Rentarou Futaba, a college dropout and former punk, now runs his late father's struggling detective agency together with two twin assistants, Sara and Souju. While trying to find jobs that aren't either idiotic or trivial and grappling with his growing affection towards the pair, various "adventures" involving a run-in with the local yakuza, some misunderstandings with a rather foul-tempered policeman, and encounters with yet more odd pairs of twin ensue, all set to a backdrop of super-deformed insanity and tied together by what is, according to Rentarou, "ultimately a story about love"
A sequence of choppy synthesizer chords begins, and the camera slowly zooms in through a flurry of clouds, as if shot from a helicopter. The clouds clear, and then the viewer is suddenly looking upon a circle of young, smiling, and rather attractive young girls dressed as angels, a scene that could be right out of any old harem anime and set aside only by the fact that the circle is entirely made of pairs of identical twins. It looks like rain, and it also looks like typical, geek-gets-girl harem banality is about to be in session.
But then the clouds burst, and an onslaught of utterly, utterly absurd action sequences accompanied by a fast-paced Japanese rock song unfold before our eyes.
The world, indeed, has changed.
While the girls-with-guns-style opening animation of ufotable's Futakoi Alternative is a wee bit misleading, seeing as the show isn't really an action anime, it does drive one key fact home: this show is as different from the original Futakoi as you could ever hope to get. While I'm not too familiar with Alternative's parent series, it's supposedly a bland run-of-the-mill harem show set apart only by the exact same thing I first noticed when I started this show. And in the process of remaking such banality, we went from this...
It isn't an exact parallel, seeing as the latter has a different male lead, and indeed, far from being generic harem fodder, Futakoi Alternative proves to be a younger, mellower sibling of FLCL, skipping over various genre parodies and indulging in a flurry of absurdity to only occasionally reference its parent series. Surprisingly, it turns out to be a rather fun ride, with a good sense of what to take seriously and what to lampoon, endowing itself with three lovely main characters and making for a by-turns hilarious and by turns touching series that entirely exceeded my initial expectations.
The main characters, indeed, carry the show very nicely, and my opinion would likely have suffered quite a bit had they not been present. Futakoi Alternative largely relegates most of the original show's twins to cameos, and the series is all about Sara, Soujyu, and Rentarou, the series's new male lead. I quite liked Rentarou, finding that the combination of his flustered, burnt-out, and kind sides made the show quite fun to watch, and while he's hardly an idiot by any means, several instances in which his penchant to overlook the obvious is highlighted prove to be among the show's funniest. He, the decisive and abrasive Sara, and the polite Souju are played off of each other nicely, and while this show won't ever win any awards for characterization, I thought it did a nice job of detailing them to the point where describing Sara as a token "tsundere" (as she is in the original) would feel unfair.
The show also has a colorful cast of supporting characters living in the same town as the leads, with the short, ever-grinning, and foul-tempered policeman Dirty Harry taking the cake for the show's funniest character. Indeed, the sheer ridiculousness of some of the people in this show would be unbearable if it at all wanted to take itself seriously, but thankfully, it indulges in the humorous rather than attempting to overdose on dramatic weight. Of the twin's cameos, meanwhile, some, including a pair of teenage girls who dress up as "Gothiloli Mask" in a parody of the magical girl genre, lead to the show's most gut-wrenching moments, whereas others are rather pointless, but none of it is so out of place that it upends the show, and the ludicrousness of their situations (including that of a pair of 4-year old girls who appear to work as special agents in a paramilitary organization) just makes the show even funnier.
And indeed, if Futakoi Alternative is nothing else, it is funny. Rentarou, Sara, and Soujyu make a nice trio of leads, and yet they would not be nearly as fun to watch as they were if the show didn't maintain the adept balance of the slapstick and the verbal that it does. The first episode, which features some You're Under Arrest-style car chasing and Rentarou finding, in typical shonen-manner, that he can "pull a good punch when needed", is a hilarious blast, and while the show never quite returns to that level, it is always at least amusing, if not better. Indeed, the show's plot, upon examination, is one that would entirely fall to pieces if it attempted at all to be a serious show. The actual "jobs" Rentarou's agency takes all involve missing puppies and various other idiocies, and yet it is his moments with the twins, the humorous encounters along the way, and the show's stream of energy that make these idiocies into adventures. The ending arc, involving a bizarre, "ikikakakakaka!"-uttering mutant squid, may just be the dumbest thing I've ever laid eyes on, and plotwise it's a straight two-part mix of a cheesy 50's B-movie and a Lupin III escapade, and yet it works because the show knows how to draw humor from its own absurdity. Even when I wanted to roll my eyes and slap my face it for being so bizarre, I was having a fun ride, and that, in my opinion, absolves it of any reservations I might otherwise have had.
