When it comes to anime properties it seems that they either come down to one of two origins: either they were originally a manga or they were an erotic PC game. Ok, maybe that's not entirely true, but sometimes it sure feels that way when you review as many anime shows as we do here. Shuffle! is a prime example of the latter generalization. It shows some of its erotic roots throughout its 24 episode run, but for the most part it's not as overbearing as you'd think. This is a good thing because it means that Shuffle! is able to break free of the game-related anime stereotype that plagues so many other shows of this kind.
Shuffle! has been released by FUNimation on individual volumes already, but recently they sent out a complete collection to store shelves. With all 24 episodes in this boxed set, the series is presented in a nice little package that will endear itself to fans of harem anime. I say that because this is the kind of show that plays its genre's stereotypes like you wouldn't believe. It is proudly harem and does very little to push the envelope or introduce anything new into the fold. Granted this may not necessarily be the worst thing in the world, but it definitely means the show feels plenty familiar right out of the gate.
As is the case with any harem anime, the center of attention is placed on a singular male lead who finds himself inexplicably smothered by the love and affections of an entirely female support cast. Rin Tsuchimi is the guy in question, and from the very start there is very little about him that separates him from the rest of the pack. As the story goes, Rin is just a regular high school student but his past is filled with tragedy as both of his parents were killed in an accident. This has left him to the tender graces Kaede, who is a childhood friend of his and has similarly suffered through the same incident that affected Rin's life. Through these circumstances they wind up living under the same roof.
As luck would have it Kaede is madly in love with Rin. She dotes on him constantly and takes care of him such as a wife would do for her husband (if it was a sexist society, but hey this is a harem anime so have at it). Rin takes advantage of Kaede's generosity and love, but doesn't necessarily show similar affections in return. Instead he finds himself the subject of abuse from Kaede's fan club of ugly guys at the school. They want her and they hate him for his relationship with her. That's another harem anime cliché, if you're keeping track.
While things are interesting enough between Rin and Kaede at the outset, Rin's world is about to get a whole lot crazier. Shuffle! soon introduces more girls into Rin's life, but these aren't like all the others. Sia and Nerine show up at his school one day and right from the outset they begin showing their desire for him. Skewing things a bit is the fact that Sia is the daughter of the king of the gods and Nerine is daughter of the king of demons. With the best of both worlds coming down to Earth for Rin's hand in marriage, you just know that things are going to get crazy. Rin has to make a decision between the two, but naturally that's not an easy thing to do. Making matters worse is the fact that they move into adjacent buildings where he lives, and go out of their way to express affection for him and be as close as possible. How does Kaede react? Well, she more or less seems to go about life as it has always been, but the world around Rin reacts in more amusing ways, such as Sia and Nerine getting their own fan clubs at school.
Rin's life is further complicated as both fathers of the girls show up to knock some sense into him, and more girls appear seeking his attention. Shuffle! quickly becomes a cliché riddled anime with all the markings of a harem show, complete with fan service elements and ubiquitous slapstick jokes at Rin's expense. It's not bad at all, mind you, but it does leave the show feeling unoriginal in the grand scheme of things, and a bit too familiar for its own good.
Thankfully there are quite a few moments where the material rises above the mediocrity. Ultimately the show feels like it is paying homage to harem anime of the past, rather than attempting to forge something new. While it's not the most original anime out there Shuffle! does have plenty of funny moments, endearing characters, and charming storylines throughout its 24 episode run. It's not a masterpiece by any standard, but it is entertaining enough to warrant a recommendation to harem fans, or those looking for an introduction to the genre. It doesn't dethrone Tenchi or Love Hina though I suppose it doesn't have to in order to find a home in your anime collection. Consider it a light recommendation.
Shuffle!'s complete collection presents all 24 episodes on four DVDs as we've seen recently from FUNimation. The show is presented with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio and has been enhanced for anamorphic playback. Considering it was produced in 2005 the show looks quite attractive in the grand scheme of things. The overall presentation displays only slight amounts of aliasing and grain, but it's worth noting that the rest of the transfer is quite solid and vibrant. This is an attractive and clean looking show that is pleasing on the eyes.
While the video presentation of the series is fairly high end, the audio comes in a disappointingly flat 2.0 stereo. The English and Japanese language dubs are both equally good, but the lack of 5.1 surround support is definitely a sore spot. Granted this isn't a flashy series that necessarily called for a bombastic presentation, but more depth in the sound field would have been appreciated. As it stands the presentation is solid and clean enough with no distortion or dropout to muck things up.
Shuffle!'s complete collection includes clean animations and trailers as its only bonus features. Granted there wasn't much available on the individual volumes to begin with, so I suppose it's not very surprising.
If you missed it the first time around Shuffle! is a worth harem show that deserves a look if you're a fan of the genre. The set up, characters, and tone are heavily clichéd right from the start, but ultimately it won me over as the show progressed. It definitely feels a little too familiar for its own good, and there's simply not enough here to make me champion its cause, but if you're just looking for a fun show with plenty of laughs this is one to consider. Recommended