Fall 2020: misplaced quirkiness, or Taisou Zamurai versus Adachi to Shimamura

I love quirky anime. I like these scripts with just that little bit of oddity, or screenplays with unaccounted eccentricities, and yet never going full-out beyond the atmosphere. That is the place where ‘down to earth’ exists, being able to go a little bit out of comfort zones to make us laugh in a way that, not setup punchline-gags or comedians do, but the way our friends and family and colleagues or random people on the street can. Get it right and even the most dramatic situation has a more sympathetic touch. Fancy then, that there is not one, but two, anime making the same mistake while straddling this fence, jaunting us out of their attempts at realistic experiences.

In Adachi to Shimamura’s case, I mentioned the ‘boob talk’ showing a disregard for the rest of the script’s style of banter, but sooner still would a much larger problem occur. Yes, the show’s cinematography could play with the absurd, but it was still clinging to the integral chemistry to depict these girls’ very human, relatable, and downright odd relationship struggling to identify the line between platonic and romantic – so what do we suppose of the young girl in a spacesuit actually being an alien, whose appearance is not a one off, and is directly playing the part of romantic catalyst between our leads?

Taisou Zamurai, however, is a much less binary mish-mash. Rather than one or two integral scenes sliced down the middle by the quirky overload, the janky humour is a regular occurrence. The Aragaki family have a giant blue bird that talks, and they end up adopting a ninja called Leo whose presence is an absurd mystery. Audio queues in the music and volumes tell us that, yes, these punchline-free depictions of their oddities are supposed to be funny. Haha? It contorts the more dramatic setups of Joutarou Aragaki’s struggles on deciding to retire, or Joutarou deciding he needs his coach and the two finally get back together.

But both shows can really get it right. In the latest episode of Adachi to Shimamura, Shimamura yells at the excited Adachi to come back, but in an old man’s dialect and she can’t figure out why she just did that. It’s a little random, but it doesn’t break up the scene, and when you consider the rest of her dialogue choices – she’s just that little bit funny in a way that makes you chuckle without a thud. Taisou Zamurai’s aforementioned coach has a goofy haircut because of his young daughter, and everybody’s thinking to tell him he’s a little old for it, but the way nobody can say it is priceless – in a way that we as humans act.

It’s a pity both shows are making such odd decisions in the sidelines, because both shows raison d’etre is so well handled.

Taisou Zamurai’s Joutarou is trying to make one last attempt at professional gymnastics as his age and body are fighting against him, and the effort that he puts in, the strategy that his coach puts in, and the way lots of people help him heal, makes for a wholesome show with some inspired sporting moments. It’s no Yuri on Ice, but it’s also no surprise the same studio are behind both (even if this one has so much less gay, sadly for us all).

Adachi to Shimamura has wasted no time showing us Adachi’s growing feelings. Her gay panic is sweet, cute and frustrating in a sweet and cute way, too! We can really get behind why she doesn’t want to ruin her friendship, and the friendship itself is so important to both of these anti-social, kinda weird loners. Shimamura is perhaps the more interesting one, who’s cognisant to a fault of Adachi’s feelings but is afraid to admit them, equally because she doesn’t want to ruin her friendship and because – and this is the really interesting part – she has some deeply seated self-loathing regarding how others view her and doesn’t seem to want to be viewed as irreplaceable. Inner monologues from her are constantly telling us that she wouldn’t be upset for longer than 2-3 days if Adachi got angry and didn’t speak to her again, and it’s this sort-of double speak that makes her so interesting as a dramatic character, in a setting without gimmicks or goofs and in a way that feels real, tangible and relatable.

The length of the former two paragraphs will obviously tell you which one is winning this showdown, right? In fact, the most recent episode of Adachi to Shimamura didn’t even have this alien who speaks in bizarre ways, but it looks like she’s set to return. The way she interrupted Adachi’s ‘date’ (which Shimamura did not see as such, naturally!) was amusing, particularly when Adachi got jealous of this little alien girl’s courage to sit near Shimamura, but it caused the two main girls to act in ways that were not regular or understandable because they were dealing with an out-of-this-world figure. When Adachi to Shimamura is an anime about Adachi and Shimamura, it soars as one of the best romantic dramas I’ve seen – it just keeps misguidedly choosing the weirdest catalysts to put between them, with unneeded fantasy sci-fi characters popping up from outta nowhere.

But, then again, the quirky collision of Taisou Zamurai began to feel a bit more polished in the latest episode too, whereby Joutarou’s daughter, Rei, was being bullied because of her dad’s fake-retirement. When Leo tries to support her, he ends up taking Joutarou’s place as Rei is embarrassed to ask him to come. Seeing Rei’s emotional turmoil and defence of her dad was really moving and touching and the quirkiness felt so far removed from that scene to impact it. More of this, please.

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