets up this love triangle that causes much of the drama to unfold, allowing for the characters to develop along the way. All in all, this works fairly well, though there are times when the series has to back-track for a while to explain events, such as Honoka and Akitsuki’s first meeting and Suzuka’s middle school track career.

As Akitsuki becomes more and more interested in Suzuka he tries to work up the courage to ask her out, and Suzuka asks him to go to with her to an amusement park, more out of coincidence than anything else. At the end of the day Akitsuki asks Suzuka to become his girlfriend and is quickly rejected. What follows is Akitsuki’s attempts to get back on good terms with Suzuka but also his confusion between the two girls when Honoka expresses her feelings towards Akitsuki.

Surprisingly enough for a teen drama, the characters are quite well-rounded. Akitsuki is both determined to win Suzuka’s heart, but also stubborn and easily manipulated by his classmate and ‘friend’ Yashunobu. Yashunobu is the kind of character who comes across as a sleazy player, thinking of himself as a ladies’ man and constantly trying to impress his peers. He doesn’t always think things through before acting, though he tends to present himself as mature and collected in front of adults. Honoka is the shy nice girl who wants to be with Akitsuki in hopes of improving her self-esteem, and although things don’t always work out to her advantage she tries her hardest to look on the bright side of things and inevitably does find confidence in herself by the end of the series. Suzuka’s story is left shrouded in mystery until later in the series, though viewers can gather early on that she is a very determined individual and that she wants to avoid entering a relationship with Akitsuki. The reasoning behind this, however, isn’t explored for a while and becomes one of the more interesting and creative plot devices. Finally, Miki is one of Suzuka’s best friends and a sprinter on the track team. She is full of energy and sympathizes with both Suzuka and Akitsuki even when the two are thinking differently. Miki is constantly at odds with Yashunobu, calling immature time and time again for his various schemes to supposedly help Akitsuki in his romantic endeavors.

There are a notably small number of characters in the series to begin with, and aside from the main characters there are a handful of secondary characters, with everyone else left as rather undeveloped tertiary characters. Aunt Ayano and Akitsuki’s cousin Miho show up from time to time, more or less to show how Akitsuki and Suzuka’s relationship confuses other characters over the course of the series, and once to reprimand Akitsuki for an act he makes late in the series. Yukka is another girl living in the apartment complex, attending college and often seen drunk. She attempts to provide Akitsuki with advice but usually ends up leaving his apartment a mess. Viewers will likely find Yukka’s inclusion either a good source of comic relief or just plain annoying.

The soundtrack is quite impressive for a relatively low-key anime project. Many pieces put emphasis on piano and string parts to create a smoothly flowing and genuinely moving soundtrack. There are pieces that create a tense atmosphere, particularly during the track competitions, that change the mood up but fit in perfectly with the rest of the soundtrack. Many pieces are reprises of the series’ main theme, but still diverse and separate enough that they don’t become overly redundant. All in all the soundtrack isn’t particularly complex but it is very fitting to the series’ events. The art style uses the current standard digital coloring techniques and overall looks quite good – that’s not to say that the series is going to win any awards in the animation department, but everything is very clean looking and consistent. The English voice actors portray their characters with overall solid performances. There are a few voice actors who sound out of place from time to time, but none of this jolts the story off focus at all.

The story is neither overly complex nor strikingly original. There are some interesting techniques used to keep the plot entertaining and the characters are very well developed. Whether viewers are familiar with the manga or not, the ending comes across as incredibly sudden and is one of the show’s prominent weak points. Overall, however, the story is solid and gives some different twists on an age-old formula.

My rating: 7.75 (out of 10)

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