And Yet The Town Moves
This show follows the day-to-day life of Hotori and Toshiko as they work in a failing, lackluster, maid café in their local town.
Maid café I'm pretty sure half of you just flinched at the sound of that word and the other half... try not to drool, guys. To be honest, I don't know how I feel about maid cafés; I would like to go to one just to find out. I'm not sure whether I would find their obeisance charming or plain creepy but luckily, I don't have to worry about that. If there were only one maid café in the whole of existence, fictional or real, that I could go visit then it would be, without a doubt, this one. I just hope they serve hot chocolate.
I did not know what I was getting into when I started this. Quite a few acquaintances saw those very words, maid café, and were ready to give this show a wide berth but I wiped the blank expression from my face, pointed and said: "but... it's SHAFT!" It's not a compelling argument (anyone who has seen MariaHolic know SHAFT are hardly infallible) but it is enough for a foaming SHAFT fanboy like me so off I went.
Just to let you know, those of you who were drooling earlier are going to be disappointed. There is nothing moé or sexy about Hotori, Toshiko or, especially, Uki (the old lady who owns the café). In fact, as a maid café they are a complete disaster. Apart from wearing maid uniforms (which aren't that appealing either), they are essentially a normal small town café with the smallest handful of regulars - mostly shop owners from the local market. Those looking for their moé fix are going to be seriously disappointed (even Hotori's clumsiness does not cut it) but those looking for laughs, however...
Let me be clear, And Yet The Town Moves is funny. Actually, scratch that. And Yet The Town Moves is hilarious. Actually, scratch that too. In any case, the backbone of that comes down to the characters (I'll get to the full ribcage later) so that is where I will start. Hotori and Toshiko are great together: the funny/straight man routine prevalent in all two-man comedy (mainly because it works if done well) and they seriously get the repartee moving at a quick-fire pace - the disagreeable perfectionism of Toshiko sparking against Hotori's blithe disregard for norms (such as hard work and maturity) kindling laughter whenever they are together. Hotori is, in particular, a character I can get behind. Sure, she is lazy, self-centred, immature and irresponsible but she is also very clever and driven when she wants to be. She is one of the best examples of a genuinely creative person, she just wants things to be interesting and novel but the world around her (and her own laziness) keeps holding her down. The episode where Hotori's teacher brings her the mystery of the six portraits is a great example of this - a character that is often cringe worthy in her apathy towards the mundane comes to life in the face of something genuinely bizarre and, for a moment, is actually pretty damn cool. It is odd to see such thought and empathetic potential put into a comedy character but I am really thankful for it. It adds an extra dimension to the show that only makes it funnier.
That, however, is hardly what the show relies on to be funny; the side characters work equally well. Hotori's mathematics teacher is delightfully neurotic and is never overplayed; Uki's dry wit is deliciously cutting and even the utterly normal Futaba (apart from being a tomboy) fits in perfectly with the madness around her (even contributing some of the funniest scenes in the whole show). Thinking about it, Futuba is probably the clearest example of what this show does so well. Despite the often-implausible events that occur in the series, the characters never feel implausible - the things they do and the way they act, despite playing for the sake of comedy, never feel completely unnatural. This warm familiarity of the cast coupled with naturalness their interactions meant that a smile was never far from my face even when the show wasn't splitting my sides.
What sets And Yet The Town Moves apart from its peers, though, is its sense of adventure. As you are probably aware, most comedy series find a modus operandi, a style or timing by which it delivers its humour, and then sticks with it. Characters have a role in the comedy dynamic and that is their raison d'etre essentially. Lucky Star is a clear example of this; Sayonara Zetsubou-sensei is this to the point of parody. Where And Yet The Town Moves is different is that it constantly explores new ways of delivering a joke. It uses the aforementioned banter between its main characters for short sharp gags, it plays with situational comedy, surreal comedy, sight gags, puns, it changes its tone happily just to keep us on our toes and then there is the one episode that only has one joke in its whole runtime but, my goodness, is it a good one! That is bravado! That is the kind of imagination that would delight Hotori and it delights me too. If only all comedy was written with such technical courage.
With great steps, however, comes the occasional stumble. And Yet The Town Moves's experiments do not always work. Jokes fall flat on occasion (Japanese puns are never going to illicit a strong response from western audiences until we all learn Japanese) and sometimes the length of time it takes to deliver the gag means a good five minutes can be wasted without so much as a giggle. On occasion, I felt myself wishing that the series would stop being a comic master class for a moment and remember to be funny. That said, even less adventurous comedy shows fall flat so I am happy And Yet The Town Moves stumbles trying to move forward rather than fall over standing still.
In the end, once you have thrown in a strong soundtrack with delightful opening and closing songs and excellent artwork (what did you expect, this is SHAFT after all), we have what is at its core an intelligent, adventurous and delightfully charming little series that deserves, at least, a look for those comic uppercuts that will floor you. While it is not in the thematic league of 'serious' comedy shows like The Tatami Galaxy or Paranoia Agent, And Yet The Town Moves is one of the few shows to both impress me and make me laugh at the same time.
I would REALLY love to give this show five stars, but the unevenness of its comedy, even though it is due to ambition, means I can't do it in good conscience. It is a fine series in any case. Add one star if you can get behind the characters as much as I did or are as impressed by ambition as much as I am. — Aiden Foote
Recommended Audience: Good clean fun for the most part but it definitely aims at the teens and above demographic; in tone and in general content.
Version(s) Viewed: Digital source
Review Status: Full (12/12)
And Yet The Town Moves © 2010 Masakazu Ishiguro / SHONENGAHOSHA
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