There a couple of things I have come to expect from a show made by Kyoto Animation. The first is that the animation quality will be very high. The second is that there will be a certain amount of quirkiness and risk-taking in the writing and direction. The show will not be ostentatiously unconventional but it definitely will not be an unimaginative retread of a tired formula.
That doesn’t mean that I always like the result. (Making “Endless Eight” was certainly taking a risk and they put a lot of effort into it, but I don’t know anyone who actually liked it.)
However Amagi Brilliant Park has so far been the high point of a rather slow season. It’s unpredictable, it’s funny and it looks great.
This is our hero, Seiya Kanie. He is a high school student who is extremely smart and capable, not to mention unusually good-looking (as he would be the first to admit.) Unfortunately he has no friends because he is self-absorbed and anti-social. No one at his school knows that he was once a famous child actor under a different name. He does his best to keep this a secret.
(“Seiya” is written with the character for “West.” There’s a hidden joke that most of the names of the humanoid characters are references to hip hop music. In this case “Kanie Sieya” = “Kanye West.”)
Seiya is approached by a beautiful transfer student named Isuzu Sento who speaks in a flat, emotionless monotone. She threatens him with a lovely antique musket and demands that he go on a date with her to a nearby amusement park called “Amaburi” (“Amagi Brilliant Park.”)
(This seems a bit of a stretch, but “Isuzu” could be written as “Five Globular Bells,” so visualize it as “50” in Arabic numerals.)
When they get there the place looks run down and almost deserted.
Isuzu doesn’t help by describing each attraction in a way that sounds like she is reading a brochure in a monotone. “This is Tiramie’s Flower Adventure. Tiramie being the fairy of flowers. You embark on a heart-cleansing train journey to a world of love and joy.”
On closer inspection the attractions are not just run down, but also kind of disturbing.
Seiya gets into a argument with Moffle, a bad-tempered mouse-like mascot character who is supposed to be the fairy of candy.
This leads to fisticuffs.
Isuzu has to break it up with her muskets. (Where does she carry those things anyway?)
Finally Seiya is invited to meet the owner of the park, Princess Latifah Fullanza. She explains that all the people who look like costumed characters are actually fairies from the magical land of Maple. They built the park because fairies require the adulation of humans to maintain their existence.
(This is too easy. She’s a fairy princess so presumably she will one day be a queen. Note however that the Japanese voice actors give her name a Japanese pronunciation, without accenting the second syllable.)
Unfortunately the park has fallen on hard times. In fact it stands to lose its lease on the land if it fails to attract 250,000 visitors in the next 3 months. Isuzu has been trying to act as manager but hasn’t been very successful, probably because her idea of “management” is to point guns at people.
Latifah wants Seiya to take over as manager. Apparently there’s a prophesy that only he can save the park.
Seiya doesn’t believe any of this so Latifah says that she will prove it by giving him a magical power. She kisses him and he faints, but not before having a flashback that suggests that met Latifah when he was a child.
Seiya wakes up back in the apartment that he shares with his aunt and guardian Aisu Kyuubu (“Ice Cube.”) He is astonished to find that he can hear her thoughts. Yes, Latifah has given him the power to read minds, but he can only use it once on any person so it isn’t all that useful.
With or without magic, he still is not interested in managing the park. He changes his mind after meeting Takaya Kurisu (“Kurisu Takaya” = “Chris Tucker”), the developer who intends to acquire the land and convert it to something more profitable.
Takaya is a rather unpleasant character with a habit of fiddling with his glasses. This strikes me as an inadequate character trait. He would do better to grow a mustache.
Seiya decides to help out and announces his intention by making an arrogant and insulting speech to the staff.
At this point they are so demoralized that they will accept any sort of leadership.
Seiya has his work cut out for him. Not only is the park run down, but the workers are incompetent. They may be fairies but their powers are quite limited and they have no talent for dealing with human children, who appear to them to be horrible little monsters.
The workers have fallen into the habit of going through the motions, dreaming the hour when they can clock out and relax at an after-work drinking party.
Fortunately for them, Seiya is indeed super-competent but he is far from infallible. Sometimes he needs to rely on Isuzu’s help. (As a military fairy her talents are far more useful in a real emergency than in everyday life.)
I’m puzzled by the number of people who have compared this to Tamako Market. Aside from some character designs there is very little similarity. Tamako was a slice-of-life show about ordinary people doing ordinary things and enjoying their ordinary lives. There were some magical elements but these mainly provided contrast, to show that the ordinary people wouldn’t trade their ordinary lives, even if they had the chance of a magical life.
If we want to make comparisons with earlier Kyoto Animation shows, I would suggest two:
- The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, in which a cynical, rather unlikeable male hero has to deal with a cute but scary girl with magical powers.
- Hyouka, a story with no supernatural elements, in which a super-competent but rather unlikeable hero is persuaded to help out a cute “princess” character.
So this is either like one of the biggest hits in the history of anime, or like a show that won some critical acclaim but little commercial success.
One weakness of both of these shows was that the unlikeable male hero never showed much character growth. I’m actually hoping for a better outcome here since there’s been more focus on Seiya’s background and why he acts they way he does.