Series Recap: Shuffle!

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"As long as Rin-kun is happy, then everything will be fine."

It's why I watched Shuffle. It's why you should too.

Today begins another flavor of content, full series recaps. Instead of recounting series episode-by-episode it's time to write some more all-encompassing content in reviewing the series as a whole.

Episode recaps will likely continue for newer, more recent series (such as Lucky Star and the upcoming summer season) but for older series these types of posts will probably become the norm, since most of you have watched this sort of stuff ten times over.

So, how about Shuffle!? On the face of it it's a very generic harem show, with one typically bland protagonist choosing between five typically varied girls, but there is a lot more depth to it than first meets the eye.

Here's the non-spoilery version for those looking to watch Shuffle!, and bonus details with spoilers can be found after the jump.

Shuffle doesn't really kick in until about halfway through - episode 12 is where the serious content starts, and it hits high gear around 16. Still, I would reccomend watching some of the early episode to familiarize oneself with the characters, if only so that the later parts can hit harder. Still, since Shuffle! is hitting R1 DVD this fall and it's a bit hard to come by online (by, y'know, legal means), if you could only buy some DVDs, pick up the 5th for sure (17-20, projecting 4 episodes a DVD) and, if possible, the 4th and 6th as well.

I would reccomend Shuffle! for those who like the "Sad Girls in Snow" genre (to steal a cliche), which I attribute to most visual-novels such as Kanon, AIR, Tsukihime, and yes, Shuffle. What I mean by that, is that, although these appear to be harem anime on the surface, each character has a compelling story to tell, instead of just being rehashed fluff. At the least, they are emotionally powerful rehashed fluff.

Shuffle! is similar to anime like the Key ones and Tsukihime in this regard, but it differs in that it is more tilted toward its fanservicey origins. So if you like panties and breasts, Shuffle! will be something you enjoy at least partially. And if you like serious storytelling with twists and tears, you will also enjoy Shuffle!.

As such, Shuffle! will probably be enjoyed by the latter audience, who can stand the former. If you're just in Shuffle! for the dirty aspects of it, the first half is nearly all yours. I would suggest, if you're into that sort of thing, check out the Shuffle! series of h-games, which seem significantly more biased towards ero content.

Still, for anyone who is not overly disturbed by fanservice (and if you are, there's always the fast-forward button, or your eyelids), I would give Shuffle! a strong recommendation. Spoilers ensue after the jump.

There are a few aspects to Shuffle! that really make it stand out among the many contenders in its genre. After all, fanservice anime have always been pretty crowded, and the field for eroge adaptations is pretty strong as well. As mentioned above, Shuffle's acceptance of its fanservice roots will draw in an extra audience, and it doesn't detract away from the more meaty content too strongly.

What Shuffle is really known for, if you've ever heard the term 'to pull a Shuffle' used in my blog or others, is the twist ending. Very often harem animes are extremely predictable - the main girl is designated early and focused on often, to the point that one doesn't really even need to spoil the fact that she is the ending girl (i.e. the True Love).

Shuffle! set up viewers this way subtly, listing towards Kaede's direction if not solely because of her Childhood Friend designation (which has a strong track record of winning). But she was quickly cast into the background in favor of the rest of the cast, who faded in and out of the spotlight, sometimes numerous times.

That's the interesting thing, that there really was no such thing as "down and out" in Shuffle. Sia, who suffered the death blow of having the first arc early, came back two-thirds down the line, right in the heat of things. Kaede, as mentioned, was the one who was always ignored throughout the series, but being the Childhood Friend, technically was always in it - especially when she pulled off her arc in style with 5 episodes to go - decision time. Doubly so because the episode before, Asa, the one who had the most hints dropped towards her getting an ending, turned down Rin (hint: the male protagonist) because of his inability to function on his own.

In the end, of course, Asa came back and won, but who would have put money on her after episode 1? And it was a fight all the way to the wire as well. Nerine and Primula, although not mentioned above, did have their moments as well - although they were the first true victims of First Arc Syndrome. All the girls resolved their conflicts in a realistically viable manner, choosing to accept Asa as the winner in addition to giving up their own affections - or at least, resolving to fight harder to overtake Asa.

After all, as Sia puts it, the Gods practice polygamy.

Enough about the twist ending, as it is. The characters, as hinted at above, are a varied and interesting cast as well, and aren't just cookie-cutter - although they do fit a few stereotypes.

Sia, the god princess, and Nerine, the demon princess, share many similarities in that they are both two-for-one deals in that they harbor alternate personalities, in addition to both of them having met Rin in the past. Sia has Kikyou, and Nerine has Lico.

Taking the first pair, Sia is your typical Genki Girl at first, being very enthusiastic and energetic, but not as much as to get onto one's nerves. She has a more shy and reserved side though, which shows in her second arc, where she begins to mature and doubt herself about chasing Rin so blindly without considering others. This is of course a sharp contrast to her alternate personality, Kikyou, who is more of a 'win-at-all-costs' type personality, which makes for some interesting switch-offs and stand-offs between the two of them.

Nerine is decidedly more reserved than Sia, and is more prone to embarassment. Perhaps this is a fault of blue hair, but she reminds me a lot of Mina from TokiMemo Only Love, in that both of them, despite being a bit shy, aren't afraid to speak their mind and stand up for themselves. As such, she's much of an improvement over the typical Shy Girl mold. In the overall scheme of things, she actually sneaks in the first kiss on Rin. How about that, eh? Lico is her alternate personality, who sacrificed herself a long time ago for her sister (Nerine, if you're not keeping track). Not much is exposed about her but she seems very much like your typical Idol-type who is confident, and perfect-seeming. At least, we don't see much of her flaws.

