In a way, it was a great idea that we decided to pick another show to preview for the spring anime of this year… I say that because after watching the first episode of Aiura, I was reminded that life is too short. Aiura is a direct adaptation of a yonkoma manga by Chama, and this only adds to the effect that after watching this anime I was dazed and confused, in a good and bad way.
Aiura kicks off with its opening sequence (which seems more like a love letter to all the crabs in the world) introducing all the characters, even down to the small supporting ones. Once the high pitched hi-jinks of the opening theme are done with, we meet one of the main characters, Ayuko Uehara, who’s sitting at home drinking tea. She suddenly notices a tea stalk spur forth in her tea. Ayuko then decides to go into town for a fun afternoon. After poking around at several places, she stops at an ice cream parlor to enjoy an ice cone. She is sitting quietly, when someone showing “Saki-chan” a “secret Taiyaki Dance” bumps into her, causing her to drop the cone. Afterwards, this obnoxious girl quickly hands over Saki’s taiyaki pastry to Ayuko, apologizes, and takes off running with Saki following behind. Ayuko idly sits there as if asking herself just what was that all about… She then proceeds to take a bite out of the taiyaki and realizes it’s spicy. Right at this moment, the episode ends.
Since Aiura is based on a four panel comic book or yonkoma — very much in the vein of Azumanga Daioh and Lucky Star — the fact that its first episode is literally less than five minutes long, should have been an unmistakable trademark we should have all expected. Aiura is actually comprised of two and a half minutes of episode, one minute opening, and a thirty second ending. In fact, the entire episode is less than four minutes long. That is all there is to it. The irony of it all is that in the duration of it, almost absolutely nothing happens. This is why I pointed out the similarities to its blood sisters, Azumanga Daioh and Lucky Star.
This can be both good and bad. First, the good: the anime features some (believe it or not) funny moments in its short lived running time. The moments in the opening sequence specifically speaking are quite amusing to behold, especially the quick segments featuring Apple’s late president and CEO, Steve Jobs. What in the hell is he doing here? Does he serve a deeper purpose than to make the viewer laugh at all the random nonsense? Did he have a crab fetish? Why does this anime have a crab fetish? Folks… these are all questions we don’t know the answer to by the end of the first episode, and I doubt we’ll find out what they are soon, if we ever do. Another thing to note is the spontaneity of the characters. When the obnoxious girl (obviously Kanaka) bumps into Ayuko making her drop her ice cream, it was a pretty amusing moment. What happens afterwards is even funnier. Kanaka grabs Saki’s Taiyaki and hands it to Ayuko as an apology, and then escapes. Moments like these remind me of some of the awkward moments we all got to live through during our younger years.
Now, the bad: Aiura’s lack of more or less “a plot,” as it describes itself as an anime when “what happens when nothing is happening” could effortlessly turn the comedy into something unremarkable and formulaic, considering the characters are all archetypes we’ve all come to know from other comedy anime. That along with Aiura’s relatively short episode length could spell an impending boredom to follow in the next episodes if it doesn’t do something to reinvent the wheel, or rather reinvent itself. Not that Lucky Star did, since the first few episodes of it were composed of nothing but characters speaking while nothing happened. This was causing Lucky Star to lose steam at a fast rate, which prompted studio Kyoto Animation to call upon a replacement of directors. In Aiura’s case, if its short running time is coupled with its uneventfulness causes it to suffer, perhaps a new change might cause it to head towards a different, much better light. I truly hope that the former doesn’t happen, but the probability is high.
Finally, there’s the production. The animation is smooth and it works, however, the art direction is (or at least looks) better. The colors are bright and the backgrounds are done in the style of traditional animation. They look very natural and soft, as if the whole thing was drawn with crayons and oil pastels. It is very nice to look at. The character designs on the other hand are what we’ve come to expect from the industry since Lucky Star greatly popularized the trend. They are cute, rambunctious, with big bright eyes and simplistic designs; designed to divide the show into a “love it or hate it” category which will substantially increase its popularity thanks to word of mouth. In other words, they look good, but… they could be better.
I’ll also add the fact that I hadn’t seen anything by writer/director Ryosuke Nakamura before. Is he making good choices? Is Aiura in good hands? It’s anybody’s guess at this point.