Review/discussion about: Mikagura Gakuen Kumikyoku
After completing Mikagura Gakuen Kumikyoku, I started to wonder what kind of ability I would have if I was granted one based on what I do. At first I thought of a keyboard that would create out of thin air anything I typed out in full – “Manifest Words” would be the name I would give it – because of how much I write. Then my mind wandered to a snowboard that was not so restricted and could go on all surfaces – “Any Board” – because I like to hit the snow when such an opportunity presents itself (it is pretty rare nowadays). Regardless, I know that whatever I happened to receive I would have as much fun with it as possible because that is what life needs to be: good, safe, and reasonable fun. This is what the anime tries to convey, but somewhere along the way, it loses sight of what it has to say.
For many people, Mikagura Gakuen Kumikyoku appears to be “just another high school anime.” It takes place at (coincidentally enough) a high school, everyone in the cast has unique abilities, and it involves some comedy, some drama, and a resolution where it all ends happily ever after. Sounds rather common on paper and that is perfectly fine, since anime do not always have to be something startlingly new. However, Mikagura is not like other anime. Do not be mistaken; this is not a compliment. The show missteps each time it moves its feet, and for one reason only: disconnectedness.
Mikagura’s toes usually point towards the flashier section of what it brings to the table. More specifically, a high amount of emphasis is placed on the characters’ abilities, the clubs they enroll in, and the battle system in place. As the calling card of the show, it makes sense that the anime would want to show off Eruna using “Tension Max” or Seisa enacting “Killing Art.” But it does not do this. Despite Mikagura putting much stock into the abilities, it is quite uncommon to see them being used in any capacity. Skirmishes are alluded to and it is obvious that specific move-sets exist, but the anime defers to using repetitive comedy in the form of Eruna’s love for “yuri” or Shigure’s ridiculous crush on his cousin. Should the battles even commence, they do not last for very long. It is very strange to witness because it is clear that the show wants to make the battles and the abilities have meaning within the world presented, but because it is so averse to showing them directly, they come off as unimportant and without purpose. As a result, the events which occur feel disconnected since what does happen – like the investigation of relationships between characters or Otone’s entire arc – hardly coincides with the goals or focus of the anime.
Nowhere is Mikagura’s loss of focus more prevalent than with the finale. Throughout the season, it was evident that the biggest conflict was Seisa’s inability to open up based on some past transgression. Therefore the show was structured to keep the issue hidden as long as possible – Seisa is removed from the festivities willingly but also to keep her shrouded in mystery. A disconnect, however, is created once again since the anime waited beyond the point of acceptability to divulge the problem. Said problem is revealed close to the last, prominent segment – the duel between Eruna and Seisa – leaving little time to process the ramifications and no time to see a respectable resolution of the main plot point.
In hindsight, the order of the events is logical from a narrative stance: the beginning of the season demonstrates where Eruna and Seisa are strength-wise, setting the former on a path of fun and learning, with the ending designed to mirror the start and Eruna’s inevitable improvements. Yet the middle portion’s disconnectedness does not accurately portray such growth in Eruna, causing the final battle to feel unnatural. In other words, because the build-up is avoided – due to the anime refraining from having these battles – the payoff from the final fight is never achieved either. Worse still is the explanation behind Seisa’s sudden reversal of brooding (a few words of wisdom not from Eruna, her constant supporter) and the reasoning for their coming together (a supernatural phenomenon referenced, at most, twice), both of which feel disconnected from the rest of the show.
Interestingly, the main theme of Mikagura revolves around disconnectedness, too. Essentially, while everyone might be different or separate or unique, such differences do not matter when people come together to have fun. The disconnected units are able to connect with one another precisely because they are disconnected in the first place. That is a powerful message because togetherness is an inherent need of people. Interacting and connecting with others is something each person should experience, no matter how disconnected he or she might be. This mentality can be seen throughout the season, with Eruna bringing people from the drama, art, gardening, astronomy, calligraphy, and newspaper clubs into one group of friends. She does not care if the person wields a scythe, writes symbols, or shuts herself in. She simply wants these people from every walk of life – these disconnected parts – to come together and have a silly bout of fun. While the show’s lack of battles prevent the theme from being explored outright, there is enough there to keep the plot from feeling completely useless.
