The romance comedy genre sure is a popular one when it comes to anime, but Suzuka feels different somehow. Originally released in 2005, this 26 episode anime features a heavy amount of play with humor, love, and sports all playing equal roles. The show has become a staple for FUNimation and has garnered its own audience, but in case you missed it the first time around Suzuka has just been repackaged for a thinpak boxed set.
The series follows the exploits of Yamato Akitsuki, who is your average high school kid with an interest in girls, but not much knowledge regarding the ways of love. Feeling the need for change, Yamato up and moved to the city to live with his aunt at her bathhouse dormitory. While touring his new school he sees a beautiful girl training for track and field and performing the high jump. He is immediately smitten with this cutie and when she turns out not only to be a resident at the dormitory, but also his neighbor, Yamato is understandably on cloud 9.
It's safe to say that Suzuka instantly takes Yamato's heart, though the feelings aren't apparently mutual. She is a quiet, kept to herself kind of girl who focuses mostly on sports and doesn't really seem to have any interest in boys, or much anything else for that matter. Slowly throughout the start of the show we see glimpses of her possibly liking Yamato, but they are fleeting at best. She asks him to go shopping, shares lunches with him, and walks home with him, though that's basically the extent of what we get. Naturally this drives Yamato crazy and he spends a great deal of time devising ways to be with her and ponders exactly how he's going to ask her out on a date.
Yamato's shy nature around the opposite sex lands him in all kinds of hot water most of the time. He stumbles for the right words and often winds up in embarrassing situations. To make matters worse his only friend at the school, Yasunobu, is a playboy who is very adept at creating situations for Yamato to be alone with Suzuka. Actually, Yasunobu basically has the powers to hand Yamato any girl he could possibly want. The trick is to get Yamato to not screw it up, which is quite the feat I assure you.
Now, from this point on the show gets somewhat convoluted with regards to the cast of characters and who likes who. While Yamato is infatuated with Suzuka, there's a girl named Honoka who is equally in love with Yamato. Toss in some drunken college chicks who happen to live in Yamato's dormitory, Yasunobu's ladies man reputation, and Yamato's young cousin, and you've got a recipe for a rather complicated relationship chart. This creates awkward situations all around, but it's nowhere near as bad as what actually transpires between Yamato and Suzuka.
At one point early on the two actually have a date with each other and they go to an amusement park. Suzuka is really stringing Yamato along to the point that she holds his hand throughout an entire parade. Naturally Yamato is getting positive signals from this so he drops the "I like you" bomb, only to have it thrown back in his face. Suzuka grabs her stuff from him and doesn't talk to him for quite some time. It's heartbreaking to say the least and you'll really feel bad for Yamato as you get a strong sense of the emotional torture he's being put through. Up until the midway point we're left somewhat confused, but there is an explanation for it all.
It is revealed through the plot that Yamato looks exactly like Suzuka's dead boyfriend, whom she's still mourning. Her reaction to Yamato isn't necessarily directed at him, but rather it's something she has to get over first. This leaves the remainder of the series feeling rather awkward as Yamato falls in love with Suzuka, basically stalks her, and constantly pushes her into having a relationship with him. While the characters are very well developed I never once got a sense of why Suzuka should actually be in a relationship with Yamato. For that matter Suzuka just isn't very likeable most of the time. That's not a good thing considering the focus of this series and it definitely keeps the plot feeling unbalanced.
Another thing about Suzuka that didn't necessarily work throughout the whole show was its sense of humor. So many of these jokes are rehashed from other romance comedies and there are situations that are painfully predictable. It's just not funny enough to be a successful comedy and it's a little too forced to be a romance. The show maintains elements of both, but it doesn't really do anything new with either. Because of that Suzuka is an entertaining yet flawed series that is worth watching, but probably not owning. I'd consider this one a rental.
Suzuka is presented on DVD with a full frame aspect ratio. The show looks pretty good, but not quite as sharp as it should considering it was produced in 2005. The series has a look and feel to it that dates it back slightly further than that, but it's hard to tell how much of that was a part of production and not the transfer. The set is presented in a way that crams the 26 episodes onto four DVDs, which doesn't give a lot of breathing room. Because of that there are some compression related artifacts and noise, but otherwise the series retains its original look. While this is a decent looking series, it's nothing to get excited about and it won't really turn any heads.
The English and Japanese stereo tracks available here do their jobs decently with regards to presentation, but they aren't going to make any strong impressions. The 2.0 tracks definitely don't pack a lot of punch though they sound decent enough for what they are with crisp enough dialogue and a fine enough balance. As far as the voiceovers are concerned, the Japanese language sounded better in my opinion, but the English crew did a nice job with the localization as well.
Some textless animations and trailers are available on the fourth disc in this collection. Otherwise the only bonus features you're going to find here are two audio commentaries with the English crew. These commentaries are entertaining enough, but not very insightful with regards to the series. Then again if you're familiar with English anime commentaries you basically know what to expect.
Suzuka is actually a tough show to watch at times. Suzuka is relatively coldhearted most of the time, Yamato's vain attempts at love are painful, and throughout it all the comedic relief just isn't enough to help you get past the heartbreak. There are plenty of parts where the show is very successful, but they are peppered in between ill-thought out moments and awkward feeling situations. This is definitely off the beaten path for a romance comedy so if you're a fan of the genre and are looking for something different you'll definitely want to check it out. Otherwise consider Suzuka a rental due to its incredibly unbalanced nature and oft unlikable lead characters.
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