Binbou Shimai Monogatari
Yamada Kyo and Yamada Asou (15 and 9, respectively) are two girls who live in an apartment together after the passing of their mother (the location of their father, who has accumulated a large gambling debt, is currently unknown). The two sisters are self-reliant and work together to make ends meet: Kyo does a newspaper run every day and night, and Asou cleans up the house and prepares the meals. The poor, but happy, sisters' lives, and that of their neighbors (including their grumpy, well-meaning landlord, a rich girl around Asou's age and her older sister, a musician), are reflected in this series' 10 episode run.
So here I am again talking about Binbou Shimai Monogatari, at the request of a recent member of the THEM Anime board who said I was too harsh in my original review. I do admit I was rather negative towards a show I actually enjoyed, but that doesn't mean I've suddenly made a complete 180 in my opinion of the series, and I still hold fast to many of the reasons I gave the show three stars in the first place.
I guess the biggest gripe I have withBinbou Shimai Monogatari is that the series, as well as its main leads, are unrealistic. With the exception of one argument early on in the series' run, the two sisters are so clingy and saccharine sweet to each other that it makes the few truly serious, tender moments of the series feel unnecessarily dramatic for no reason other than to make the viewer go "Aw". It's like every time the writers thought the show got too happy, they would throw in a curve ball, such as reminding the girls that their deadbeat dad ran away, or how they miss their dead mother. This wouldn't be annoying if these events were brought up more often, but instead of adding to the characters' personalities, it feels like things they tacked on to pass away the series' 10 episode time slot. Hell, we don't even really see the sisters' mother (even through flashbacks) at all until the final episode.
On the plus side, there is the occasional break in Kyo/Asou sibling relationship episodes. One of these episodes has Asou getting help with singing lessons from a musician, and another has the sisters' landlord getting sick, and their taking take care of him. I actually find these episodes to be the to best ones in the series, and they give us a look at the people Kyo and Asou live with on a daily basis. I also liked how we finally learned about the girls' mother in the final episode, though by that point it's a case of too little, too late on the anime's part. The manga was not finished at the time the anime was produced, and it's highly unlikely Toei is animating any more Binbou Shimai Monogatari, so thy left the series open-ended. That's fine, seeing how this is a slice-of-life series and all, but I doubt everyone would be satisfied all viewers of this series will be satisfied with the outcome.
I also found it strange that a 15 year-old girl and her little sister can pay full rent and board at an expensive apartment (that they stay in because "they like the view") through a newspaper route I recall one later episode of the series where the sisters' neighbors offered to let them live at their place for free when construction was being done around their home. Do these girls accept the free accommodations and food? No. They decide to stay at their noisy home because of the "nice scenery". One member on the THEM Anime boards commented that "you don't pass up free board", and I agreed completely with her (then again, I suppose that Kyo and Asou would also turn away money giving to them by their neighbors). I know the series' message is that family is more important than money, but you still need money to live and eat! Loving your sibling doesn't really amount to much when you have no place to live and no food to eat.
Now I will focus on the best aspect of Binbou Shimai Monogatari: the sisters themselves. Kyo nicely fulfills the role of the "motherly", hard-working older sister, and Asou manages to be cute (albeit clingy) without being out-and-out bratty or selfish. They are very likable characters in their own right, and their bond as siblings easily kicks the tar out of almost any other sibling relationships in anime I've seen in recent memory (or pretty much ever). Considering the crap these two go through on a daily basis, they still manage to smile and find a bright side to everything. It's actually pretty surprising that the two sisters aren't completely bonkers or upset with the knowledge that they're living out on their own with no parents, but I guess it just make them that much stronger (or something).
Another fairly important cast member in the series is Ginko, a girl around Asou's age. Unlike Kyo, her older sister isn't very supportive of her, and she seldom sees her save when she gets ready for bed at night. Her struggle to make her sister pay attention to her the way Asou does to Kyo could've made for a cute, touchy story, but instead they have it result in Ginko's older sister suddenly becoming much nicer for no specified reason. The other characters in the series (a musician, grumpy landlord, an old neighbor of the girls) are less so main characters as they are archetypes to make the cast bigger. Most serve their purpose in a single episode and only continue to make appearances as cameos later on.
Now let's talk about the art. I remember first seeing the preview poster and getting very excited about the series' art style. To my surprise, the art is actually pretty close to that of the preview poster (though without the lavish, watercolor-esuqe walls). Kyo and Asou are about as plain as you can get in terms of anime girls: black hair and typical "anime proportions". Their designs aren't exactly pretty or cute, but an odd medium. They also have red cheeks on their faces, which look cute but get annoying to look at after a while (and it also makes the character designs look a little dated). I do like the art in the eye catches, which are done in black and white and feature chibi versions of Kyo and Asou talking about various things (shopping, edible plants, etc.). They're very cute. The animation itself isn't that great, but it never gets as bad as some other Toei shows usually get.
The music is pretty forgettable as a whole (aside from the pretty piano cues that play in the eye catches). This also applies to the opening and ending songs: the former a slow J-rock tune of sorts, and the latter your typical peppy J-POP ending theme. The voice acting's pretty good, though, with Maaya Sakamoto as Kyo the strongest of the cast (especially after she was stuck in crap like .hack//SIGN), and Tomoko Kaneda recycling her Chiyo-chan voice from Azumanga Daioh as Asou (though she's given a lot less to work with here than in that series). The rest of the cast, performed mostly by veteran seiyuu, get the job done as well (Hisakawa Aya as the sisters' mother, Mugihito as the landlord, and Kozakura Etsuko as Ginko).
Binbou Shimai Monogatari is a good show to teach younger audiences that the world isn't always a happy place, and that for every cloud there is a silver lining. Unfortunately, the series is too short (and too limited) to really do much with that message, as well as its additional message of the importance of family togetherness, and some scenes end up being more than a little cheesy and even overly dramatic at times. Still, it's a nice, relaxing show, and one of the few slice-of-life shows that really is genuinely slice-of-life.
Too cheesy and melodramatic at times for its own good, but still worth watching. Add a star if you have siblings or find yourself relating to the characters. — Tim Jones
Recommended Audience: Some parts of the show can get quite dramatic and sad. Nothing else worth signaling out.
Version(s) Viewed: Prerelease fansub.
Review Status: Full (10/10)
Binbou Shimai Monogatari © 2006 Kazuto Izumi / Shogakukan / Binbou Shimai Monogatari Project
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