Unfortunately, Mikagura could not prevent disconnectedness from ruining whatever narrative it managed to string together.
Mikagura is a mixed bag when it comes to its art and animation. Looking solely at the art, it does not immediately dazzle the eye, consisting mostly of the school and the surrounding forest. Other areas are visited as well, such as Seisa’s mansion or the various club rooms and hallways. While it appears run-of-the mill, the backgrounds have a strange combination of two- and three-dimensions (more two than three) that give it an air of uniqueness to match the characters’ abilities. Also of note is the handling of civilians or non-cast members. Rather than including a handful of extras with minimal designs, Mikagura opts to include as many as they can with the caveat that they have no details whatsoever. Using this technique, the cast members receive all the attention without the show feeling as if only they exist.
Some attention is paid to the character designs as well. For each person, it is easy to derive who belongs to where and what they do. Kyouma is a painter, so his face is covered in colored marks while he wears a lax uniform. Sadamatsu works with flowers, giving his grassy hair and robe of tranquility more meaning. Even Seisa, who appears normal, sticks out with her mismatched stockings that represent her off-kilter power. The same level of detail can be witnessed with each character, not just those listed; an obvious boon for the anime.
Not as obvious is the strength of the actual animation. When the anime pushes the regular, everyday scenes to the front, movement of limbs, eyes, and hair is not too noticeable. The comedy is quick, so the actions of the characters are usually jittery or choppy to keep up with the speed. Fights see a technique similar to the civilians: the show reduces style and detail in favor of fluid motions.
Mikagura does not put much stock into its own characters. Their development is weak and their characterizations are arguably weaker – Eruna is energetic, Asuhi is shy, and so on. To be fair, the anime’s symbolism in regards to the characters’ abilities does add more depth. For example, Eruna’s explosive and energetic personality manifests as insane agility and dazzling light. Yuuto represses his emotions, so he uses art to release his feelings. Otone likes to keep her halves in-check or “wrapped up,” and since ribbons do just that they are her weapon of choice. Asuhi is always hopeful, keeping his head held high and seeing the bright side to life, which his telescope and astronomy tendencies personify. Seisa’s ability as well matches her person; she hates forming relationships with others, something that is almost physically impossible to do, thus she bends time and space to make it a possibility. Each character can be dissected in this way, but it does not help when the characters are rarely utilized or developed. However, when the anime decides to actually do something with its characters, it usually takes one of two forms.
The first form is investigating a character’s past, thereby allowing them the chance to change for the better. Yuuto, Kyouma, and Seisa are the figureheads for this form. Sadly, it devolves into the same pattern: dramatic past is shown, presently resolved, and forgotten in the future. That last bit is the worst offender; after having these characters overcome their troubles, very little is done with the outcome. All three more or less act a bit nicer, but the impact of their development means next to nothing for others and especially themselves. The second form is investigating a character by association. Specifically, Eruna and Otone undergo this type of development, with the latter using the former to achieve it. That is to say, the rest of the cast members develop Eruna whereas Eruna alone develops Otone. For Eruna, this kind of development does not work because she is at the pinnacle of her person; drama and conflict are impervious to her personality. For Otone, she simply hangs out with Eruna to balance her polite and rude sides. But Otone’s character seems pointless, since her role only consists of being an extra member to create Eruna’s club and to aggravate Seisa further. As it was with the characters going through the first form of development, after Otone has “fulfilled her duties,” she is pushed off the stage to finally put the spotlight on Seisa, effectively reducing any importance Otone’s character might have had.
