Three high school girls are putting together a limited-time shop called "PARK" in Japan's Harajuku. One day, aliens come to Earth with the intent to steal the famed district's culture. At the same time, a mysterious girl appears. The three girls band together to defeat the alien threat and protect their beloved Harajuku.
In the writing of this review, I noticed one big problem, spoilers. As you can probably guess from my rating of this show there is a whole lot going on here and there is so much more of it than what one would expect at first glance. The issue is, it’s hard to convey all of that without going into what happens later on. And so what I can do is tell you what I think this show does well, while sometimes the why will be somewhat obscured, I will do my best to convey what I can. The main thing that you should know
is that Urahara manages to do a whole lot of amazing things.
One of the unique things about fiction is it’s ability to connect to people. There is something powerful about stories that not just remind us of our own lives but those that can add even more meaning to them, or present something in a way that just facts can’t. When one looks through people’s favorite anime it’s usually filled with all sorts of anime that have reached out to the viewer in question, at least in some way. While it’s not the hallmark of a good anime, it’s a very good trait for a show to be able to do that.
Urahara is a show about young creatives in every sense of the word. It’s not just that the characters are young artists themselves but rather that the whole series is filled up with style and creativity that matches up with the subject matter they’re talking about. Every part of the show connects to the two main themes of the show and their representation. To say why they are so brilliant, it needs to be understood why they are that way, and how it reflects on the subject matter and themes of the work.
Let’s start with the art and the animation. The best way to describe the art of the show is by stating that it’s aesthetic. So very aesthetic. While the animation itself can be simple and lacking at times, the background is almost always detailed and filled with all sorts of random items that may or may not fit in naturally. Things like floating sweets and random tanukis sometimes make up the backdrop. And then there is all of the color. There is never a dull frame in the show as pretty much every frame is a colorgasm with each object radiating its own color. Frequently lines aren’t connected together but rather are loosely drawn close enough.
Each person will react to that differently. aesthetic for the most part is a matter of taste. While some won’t enjoy the chaoticness of the screen and its focus on colors rather than animation there are others like me, who love the aesthetic. But the brilliance of it isn’t related to whether I like it or whether someone else doesn’t but rather how it’s able to relate to its themes. First off it perfectly melds in with the setting. Harajuku is the capital of kawaii and creativity in Japan. There people who dress up in all sorts of wild and interesting styles in order to carve out something unique. Which is exactly what Urahara does with its art. Whether one likes it or not it’s hard to deny that there is no anime that looks exactly like Urahara. Furthermore, lots of kawaii art features the same sort of ideas: lots of colors, lots of random cute items, a cute cluttered mess. I remember looking through various kawaii art books in stores and often there was a common trend of filling up the page with all sorts of random colorful items. So in a city that is focused on that kawaii aesthetic, that is colorful and norm-breaking itself, Urahara lives up to that with its own unique artistic style. Not only carving out its own niche but also in representing its subject matter in a way most anime couldn’t even dream of.
It's not just the art that is able to live out its themes but it’s also the story that connects well with its themes. On its face, it’s a simple story about some girls who try to defend the place that they love. Which is fine but doesn’t look notable. That is until one looks at what that means and how that relates to the story as a whole. Urahara is just as much about these girls protecting the place they love, as it is about creators protecting their creations and their imagination from the pressures of those outsiders.
This is further proven by the enemy that they face, the scoopers. They’re basically aliens that only know how to steal. They can’t create and so they steal the works of others to use as their own. This basically goes into one of the issues of being a creative. Especially if someone wants to be able to profit from their works. When art becomes a business there is a lot of murky details that get added into the discussion. The artist isn’t allowed to just do what they want but rather they have to live up to what the audience wants or else they won’t be able to get profits and they’ll fade into obscurity broke. The mirror, in this case, is the scoopers are the consumers while the three girls are the creators. Consumers are interested in nice things that they can take and enjoy. The artist’s intent and thoughts behind it no longer matter as much. Each consumer is going to use the product in a different way, and have different thoughts about it. In a sense, publishing one’s work is also letting one’s work be stolen. If one were to keep it to themselves it would be theirs and only theirs forever, but once it floats into the public it’s no longer that simple.
