Gakuen Utopia Manabi Straight!
In the year 2035, child birth has decreased at an alarming rate, forcing many schools to close down. Mika Inamori, the then-current student council president, is having a hard time raising morale. That is, until the beginnig of the new school year, where she meets a strange new girl while walking to school, riding a bike. Her name is Manami Amamiya (though she's usually referred to as "Manabi"), and she quickly becomes the president of the student council of the new school year thanks to her boundless energy and enthusiasm. She'll need plenty of it too, as she faces many challenges ahead of her during her time as student council president.
Manabi Straight is one of those feel-good high school series that's sure to please those who are looking for an escape from the Azumanga Daioh clones and romantic drama of other high school romance series. At its heart it's simply about a group of girls running a student council club, and yet it's much more than that. It's about working together as a group of individuals, standing up for what you believe in, nostalgia, school support, and never giving up. And it does this with just the right dash of clever, cute, funny writing, very likable characters, and pleasant surprises and plot twists as the story goes on. It's a series with a definite beginning and end, but left open enough for continuation in the future (there are OAVs planned sometimes in the future, actually).
The first couple of episodes are pretty funny, especially with the way they introduce Manabi, in which she rides around in a hover board and later dives headfirst into the school's pool. She's your typical energetic, never-give-up type of female lead not unlike Sana from Kodocha, but manages not to overdo it or overshadow the rest of the cast at times like Sana did. In fact, Manabi is one of the reasons this series is so wonderful: she is very easy to connect with. When she succeeds, we cheer her on. When she struggles, we hope she gets back on her feet and accomplishes what she has to. Manabi Straight isn't all humor: there are quite a few scenes of drama and anxiety amongst our cast, and later episodes are more character-oriented and less on laughs. There' still plenty of laughs to be found, and Manabi herself remains a cheerful, funny character throughout most of the series' run. But if you're looking for a funny episode every time, then I suggest you turn to Azumanga Daioh, School Rumble, or His and Her Circumstances and let this series be. Manabi Straight is more about character interaction than actual comedy...
...which is actually a good thing, though, since Manabi Straight has a great assortment of characters. Whatever oodball Manabi, the tsundere-type character Mei (who, of course, opens up, like all these kinds of characters), the shy and hard-working Mika, the weird antics of Momoha, or Mei's tomboy friend Mutsuki, you're sure to find someone to relate to or like. It's also nice to see a series with "villainous" adult characters in a high school series who aren't over the top (unlike, say, Hayate the Combat Butler or Great Teacher Onizuka) or are too villainous for no reason. Who ever knew Aya Hisakawa was so convincing as a kind of villainous character?
Speaking of Aya Hisakawa, the voice cast in Manabi Straight is well done. Horie Yui does a good job at keeping up the energetic pace of Manabi, not unlike her role as Honda Tohru as Fruits Basket. Ai Nonaka fits the bill as another soft-spoken character with Mika. The biggest surprise, though, is Aya Hirano (Haruhi, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya), who proves she can be as good at playing tsundere-type roles as she does the eccentric Haruhi and girl otaku Konata from Lucky Star. The rest of the cast fits their characters as well, and Megumi Hayashibara does a good opening and ending theme for the series (both of which are laid back in tone of the actual series). Music composer Yasuhiro Misawa does a good job in his first anime score (I especially liked the next episode preview clapping music).
Art-wise, the backgrounds are alright, as is the animation (this is quite the talky anime). The character designs are a little weird, though, and may take getting used to. Manabi and her friends are 16, but look far younger (though to be truthful, most anime girls don't really look their age. It's still more believable that Karada's age in Asatte no Houkou, though). There's also weird angles and shots of the girls at times (such as a shot of their panties as the girls wave themselves with fans in the heat), but thankfully is seldom done throughout its run. One thing I kind of digged about the character designs is their hair. It's not realistic, but more like the hair colors of the cast were pureed and the result ended up being two colors, one fading into the next. The school uniforms Manabi and her friends wear are pretty cute and thankfully modern-looking, considering this series is supposed to take place in the future (as the technology in the school shows us).
Manabi Straight is a show I recommend everyone to at least see one or two episodes of. Yes, the show does drag at times and features many filler scenes of characters looking at the night sky or the sunset. Yes, the series would have made a little more sense if it ended just one episode earlier than it does. But I wouldn't change a thing about it. Manabi Straight is chuck full of charm and warmth, one I can easily recommend to all anime fans. It's not perfect, but after Asatte no Houkou, I haven't enjoyed an anime this much in a while.
It drags now and again, but it's mostly a great series. Don't let its moe character designs fool you: Manabi Straight is one great show. Subtract a star or two if you're tired of moe already. — Tim Jones
Recommended Audience: Like Strawberry Marshmallow, it sometimes feels as though someone is aiming the camera in the wrong places on purpose for the sake of moe (as one of shot of Mei in her bedroom shows us fairly early on). It's not on the same level of creepy as Strawberry Marshmallow, though it's still distracting and unnecessary.
Version(s) Viewed: Prerelease fansub.
Review Status: Full (13/13)
Gakuen Utopia Manabi Straight! © 2007 ufotable • EMedia Works / Saintly Cherry Tree School PTA
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