Gakuen Utopia Manabi Straight is a composition of ideas that have potential but, ultimately, lead nowhere. In a series written well, like Urusei Yatsura, implications will become incorporated later in the story, but this is a narrative that creates implication upon implication, but constantly contradicts what each of those hints may have initially meant. It seems as if the modus operandi of this show was just to have exploitative shots of girls; who look like they’re 11–12 in age (but are actually, canonically, 19–20 year olds). This review contains spoilers! You have been warned!
This anime takes place in 2035 but the futuristic setting really has no bearing on the story, other than to illustrate the societally low birth rate, and henceforth have the visual aesthetic of abandoned school buildings—sparsely populated by cute girls. The emptied buildings reminded me of how I felt while watching this show—hollow. The visuals were okay, but there wasn’t anything motivating me to care about any of the characters.
The girls didn’t really act human a lot of the time; just a culmination of generic archetypes that would randomly yell out something zany, with weird sounds involuntarily squeaking out amongst the shouting. Weird speech aphorisms are fine, if done right. As a fan of *Ryūkishi07, I have seen characters have weird speech quips that are later explained in the story, and double as a cute moe point. Speaking of sounds, I hated that repetitive clapping OST—the amount that that was played during the series drove me up a wall.
*Creator of Higurashi no Naku Koro ni.
*Characters of Gakuen Utopia Manabi Straight in a Nutshell:
*All of the names start with an ‘M’ for some reason, I don’t understand how that has relevance to the story. I guess it could be some kind of unifying factor, but I don’t even recall it being a plot device in the actual series.
—Manami Amamiya: Genki to nth degree. Good at singing *because her seiyū is Yui Horie. Goes hard, even when on a hover board. Natural leader of the group since she is deftly enthusiastic about everything.
*Check out her vocal tracks for the Mawaru Penguindrum ED (it was a special performance for Episode 10, where she covers the Coaltar of the Deepers track), Maria Ushiromiya from Umineko no Naku Koro ni has a special character track from a limited edition OST of the series (named ‘Happy Halloween, Maria’), and there are voice-enacted openings for her Monogatari character, Tsubasa Hanekawa.
—Mika Inamori: Commonly referred to, by me, as ‘bargain bin Cirno (東方Project).’ Since their designs are nearly identical. She’s shy and clumsy, often a wallflower, though her awkward demeanor makes her stick out like a sore thumb. She spoiled and sheltered, so she has difficulty moving forward from complacency. This is actually accented nicely, when she moves forward (via studying abroad) in *Episode 12. One of the few fairly fleshed out characters, along with Mei.
*Episode 12: The Cherry Blossom Colored Futures (桜色の未来たち)
—Mutsuki Uehara: She’s an athletic, tomboy who takes on the tasks of participating in multiple clubs to help out—on top of that, she juggles taking care of her younger brothers at home. Despite her boyish demeanor, she is the most sexually promiscuous character and seems to have chemistry with both Mika and Mei.
—Mei Etō: Mei has the typical, standoffish ‘tsundere’ personality and finds it difficult to express her emotions. It is revealed in *Episode 4, that Mei has trauma related to her fear of interacting with other students because, during her tenure as class representative, all of the other students shirked their duties off on her and took advantage of the fact that she was too shy to speak up about it. I would have enjoyed this series more, if every episode was similar to the aforementioned Episode 4.
*Episode 4: The Film Reel of Promo Go (プロモでゴーの巻)
—Momoha Odori: I question why Momo is even in this series, her whole roles it to be: boisterous, wealthy, quiet, and whenever she does talk, she immediately gets shut down by one of the other girls. I don’t know why she’s part of the club. No one seems to like her.
—Takako Kakuzawa: The student council president. You know that she isn’t part of the central girl group because her name doesn’t start with an ‘M.’ She’s initially rigid and cold, but eventually warms up because of her inclusion in the rebuilding of the school.
Manabi’s unfaltering idealism would have been more compelling if it seemed like real human beings would, even remotely, behave like this character. Even in the most fantastical settings, there is usually at least one nuance that makes the characters feel as if their personality that would be practical in real life. None of these characters have that; their interactions seem foreign and strange. Surreal moments like the scene where the girls start slapping and punching each other because of the humidity are nonsensical. If there had been commentary about the climate becoming unbearable, in the year 2035, then maybe their insulated moments of insanity would have made sense; but they don’t with what‘s established in the *anime.
*I didn’t even bother checking out the OVA, manga, or visual novel afterward—because of my revulsion towards the anime adaptation.
Their relationships with each other are even less relatable than their individual personalities. In all-girl shows, there are almost always implicative shōjo-ai relationships between the girls. Manabi Straight is no exception. But it’s weird, (1) Mei and Mutsuki seem to have a chemistry that is in the ‘more than friends’ terrain based on their body language around each other, (2) Mika longingly stares at Mei, yearning to be closer to her, (3) In *Episode 6, Mika goes to Mutsuki’s house at night, in a mini-skirt, and sexual tension arises between them, but only in that one episode.
*Episode 6: Cinnamon Sugar Raised Happiness (シナモンシュガーレイズド·ハピネス)
The shōjo-ai elements seem to primarily exist for older men to write explicit yuri dōjins in their basements. The uncomfortable, voyeuristic short of the girls throughout the show doesn’t help dissolve that theory either. I am a moderate fan of ecchi and am perfectly okay with it being in anime, but the ecchi in Manabi Straight is gross; it’s classless and creepy. There’s a candid shot of Mutsuki erotically sucking off a popsicle in one episode, and another where Mika is laying on her back while talking to one of her friends on the phone and the angle that the shot is placed at—shows right up her skirt, and the camera angles constantly fixate on Momo’s *thighs. Speaking from a female perspective, the male gaze in this is suffocating.
*Termed officially as zettai ryōiki.
The characters have sudden schisms in behavior in some part that were *DID level, played for the sake of cute-girls-doing-wacky-things. Nothing makes sense, not even Manami’s grand promise to rebuild the school works—the only thing that really seems rebuilt is Mika’s perspective but that isn’t even hinted at, until the very end, when she boards the airplane. This scene was supposed to be touching, but instead felt incredibly empty.
*Referring to dissociative identity disorder.
In the end, no amount of visual metaphors or hints of emotional enlightenment are able to salvage this series. During its airing date (2007), I completely feel in love with another moe show called Renkin 3-kyū Magical? Pokān—that series had much more of an impact than Manabi Straight, which is clearly trying to elicit a coming-of-age nostalgia from its viewers. Gakuen Utopia Manabi Straight is moe done wrong, and gets a 2/10 rating from me.