Two girls start their new lives in Shizuoka, attending high school and eventually getting caught up with the activities of the diving club. Hikari Kohinata is an energetic and somewhat scatterbrained girl who moves to Shizuoka to be near Amanchu, her grandmother's scuba dive shop. Futaba Ooki is a tall, beautiful girl who somehow suffers from social anxiety and a pretty severe lack of confidence, but she's caught up in Hikari's pace anyway and learns to spread her wings from there.
Right out of the gate, Amanchu! faces an almost impossible hurdle; being a spiritual follow up to Aria, the manga Kozue Amano created before she started on this. Some of our long-time readers, especially those who appreciate a good slice-of-life/iyashikei manga are thus already well aware how highly regarded Aria is among most of the THEMers. The show is about as close to perfect as a show like this can be for me personally, and those are no small shoes to fill, even for its own creator. Especially for its own creator. How do you follow up something like Aria?
The answer to that is: you don't really have to. From what I've picked up, the reason for Amanchu! to feature diving at its main motif is because that's what its creator has chosen for a hobby, so that's what Amanchu! really is: a love letter to what Kozue Amano is (or has been) enjoying. Comparisons are, of course, unavoidable, but I'm going to judge this show separate from Aria, even though miss Amano has clearly taken what she learned by making Aria and applied that in Amanchu.
One of the main reasons why you should watch Amanchu! is because Kozue Amano has a special talent in making supposedly trivial or mundane activities and observations seem almost magical, and series director Junichi Sato is at his best when he can convey that while giving it an animated flair. Sato is not, as I mentioned in at least one of my reviews for his Tamayura shows, nearly as good at writing dialogue that matches the feelings he's trying to convey as Amano is. Which is not to say he's terrible at it, since Tamayura was a delightful little gem in its own right, but Amanchu clearly shows that Amano has hardly lost her touch since she made Aria. As I learned from the Aria manga, Amano is quite fond of Sato as an anime director, so it's both heartwarming and a bit of a relief to see that he was chosen to direct this anime outing too.
Hikari Kohinata -- or, as she prefers others to refer to her as; Pikari -- is a complete and utter airhead. Despite her attraction to the watery element, she seems so detached from this planet that has it in abundance that she comes across more like an icon or an ideal rather than a character in its own right. This was one of the problems I had with Hajime from Gatchaman Crowds, but thankfully, Pikari, while almost supernaturally friendly, isn't as much a beacon for the author's opinions of everyone as Hajime was. She's a bit pushy and sort of existing on an alternate plane, mentally, which the show presents as neither a good or a bad thing. She's not a tool for the author to shove ideals down people's throats, which is certainly appreciated. She's allowed to screw up and make mistakes, and Amanchu doesn't look down on you if you find her a bit irritating. But she still feels more like a tool for the show rather than a character in her own right... most of the time anyway.
In many ways, the real star of the show is Futaba. In the manga, she was almost painfully shy and withdrawn, which stunted a lot of opportunities to make friends during her childhood. The few she has are mostly ones who approached her, so when she had to move away to attend high school, it naturally took its toll on her. Futaba is a startingly beautiful girl, even by Kozue Amano standards, so people might find it a bit odd that nobody ever approached her. But then. her general behavior is very passive, to say the least, which would make her hard to deal with for non-pushy people. Despite that, her personality is going to ring true to the viewers on the introverted side of the scale. The show -- or this season, at least -- is mostly about her personal journey out of her own shell. It's nice because she doesn't as much change as open up. The changes are of a more subtle nature; she doesn't just automatically become Pikari. She just finds a place where she can become herself at her own pace. Well... mostly her own pace.
I mentioned Futaba's friends before she met Pikari, and while she definitely had them in the manga too, the anime versions are voiced by Hazuki Erino and Chiwa Saito. The two of them are, possibly purposefully, channeling their voices as Akari and Aika from Aria; so much so that it's almost disoncertingly nice to hear it again, even in characters that aren't them.
One nice thing about Amanchu is that it also treats its adults with respect, and there are quite a few in this show. The teachers in particular -- and doubly so Pikari and Futaba's homeroom teacher, Katori-sensei -- are all dependable and fun. Sure, the male characters are allowed to be more goofy-looking than the women, and tend to mostly fill support roles, but that's not really a problem in this case. Katori made quite the entrance too, with her welcome speech about the importance of having fun, and she is also the diving club's advisor and the one who oversees Futaba's diving exams. She looks a bit like Futaba would in her twenties, except her expression is full of mature confidence. She also owns a car she has named "Pokoteng", which is probably another, more direct reference to Aria.
Our two remaining main members of the Amanchu cast is Ai and Makoto Ninomiya. Makoto is the most prominent male member of the cast, partially because he's the put-upon target of his sister and her ire, and therein lies my biggest beef with this show. I feel I should stress this, because her antics has soured the show for more people than just me, and she's going to be something you'll have to deal with if you want to watch Amanchu! If I were to sum up the show's approach to this relationship, well... maybe this picture will say more than a thousand of my words.
I beg to differ, Amanchu! A sister needs a very good reason to kick her brother. Or anyone else, for that matter.
