Ufotable’s “Project Manabi” has a playful exterior, but deep within the interior lies an emotionally empowering and refreshing story. Albeit a few flaws, yet still refreshing.
Title: Gakuen Utopia Manabi Straight! (Manabi Straight)
Episodes: 12 (+1 OVA)
Producer: Ufotable (Both the animation and original creator)
Genre: Comedy, Slice-of-life, School, Futuristic, Drama
Recommended/Similar Titles: K-ON, Hyakko. A-Channel, Gokujou Seitokai, High School Girls
Manabi Straight! follows the lives of a group of young high school girls living in the year 2035 while they attend the all-girl Seioh Private High School. Since the birth rate has dropped dramatically, schools are being closed down due to the sheer lack of students available to teach. Morale in schools has dropped dramatically, and Seioh is no exception.
The story begins when the main character, Manami Amamiya, transfers to Seioh. After some initial hijinks involving a futuristic scooter and a swim meet, followed by an inspirational school song performance, she is inducted as the student council president. The story that follows pertains to Manami working with Mika Inamori, the only other student council member, and three other classmates named Mutsuki Uehara, Mei Etoh, and Momoha Odori, in student council matters. After some remodeling of the student council room, Manami and her friends set forth to plan for the upcoming student festival.
“An anthem for listless youth” would be the perfect tagline for Manabi Striaght and one that accurately describes the series. The overall story chronicles Manami Amamiya, a hyperactive girl as she transfers to Seioh High School, a school with a withering and languid student body. With her desire to enter the student council granted after dispute, she along side her fellow classmates prepare for a upcoming festival, but in the process making new friends, dealing with adversity, and more importantly, making school life fun and rediscovering it all over again. While this does sound like the “typical” outline for mediocre series, this is not the case and quiet the opposite in many ways more than one. Even with the execution for the series somewhat entangled in its own theatrics and ambitions, it is still very brilliant with its themes on friendship, dreams, and what makes memorable experiences. Needlessly to say, the genre is from the bin of the slice-of-life/comedy pile, but the writing is very intense and emotionally compelling than the average title, but never is short on the laughs either. Not give much away on the series, but if you like like the slice-of-life/comedy/school life setting with a few revisions, then Manabi Straight plot wise will be appealing and thrilling, despite the minor theatrics. More on that issue later.
As aforementioned, the characters in Manabi Straight are not the common stock characters most anime series of the genre supply. Of course, they do follow the basic archetypes such as: the energetic Manami, childlike Mika, tsundere Mei, tomboyish Mutsuki, and aloof Momoha, but more designed than statically set to those traits. With that said, with all the trails and tribulations the girls have to endure, it makes their characters more likable and personalities defined, so audience can appreciate both their playful behavior, but also the tenacity, will, and weakness behind them. You actually get to know some of the characters quiet well, which also makes watching it all the worth while. To put it more adeptly, unlike most genre generics, Manabi actually adds in something of value rather than just reuse the common template sheet most creators standby. I would also go as far as to say that their are really no true support roles either, since all the characters (even background ones) play integrated niches within the story. It is a true character driven series, but actually details the characters with close consideration. The voice acting work is also exceptional and comes from familiar names like: Aya Hirano, Yui Horie, Marina Inoue, Aya Hisakawa, and many others that support and strengthen their respective roles.
Since Uftoable wrote the original work as whole, it is only natural that they would take up the projects animation, direction, and oversee the production. As far the animation goes, it is very standard and normal, however like the point I deferred on, the animation does take on a odd stagecraft quality. This can be exemplified with the color shifts, environment distortion, and more to create a more darker and mature feel for the series as well as adds into intensifying the overall emotion and mood. Definitively something Uftoable is accustom to doing, but works to its advantage in some respects and others, making it seem as if it is trying to hard to get the point across. However, because of the animation detail and artwork as well, it does make the second half of the series and whole production engaging when it would otherwise seem to get tedious. The music is another plus for the series, which might be minorly memorable, but does makes it’s own existence known and supports with the mood displayed that the animation paints. One perfect example of the animation and music working together would be in the Opening theme that juxtaposes an upbeat tune, but the animation background is monochrome shaded, slowly sinking into a lighter color pallet. It is a weird combination, however just highlights how creative and thoughtful Uftoable is when it comes to design and presentation.
Even as I compose this review, I am personally impressed and in awe of how well the series presented itself to me. Rarely do I fall under the category of judging things based on appearance, but still was not expecting the show to be as it was. Again, it was the characters that were the most impressive value of the show and what kept me engaged through the end. Touching back on the animation shortly, I like Uftoable’s style, since it does well to support whatever the studio works on, however, the animation at some points with its dramatic air during the last few episodes was both good for effect, but also was displeasing at specific intervals. Despite the minor distaste with how the animation was applied; more so used, for the majority, it was very really put to use with conveying the mood and also supported the other aspects of the series.
Gakuen Utopia Manabi Straight is truly a one-in-million series that appears ever so often to the anime world. While it maybe will not constitute as a masterpiece, it is still a excellent deconstruction aim toward the slice-of-life/comedy/school life genre that many have attempted to do before, but only few achieve. Despite some of its unwanted elements even, it still remains whimsical, emotional charged, and refreshing. If you are veteran to anime or newbie, I highly recommend watching this series. More so, if you are fan of school life series, the slice-of-life/comedy genre, and of course, cute girls – then it is pretty much a no-brainier and time well spent.
Pros: Very excellent written and refreshing story, semi-mature and deep emotional content/themes, solid animation and artwork, well-defined and engrossing cast of characters, fine deconstruction of the slice-of-life/school life genre (Recommended).
Cons: Some unneeded dramatization and stagecraft, awkward execution.