Primula is the real Quiet Girl of this cast - must be something with the purple hair - but she does show facial emotion quite often, most often worry in the tearing apart of her 'family' (Rin and Kaede). Her form of love deals less with romantic and more with family, as her arc deals with the separation of her from everyone, and she frequently tries hard to keep everybody happy and friendly, in her quiet little way. She's also the closest we ever get to a meganekko, for those who are keeping score.

Kaede's a cookie-cutter Childhood Friend for most of the show, in that she's very friendly and yes, willing to step out of the way as her love goes off to cavort with more interesting personalities. She does show change though, as all this wear is piling up on her behind the scenes, until she snaps (see the famous first picture of this post), going through the typical phases of stress; denial, anger, depression, acceptance, or something like that? It's something we rarely see in anime, and it really goes a great way towards giving Shuffle top tier status, in that Kaede, in addition to the other characters, do not stand by the wayside and let Asa win.

Asa is Genki Girl 2.0, even more so than Sia, frequently speaking in English and giving Rin enthusiastic slaps on the back. She is of this type to the extent that she plays happy in order not to worry others (since she actually turns out to be a Sick Girl). She has quite a backbone, which is shown in her shaping of Rin, whether it be how he treats her or how he confesses to her. She actually TURNS DOWN a confession from the lead protagonist (Rin) - which has to be a first in anime, especially since she harbors feelings for him too, of course. It's the little surprises of Shuffle that count.

Rin is the male protagonist, and I haven't written much about him because there's not much to say about him. He starts as your typical spineless character, realizes his weakness, and matures into a responible young man, or something honorable sounding like that. He's not anything far out of the norm, to the extent of, I suppose, Kyon or Yuuichi - although there HAVE to be other people to mention in these situations - despite sharing the same voice actor.

There's a theme which ties Shuffle! together, which is the supernatural aspect of magic. The gods (Sia's people) and the demons (Nerine's people) have worked together to try to create a human lifeform capable of using and controlling magic (or something like that). They failed at least once, maybe twice, and succeeded once, and all three characters play a strong part in the series. Why?

The first one was Ama, Asa's mom. The first 'clone', as it is, was presumed dead for a long time, but since it's well known that Asa's mom is rather in the alive column, that's proven false. She had some vague form of magical potential, which she passed on to her daughter Asa, setting up her arc.

The second one was Licorice, Nerine's sister. She's been explained already, and she proves to not have tied only to Nerine but to the third test subject...

Primula. See how it all works together? The theme pops up now and then, as such, for surprise plot twists or explanations, but it seems almost plausible and doesn't detract from the experience, especially in comparison to other unifying explanations of eroge.

The other theme of Shuffle! is flowers or something, as everyone is named after a flower in some way. This is most obvious in characters such as Nerine, Nadeshiko, and Mayumi Thyme. I don't believe this convention means anything beyond the names, though.

The side characters of Shuffle are very good as well, as Itsuki, the runner-up male, is much stronger of a character and much more entertaining than the usual pathetic to the nth degree Second Harem Guy, as well as his friend (and, as has been hinted at in Shuffle! On The Stage blurbs, his love as well. I would like to beg for a Mayumi path translation, please?) Mayumi Thyme, who forms the energetic comedy duo with Itsuki. The pair are always good for laughs, as they each have repeated - yet amusing - gags involving Itsuki's harem dreams/jealousy and Mayumi's defensiveness of her small bust size. The parents of Sia and Nerine are also a good combination for humor, and even Nadeshiko, the typical Overly Racked Teacher, has her moments.

And on a minor note, the opening and ending songs are really ace - YURIA and Miyuki
Hashimoto have cranked out a lot of good songs for the Shuffle! series, in addition to just the two here in this anime.

So, with all the gushing about this series, what's not to like about it?

The fanservice, honestly, does get to me at times. It's not as horribly bad as some other series, but sometimes it just seems like it could be made more plausible, or less obvious. When was the last time a swimsuit got washed off by a rogue wave while swimming at the beach? Or the last time a eight-year-old kid ran around lifting up girls' skirts? Or even Mayumi accidentally going commando (gee, I tend to remember whether I put underwear on or not) at the maid cafe? But then again, I'm talking about fanservice, so I don't know why I'd even bother trying to make it believable.

The first few episodes seem a bit dull at times as well, although this might just be my personal First Episode Syndrome of not liking beginnings. The ending falls rather flat as well, as Asa seems to act particularly out of character, refusing to use magic and save her damn life based on personal beliefs. Not to mention Rin cutting himself. And then the last half of the last episode is the usual Life X Months Later concept, with really ugly animation. C'mon.

Shuffle! Memories, if you're considering that as well, is a silly idea as well, being 99% recaps. I would say, maybe watch the last episode of that and call it a day. It's no diet substitute for the real series as well - it lacks a lot of buildup, personally.

And the Shuffle! fanbase? Scary. Whose idea was it to invent canon fanclubs in the anime?

But overall, Shuffle! is definitely on the higher end of recent harem shows and maybe anime in general. It's a bit more light than the really heavy anime such as the Key series (Kanon, AIR) and maybe some of the Type-Moon stuff (Tsukihime) as well, so you can feel some strong emotion for the characters without the tissue box for once (maybe). It's innovative, and has a a lot of surprises in store. And the flaws can be overlooked - and after all, every show has their flaws, even shows that I'd gush over like Haruhi, Kanon, Cardcaptor Sakura - and there's really a lot of good stuff, especially at the end, that makes it worth your time - and maybe money.