This cuts into one of the core issues that the girls have to deal with. The difference between doing what they want and doing things for attention. In a perfect world one would be able to have both, but sadly this isn’t a perfect world. One can either do what they want and get nowhere or do what other’s want and be successful. Trust me, this is a pretty significant problem in the art community. Any artist who does both fanwork and Original Creation drawings will know this. While the fanworks is usually drenched with praise and love, the Original Creations are often ignored. People want to see what they like. It’s understandable but it puts the content creators in an interesting position. Do they compromise themselves to please others or do they go with their heart? The girls have this issue throughout the show and face it in multiple ways.
The characters too face the issues of creators and each represents multiple parts of creation and what is needed for it. One of the brilliant parts of the characters is their ability to not just be good characters with flaws and pros, but also to be examples of both main themes of Urahara. With regards to Urahara’s musing on creating each of the girls represents a different part of creation. They each have different skills whether it be social skills, knowledge, or pure creative talent that makes them a good unit together. But more incredible than that is how accurately they are able to represent the young creative lifestyle.
First off the character designs do this well. They are quite varied and show the unique personality of each of the girls in what they wear and look like. The accessories, like the cat ears and tail, and oni horns may seem out of place, but this is the land of Harajuku were weird creative things exist. Furthermore, on the internet, I have often seen creatives using sonas as a representation of themselves rather than using something "truer" to themselves. I feel like this is what the designs of Rito and Kotoko are. Representations of themselves based off of their imaginations. It fits with the characters they are and the scene that they’re in.
Second, the interactions between the girls and their character traits also show this well. Often times they’ll do weird things or just do whatever they feel like just because they want to do it. This is best shown in the first episode when Rito decides to meow like a cat in order to get a cat's attention. It’s a bit weird, but it’s something that I’d expect. In fact, one of the most amazing things about these characters its how real they feel to me. Especially Rito. They remind me of various people I’ve observed in the past. As well as their bonds. There’s this rapport in creative groups, and often times there is a pattern of collaboration of support that is gotten from them. They become close friends and with that comes encouragement and the desire to see them succeed. The way the characters interact feels very genuine like they really do care about each other from the bottom of their hearts. When things go well they’re willing to lay it all down for each other and help what they can. This too reminds me of how I’ve seen others act. However even with all of this niceness that doesn’t stop them from having issues. All three of them have issues that lie underneath the character. These issues are explored adeptly and show what sort of problems can arise from this creative struggle. The path of a creative is a hard one. What is success? What is good enough. It's not like other paths where there can be one simple answer. It's murky, and with murkiness, there's so many opportunities for something to look off. And those things are the sources of their issues. The anime does a very good job of painting a complete picture of who these girls are.
All in all, Urahara is a complete package. Not only does it have good characters that are great to root for, but it has a strong compelling story that not only stands as being entertaining but also has a lot of value with the message of the show. Added to that it’s unique art style and the aspects of the young creative’s life that are rarely touched upon so well. There’s a lot here. Every idea in this anime was well thought out. It’s all on purpose. The characters, the art, the sound, the story, they all come together to tell a compelling story, muse on its themes, and be relatable. At the end of the day that’s what it was to me. A show that was able to show the struggles of being a creative, and most importantly being a young creative. I felt many of the struggles they went through. I could relate to them all. And it felt so much like times I’ve spent before. It feels nostalgic in so many different ways. As I said from the start, one of the amazing things about fiction is it’s ability to connect to people. And this show most certainly connected to me. And while it did that, it also got me to love the characters, the setting, the style, and everything about it. I don’t know how it was able to capture all of this so well, while also providing meaning, but I am in awe. I don’t know if I’d label it a masterpiece but it’s pretty dang close to one. But I can say for sure that this is one of my absolute favorite shows, and for me well deserving of a 10.
Urahara is a highly entertaining joyride rich in craze and color. However, its inexperienced staff fails to blend its creative concepts in a cohesive fashion.
Set in Harajuku, the show does a great job at adopting the district’s zany culture. It celebrates art and creativity, both of which are sought after by the Scoopers - the alien invaders threatening to steal all of Earth’s culture and creativity. What initially seems like trivial tale of weekly mahou shoujo-esque monster-of-the-week turns out to be a commentary on what constitutes creativity and the relation of artist and popularity. The transition between the two may
have been aptly foreshadowed, but still ends up feeling rushed and jarring; the second half puts a nice bow on the show as a whole, but the surprisingly cruel twists end up clashing with its overall silliness.
However, that is not to say that the show doesn’t stay entertaining at all times.
The monster-of-the-week format of the first half is carried by its short and simple, but smart fights. Enemies are first examined and their weak points determined, the main trio then acts accordingly. Be it abusing a certain vulnerable time frame, luring a horde scattered throughout the town to one place, or just simple combat techniques - the diverse Scoopers and the great coordination of the protagonists makes the fights wholly enjoyable.
