If you don't know where you're from, then you don't know where you are, and you don't know where you're going. It's a fairly trite adage, but like most old sayings there's an element of truth to it. When it comes to visual media though, such sentiments seem to go out of the window, across the fields, and off into the wild blue yonder, especially where adaptations are concerned.
So where does that leave Amagami SS?
A number of people may already be familiar with the fact that the series is yet another adaptation of a dating sim, and given that this is the spiritual successor to Kimikiss, it's only natural that Enterbrain would attempt to emulate the relative success of the latter game and its anime adaptation. Unlike its predecessor though, Amagami SS decides to take a different approach with the storyline, and breaks things up into bite-sized relationship pieces that supposedly makes them easier to swallow, which works ... kind of.
The series is split up into six short stories (and one "special" episode), that recount Tachibana Junichi's quest for high school love, and how he finds it with six different girls (and before you ask, no, this isn't School Days all over again). Along the way various relationship shenanigans ensue which cause the usual misunderstandings, reconciliations, attractions, repulsions, etc, etc.
Now on the surface Amagami SS looks like the common or garden harem romantic comedy (but with the harem aspect applied in a different way). The plot follows the game's methodology by offering up multiple heroines for the protagonist to pursue, and while some may find this a refreshing approach, it's not really original as the series attempts to mask its shortcomings by adopting different narrative styles from one tale to the next.
The biggest problem with short stories is that there needs to be enough content and context within the plot to justify the actions, thoughts and emotions of the characters, and it's surprising that Amagami manages to offer some semblance of a storyline over the course of each tale. Then again, the majority of development points where both the plot and the characters are concerned have really been done to death in anime and manga, so it's no surprise that there's at least a half decent story in there.
After all, if you give enough monkeys enough time they can apparently produce Shakespeare (although it does make one wonder where they keep him).
Each individual tale is pretty decent in its own right, but when one considers them as part of the whole a different picture begins to appear. What emerges are a series of contradictory actions and behaviours that don't really seem to make sense. Now these could be explained away by assuming that people act one way with one person, and another way with someone else, and so on, and one could easily view Amagami in this light. The problem is that this assumption ignores the portrayals of the characters in the previous stories, effectively making them little more than blank canvasses. To further compound this, certain characters seem to be clueless about the circumstances around people they've known for years.
Still, if one simply treats them as a series of short stories then they can be entertaining, but the plot for each is nothing special, and the formulaic approach to each tale is, at times, a bit too familiar, and offers very little in the way of innovation, and rather a lot in the way of predictability.
It's pretty obvious from the artwork that there is a large degree of genericism inherent in this anime, and Amagami does nothing to break away from the stereotypes. The high school setting, town and surrounding environs are nicely designed and detailed, but when it comes to rom-com anime, once you've seen one high school, you've pretty much seen them all. Granted there are a few exceptions to the rule, but in general there's not much difference between the various depictions on offer.
The design principle is a little bit strange in one respect (which I'll come back to in a bit), as the characters are nicely envisioned, but are also as generic as they come (much like a lot of things in this anime). That doesn't mean they're poorly realised though, as they're clearly based on Enterbrain's designs from the games, and coupled with some decent animation and backgrounds, they do give the show a familiarity that can sometimes be mistaken for quality. The acid test occurs when one compares the series to its spiritual predecessor, and although Kimikiss was produced by a different animation studio, there are a number of similarities that stand out, not the least of which is the look of the heroines.
But simply looking like another show doesn't mean that the design and animation is substandard, and in all honesty Amagami does manage to hold it's own in the visuals department. It simply could have been better than it is, and it's puzzling why this isn't the case, especially for such a popular gaming franchise.
One of the better aspects of the series is the music, specifically the manner in which it's used rather than the actual tracks played throughout the anime (which are fairly routine affairs, but that's pretty much expected by this point). There are far too many shows out there that play music for no specific reason, so it's nice to watch a series that treats silence as golden for a change, and this is something that works in Amagami's favour as it allows the viewer to focus on the characters without having to suffer through tunes that sound a lot like the music played in just about every other high school rom-com/drama ever made.
That said, the music in itself isn't bad per se. It's simply ... generic (there's that word again), and even with two opening themes and six ending themes (sung by the lead actress from each character arc), there's little on offer that really stands out. Granted there are some decent enough songs (the law of averages and all that), but in all honesty this is probably nothing more than "when you're given lemons, make lemonade", or in this case, when you're given a romantic comedy drama, make a cheesy love song.
Which leaves only the acting, and in this respect Amagami is a bit of a mixed bag. Maeno Tomoaki plays the role of Junichi rather well (even though it's a bit like playing the role of a wet paper bag at times), and the strength of his portrayal gives much needed support to the lead actress roles.
See, here's the problem. No matter how good the seiyuu are, there's a limited amount that can be achieved in four episodes. Granted the actors and actresses have cameos throughout the series, but it's nowhere near enough time for them to truly come to grips with their characters. In this respect Kimikiss is actually superior, as by the end of that anime the seiyuu had grown accustomed to their roles and were able to play their parts with a confidence that, with the obvious exception of Maeno (who plays the only continuous lead character), none of the seiyuu in Amagami can match.
All of which leads to the characters themselves, and in a nutshell they're as generic (I seem to be using that word a lot these days), as they come, but once again that doesn't automatically mean that they're bad. Junichi could very well be a poster boy for harem lead males, and fits just about every stereotype going, especially the ones about nice guys and being a little slow on the uptake. That said, he's a pleasant enough character, and as the only lead in focus throughout the series there is some development to be had, but the nature of the story dictates that this tends to be repetitive.
Unfortunately the female leads aren't as clearly defined, and the reason for this is the relatively small amount of screen time they get. While they also grow as characters, this is tempered with a necessary urgency that precludes any substantial development. The supporting characters also suffer from the "resetting" of their personalities as this leads to repetitive behaviours and actions that simply don't go anywhere, and add nothing more than inane by-plays to the main narrative.
Amagami SS isn't a bad show though, and it does have its plus points. The relationship mechanics are handled in a reasonable manner, and the characters, especially the male lead, aren't as wishy-washy as some I could name. The problem is that instead of trying something original, director Hiraike Yoshimasa and AIC have opted to follow a "tried and tested" method that will yield results when it comes to DVD sales and merchandising, but only in the short term, and this makes one wonder why a hugely popular game franchise like Amagami has an adaptation that is only passing good.
The series is enjoyable to a degree, but it's still nothing more than one amongst many romantic comedies in anime, especially where schools are concerned.
Given the popularity and fervour surrounding the games one would expect AIC to expend more effort on making the anime adaptation better than it is, especially where things like plot and design are concerned. Granted there's only so much one can do in that respect, but the overuse of stereotypes means that the whole series plays out like nothing more than a glorified advert for the game(s). Like so many other game adaptations, the producers, director, animation studio, and just about everybody else in the making of this series have failed to realise the what fans really want. Instead of offering something that is an evolution of the franchise, we're treated to nothing more than a vapid retelling of the same old story. Even though the Amagami tries to be a little different with it's approach, one cannot laud the attempts to hide this anime's failings, especially the overtly generic design and plot, characters that don't really get the kind of attention needed to raise the level of the series, and an almost blind obedience to formula.
In a very odd way, Amagami SS is a clear case of too many girls, not enough time, and the decision to make it in the first place seems to have had little to do with wanting to tell a story, and more to do with letting everyone know how good the games are.
I suppose I can chalk this up as another "victory" for the marketing department.