In retrospect Amanchu! was never going to live up to my hopes of matching or exceeding ARIA, and it was unfair of me to have those expectations.
With that disclaimer in place, what is Amanchu, and what is a fair assessment of Amanchu?
Set in the current day, Futaba Ooki, transfers from Tokyo to Shizuoka. Futaba is deeply shy, unhappy at being separated from her first real friends, resenting having to commute to her new school on a scooter, and almost lost in the vista of the ocean.
Hikari Kohinata is Futaba’s opposite: energetic, extroverted, a native to Shizuoka, currently without close friends, energetically looking forward to making friends and having great new experiences at high school.
Oh, and Hikari’s grandmother Kino runs a dive shop called Amanchu somewhere along the coastline.
Whilst scouting out her route to school, Futaba stops at Amanchu and meets Kino.
The rest of the story is Hikari, usually referred to by the nickname Pikari, dragging Futaba, who she nicknames Teko on account of Futaba’s beautiful hair, into friendship, and into the Diving Club. Naturally this is heading well into the Romantic Two-Girl Friendship so beloved of many anime.
Like ARIA before it, Amanchu! is very much a slice of life, iyashikei show, and works well on that level. Unlike many slice of life shows, there is actually a goal in the anime: Teko passing her class C Open Diver course, and being able to dive in the ocean with the high school Diving Club.
Of course to get there, Teko has to open her heart and find the courage to push past her anxieties. Meanwhile Pikari has to learn to hold back on her exuberance a little so as not to lose Teko along the way.
Amanchu! does have a number of problems that need to be recognised.
In terms of the length, I now understand Junichi Sato’s comments re why the second season of ARIA was called The NATURAL: having 26 episodes allowed a gentler, more natural, exploration of the characters over a longer period. This is complicated by Amanchu! actually having a plot (sort of) that it needed to wrap up in 12 episodes. i.e. Amanchu had to work within constraints that no longer apply to ARIA, which is a large part of why a comparison is unfair.
The super deformed faces sometimes threw me out of the story. These featured in ARIA as well, but not nearly to the same extent. Expression faces like these have been a growing trend in anime recently, eg Orange has had some really bizarre ones, and Flying Witch is another recent show that made good use of them. In Amanchu! I think these were overdone, particularly in the early episodes, and may have damaged my perception of the characters.
Certainly I remember pegging Pikari as a completely over the top Cloud Cuckoo Lander early on, and it took a while for the nuances of her character to emerge from behind the faces.
A lesser issue is the beach episodes and the fanservice that accompanies such. This is mostly well handled, and comes up less often than I expected given the premise, but it is there.
Another minor issue is the complete absence of parents from the story. They’re mentioned occasionally, but never actually seen. This sometimes strains credibility.
A final issue is the relationship between the twins Ai and Makoto Ninomiya. Sigh. Earlier in the season I dropped Momokuri because of the double standard re stalking being funny when it is female after male. The double standard here is abuse is OK when it is Female on Male. Like the fanservice, it’s not overdone to the point where I dropped the show, but it is a flaw in Amanchu!
It seems that Ms Amano has some very specific tastes in what female uniforms should look like.
However what seemed natural in the graceful Undines of Neo-Venezia does seem a little peculiar as a high school uniform.
Don’t get me wrong, I think the uniforms are very pretty, but I rather doubt their practicality.
The boots alone must take forever to get on and off.
The uniforms aren’t the only peculiar exports from ARIA bolted into the show either.
Teko’s friends from middle school Akane and Chizuru are dead ringers for Akari and Aika from ARIA, down to appearance, seiyuu, and the vocal stylings of the seiyuu.
That Perfect Episode
Despite the problems and peculiarity of the uniforms, Amanchu! does work as an iyashikei, and works quite well on its own merits. The development of the characters, especially Teko as she is drawn into the orbit of the Diving Club, is lovely to watch.
Episode 9 The Story of the Memories You Can’t Erase absolutely nails it.
Even as she’s being drawn into the Diving Club, Teko is still grieving for the separation from Akane and Chizuru, especially as she knows that over time they will text/call each other less, and visit even more rarely than that. Teko can’t even bring herself to unwrap and use the mobile phone strap they bought her as parting gift for fear of damaging or losing it.
Throughout the previous episodes, Teko has been taking photos of the scenes, and people, that she enjoys. To capture the emotions of the moment in a picture, and have a constantly changing random picture display on the home screen of the phone.
Then the memory runs out.
Teko has to choose between losing a memory to save the new photo, or not being able to save any more, and this puts the pain of losing the old in direct conflict with gaining the new treasured memories.
Emotionally paralysed, the episode turns on how the Diving Club comes to her rescue with a digital photo frame. But it’s not so much the present itself, as the way they treat it, and the way they take joy in the giving, that makes this episode a real tear jerker, and drives a real change in Teko.
By the end of the episode Teko is using Akane’s phone strap, and can again face talking to them with a genuine smile in her heart.
The Story of the Memories You Can’t Erase really is as close to a perfect episode of anime as you’re likely to get, that episode alone makes watching Amanchu! worthwhile.
Overall I really enjoyed Amanchu! The final couple of episodes aren’t up to the standards of The Story of the Memories You Can’t Erase, but do carry the story to a successful and satisfactory conclusion.
Overall, my position on Amanchu! is that it is a show that I’m likely to come back to again, and one that I’d be very happy to see a second season of. Preferably one with 2 cour next time.
As a final note I don’t know why the mood took me to have alliterative headings in this post, and I’ll leave you with the really pretty Million Clouds sung by Maaya Sakamoto. NB: Keep an eye out for Teko’s phone, and the way she grips it towards the end.