It is unfortunate because Otone is arguably the most interesting character within Mikagura. Looking at the two main girls – Eruna and Seisa – Otone mediates the disconnect between them. If the three were placed on a “personality line,” Eruna would occupy the affable end, Seisa would be as far away from Eruna as possible, and Otone would sit in the center. As such, and as is seen, Otone is capable of connecting with both extremes. She follows Eruna’s wacky antics because she had always wanted the same kind of fun, and she empathizes with Seisa because she had been in the same predicament before. Her involvement brings Eruna and Seisa’s relationship to the breaking point, which ironically needed to happen; to bring them together, Eruna and Seisa had to be disconnected even further than they already were.
But reiterating, the inclusion of Otone and the symbolism of the abilities are mostly lost due to the mishandling of nearly the entire cast.
The music of Mikagura follows a simple motif: fun. Like Eruna’s ridiculous optimism and the comedy of the show, many of the pieces that the anime offers are upbeat and filled with happiness. The opening theme is catchy despite the quickness of its beat. The main ending theme slows down slightly, but maintains the same peppy vibe with its fast singing, changing vocalists, and lyrics literally referring to being happy. The jazzy ED is not exactly “fun” but it still has disk scratching and strange sound effects to make it fit the atmosphere.
The other EDs fit the same pace as the main OP and ED, as does the majority of the remaining soundtrack. While there are more melancholic or intense pieces for those sad and dire moments respectively, the show mostly uses slice-of-life arrangements that coincide with the comedy and fun being had.
As far as voice acting is concerned, it is neither the best nor worst ever heard, with most of the cast providing performances of the average variety. The exception is Juri Kimura as Eruna whose constant excited attitude could instantly be heard whenever she spoke.
Repetitive though the comedy may be, I still found it pretty hilarious whenever the jokes were used. Shigure fawning over Eruna followed by a subsequent beat-down, Bimii screaming due to the transformation machine, and especially Eruna going gaga over Seisa and the other girls was overdone but still entertaining for me. The anime using Bimii as the “straight man” to Eruna’s craziness was a smart move, since if Eruna had free reign to do whatever she wanted without occasionally being reeled it would be almost too much to handle. This same tactic is seen with Kurumi (Seisa’s handmaid). Stopping Eruna from taking her relationship with Seisa into risqué territory quelled Eruna’s imagination, forcing the audience to use their own imagination to think where it would lead; a subtle and clever move once more.
The reality, however, is that I was not too fond of much else. Seisa’s character had potential but was treated horribly writing-wise throughout the season. Same for Otone, who seemed to have a place and a purpose within the show but was ultimately there as a slightly more fleshed out Seisa. The rest of the cast is largely forgettable, either because their jokes are not worth remembering (like Nyamirin and her big boobs) or because they have next to no presence (like Meika, the new calligraphy club member). But the most frustrating part of the whole anime was the ending. The show makes such a big deal out of Eruna and Seisa becoming friends, or at least getting Seisa to see the fun side to life, and when it finally happens, I am given a few snapshots of the result. It was nothing short of wholly unsatisfying.
Mikagura Gakuen Kumikyoku does what it can to be fun, but the disconnected narrative and lame characters keep it from preaching what it wants to say. The detailed designs of the cast and the incorporated music attempt to silence such obstacles, but it is not enough to make its voice heard. Simply put, if the anime had an ability of its own, it would be called “Wanting Better Execution.”
Story: Bad, disconnectedness is rampant throughout the season
Animation: Fine, the art style does its job, nice character designs, about average actual animation
Characters: Bad, Otone is interesting and symbolism exists, but the rest of the cast members are handled poorly
Sound: Fine, fun OPs, EDs, and soundtrack, with average VA work
Enjoyment: Fine, overused jokes were hit or miss, Bimii and Kurumi were clever additions, but everything else, especially the ending, was rather frustrating
Final Score: 4/10
Thanks for taking the time to read my review. If you want, take part in the discussion below! :3