Review/discussion about: Amanchu!
Our “diving” in the Jamaican waters was worse than we expected. The shanty was rusted and beat up. The snorkel masks we used looked like they hadn’t been washed in weeks. The spot chosen did not let us see anything interesting let alone memorable.
Wanting only to get back on the cruise ship, we headed back its way. There, still sitting near the end of the dock, was the lady from before, continuing her chant as though it was her God-given destiny.
“Watah one dolla’. Two bucks for da big one!” That’s all she said in her thick, native accent. Over and over. That, and a “thank you” when she was given her money in exchange for the bottled water.
I may have told this anecdote in the past, but it’s relevant to Amanchu!. Not just because of the diving but because of the situation. For, like Teko and Pikari, I choose to look at this one differently. I see it as a time where I tried something different and where I earned a quirky memory.
In contrast, and thankfully, Amanchu provided nothing but joy.
Amanchu stars Futaba Ooki, aka Teko, a young lady who has just recently moved into town. As she dreads the new, unfamiliar world before her, Hikari Kohinata, aka Pikari, takes her by the hand, guiding her towards fun, the thrill of diving underwater, and an outlook on life that comes from the heart.
While watching Amanchu, it’s almost impossible not to compare it with its sister series (provided one has seen said sister). Indeed, the anime in question is none other than the famous Aria anime. Known for its soothing atmosphere, the tranquil world of Neo Venezia, and those lovable, hilarious Undine.
Keep in mind, this comparison does not only stem from the iyashikei (in English, “healing”) tone. For Amanchu goes out of its way to make such a connection more than obvious. The water-related premise. Nearly identical brands of comedy (silly faces, catch phrases). Erino Hazuki, the voice of Akari from Aria, voices Teko’s childhood friend (who has only a couple of speaking lines). Cha, the squat cat that lazily moves about the school, has a real name: Aria.
The premise and the comedy are the biggest indicators, but, clearly, the anime has the Aria series in mind the whole time. This emulation (not replication since the anime is not an exact copy) results in two negatives.
One, it prevents Amanchu from being what it wants to be. Appeasing the audience of Aria is a nice gesture, but when people describe the show as “like Aria but…,” its fundamental identity has been lost.
Two, it does it to a fault. Since Amanchu wants to be similar, it pushes the comedy upfront a lot. Almost to the point that it drowns out the drama. Often, the anime follows a high-emotion scene with a funny one due to some misplaced sense of need rather than letting the emotions play out in full.
However, the sisters diverge on a definitive point: character focus. Where Aria is mostly about the world it crafts and how the characters interact with it, Amanchu is mostly about the characters and how they interact with themselves.
An important distinction seen through the content itself. Take Amanchu’s premise: diving. Besides the first couple of episodes, the final episode, and sparingly throughout the middle, it’s hardly focused on. Arguably, the anime choosing to (largely) ignore its own premise seems as though it were a foolhardy decision. But, in exchange, Amanchu emphasizes its cast. More monologues on their internal thoughts and feelings. Focus on what they do and like and perceive.
Usually, the thoughts and the focus come from and go towards Teko. Whether it’s her appreciation of Pikari and all that Pikari has done for her or how she loves taking pictures on her phone, the anime makes it clear that this story is Teko’s.
Along the way, Teko has many friends that give her simple yet heartwarming events. A street lined with cherry blossoms. A chalkboard chalk full of colorful pictures. A sincere treasure that holds more value than mere gold.
Teko isn’t the only one treated this way, though. Pikari shows Mato a glimpse at some marigolds while on a moving train. Ai reminisces about her and her little brother Makoto’s time in the diving club through his saved items.
The ocean and the diving may not play a huge, central role in the proceedings, but these two ideas tie into almost all of Amanchu’s (and therefore Teko’s) thoughts. The dark, murky water that gives way to a dazzling, clear blue. The buddy system and how the two partners fully support one another. The gentle invitation to try something different.
Those events and these ideas culminate into one of the anime’s biggest themes. The ocean is a vast, unknown world all its own, hiding secrets for people to find, for people to seek out. That is, like the bottom of the ocean, there are new sights, new adventures, and new experiences worth discovering.
One just needs the right mindset and a willingness to try.
