10/13/2007

Series Review: Nanatsuiro Drops

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"It is a magical story of, 'A seven-colored first love that encompasses you.'"

A Cardcaptor Sakura for the 21st century.

At first glance Nanatsuiro Drops is one of your standard magical girl shows with a target audience age that can be counted on your two hands. In some aspects of it, it is exceedingly sugary and simplistic.

But delve into the origin of NanaDrops, and you'll discover, curiously enough, that it was adapted from an eroge, which would seem to suggest quite the contrary to what one would expect from an anime of this type.

Now of course NanaDrops still looks and acts like an anime that has nothing to do with its ero roots. But this isn't to say that it renounced its background altogether. Somehow it feels that NanaDrops isn't the type of eroge to be a mindless sex romp but rather one with more of an actual story feel to it, which just happens to have H-scenes.

This isn't to say that NanaDrops is a deep anime, or a complex one. But it'd be wrong to call it a simplistic anime. It does work the magical girl formula in an innovative way and quite different than what one might expect.

Rather than being focused on the magic aspect of it, there is a larger emphasis on the relationship between characters. It's a refreshing departure from the "let's take the whole series to build up to a confession" concept utilized far too often by a lot of romance shows.

Nanatsuiro Drops really is a curious show in that it's a magical girl show with very little emphasis on the magic. The magical parts of the show really come across as more of a prop towards the development of the two main characters and their relationship together.

And one can even detect a hint of tongue-in-cheek in the magical elements, in the sense that it really feels like Magical Girls for Dummies at times with a real feeling that given the setting, anyone could have been the magical girl, it's that easy.

It will still be a series twenty times too sweet for someone who can't handle magical girl shows, and maybe even for someone who can; NanaDrops is the ultimate feel-good story that really has the power to bring a giddy, childlike smile to your face.

The plot is something you've probably seen before in some fashion, but the strength in NanaDrops lies in it's power to throw you into the way-back machine to the good ol' days of shows like Cardcaptor Sakura; where the characters are pure, the romance innocent, and a mood shining as bright as the sun.

If that's your thing, Nanatsuiro Drops really is an underrated, seven-colored gem.

The magical aspects of Nanatsuiro Drops were understandably grating for those who don't like having their teeth rotted twice over with all the sugarcoated wand-waving and spell-chanting, but it's not really as horrible as it first looks.

In the beginning parts of the show, it almost seems a bit satirical with the way Nona / Asparas is so insistent on Sumomo being a "proper" Stellar Spinner, and just how furious Nona becomes when she finds out Sumomo is no good at the typical magical girl trade.

Yes, as you might expect, she doesn't know any spells, how to wave a wand properly, or how to act like a magical girl, but Sumomo is going to win you over with the Power of Love and Kindness anyway; which isn't as half-bad as it sounds.

Firstly because the magic aspects are almost completely phased out by the end of the show, and secondly because there is a nice twist to the formula with Yuki, the standard Plush Animal Accomplice, and Haru, the Male Protagonist / Love Interest, being one and the same.

Usually the stuffed animals serve as a sort of combined deux ex and comic relief, being funny until it's time for them to spill all the plot development. But here in NanaDrops, there really is an interesting dynamics in that Haru gets to see Sumomo in both her shy schoolgirl demeanor and her energetic magical girl demeanor, without her knowing.

Not to mention Sumomo's constant raving about her crush on some guy named Haru to "Yuki-chan." Almost reminiscent of Kotori's power in D.C., how Haru knows too much, and so the plot benefits from the switching personalities of Sumomo and the switching bodies of Haru.

Additionally, some of the Rules of Magic, as provided by the deux ex magic book from Kisaragi, allow for some dramatic, if not a tad predictable, plot developments. Yeah, it seems that every magical girl show has some plot twist to do with "loved one forgetting their feelings", but it's still a point that can be executed well again and again.

The "restart" episodes of Cardcaptor Sakura (circa the Yue fight, I want to say around 50-something?) and Nanatsuiro Drops, where one of the main characters forgot who they were, are both very enthralling. If not because of the emotion of the plot itself, because of all the astounding parallelism between these episodes and the early times of the show, in showing how something's just not right with the character interactions. It's something awesome.

It was a bit of a let-down how the magic competition was almost completely phased out at the end, after such a fierce fight from Nona. She still acknowledged defeat in the end in her own way, but kind of as a whole it felt like we could have used more from Nona. She had that sort of "I guess friendship is a good thing" development going on like Yuma in Code-E.

Still, the stronger aspect of NanaDrops is not the magic in the romance sense but the magic in the romantic sense. Seeing the main couple together by the two-thirds mark is always a plus for me; watching the relationship dynamics between characters change after a confession is always much more exciting than watching a blush-fest of aborted confession after aborted confession.

In that regard the interaction between Sumomo and Haru was, like a lot of the show, really sweet and smile-inducing. From the nervous time they spent falling for each other, to the tentative yet confident time they spent as a couple, to the sweetly melancholy last few minutes they spent together in the last few minutes before catching the final stardrop. And of course, the reunion.

The characters themselves were reasonably likable as well. Sumomo, like a typical magical heroine, had strong emotional development; while she may have came off as a crybaby initially, by the end of the series she was fairly self-confident, and always had that bright smile on her face.

Haru was a decent male lead as well. While he may not be as wickedly witty (sarcastic) as other visual novel leads, he wasn't spineless by any means. Perhaps a bit of a loner, but he comes across as kind of a cool guy; and certainly as YUki he was a supportive character who, like Sumomo, always gave his all.

Side characters, aside from the aforementioned Nona, didn't get a lot of attention but none of them were particularly grating. It was nice to see the one other schoolboy in the show, Keisuke, be a nice, social personality despite his geeky look. And it was always amusing to see the nosey nature of Sumomo and Haru's friends trying to push them together.

Nako, Sumomo's best friend, was very similar to Haru in a sense that she supported Sumomo 100% and seemed to always be there for her. Sometimes I wish that there wasn't always so much implied yuri between these kinds of characters (hello, Tomoyo) but this might be my own fault.

Kisaragi took the place of the Adult Who Knows Everything with a typically cool and collected demeanor. Not much to say about him since he's a dime-a-dozen, but he didn't get on my bad side.

Prodution-wise NanaDrops felt strong, with a lot of shiny and sparkly effects; there didn't seem to be too much canned animation for the magic sequences, as well. Not to mention the unique animation style in this show, with at least one random (and adorable) chibi sequence per episode. The music wasn't spectacular but the OP and ED songs were surprisingly catchy; they were just so upbeat and happy that sometimes you just can't help but hum them.

Nanatsuiro Drops would sound by now to be the best anime since sliced bread (which, incidentally, hasn't gotten an animated adaptation yet) and I must admit that's the wrong impression of the show. It's a great anime for those who don't mind being youthful, perhaps childish at heart, and for those who like simple, happy romance stories. Those looking for deeper or more serious fare, or who simply have an aversion to squeaky voices and magical aspects will want to stay far, far away.

But this story should be one that resonates strongly with a lot of fans of both magical girl shows and of romance shows; to that sense it's almost a spiritual successor to Cardcaptor Sakura in points, and while it won't become as big a show as the former, those who enjoyed Sakura's adventure will find a lot to like in Sumomo's sweet tale of stardrops and first loves.

-CCY

comments:

I liked how they made a bit of fun of Kisaragi always being around when needed, with him taking the place of other teachers because they were late/sick/etc. Sumomo was adorable though, you couldn't help but love her, and it was really nice seeing her gain some self confidence. :)