It is widely known that I’m a big Aria fan, with it being my favorite anime franchise so far. And since Sato Junichi is the director behind Aria and is one of the most well-known, if not the most well-known director in iyashkei anime, which includes Aria, I’m also a fan of Sato Junichi, and hence have watched Tamayura and One Off, both directed by him. Both shows is quite similar to Aria, in that the overall mood of the anime is very calming (iyashikei) [however I did not watch Phi Brain nor some of his earlier works]. I have already talked about how much I liked Tamayura in last year’s 12 Days of Anime, so let’s talk about One Off this time.
One Off’s Premise
One off is a recently released OVA, consists of 4 15-min episodes and follows the female main character Haruno Shiozaki, the daughter of a hillside cafe in a rural town (so rural that some students opt for driving a motorcycle to get to school once they hit 16 and get their driver’s licence), which she sometimes helps out with. Haruno is a pessimistic character that longs to leave the rural countryside but does not have any dreams of her future, that is, until she met Cynthia. Cynthia is a Australian and was travelling around the world before coming to Haruno’s cafe to work. Through interaction with Cynthia and others, Haruno was able to remember her more courageous past, and learn to depend on other more. In the end Haruno was able to collaborate with her friends to make and sing a song, an act that her pessimistic past would have given up on before starting, as a gift to Cynthia both as a token of gratitude and a farewell gift as Cynthia leaves the rural town to go back to Australia.
While the plot is quite simple, like Tamayura, Sato Junichi was once again able to do his magic and turn parts of the show quite emotional even in the simplest of events, ie the end of episode 2 and 4. On top of that, the show details on ideas that both Aria and Tamayura have touched on already, ie the departure of friends (Aria has a similar idea where the 3 main character was not able see each other everyday after each of them became a undine, and we had Fu-chan saying good bye to her childhood friend Chihiro at beginning of the Tamayura TV series) and the enjoyment of discovering something new (heavily touched by both Aria and Tamayura), and hence is a joy to revisit such ideas. The should would be all fine…if I weren’t so concerned of the fact that Honda is collaborating with TYO Animations, the studio behind One Off.
It was obvious to see that Honda had an huge involvement in the project. Almost every character, despite still being in high school, have their own motorcycle, which is pretty rare in anime shows, with most high school character taking the train to school everyday (and even banned in Clannad), even in series that takes place in more rural locations, most students will still either walk or cycle to school. Additionally, all of the motorcycles that were shown in the show was a Honda, as if other brands like Yamaha does not exist. Finally, as touching as the end of episode 2 was, with Cynthia saying how she is not alone by mentioning how she was supported by the people that manufactured the motorcycle that she travels with and how she thinks of those when she drives, it just sounded something right out of a motorcycle advertisement, souring my enjoyment of the whole show.
Attachment to Objects
Sato Junichi is not alien to the idea of characters being attached to objects, both Aria and Tamayura had scenes where the main character got emotional because of a non living thing. For Aria, while there were many examples where Akari would be in awe of the beauty around her, episodes 16-17 of Aria the Natural shows the best example of how attached people can become to objects. Showing the initial shock of knowing that Akari’s partner would part with her soon, and then remembering and revisiting all the memories that she had made while using that gondola; throwing a party to thank the gondola for all the work and memories, and finally spending the final hours with the gondola, and lastly the personification of the gondola, represented by a old man, shielding her from the rain by giving her an umbrella, all showing how much the main characters, especially Akari, had for the gondola and how sad it was to part from it. As much as I want to say how misplaced those emotions are (gondolas are meant to be used), the emotions aren’t backed just because of the tool itself, but the memories that Akari shared with it.
Similarly, Tamayura had Fu-chan’s Rollei 35s, the very camera left by her father. Here again, the item is not important because of the item itself, but of both the memories that she had shared with her father and that camera and more importantly, the original owner of the camera, her father. As Fu-chan had said it perfectly at the end of the TV series, her using the camera would allow her to see how her dad see the world, and hence a connection between her and her father. And hence, Fu-chan’s attachment to the camera was not because of the item itself, but because of the memories and the connection the camera has to her father.
However, how about One Off? What was the importance of the motorcycle aside for the speed over a bicycle (running joke of how Rie always arrives at school the last out of the four because she is the only one using a bicycle while the others are using motorcycles). I guess the motorcycles would be similar to Akari’s in that it would share the adventures that the girls have, making them to trust and become attached to their motorcycles over time. If that is true, my main issue is that the show explicitly talk about the motorcycles at times, making the motorcycles almost a main character, as compared to Aria where the gondolas, where aside from the parting episodes, aren’t talked about that often.
Some of us are really weird, not only do we not reject the idea of product placement, we wholly embrace the idea of having brand names on our anime. Take K-On for example, the instruments that the girls used in the show was found to be based on real instruments, causing people people to actually buy the real instruments that it is based on despite those instruments being quite expensive and the collectors not actually knowing how to play the instruments. Take a milder example, in Steins;Gate Okabe’s and Kurisu’s favorite drink is Dr. Pepper, making all us now associate Dr. Pepper to MAD SCIENTIST. Did the company in charge of Dr. Pepper gave the visual novel writes incentives to put their drinks on to the game (and other animes/games) or was is just because the creators liked Dr. Pepper or was it because it was by the choice of the Steins;Gate, I donno. The point is that sometimes the creators of anime just decides to add brand names without changing the letter around, which ironically, we fully embraces it at time.
How about Aria and Tamayura? Aside from the Rollei 35s that I talked about already, both does not necessary have any particular brand that visible…except for the setting. While Aria takes place in Mars, the whole city of Neo Venice is modeled after our present day Venice with just minimal changes to the whole city. This is evident in the fact that some staff of Aria actually went to Venice to take pictures for references before the start of the production. On the other hand, Tamayura sets in Takehara, Hiroshima, with a huge focus on the Takehara district, one of the many protected groups of traditional buildings, and hence is at some kind of tourist importance. While it is true that the creators of anime shows tends to use real locations as a reference for settings, but in both Aria’s and Tamayura’s case, not only using the locations but being blunt about the locations that they used obviously have at least some kind of advertising implications, especially both show shows the beauty of the settings. And seeing from the results, that advertising was at least somewhat effective, with some people going/wanting to go to Venice just because of Aria (me included, I want to go…) and the Takehara district actually embracing the show and having Tamayura related events happening in the district.
These example shows that most of us don’t necessary dislike brand names in our shows, sometimes we even like it because it gives us a chance to relate to the character we like, as long they don’t start shoving the brands in our faces. Too bad One Off just went over that limit, making HONDA a bit too intrusive at times, just one bit off from the accepted limit. Also for the setting, just not enough is explored to make the place other than a generic rural town with a mountain, hampering my enjoyment of the show, especially know how skilled Sato Junichi is at making the settings look stunning.
In short, if given longer time for the characters to grow in me, and with the motorcycles in the background a bit more, I might end up liking One Off, but as of now, it is too short and too in-the-face-advertisement for me to fully enjoy the show, which is a pity, since there were some scenes in the show that I really enjoyed. (in retrospective, it also wasn’t until the TV series that I solidified my enjoyment for Tamayura, the OVA was rather good mostly because of Erino Hazuki, VA for Akari, being included cast).
O and having Kobayashi Yuu voice someone in an iyashikei anime is really, REALLY, awkward..