Wow! Wow, wow, wow, WOW! Now THAT was downright … excellent! Man … please pardon me while I collect myself and sit down for a second. Okay … back to the post at hand! Well, I certainly had very high hopes for J.C. Staff’s anime adaptation of Amano Kozue’s manga Amanchu! (currently 9 volumes of it have been released and it is still ongoing), and the first episode delivered … and in almost every single way. There might be some viewers out there who are not familiar with Amano as a mangaka; she is the one who drew and wrote the beautiful Aria manga, which was later made into a beautiful and moving adaptation that covered three seasons and a handful of OVAs.

Much of the anime staff that worked on the adaptation of the Aria manga are also working on the Amanchu! adaptation, which is considered to be a sort of “successor” to many of the best aspects of the Aria series. Aria was regarded by many as a veritable personification of what has come to be called the “healing” sub-genre of the “slice of life” anime category at it’s best and most effective, and the first episode of the Amanchu! adaptation looks to have made a good first step to succeed Aria in the anime medium as well.

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For those of you out there who are still unfamiliar with the basic story line of Amanchu here a summary of the series: “It is spring, the season of great changes. Kohinata Hikari is an overwhelmingly cheerful and outgoing 15-year-old girl who has spent all her life in a small and beautiful seaside town on the Izu peninsula. On the first day of high school, she meets Oki Futaba, a slightly introverted girl who has just moved from Tokyo. Before she knows it, Futaba gets dragged along into Hikari’s passion for scuba diving. And from there, Futaba gradually starts to come out of her shell, and learns how to take challenges and dive into the ocean of life.” Very dramatic sounding phrase there in the last sentence there about “diving into the ocean of life”, but that basically covers it. XD

The opening scene set around a shoreline diving store set the tone for the rest of the series quite nicely – Hikari and her grandmother (who runs the store) are talking a bit before Hikari goes for a swim in the ocean just before Futaba drives up to a small cliff overhanging the location on her moped/scooter. Futaba is obviously has a lot on her mind and is sad – it turns out she just moved nearby and had to leave behind her friends, a difficult situation for her as she is a timid, quiet and shy girl (although she is drop dead gorgeous). The grandmother approaches her when she makes her way down to the shore and is squatting atop a boulder. In a lovely and moving scene Futaba is yanked out of her preoccupation with her past by a wave crashing at the foot of a boulder and some kind words from Hikari’s grandmother. It is obviously a welcome breath of fresh air and expansiveness for Futaba’s soul.

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First and foremost, I should mention that both the backgrounds and the art of this series are exquisite, and the character designs (when not in Amano’s signature illustration mode of a character being silly or clueless) are actually … a nitnoid short of being downright beautiful. In this sense the work J.C. Staff did with Flying Witch last season has certainly carried over to Amanchu this season – this is also definitely a series to watch in 1080p if at all possible!

And this will be especially important because one of the most important activities of the main characters will be scuba diving – in other words underwater scenes and especially those of the ocean are a must to have a great artistic staff working on them, especially as Amano’s drawings in the manga are almost … breathtaking. Oh yes! Another interesting thing in comparison to Flying Witch in terms of VA work … Pikari’s VA was the same as Chinatsu’s, Futaba’s VA was the same as Chito, and Pikari’s grandmother’s VA is the same as Kei and Chinatsu’s mother!

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As a fervent reader of the manga source, though, there were other interesting things that stood out to me in terms of the choices the studio took in their introducing the story and the characters in general. The first half of the story was almost step-by-step adapted (right up to Futaba driving away on her scooter from the shoreline), but the sequence of Futaba and Hikari meeting at school was chronologically out of step. Even with that I can guess why – it is likely that the events in the manga that take place before Futaba and Hikari met at school were so long and funny that the studio wanted to spend a lot of time focusing on it, simply because it really gives us quite the snapshot into the sort of person Hikari is. It also gave the anime an opportunity to focus on introducing some of the other characters in the first episode as well – including the blobby, odd looking cat that takes a liking to Hikari and the energetic and good-hearted homeroom teacher (both of whom will eventually play a much larger role in the story as time goes on).

I suppose this is a good time as any to make a side note here about the nature of the relationship between Hikari and Futaba. It never gets romantic into the realm of the sexual (i.e. “yuri”), but it could be regarded as wandering into the realm of “shoujo ai” – and with no surprise; Hikari and Futaba are at the same time very similar (more of this will be shown in time, however) and yet very dissimilar types of people, and they hit it off like two peas in a pod. So if anyone has concerns about that aspect of things I doubt very much that the anime will “add” such material to the adaptation – based on last season’s Flying Witch and the source material I feel it would be a bit disharmonious with Amano’s whole presentation of the material. This is a story that is both a healing and a coming of age narrative, not one of “forbidden high school love” or the like.

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One of the strongest aspects of the adaptation in my opinion was the audio side of things. Not only is the VA work fabulous, but the OST had many fitting and lilting guitar strains in the background, largely composed by the guitar duo Gontiti, who also composed music for the much neglected Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou OVAs (and by the way, if anyone gets the chance the source manga for the OVAs is one of the most beautiful manga ever written in my opinion)The OP was positively gorgeous – in one fell swoop launching itself into the top position of my favorite one for the season thus far – and the ED did a very serviceable job as well.

The audio aspect is definitely one of the most important aspects that makes anime adaptations of Amano’s works come fully to life, and fortunately the anime staff learned this well from their work with Aria. I am especially sensitive taste-wise to the audio aspect of an anime, and for me this aspect of the first episode was an especial delight! I did mention that I am going to be blogging this series, and after the first episode I am really looking forward to the opportunity! I look forward to the beginning of the journey with the rest of my fellow viewers! ^^

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Currently the “oji-san” of the staff members age wise (in his mid 40’s) yet the most recent addition, he is also a Japanophile from his teen years while not quite an “otaku” who lives in the United States. Came to actively following anime late in life (in 2008), but in general loves the traditional arts, history and culture of Japan as a whole, both ancient and modern.

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