Iyashikei is a sub-genre of slice of life that I've started being aware of after reading the critically acclaimed manga series named "Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou", one that I still love and consider not only one of the best additions into the respective sub-genre, but of the slice of life genre itself in general. A great female character, a really interesting take on the future landscape of Japan and AIs, episodic stories that are no less than charming and a very powerful ending make it one of the most fascinating experiences that come to mind when it comes to this industry. Following that, I had the pleasure of coming across the all famous Aria, which is one that I really liked, taking place on planet Aqua (Mars after colonization and inhabitation), with a main character from Manhome (former Earth), that travels to Neo Venezia in order to become a successful Undine, making new encounters and experiencing happiness all over. Getting progressively better while focusing on both characters and worldbuilding in the first and second entries and finally unleashing all of its emotional prowess in the Origination, the whole franchise was nothing less than a ride. Home to powerful themes, both of the aforementioned series are optimistic in nature, and are very enjoyable at that. However, what I would consider their stupid little sister comes in. That stupid little sister definitely is not as good as the big ones, as implied, but definitely managed to be as fun, and of course, has a lot of room to improve. And maybe become better than the other two.
Amanchu! is yet another anime project adapted from the manga of the same name, written by Amano Kozue of Aria fame, and directed by Satou Junichi, the master of the sub-genre. The latter has directed many works that I consider some of the best, including Princess Tutu and Tamayura, another underrated iyashikei gem. It takes place in a rural area very close to the sea somewhere in Japan and is about a girl named Ooki Futaba aka Teko, that came to live there from a city. A girl full of worries and anxieties, Teko does not know what to do and where the path named "life" will lead here. That's until she meets Kohinata Hikari aka Pikari, a very energetic, fired up and all gung-ho girl, who happens to be a scuba diving enthusiast, maniac even. The latter drags the former around and into the world of scuba diving. Teko experiences many new things that take a toll on her coming of age, meets new people including her homeroom teacher, an indecisive upperclassman named Ninomiya Ai, and her quiet brother, Ninomiya Makoto. All of them together dive into the sea of happiness and fun and learn how important these two things are. After all, this is exactly what this anime series is about.
As previously implied, the plot itself is very simple. In fact, there is no definite plot to speak of, as the series take the episodic approach and is about random happenings in the characters' lives, as well as others that emphasize Teko's development mostly. On another hand, Amanchu takes advantage of its simplicity and gives it yet another touch, that makes it even more fun than what normal iyashikei seems to me. That touch can be found in several scenes, such as the one in which Pikari chases after the teacher, as well as the easily recognisable yet sometimes overused chibi faces that are quite enjoyable to bestow. Another positive point is that, despite it being a series that takes a really optimistic point of view in life, it does not completely discard the sadness, worries, and implications that a person might experience in life, something that can be seen through Teko's face. Her development is significant and another really important plot point that reinforces the amount of good things Amanchu has, also coming into perfect contrast with Pikari, who might get lost sometimes, but indeed does think positively all the time.
Nevertheless, as people say, there always is the positive and the negative side of things. To say the truth, more scuba diving would be plausible. Sure, the basics were introduced eloquently at the start, sure, Teko did not know how to swim and learnt how to later on, but I was not able to fully take a taste of this beautiful world of scuba diving. This is not as much a negative, as a personal complaint of mine, but I felt like expressing it. Now to truly start with them, Amanchu sometimes might seem to stick its arse into repeating the same messages over and over. In different ways most of the times, but the fact that it does repeat them still is there and is one that can not be ejected. Unfortunately, a second shortcoming is the pacing which sometimes strikes me off as inconsistent. The transition between the scenes might seem random in some cases as well. However, as repeatedly indicated throughout its length, Amanchu has this message of positive perspective, which might make us look at negative things as a double-edged sword. The way it portrays everyday things such as "fun" and "entertainment" is subject to savour, something that can not make me fully well dislike it. Even as I am writing this review, specific scenes come to mind, ones that made me happy helped me full well realize that yup, having fun is very important for a person, especially when he or her is undergoing peer pressure.
