A real commentary on Otome Youkai Zakuro
(Okay, time to write something more serious about this show.)
I feel conflicted about Zakuro.
On the one hand, I'm enjoying it and this counts for a lot. Zakuro herself is the main draw for me (as seen), partly because I always like seeing competent and strong female protagonists in anime (given that they're so rare). The rest of the ingredients are not bad; the setting is novel, the rest of the characters are at least amusing, what's going on is interesting, and the show is willing to be sort of subtle at least some of the time. So far the romance has managed to be amusing instead of annoying.
(I particularly enjoyed Agemaki making conscious use of what I can best describe as his manly shoujo powers to disguise and overcome his fears.)
On the other hand, so far I'm feeling that Zakuro is merely competent and not more. While there's a lot to be said for competence, it feels wrong for me to be getting enthused and excited about it; ordinary competence should be a basic thing that (almost) all anime has, not an exception that I celebrate. This makes it hard for me to say really positive things about Zakuro, because its major positive so far is something that a lot of people want to be in every show that they watch.
(I also feel that it's kind of sad when an anime doesn't even try for more than competence. Since Zakuro is a manga adaptation, this may be forced on it by the original source material.)
As merely competent, I expect Zakuro to be pretty straightforward; what we've seen so far is likely to be what we get for the rest of the show. People hoping for lots of action are likely to be disappointed (the opening of the first episode is probably going to be atypical), and I expect romance to be at least half the show's contents by volume. Overall I expect to enjoy the show, but I also expect it to be ultimately un-memorable, a good way to pass time in the fall season but nothing more than that.
(I would love to be disappointed in this, well, in a good way, but I'm not holding my breath.)
Zakuro also has some weaknesses that it's already showing, which basically boil down to aspects being kind of generic. Even the main characters don't really stand out most of the time, various bits of the story are kind of predictable, and the show is already pulling out the cliches without making novel uses of them. I was particularly not taken by the use of various stock characters in the second episode, complete with an all but moustache-twirling overly Westernized, overly materialistic Japanese businessman (he has a moustache, he just doesn't twirl it). Setting up strawmen and cliches against your protagonists doesn't strengthen your story, it weakens it; anyone can look good against strawmen.
PS: note that I may have fairly strong standards for mere competence. To me, mere competence is being entertaining and decently well executed and so on. Being better than merely competent is creating something that is actively memorable and unusual (what I think Author would call good anime).
Written on 11 October 2010.