So the saying goes that you should never judge a book by its cover. The same can be said of animation, at least in the sense that moving pictures don’t always paint the best impression. And so it is with the quirky, slice-of-life outing Hidamri Sketch. The animation style is drawn from Ume Aoki’s four-panel strip and animated by talented weird-mongers, Shaft.
Initially, it looks more like a stilted webtoon, with awkward movements, a questionable resolution and a Spartan approach to details. A few episodes in and the series reveals the depth of its intention. It retains its starkness, but it’s altogether a warmer affair, with Shaft at their most subtle. The animation itself is descriptive, revealing elements of the characters with repeating themes and motifs.
A few minutes into the first episode and the similarities with Lucky Star are evident. Both originally aired in 2007, with only a viewing season to separate. The trajectory of both series openers is much the same, and end up with conversations about food. The difference is that Hidamari Sketch uses inserts of real-life food and objects. The effect is uncanny, but after acclimatising, it adds a hysterical effect.
As ever, a slice-of-life series is only as good as its characters. Fortunately, Hidamari Sketch boasts an endearing foursome, and kooky supporting characters. Main girl Yuno closes each episode monologuing from her bathtub. She’s the short-haired ditz, with a heart of gold and playing up the moé factor. Miya, on the other hand, is bolshie and hyperactive, forever hungry and fanatical about food. This provides an interesting counterpoint to Hiro, whose obsession with her weight, despite her petite figure, rings startlingly true with real life. The group is topped off by Sae, an author marked by her quiet and bashful nature. Between them, they share many common archetypes, yet the familiarity is more like spending time with a friend.
Hidamari Sketch is a year in the life of the girls of one nondescript apartment complex. The vivid characterisation sets a precedent for the lengths the lot-of-nothing formula can go. Take the relationship between Hiro and Sae. There’s a suggestion of something beyond friendship, but scripted without sensationalism or exploitation. The same can be said of the interesting and unusual stylistic approach, particularly when illustrating Yuno’s fever – abstract and beautiful with a touch of the supernatural. With aspects this encouraging, twelve episodes were never going to be enough.
Special Features: Also available / DVD credits / Clean Opening and Closing / 2 Original Video Animations.
HIDAMARI SKETCH: SERIES 1 COLLECTION / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR: AKIYUKI SHINBO, RYOUKI KAMITSUBO / SCREENPLAY: UME AOKI / STARRING: KANA ASUMI, KAORI MIZUHASHI, YŪKO GUTŌ, RYŌKO SHINTANI / RELEASE DATE: JANUARY 4TH 2016