Any anime fan sometimes needs a break from the usual exciting series. After all, adrenaline does have its limits, and it can't always let the brain and eyes feast upon the likes of Food Wars, Berserk, or Mob Psycho 100. Hence why we have the iyashikei genre, which comes from the Japanese word for "healing." Yes, these shows help to soothe your soul, and work wonders for those needing to relax while -- at the same time -- being entertained.
In regards to the iyashikei that should be deemed legendary, that honor goes to ARIA. Based on the manga from Kozue Amano, ARIA brought three seasons (and two OVAs) worth of beautiful scenery, lovable characters, an optimistic sensibility, and one gorgeous soundtrack. This summer, another of Amano's works finally jumps from the manga pages to televisions across the globe in the form of J.C.Staff's Amanchu! Better get comfy, as this anime is chock filled with sweetness.
Amanchu! follows the exploits of a high school scuba diving club, with its main focus being put on the town newcomer Futaba Ooki (Ai Kayano) and the ridiculously energetic Hikari Kohinata (Eri Suzuki). Futaba enters the town feeling out of place, until she runs into Hikari at the high school. The two start to form a connection with one another with Hikari convincing Futaba to join the school diving club. Somewhat reluctantly, Futaba agrees to it, with her soon befriending the Ninomiya siblings Ai (Saori Ōnishi) & Makoto (Yūichirō Umehara) and the homeroom teacher/club advisor Mato Katori (Shizuka Itō).
It's really hard to dive any deeper into what Amanchu! is all about, as it doesn't focus too much on the school club aspect of it. Whether or not it wants to play along with the fact that Futaba still needs to learn to swim before she goes for her first dive is up for debate. For now, though, the series puts its attention more on Futaba breaking out of her introverted state of being. The series takes the aspect of being a fish out of water and literally throws that person into the water in order to find herself. Thankfully, she's surrounded by some of the strangest and kindhearted friends anyone can ask for.
There's a real charm to Hikari (who often goes by the nickname Pikari), shining with high positivity and sometimes looking like Kermit the Frog's long-lost cousin. Often, her actions can be overwhelming to many of those around her, with Katori-sensei sometimes literally whacking some sense into her. The Ninomiya siblings also bring both a level of stability and hilarity, with the brother Makoto sometimes acting as the voice of reason and the sister Ai using some harsh violence on him when the time calls for it. Of course, we can't forget about the adorable club pet known as Advisor Cha (Yurika Kubo), who's giant pupils and butt-shaped face just scream for hugs.
All of this in Amanchu! is tied up together nicely with a solid slice-of-life narrative. Acting more like Azumanga Daioh rather than Non Non Biyori, this anime doesn't hold back when it calls for a zany moment. A race between Hikari and Katori-sensei in Episode Two leads to a hilarious punchline regarding a proper landing, and a meeting regarding Futabu's Open Water Diver Certification transforms into a silly chalk drawing session, with everyone going all out with their skills. The series also knows how to pull out moments that melt the heart, such as when the club buys Futabu a digital frame so she won't lose any of the moments she captured in her phone.
Then there's the seventh episode of the series, which is literally about nothing. Katori-sensei follows Hikari into a train so her student can watch a brief moment of beauty in the first half, whereas the second half of the episode puts it focus on the diving club playing a variation of red light/green light. And yet, despite these episodes being about absolute zilch, they're presented with such beauty, intelligence, and humor. For scriptwriter Deko Akao to be able to take an episode with zero premise and make it entertaining, that shows a lot of talent in that craft.
J.C.Staff has been on a roll with animating iyashikei this year, after hitting it out of the ballpark with this past Spring's Flying Witch. In Amanchu!, the show is practically wall-to-wall beauty wrapped up with a nice little bow on top. Whether it's the ocean view, the classroom, the cherry blossoms, or that brief moment of blooming hydrangeas that Hikari hopped on the train to see, the scenery presented here is simply a treat for the eyes. Character designs, down to those pretty -- albeit uncomfortable-looking -- school uniforms are also animated wonderfully, although it does take a moment to get used to seeing Hikari and Futabu in their goofy-looking super-deformed appearances.
Capturing her wide-eyed wonderment and zany personality, Suzuki zaps enough personality into Hikari to easily steal the show's best moments at every corner. Kayano plays the straight woman in her role as Futabu, but goes through the motions to help her character bloom with self-confidence. Itō takes a cue from a certain Tom Waits song and presents Katori-sensei as a teacher who doesn't let her superiority get in the way of having some fun with her students. Ōnishi and Umehara bring a humorous yin-yang mentality to the Ninomiya siblings, with the crazy sis and lazy bro delivering a fine dose of warmth when the time calls for it.
Acoustic guitar duo GONTITI hand-deliver one of the most awe-inspiring scores in anime this year, pairing up nicely with the show's animation. Maaya Sakamoto shows why she's one of Japan's best vocalist with her opening theme contribution "Million Clouds," which beams with beauty and childlike wonder that's been placed carefully into an antique music box. Suzuki and Kayano take helm of the ending theme "Futari Shōjo," presenting the same strong power of friendship their characters burst with.
If Flying Witch was the anime equivalent of a snug blanket, Amanchu! is more akin to an inner tube floating with a calm ocean breeze. Cute and relatable in all the right places, this story of a diving club and the friendship that blossoms is just the soothing series viewers will need when it's time to chill. Fingers crossed that Amanchu! gets the same amount of anime love that ARIA did, as it rightfully deserves to. Happyan~!
Final Grade (not an average):
Amanchu! can be viewed on Crunchyroll. Episodes 1-11 were observed for this review. Promotional consideration made by Crunchyroll.