Futakoi Alternative, however, does do one thing amazingly well, and that is knowing when to take a break from absurdity to tell a serious love story. Near the end of the series, Rentarou, after musing upon the craziness of it all, utters "it's probably a story about love", and it indeed delivers a beautiful, if unconventional, romance as it progresses. That romance, to be frank, is polyamorous, and I do have to warn that those who have trouble with that may want to pass on this series. I myself had reservations about it at the start, since I worried that the show would, at some point, devolve into fetishist fan-service and entirely destroy its hilarious vision, but that thankfully proved to be the complete opposite of the case. The show treats the trio exactly as if they were a couple, including many tender scenes admist the craziness, musing on the seemingly dull but still wonderful memories that lead to romantic nostalgia, and presenting what is, surprisingly, a rather healthy relationship. In a rare moment in which Sara ends up living elsewhere for some time, we see tangibly that Souju and Rentarou no longer feel the same without her, and in a beautiful scene, Rentarou embraces Sara after she sobbingly laments that she is useless to him and Souju's presence makes her's unnecessary. Nobody is taken advantage of, the show carefully and thoughtfully considers the implications of making love in such a way, it's clear that everybody involved is consenting and has strong affection for one another, and it is, in the end, surprisingly lovely to watch. Indeed, the show proves itself to be rather good at using techniques of foreshadowing and non-chronological storytelling to move this along, and the contrast between what is one of the better love stories I've seen and the absurdist humor almost serves to make it into two separate series. It may in fact be that the two facets are what make it so wonderful to watch, for while a sentimental story may seem dry without humor and pure humor may leave one empty, careful alternation of the two is often the most satisfying approach to take.
Artistically, the show isn't anything special, although the main characters are all drawn well and rendered attractively and the large amount of super-deformed distortion serves to amplify the humor well. The supporting cast, for the most part, have rather cartoonish designs courtesy of their origin in ufotable's hands rather than those of the original show's creators, but I found it all to be quite amusing, and the studio's lovely Claymation sequence in the closing credits was always an excellent way to end an episode. The rest of the animation, however, is rather shoddy, and while this isn't usually a problem, it does make the unusually action-heavy tenth episode (as well as the opening sequence) look god-awful. The music is solid, and while the aforementioned opening rock song is a bit forgettable, eufonius' ending song is a lovely, folky guitar piece of the likes of Nick Drake that I have often since found myself humming. The writing, on the other hand, gravitates between being fairly good and being embarrassingly redundant and melodramatic, and while this may be the fault of the fansubber rather than that of the creators itself, a show any more serious than this one would have lost a significant amount of good will because of that. Surprisingly for a harem show, Futakoi Alternative is, aside from some token moments and one utterly tasteless joke in the first episode, also almost entirely devoid of fan service, and even the one hot-springs episode proves to be refreshingly devoid of ecchi content. There is, however, a small but noticeable amount of sexual nudity, and while I found it to be tasteful and purposeful to the overall story, it may offend those bothered by the implications of premarital lovemaking.
My opinion of Futakoi Alternative may, objectively, be too generous, but the fact remains that I had a blast with it and that I never expected a show written as a "what if" story for a tepid harem anime to be this good. I don't know whose idea it was to produce it, but I'm grateful to them for giving me what is my very best "guilty pleasure" and a romance that I quite enjoyed. I plan to check out the original someday just to see where this beast's characters came from, but at the present, I'm more than satisfied with this absurd mess that turned out to be quite a bit less of a mess than it it made itself out to be.
It's not a strong four stars, but I enjoyed it so much that I just can't give it anything less. If you fail to find this amusing or have no interest in polyamorous romance, feel free to remove as many stars as needed. Cheated, angry fans of the original may also feel free to dismiss this, if necessary. — Nick Browne
Recommended Audience: Teenagers and up. The show's take on polyamorous love, as serious and careful as it is, will make it inappropriate for children, as will the small amount of sexual nudity and a few bits of fan service. And while the show, meanwhile, is devoid of bloodshed, the action-heavy episodes contain a fair amount of gun violence.
Version(s) Viewed: Digital Source
Review Status: Full (13/13)
Futakoi Alternative © 2005 ufotable
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