So, basically Go-Toubun again? Sounds good to me...
We Can't Study is... well, it's hardly original, we can say that much. Those who followed Winter 2019's Go-Toubun no Hanayome will find the premise eerily familiar - although in truth neither manga is 'ripping off' the other, as they started serialisation at pretty much the same time and the authors are known to be friends. Despite the surface similarities, however, BokuBen takes itself in much more of a lighthearted direction, with the focus on comedy, character gags and unlikely conicidences rather than Go-Toubun's heavy character drama...
...which meant this was always going to have to do a lot of work to distinguish itself from any of the other gag-driven harem rom-coms out there. Did it succeed? Well, kinda sorta. The show's not doing anything new, and anyone who's ever seen... erm, anything at all before will be able to predict the story beats as they happen. You could almost tick off the story devices on a sheet of harem comedy bingo.
But, despite that, it executes on these well. The characters are familiar - but charming and with a spark of life that endears them to us. The jokes are classic - but they land with superb comic timing, leaving us laughing along rather than at the show. The romance is by-the-numbers - but hey, if it ain't broke don't fix it, right?
So just a basic harem comedy that pulls off the basics well, with nothing to stand out? No, not that either. BokuBen has one massive advantage over its competitors - and I'm not talking about the show's loyal manga fanbase.
The sound design on this show is, quite honestly, incredible. I've never seen - sorry, never heard - anything like it. Once you notice it, it's impossible not to keep on noticing and appreciating how much work has been put in. The soundtrack is part of it, with a dizzying array of background tracks all used to their fullest extent to enhance a mood or cut out to emphasise a point. The voice acting is part of it, with strong performances all round and incredible direction making the most of the VAs' talents.
But it's most noticable in the sound effects, where the attention to detail is like nothing else. When two characters fall into a pool, there's two splashes. When one character is in wooden sandals and the other is in sneakers, we hear both the clop of wood and the squeak of rubber. When someone twists their ankle, there's a crunch that makes you wince in sympathy.
I'd have followed - and liked - this show just based on the strength of its manga, and I'd have been pleasantly surprised with the adaptation based on the visuals and direction. But the sound design has raised BokuBen into my AOTS, and an unexpected delight every Saturday. I'll be keeping a lookout for sound director Motoyama Satoshi's next work - my hat off to him and his team.
Ufotable and KyoAni shows may be a feast for the eyes, but if you want a treat for the ears, give BokuBen a go.