Now there’s one that’s significantly more intriguing than I expected…
OP: "Girlish Lover" by Chinatsu Akasaki, Yukari Tamura, Hisako Kanemoto and Ai Kayano
At first glance, Oreshura seems like a series that could hardly be more formulaic. To be honest, at second and third-glance too, and maybe after staring at it for a while. But I’ve said before that formula done well is nothing to be dismissed – though rare, that’s a category that can provide some of the most entertaining series around. The burden of proof may be a little higher but if it’s met, you’ve got a keeper. And after one episode, Oreshura at least shows the potential to be just that.
I said in the Winter Preview of Oreshura “for some reason this feels like it might be better than it looks.” That’s based on the top-down credits – A-1 Pictures, Kanta Kamei directing, Utahara Tatsuhiko writing, and a strong cast led by the superb rising star Ohsaka Ryouta as Kidou Eita. His m.o. should be familiar to fans of the harem genre – the high-school boy who just wants to live a quiet, normal life and study. He’s even got the requisite genki-girl osananajimi who looks and acts like a grade-schooler, Harusaki Chiwa (Akasaki Chinatsu) and, for good measure, absent parents (if parents were absent in real-life as often as they are in anime…) forcing him to live with overworked relative Saeko (Nazuka Kaori, so for only a grunt to earn her paycheck). So far this is derivative of derivative, at best.
There are wrinkles here, though, and they start with a few quirks that make Eita a bit more than just a cardboard cut-out to stand in the middle of the series. He’s determined to go to medical school (I don’t recall hearing that too often in anime) and he hates love because his parents – oddly enough – each found a new lover and abandoned him while he was in middle school. That’s bizarre, but at the least gives the protagonist a valid reason to detest romance. He’s also apparently got a healthy dose of chuunibyou about him – that seems to be a theme in anime now – as he fantasizes that he’s really “Burning Fighter Fighter” – a dragon knight – and this side of his personality has left a ticking time bomb that’s only now about to explode.
Chiwa as the childhood friend is the one element in the premiere that never escapes the stereotypes – she’s as formula as it gets – but much better is Natsukawa Masuzu (Tamura Yukari, excellent here, who also sings the OP and ED). She’s filling a generic role too, the exotic transfer student (with white hair to boot) who threatens to steal the hero from the childhood friend, but like Eita she’s got enough that’s slanted about her to be interesting. She, like he, hates romance – she’s been living overseas since she was seven and has been tormented by potential suitors since she returned. She’s decided to use Eita as a beard – a fake boyfriend to keep the wolves at bay – and has the ammunition to blackmail him, an old diary of his she found hidden in a Japanese picture dictionary she bought used (that this is targeted at toddlers and thus indicative of her shaky Japanese is a nice touch).
Premise-wise, there’s nothing much to distinguish Oreshura from its countless predecessors in this minefield. But it manages to be captivating nonetheless, partly because the dialogue is mostly sharp and witty, and partly because the dynamic between Eita and Masuzu seems interesting. They are, of course, much more alike than not – it’s easy to see where this is going – and their respective misanthropy plays off the other in quite entertaining fashion. There are scenes – such as the one where Eita envisions global chaos as a result of uncertainty over what - if any - panties Masuzu wears, then gets to “Sorry – I’m over-thinking that” – that achieve a real comedic elegance, and seem to imply the presence of something substantial in the writing. For now, at least, I’m interested to see whether Oreshura can continue to be interesting and distinctive when playing such a familiar tune.