Aimless Wanderings 6: WTF is that!?!?
Okay folks, let’s try and power through this one as fast as we can, because we both badly need a nap… That’s crazy talk, of course you do… You’re yawning right now, I can see you… Through your webcam, how else?… There, now with all the paranoid schizophrenics having closed the page in abject terror, we can finally discuss that which they should never know. I’m referring to anime, what else would I be talking about? Get your minds out of the gutter. Ew.
Umisho, whose full title hilariously translates into Healthy Naked Swimming Team Umisho, is a sports manga written by Mitsuru Hattori, who some may know as the author of Sankarea. Umisho follows the Umineko Shougyou swim club and their trials as both a team and as human beings, but not really. While that is still partially true, you don’t get comedy from making readers think about their lives, you get comedy by being WACKY! Which is pretty much what happens. Our protagonist, Kaname Okiura (or “Okky”), is the swim club’s manager and unfortunately, especially for the position he holds, is afraid of swimming, a fear stemming from trauma leading to almost drowning when he was younger. He has learned to accept that he may never swim again, not that it will matter much longer because the team doesn’t haave enough members to continue after the seniors graduate. Then a new girl, Amuro Ninagawa, floats into his life quite literally in her house/raft and starts to stir things up in the community. Being on the ocean her whole life has lead to her being an incredibly strong swimmer, and is the perfect fit for the dwindling Umisho team; even moreso because she has a habit of free diving in the nude. Of course, as soon as she finds out about Okki’s problem, her energetic nature takes over and she immediately sets out on a mission to get him swimming again.
Umisho, for me, is pretty much exactly what I look for in a series; it never drifts into bleak territory, is never afraid to poke fun at itself, and is centred around a truly heartwarming story about rehabilitation. Most of you reading this will most likely know the author’s other series, Sankarea, better, but I feel that this is a better read. Admittedly, there are really only four or five characters who truly have depth to them, but the story is so well constructed that you can hardly notice, as the chapters all focus on at least one of those characters all the time. I won’t spoil anything here, but once you’ve read the manga from start to finish there are certain things that just fall into place perfectly towards the end. And, if you’re not into the whole deep story thing, it’s a hilarious read with some of the oddest, yet real, characters I have seen.
Ryuuji Takasu is a nice guy, very nice as a matter of fact, with a low tolerance for dirt. It’s just that, due to some of the properties inherent in genetics, he has the face of his yakuza father, which causes some people to jump to unfair conclusions with regard to his nature. The story of Toradora begins alongside a new school year, and Ryuuji is elated to find that he has been put into the same class as his long time friend, Yuusaku Kitamura, the only one to be able to see past his tough appearance, and Minori Kushieda, his crush who he is far too bashful to approach. Taiga Aisaka (aka The Palmtop Tiger), resident pintsize badass, rumoured to have a fuse shorter than her stature, also Minori’s best friend, is also in the class. Taiga likes Yuusaku, but after a mistake about whose desk is whose, Ryuuji ends up with the love letter. Ryuuji, being the gentleman that he is, doesn’t open the letter when it’s discovered in his bag, but can infer its contents through strict examination of the pink envelope with a heart sticker sealing it shut. Little does he know that Taiga will break into his home to try and steal the letter back, but he catches her in the act, nearly gets his head taken off with her bokken, and eventually learns the whole story and, being the nice guy that he is, offers his services in expressing her feelings to his friend.
This show is very much the epitome of slice-of-life storytelling. The characters are believable, each with their own well thought out backstory, with nothing going over the top. I find it extremely easy to identify with the characters because of this, and that helps add veritable shit-tonnes of realism into the show. There’s no subgenre in the show (it isn’t slice-of-life with giant robots, or magic, or aliens, etc.), but that is a major part of the appeal; if there was some other plot device present, it would only serve to detract from the character relationships. The problems they have are problems anybody could have, there are no psychopaths waiting to murder everyone, there is no ancient plot to destroy the world, there’s just a group of friends going to school and dealing with life together. That’s it. And it is easily one of the best things I have ever seen.
The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan is a bit of an oddball. I say that because a) It’s an alternate universe spinoff of an already existing series, something you don’t often see in manga, and 2) It’s a spinoff that is as good as, or dare I say, sometimes better than the original material. Especially since that source material is the Haruhi Suzumiya series of light novels/anime/movie. Before I elaborate further, I will attempt to stem the torrent of nerd rage boiling up inside you right now: I love Haruhi Suzumiya. I have watched or read everything related to it, and have loved every second of it. The two seasons of anime? Brilliant. The movie/third season? Fantastic. Haruhi-chan? Gut-bustingly hilarious. The light novels? A work in progress but, so far, amazing. That said, for those that may not have known, this is written by Tanigawa Nagaru, the other of the aforementioned material, so it might as well be canon.
I will now attempt to give a summary, in brief, of the “normal” Haruhi Suzumiya universe, and how it relates to the series in question, for those who are unfortunate enough to not have seen it: the protagonist/narrator, only ever known as Kyon, is a normal high school student. He happens to be in a class with the least normal high school student there is, the titular Haruhi Suzumiya, who has made a name for herself by being obsessed with the supernatural. She succeeds at anything she tries, but refuses most of the opportunities due to her deeming them too boring. Kyon takes it upon himself to talk with her and, somewhat foolishly, suggests that if she wants to be in a club to find the supernatural, why not just make one? So she does, and she drags him along as her first member, and uses various other “aggressive recruitment” techniques to get the numbers up. Now, try not to lose me here, but I have to speed up a bit to avoid this turning into an essay. The new members are an ESPer(Koizumi Itsuki), time traveller(Mikuru Asahina), and an alien(Yuki Nagato), although Haruhi suspects nothing, who inform Kyon that Haruhi is, in essence, God, at least in the sense that she has the ability to bend reality to her whims, but she doesn’t know that. Keeping her from knowing that is a major plot point as, if she did, she may get bored with this universe and completely rewrite it. In the movie, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, Kyon gets transported to an alternate dimension where none of what I said above happened; for all intents and purposes, everything is normal. It is in this universe that The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan takes place.
Nagato Yuki is the shy president of the literature club, who has always been shy around others. But it is especially apparent when around Kyon, the only boy in the three person club. In order to get her feelings across, she will have to work up her courage with the help of her neighbour and fellow club member, Ryoko Asakura, along with new friends she meets along the way.
And… that’s it. The author took one of the most brilliantly convoluted plots, and created a manga that I can easily summarize in three sentences. I cannot stress enough how amazing this manga is. As a matter of fact, just go watch/read everything I’ve mentioned in this section, if you haven’t yet. Believe me when I say, you’ve been missing out.