The messier second half on the other hand is mostly carried by the great foreshadowing of the first few episodes. Hidden in plain sight, it’s easy to miss these hints, but they serve as the cornerstones necessary to hold the plot together:
The inhabitants of Harajuku are shown fleeing from the district; until the bubble surrounding the city due to the girl’s wish appears, there are no people in sight. When the people then showing up in the city are first shown, they are depicted as shadows - not as people.
Episode 1 first shows the key plot twist without any context - we are then introduced to the colorful culture of Harajuku.
However, the paneling and camerawork suggests that what is shown on screen is actually the view of a rather important onlooker.
The clownish nature of Park’s peculiar visitor also reminds of another character introduced just a few minutes later.
Through these subtle hints, which at first seem rather irksome than meaningful, the later plot is already laid out in the first handful minutes of the show’s runtime.
Sadly, this subtleness isn’t at all present in the rest of the show. Rather, it often resorts to indiscreet infodump dialogue to e.g. characterize its protagonists. However, there are moments when these introduced character traits are used to great effect, especially pertaining Mari’s anxieties.
Therein lies one of Urahara’s major strengths: in the second half, the character’s minor traits and weaknesses are exposed and exploited while serving as cornerstone for the parallel narrative of artist and popularity. While initially the protagonist trio seems unassumingly simple, they are actually a lot more nuanced than they are made out to be.
The calm and caring Rito first followed her gut feeling; she drew what she felt like drawing. But her art isn’t praised or recognized like other’s is and thus she grows frustrated. However, when Mari and Kotoko praise her art and she is granted the opportunity to sell her art and be recognized, she grows dependant on the two and their praise.
On the contrary, Mari has copied other people’s art; she follows trends and copies the vogue - and she gets praised for it. She also grows dependent on praise and popularity, but wishes to keep up her appearance as self-confident designer, which results in ever-growing anxiety and her eventually being broken by the illusion of losing her followers.
Kotoko’s curiosity, often highlighted through cat-like appearance, led to others being annoyed and disgusted by her urge to discover. Unable to suppress or express her curiosity, she grows insecure about annoying or talking to other people. She also ends up finding solace in and depending on their group of three.
The visual style of Urahara oozes creativity; it uses tablecloth as backgrounds and highly-saturized candy colors which paired with the usage of panels instead of new cuts create a colorful and delightful experience. It’s designs are a sight to behold: be it casual clothing, battle suits, Scoopers or Harajuku itself - they are diverse and use a huge repertoire of animation and coloring techniques to underline important characteristics and create an amazing visual experience.
Unfortunately, whatever excitement might stem from its gorgeous designs, Urahara is often sparingly animated - at times even lazily so. During important scenes in the second half, the lackluster animation completely ruins all immersion and dampens what should have been the show’s high point.
But it is not only during the dramatic scenes that Urahara fails - the music and sound effects are mediocre and straight-up misplaced all the way throughout the show. It restricts itself to generic gleaming sounds and uses dramatic orchestral music when the scenes themselves actually aren’t tense at all. Because of this, the actually tense scenes, playing these very same tracks, feel less special and not as emphasized as they should have been.
Urahara may stumble along the way, but remains an enjoyable watch. However, it is a niche show in a niche medium and as such I only recommend watching if you can look past its childish and amateurish presentation.
Expressing yourself can be difficult. There is the chance that nobody will notice your expressions or the chance that somebody might be irritated by them. Everybody has a different experience, but these moments of self-expression allow one's creativity to come through. Even if you are inspired by others, the end product is something that is unique to you. In Urahara, the idea of creativity is explored through three girls in Harajuku.
The anime starts off with an episodic format where the PARK girls encounter Scoopers and then proceed to take them out by using the amatsumara – items that are the physical embodiment of imagination. In
the beginning half of the anime, there is a slow buildup of the plot. There is no set direction as to where the story will go from here, and the audience is stuck with cute girls fighting cute aliens for the time being. It comes off as repetitive and uninspired. However, as the second half of the anime comes in, we are given glimpses into the true nature of the mysterious Misa and the Scoopers. A new threat is revealed and explained, and the girls must try and fight against it. This half of the anime also provides more insight into the characters; it gives them more characterization by showing their flaws, troubles, and backstories. Although the latter half of the anime offers a more concrete threat and other important issues, there are moments here that are prolonged and seem to drag on. The girls' reactions can especially test one's patience – which can be annoying at times.