In addition to the simple yet charming plot, Amanchu hits home with a vibrant cast of characters, that all are different yet share some of their worries. From Teko to Pikari to the teacher to Pikari's grandma, all of them seem to worry about life, because they are humans. What I truly loved about the section though, is that every single character seems to be true to themselves. What is meant by that is Pikari will always be the energetic person, Teko will always be the worrywart, Onee-chan will always hit Outoto-kun and Outoto-kun will consistently worry about her. How Amanchu handles archetypes, whilst managing to be consistently pleasant, is something I could appreciate to the fullest. Letting alone that those characters are always involved in wacky and unforgettable scenes, I was finding myself caring about them, and especially Teko, whom the spotlight will shine onto for a seperate percentage of this review.
Teko is your everyday shy high school girl who does not stand out and does not have many friends. Her inside is full of worries and questions, about what to long for. Her encounters truly make her a character of wonder. This sense of empirism that always is present in the series manages to flesh her out exceptionally well. From her grade school days to her high school ones, the concept of changing is always evident when it comes to her character. She herself realised that she is the one that does not look at things positively enough, she is the one that realised that she can not appreciate things to the fullest, and finally she is the one that understood that both her past and present meetings are ones that belong to her and ones that only her can treasure. In the end, she had a lot of fun and so did I. Her coming of age, which will continue till the end of the whole story I presume, is something that is a sight to not miss. It is simple, it is fun, coupled off by the wacky adventures of our whole cast of course, it is easy to relate to, and it is something that does not try to be more than it is. What a great character Teko is. She also is super cute, with her chibi face and stuff. Her relationship with Pikari is a really enjoyable aspect of Amanchu, them being polar opposites and fitting the deal ideally.
To get on with the other characters, Pikari, Ai, Makoto and Sensei and her worries about the weather which should be mentioned, all get seperate episodes throughout the series' length, but are characters that I feel like need more introduction, after me loving Teko all that much. Even if they do not get developed more, I would not mind it, that being exactly one of the main characteristics of iyashikei itself, but I would definitely count it as a positive. The chibi faces each and every of our significant characters have are mottos and work as additions to their character and, most of the times, are really cute. Advisor Cha/Aria deserves a special mention because he is the best character in the whole series after Teko. Teko is a masterpiece herself.
The art section is, for the lack of a better term, beautiful. The character designs are highly detailed and aesthetically spot-on, the landscape and sceneries are intricate and a really pleasant sight, the character designs are charming, especially the girl's bodies and uniforms which are given enough attention to detail, and the expressions are no less than wondrous. The chibi faces are sometimes annoying, other times work perfectly, but the characters' facial expressions when things get emotional is when shit hits the fan. The animation, as expected of JC Staff and its animators, is smooth, with some exceptions of lower budget that could as well be passed by unnoticed.
The soundtrack is a really strong counterpart of Amanchu, the exact same going for its predecessor, Aria. The music pieces create an atmosphere of wonder that fits the setting, with its calm and healing songs for the longest run, and ones that share a more playful tone when it comes to the wackier scenes. The opening piece is sung by Maaya Sakamoto, voice actor of Shinobu from the Monogatari Series. With her calm and soothing voice, and the lyrics that befit the series quite well, the song itself made me look forward to watching the content that followed it even more. The ending song is quite cute, though one that I did not give that much attention to.
I wholeheartedly enjoyed Amanchu, in a way that it almost made me forget about all of its shortcomings. To be taken in such a fun ride of both style and substance, one that is definitely not something that deep, but really relatable was my pleasure. I feel like I am way too biased, especially towards Teko and all the things surrounding her, but I do not care as much about it, because the series managed to take me on a trip, a small one, of conviviality.
To conclude, Amanchu brings all mundane aspects of life together and, along with the interesting setting and its vibrant cast of characters, manages to become one of the most fun anime journeys that come to mind. It has its fair share of shortcomings, I am aware of that, but as long as I was left satisfied, I am content with it. The final episode was easily the best one out of the bunch, but I work by the phrase "The journey always is more important than the destination" and I can assure you, this particular one is worth it. Anime of the Season.