Jun 7, 2019
Fuerzo (All reviews)
If you've watched enough anime, you've surely noticed that some anime studios have their distinct in-house styles that transcend franchises or genres, and perhaps no studio does this as clearly as Shaft. Akiyuki Shinbou and his team made themselves known through critically acclaimed adaptations like the Monogatari series and original anime like Puella Magi Madoka Magica, as well as other popular anime series, through a signature visual surrealism, quick cuts, and a focus on the strange aspects of ordinary life. While 2010's Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru (SoreMachi) lacks the flashiness of Shaft's more successful adaptations, it provides one of the most immersive settings I've seen in a slice of life series, as well as a likeable cast and solid comedy.

The primary setting of SoreMachi is the Seaside Maid Cafe, which is neither by the seaside nor a proper maid cafe--the waitresses wear maid outfits, but in all other respects it looks and runs like a crappy diner in the middle of a sleepy shopping district. Hotori Arashiyama, an aspiring mystery novel author in her second year of high school, works there under the employ of an old widow who she's known since childhood. Despite Hotori's scatterbrain personality, she's portrayed in a remarkably grounded context, with the obligations and struggles faced by any other teenager: dealing with annoying younger siblings, taking remedial math courses with a teacher who can't stand her (and who she also has a crush on), and befriending the owner of an antique shop. Other characters receive focus as well, sometimes in one-off chapters (like one man's search for a mysterious cookie that somehow ends with time travel). While there is no chronology and each episode is self-contained, SoreMachi succeeds in creating its own interconnected world--a shopping district where everyone knows everyone, with Hotori (as the final episode shows) being the unifying force. Like Nichijou, it manages to provide a grounded, realistic feel in its setting, dabble in stories about aliens, time travel, and the afterlife, and tackle mature themes like death and the inevitability of failure in life. Not every chapter (there are generally 2 or 3 per episode) holds up, but the great ones really work.

With generally solid animation, the unique Shinbou visual presentation, and a solid soundtrack (including a great OP and an even better ED), SoreMachi also provides the same things that Shaft is generally liked for. Yet in its quirky yet grounded feel and its masterful handling of a mundane yet beautifully human setting, it offers a relaxing and unique atmosphere that I'd recommend to anyone who enjoys slice of life anime and manga.

[x-post, with minor tweaks, from a Reddit post I made]