Revelation have been pretty active since acquiring the FUNimation anime catalogue, and they show no signs of slowing down as the year draws to a close. October sees the launch of another brand new series by them, Suzuka.
Suzuka follows Yamato Akitsuki, a young man who ups
sticks from the country to move to the big city and a new life. Now in
Tokyo, Yamato registers with the local heavily sports-orientated school and
moves into his aunt's bath house and dormitory complex, doing cleaning and odd
jobs in lieu of rent. He's looking forward to his new start, a feeling
that's only increased when he sees a beautiful girl practising high jump at his
new school. Instantly besotted with her, Yamato hopes to find out who she
is and try to get to know her, something that becomes a little easier when she
turns out to be living in the room next door to him in his aunt's complex!
Well, he thought that would make it easier anyway. The girl - Suzuka
Asahina - is an extremely driven young athlete with a heavy burden of
expectation on her shoulders, and the carefree and clumsy Yamato doesn't really
get her pulse racing. However, Yamato isn't one to be disheartened, he
thinks if they get to know each other better she may see him in a better light,
but does Suzuka have any time for anything other than sports?
Straightforward romance anime is a pretty rare thing in
the UK. Yes, there are romantic anime comedies (Chobits, Love
Hina, Tenchi Muyo etc.) and a hell of a lot of manga romances, but an
anime romance with no fantastical elements or comedy leanings is pretty much
unheard of here. This makes Suzuka slightly refreshing. There
are some moments of comedy, but mostly it's a romantic drama which uses sports
as a catalyst for its characters to develop and come together.
frustrated attempts to woo Suzuka taking centre stage. Yamato is a pretty standard male anime/manga romantic lead, a nice guy with hidden qualities who gets misunderstood a lot by the object of his affections. And similarly Suzuka is a typical female romantic lead, talented and beautiful but very short tempered, prone to jumping to conclusions and determined not to like him. It makes for quite a straightforward set-up, but one that has been done many times before.
I like the idea of Suzuka more than the execution.
The character focus and sporting subtext gives it plenty of room to grow and
reveal the hidden depths and pasts of the characters, thus setting it up for
them to tackle their future challenges together. Sadly though someone
seems to have given the creators the Big Book of Stereotypes for reference.
As well as the archetypal personalities for the male and female leads (which
could have come from any romantic comedy - Kare Kano, Maison Ikkoku
and Love Hina for example), you have the shy girl who fancies the male
lead and he doesn't notice and the smooth ladies man to shake things up.
There's the usual big house to live in, stock compromising situations (slipping
and falling on scantily clad girls when cleaning the bath for example) and bog
standard subplots such as Yamato getting ill whilst waiting for Suzuka in the
It all feels too familiar, and it's not helped by some lacklustre animation either. However, the main problem is that Suzuka is pretty unlikeable at the moment. She is inexplicably hostile towards Yamato even after she seems to have warmed to him, and is often rude for no apparent reason. She overreacts frequently and her mood yo-yos several times within the space of an episode. At the moment there isn't any context for this apart from the knowledge that she is under pressure to do well at high jump, and she only seems to
acknowledge Yamato at all when it turns out that he is good at running. For a character driven show it's a disaster to have a main character it's hard to like, and I can only hope that as the series delves more into her past we'll begin to learn why she acts like she does and over time she'll mellow out a bit.
At the moment the series seems a lot like a missed opportunity. Everything is by-the-numbers and the characters have yet to be developed sufficiently for them to break out of stereotype. The frustrating thing is that the potential is there for a fresh and realistic romantic drama, but instead manga series like Maison Ikkoku and Kare Kano are streets ahead in terms of character development, story and realism. Suzuka is one of only a few anime series available in the UK to tackle romance in a serious way, and the plot and characters will no doubt develop as it goes on. It's not terrible, but at the moment it's a below par romance with little originality, and there are better romances available in the UK in manga form.
The usual textless opening and closing sequences and trailers are joined by short biographies of the main characters. You can also pick up a 'starter set' which comes with a very nice slipcase box to hold the entire series. Not bad.