Amanchu is the show that I have been most surprised about this season. Whilst I have experienced Junichi Sato’s direction before in Princess Tutu, that wouldn’t necessarily predicate that Amanchu would be the most well constructed show I am watching this season. Princess Tutu is over a decade old and has quite different goals to Amanchu. Though they share some vague similarities: both shows are very formulaic, slow burning, with powerfully deforming faces, I am not looking to compare and contrast Princess Tutu with Amanchu. Instead I am going to look at a single part of Amanchu’s 3rd episode and attempt to articulate what I love about Amanchu by exploring how it expresses its character’s emotional states.
In previous episodes Amanchu has codified the the ocean, water, and diving, as bringing out content and calm feelings. So when the episode opens with angled shots moving away from the calming beauty of the cherry blossoms and diving pool we have an immediate feel for the scene. Futaba, our protagonist, is uncomfortable. It is lunch and everyone has already formed their social groups. Futaba both struggles to put herself out there and also has moved to this small town from Tokyo. She desperately wants to make friends, but her anxieties prevent her from doing so. Everything about this scene is designed to express her feelings. The classroom is lively, yet Futaba is isolated in her thought process. The classroom chatter fades out and the rest of the class is visually distinct from Futaba. Either by being blurred out when she is introspecting, or by simply not being present in the shot. All that remains are the solo piano notes and Futaba’s own internal monologue. The rest of the class come back into view when Futaba glances over. She wants to take part in this lunchtime talk, to make friends. But she can’t. And once again she is isolated from the rest of the class. This is all done in Amanchu’s delicate art style to emphasise the how genuine these struggles are. These aren’t feelings aren’t wrong, or a joke.
From this sincere take on a young woman struggling with her social anxiety, you may consider it strange that the show immediately works to tear those feelings away. First off, the opening of the show is both gentle and joyous (It would be a mistake to overlook how an opening works within the context of a show). And the scene straight after the opening continues to remove tension with Hikari – an incredibly energetic and happy-go-lucky student who is Very Good Friends with Futaba – whistling loudly as she walks home with Futaba. In less than three minutes, Amanchu has built up an uncomfortable and tense atmosphere before breaking it down into a more relaxed and fun one. It’s from this point onwards that the deformed puppet art style begins being used in the episode. Since the show is no longer predicated on being tense it now works to be anything but tense, and this art style is far too childish to carry emotional weight.
The next five minutes or so are dedicated to Futaba and Hikari walking together. Whilst they walk the space between them grows and shrinks depending on what they are talking about. When Futaba thanks Hikari for everything she’s done for her the gap grows, Futaba pulls ahead. This expresses Hikari’s shock and confusion in simple but effective visual ways that even the scenery – as the wall ‘pushes’ them back together – takes part in. As they walk they both open up to each other. Both of them sharing their insecurities and weaknesses with one and other. Pleasant harmonious music and deformed art styles accompany this. This isn’t that Amanchu is treating their insecurities with irreverence. Rather that despite the genuine nature of these kinds of feelings the show doesn’t want to present them as over bearing. This isn’t a scene of two girls drowning in negativity, it’s two girls enjoying each other’s company.
The final part of this ‘sketch’ involves Futaba, once again, being dragged away by Hikari’s whims. Rather than heading to the bus stop like planned they end up going drastically off course to a tunnel of cherry blossom trees. On a purely visual level these cherry blossom trees contrast with the single blossom that mirrored Futaba’s loneliness at the start of the episode. And the dialogue here supports that. Hikari tells Futaba she believes in her and that she’s there for her. Futaba isn’t alone.
Amanchu is available for streaming on Crunchyroll. All screenshots were taken from there.