Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right? If that's the case then Hidamari Sketch just smacked Azumanga Daioh and Lucky Star right upside the head with a baseball bat that had "flattery" written all over it! At least that was my first impression. This slice of life comedy that features four girls going to school and having a good time feels painfully unoriginal out of the gate. As you watch it, however, it begins to reveal itself as something maybe just a little different than the two aforementioned shows and eventually stands out on its own merits.
Originally a four-panel manga from the mind of Ume Aoki Hidamari Sketch (also known as Sunshine Sketch) was released in 2004 and continues today. The book was turned into an animation by Shaft in 2007 and found itself directed by Akiyuki Shinbo. The first series went on to be popular enough to warrant some OVA and several sequels. Not bad for something that's more or less a knock-off, huh? Sentai Filmworks obtained the license for release here in the States and today we're looking at the first season which consists of 12 episodes and two OVAs on two discs.
Hidamari Sketch follows the lives of four girls who attend Yamabuki Art High School. They all moved to an apartment complex to be closer to the school and are neighbors, classmates, and friends. Primarily the show focuses on Yuno, who is a good kid that happens to be a first year student at the school. She's relatively reserved and doesn't stand out in many ways, though I suppose that's part of her charm. Contrasting her is Miyako who is also a first year student, boisterous to a fault and very childlike. She's loud, funny, and spontaneous as well. In addition to Yuno and Miyako there're also second year students Hiro and Sae. Hiro is concerned about her weight most of the time and is relatively reserved, while Sae seems borderline serious all the time.
Each of the four girls stands out for various reasons, though I can't help but shake the feeling that they all fit into one stereotype or another. Sae, for instance, fits the focused-more adult personality because she wears glasses. Miyako is the kid of the group and provides the necessary random energy to draw out a reaction from the rest of the cast. Yuno just doesn't stand out very much and is kind of a wallflower. To put it bluntly if you've watched other slice of life comedy shows then chances are very good you have seen some form of these personalities before. Not that that's a bad thing.
As one would expect Hidamari Sketch is extremely episodic. After all each story is based on a four panel strip, so there's not much room for interpretation. One of the things that stood out about this show early on is the pure randomness of it all. The series doesn't follow any pattern whatsoever and the continuity from episode to episode is all over the map. That means you never quite know what month or what season the show is going to tackle. It breaks the mold in that sense and stands out because of it. For instance you can be watching an episode that takes place in spring that is followed by one during the winter, and then another one during the summer. It's completely random and speaks to the creative vision of Director Shinbo.
Style and characters are all well and good, but just what happens in the 14 episodes here? Well, not much really. I mean, yeah there's a story to each episode, but when the content boils down to Yuno trying to finish her homework, the girls singing karaoke, and the school through a festival the show doesn't stand out in that sense. Since this is a slice of life series Hidamari Sketch stands out on the relationship of its characters and their interactions with the world around them. In that sense the show bubbles over with personality and is quite endearing.
Hidamari Sketch isn't a breakout success story in my mind, and I see it only being popular with a niche audience here in the States. However, the show is engaging for what it is and there's plenty of comedic value to draw from these 14 episodes. It's peaceful in many ways and extremely low-key. If you don't mind a show that moves at its own, slow pace and enjoyed works like Lucky Star and Azumanga Daioh then you may want to give this one a shot. Ultimately I'm going to give this show a light recommendation, but that's only for fans of the genre. Everyone else should probably rent it or just go on their merry way.
Hidamari Sketch is presented on DVD with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio that has been enhanced for anamorphic playback. The show is bright, colorful, and really takes advantage of the art theme with regards to its production. There's a lot of style here and it all stands out as being different. The fact that aside from the main characters everyone in the world is a non-descript outline makes them stand out. There are also geometric shapes tossed in as well as photos of real-life objects put in the background. It's a little jarring at first, but I think it speaks to Director Shinbo's vision for this series.
Like all other Sentai Filmwork releases Hidamari Sketch is presented in Japanese only with a 2.0 stereo presentation. The lack of an English track is obviously disappointing in some regards, but it's not life-altering. The dub that's here is more than adequate and the Japanese cast does a great job with the material. The subtitles are also spot on and handled well enough. As far as the sound is concerned it's not surprising that the 2.0 is a bit on the flat side, but then again this is the kind of show that just doesn't need a booming 5.1 track. It's minimalist to the core, wordy, and doesn't pack much in the way of sound effects.
Some textless animations are pretty much all you're going to get with this release. There are some trailers for other Sentai Filmworks shows as well.
Fans of slice of life comedy anime will fall in love with Hidamari Sketch. It's unique in a sense with regards to its style, but personally I found it to be a little too similar to other shows in the genre. With that being said it's still a lot of fun and the brand of humor works on many levels. Don't come to this series expecting slapstick humor and loads of energy. It's the quiet, smart, and creative comedy that gives Hidamari Sketch its voice. Recommended to fans of the genre, but everyone else can probably pass.
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