To say that I find this attitude disheartening in what is otherwise a lovely show would be very true. I was never a huge fan of the Izumi brothers in Aria, but Ai Ninomiya is just so much worse. You could make the excuse that it's just slapstick violence, and if that makes all of this easy to digest, well... good for you. I find her antics akin that of a bully and an asshole; she would be intolerable in a harem or a regular comedy, which is her kind's natural stomping grounds, so to speak. To see this kind of humor being applied in Amanchu feels as much like a betrayal as it is off-putting, especially since the manga, and the anime by extent, seems to expect us to find this endearing somehow. I could accept her chasing Pikari and Futaba around the school in a wild rage, because she never actually got around to hurting them there. But she's kicking her brother for the slightest of reasons, or, as the picture above points out, no goddamned reason at all. When she's not kicking her brother, she's making him pay for food she's offering the girls. The show even made a gag of her having to deal with not having her brother around to kick whenever she's frustrated. It would most likely not look as kindly on her if she really did attack the other girls for little to no reason. It's also frustrating, because she can also be really kind when she feels like it, as you'll see during a short half-episode story arc around a love letter, not to mention when she's off with just the girls without her brother around. I don't really mind her being strict -- that sort of thing worked really well for Akira from Aria, who didn't make the best of first impressions either. It's the physical abuse that eats at me. Her brother is basically one of the most patient guys on the face of this planet, because it's a wonder he wants to have anything to do with his sister at all.
In another mildly amusing nod towards Aria, Amanchu also count cats among its main cast. Granted, this isn't solely Aria's doing, as Amano herself is very fond of cats, modeling the three company presidents of Aria after cats she has actually taken care of in real life. Amanchu's Aria -- and yes, his name is Aria here too -- has definitely taken a few design cues from his namesake, and for a good chunk of this season, he's the sole active feline lead. He isn't quite as... chunky... as President Aria, and my inner twelve year old keeps reminding me that it looks like he has a butt for a face (which I try to ignore to the best of my ability.) He's definitely acting more like a cat than his forebears, and as the show rolls along, he gains the company of an almost newborn kitten which is given the name... waaaait for it... Hime. I wasn't sure what to make of Hime's introduction episode, because it's basically the well-worn shoe of cheap emotional manipulation; the "let's find this kitten a new home" episode. Amanchu actually aces this one, though, because while you could argue that Hime is adorable, she isn't manipulatively so. She really IS a newborn kitten and can't really do much other than cry, eat and poop, and while most "find kittens new home" episodes tend to drop the "you shouldn't pick up kittens unless you're prepared to take responsibility, it definitely comes off much less as general mouth service here.
The art in Amanchu is lovely. Unlike the Aria anime series, the characters in this show are made to resemble their manga counterparts far more than Aria's nods, which can be a good or bad thing depending on how you feel about that. While Aria's two first seasons suffered the most in the animation department, particularly the second one, Amanchu suffers no such flaw. Which is not to say that it has amazing animation, but it's definitely a step up from Aria there. As far as the characters themselves go, it's clear that Amano has picked up an interest in fashion at some point, because the characters are seen wearing a long lineup of clothes, and each girl have their own style. The one oddity is the rather unusual school uniform for the girls, with these long, flowing skirts that nevertheless look weirdly restrictive in knee height, as if it would be ideal for Marimite's Lillian Academy girls -- you know, the whole "we always walk slowly" part in their student credo. But in their free time, the girls can be seen wearing a wide range of nice outfits that reflect them in some way. From Pikari's lively and colorful outfits to Futaba's variety of long, frilly dresses that fit her willowy frame like a well-worn glove. Katori-sensei seems to put more variation in her wear, and tends to be the one who dresses more often in stuff that looks comfortable in lieu of outer glamours. Not that I'm that interested in fashion in general, but it does give the show a visual flair that isn't going to make it feel restricted and repetitive any time soon.
The acting is also kept at a pretty high standard. I mentioned earlier that both Chiwa Saito and Hazuki Erino has returned for Amanchu, but I'm kind of glad they didn't get main roles, seeing as they already had Aria in the palm of their own hands, and it wouldn't do to let the main characters in Amanchu basically be new versions of characters from Aria. And so, we have new people playing as Pikari and Futaba, as well as all the other regulars. Letting them have smaller roles in Amanchu, though, still allows the show to retain that familiar feeling while reminding us just who the creator of this show really is. I can't say whether that was what they had in mind when they chose Gontiti for the show's soundtrack. I've heard their work earlier in the first Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou anime, so it's weirdly appropriate that they were chosen to do the music for Amanchu as well, given that Choro Club, who made the music for Aria, did the sequel OAV for YKK; Quiet Country Cafe. Like Choro Club, Gontiti seemingly plays mostly instrumental guitar melodies with a lightly jazzy and folksy feel, but where Choro Club is purely acoustic, Gontiti also mixes in some mild, chilled-out electronica from time to time. It's a lovely soundtrack that I need to look into obtaining for myself.
Amanchu has gotten some flak for not having all that much diving in it, and that's something you'll also have to deal with if you plan on... I so want to say "diving into this", but that would be too punny, right? Personally, I wasn't too bothered with that, because while they only really go diving in two of the episodes, and relatively short sessions mostly at that, conversations about the subject still litters the show all around, conversations that is basically Kozue Amano sharing what she's learned from undertaking it all on her own. While I doubt you'll be a full-fledged diver by watching this, it might give you a bit of a head start. It's theoretical enough to be informative, but not so much that it becomes a boring lecture.
I'm not going to say that Amanchu is as good as Aria, because it's not. It would be rather impressive if it was, because Aria really was one of those "once in a lifetime" shows, and we might never really see anything like it again. Well, Amanchu might not be Aria, but it's still a pretty fine show that any fan of Aria should not miss. I can also hope that -- again, like Aria -- the show get a chance to shine beyond its original 12 episode season, but I guess only time will tell there.
Kozue Amano and Junichi Sato once again brings the goods to the screen. Watch and enjoy. And try not to mind Ai too much. — Stig Høgset
Recommended Audience: Aside from some mild fanservice -- these are some pretty girls, after all -- there isn't really anything objectionable. It's a super safe family show.
Version(s) Viewed: Digital stream on Crunchyroll, Japanese with English subs.
Review Status: Full (12/12)
Amanchu! © 2016 Kozue Amano / Mag Garden / Yumegaoka High School Diving Club
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