The PARK girls each have their own trope and assigned roles that they fill in for their group. Mari is the “ojou” of the group and works on designing clothes. Kotoko is the “cute nerd” of the group and works with the logistics. Rito is the calm “stoic” in the group and works with the drawings. In battle, Rito focuses on attacking, Kotoko provides support, and Mari deals the finishing blows. In general, the presentation of the characters leaves something to be desired. They come off as trite tropes. The characters are cute, but they are mainly flat and have tedious dialogue exchanges. The dialogue proves to be a challenge to get through at times when the characters keep an uninteresting conversation going and prolonging the duration of that specific moment. Moments where Kotoko was going on and explaining the situation in detail and when the characters were reacting to certain parts were not the most entertaining. Despite those faults, there is still some characterization to be had in the latter half of the anime. The girls' insecurities are explored, and you get a sense of understanding of where each character comes from. Mari has a desire to be popular and gain many followers, Rito wants her art to be recognized and liked, and Kotoko wants others to accept her quirky and inquisitive self. Each character goes through a moment of self-reflection, and they work on overcoming their flaws. Even Misa grows and learns something through the power of friendship and creativity. Yet, even with the characters getting explored more, you are still left with the same clichéd characters from the beginning.
The visuals are the most memorable part of Urahara as they maintain the creative element of the anime. A more stylistic approach is taken with colorful and vibrant designs mixed with sketchy drawings. Despite how rough and incomplete some of the designs look, it gives the show a unique quality to it that adds to its quaintness. Everything is cute, and the backgrounds are detailed with all sorts of adorable decorative features. One major gripe with the art would be the animation of it. The panels used in the animation may be considered lazy, but they could be considered as aiding in providing a different mode of storytelling – adding to Urahara's distinct style. There are also moments when the characters turn into chibis, and that adds to the cuteness appeal of the show. Despite these different techniques, the animation is lacking, leaving a desolate sort of feeling. This is apparent in the last major fight of the anime, and it comes off as disappointing and dull to have such a lackluster ending.
The sounds of the anime are nothing too special – the voice actors do a good job portraying the different characters, but some of the voices can get annoying if you are not into the "cutesy" types like Kotoko and Misa. The music itself is not remarkable. The use of orchestral music is prevalent and there are lots of whimsical sounding pieces throughout.
Overall, despite the flaws of the anime, the story is able to present its themes and ideas decently enough. The creative process is a daunting journey. Throughout Urahara, the characters go through trials and self-doubts of their own creativity. As seen in Urahara, expressing yourself can be troublesome due to insecurities, art thieves, and other obstacles. However, in the end, the characters overcome their obstacles and work toward their dream of working together in creating various unique pieces. If you are looking for a cute and simple anime with cute girls and visuals, this is the anime for you.
Creativity is a weird thing, but why do we even make art? Is it simply the strive to be original and make something that doesn't exist? Is it a showcase of our talents? Is it something we do to make others happy? Maybe it's just a way of expressing ourselves. But one thing many artists have in common is their emotional connection to their work; the anxiety and self-doubt that comes when that thing you made didn't come as good as you hoped or when you spend a long time on something only for nobody to notice it, but also the sense of accomplishment
and fulfilment when you make something you're really proud of. Maybe you're too hard on yourself and are never happy with your work, or maybe you just love creating regardless of what the end product comes out looking like.
Urahara felt to me like an expression of that creative process. It's a show which itself is amateurish in many ways, but which has that underlying charm to it and passion behind it that made me respect and enjoy it much more than I ever thought I would. If you try to judge this show from a purely technical standpoint, you'd probably conclude it's not that good; The art style is rough and the animation is anything but fluid. It looks low-budget, and it may very well be low-budget, but I feel like from a design standpoint, it absolutely works. It's an aesthetic that works wonderfully with with the premise, themes and messages within Urahara, specifically the positive view it has on the process of creating art as means of expression rather than as a laborious process to achieve a high technical standard for other people to consume.
This is a stylish and eccentric and fairly abstract show which takes a ton of risks, many of which I felt absolutely paid off. It's one of the most unusual and experimental anime I've seen in quite a while and I couldn't help but tune in every week to watch another episode. It's a show that leans much more on its general themes, light-hearted aesthetic and charming, relateable characters than on trying to tell any kind of complex story. If that sounds like your thing, you should definitely give this rather bizarre and colourful show a chance.