Amanchu takes place mostly in an unassuming town and at a local school. Occasionally, it ventures elsewhere, like at a public pool or the mall. Regardless, the anime isn’t given much of an opportunity to show off any locations with extravagant detail. Lush greenery and blue waters are emphasized whenever possible, but, for the most part, it’s usually forgettable.
However, Amanchu does not hold back with its scarce diving moments. Teko and Pikari floating in a pool filled with cherry blossoms or Teko looking up at the shining light as it dances across the ocean water gives these scenes the spectacle they deserve. Their contrast with the “duller” art makes them that much more powerful.
One cannot not mention (a weird way to phrase that) the comedic artistry. More specifically, each character gets their own reaction face (more emulation of Aria) for situations in which the mood is lighthearted, silly, or otherwise funny. Teko gets swirly-scrawled eyes. Pikari’s pupils take up her entire eyeballs. Ai receives a monkey-like mouth that matchers her monkey diving cap. Combined with the squat figures and even rounder heads that they each morph into, these faces are a simple yet effective way for the anime to achieve its brand of comedy.
They also help to mask the actual animation that goes on. In the beginning, Amanchu has a lot of movement. Teko’s eyes and hair move with fluidity, Pikari and Mato race against each other, and Ai kicks Makoto with undue force. Usually, when movement is restricted, the anime leans on the comedic faces since the reaction is more important than the movement. Of course, this isn’t always the case, like when Teko expertly dodges all of Ai’s slaps in their collective game of red-light-green-light. But it’s often the norm.
Unfortunately, as the anime continues, it relies less and less on actual animation and more and more on the comedic faces. Not that it ever plummets to unacceptable levels, but much of it isn’t notable. Even its most important segment – Teko diving in the ocean for the first time – doesn’t include much in the way of actual diving. Arguably, it’s more about Teko being there and beholding the splendor of that new world, but, even so, the show doesn’t keep its animation levels anywhere but within an average range.
Above anything else, though, the character designs shine. Pikari sometimes wearing a ponytail that takes the shape of a starfish when seen from the back. Ai’s unkempt twin-tails. Cha and Ohime having the same eyes as that of Pikari and Teko (respectively) when they enter comedy mode. The long, light-purple dresses the female students wear. The different casual outfits they don, and the diving suits they put on when, well, diving.
But Teko’s design reigns supreme. Pikari describes Teko as a “beautiful mermaid” and rightly so. Her thin physique, flowing black hair (with a multitude of styles), and ocean-blue eyes complete with long eyelashes and those one-tenth eyebrows, give her a mature, charming design that carries her scenes with ease.
As was said earlier, Amanchu is very much Teko’s story. Subsequently, the anime gives her a lot of time, exploring who she is, where she wants to go, and why she feels the way she does. Ultimately, Teko’s journey is more than satisfying.
She starts off depressed. Saddened that she has been put into such an unfamiliar world. She’s afraid of what she may encounter and worried that she won’t have a place. All the while, she longs for her old life, her old friends. Wanting nothing more than to go back to where its comfortable. Fun. Familiar.
In strolls Pikari, the girl with a whistle and a whoop. Pikari is the first to reach out to Teko, guiding her towards happiness. Not just in the literal sense when she leads her to their brand-new classroom. But also in the figurative sense when she talks with Teko and gives her that one-tenth nickname.
The anime makes it immediately apparent how contrasting Teko and Pikari are. Especially with one of Pikari’s best moments in the whole show. Before they leave school on their first day, Pikari asks Teko which of their new books smells the best. Teko, quizzically, responds “Japanese?” To which Pikari agrees and smiles her big, beaming smile.
This moment perfectly captures Pikari. She’s energetic, loves life, and does whatever she can to stay happy and, more importantly, bring happiness. In other words, Pikari is Teko’s foil. Teko’s quiet nature, negative thoughts, and general lack of enthusiasm form a dichotomy between the two, bringing with it the chance for Teko to grow through Pikari.
And, expectedly, that’s what happens. Pikari gets Teko to break some rules and enter the diving-club room without permission, something she never would have done before. Pikari then alleviates her with that trip down the cherry blossoms. And she even motivates her enough to officially join the club (getting her to perform a demonstration of blowing out air from her ears).
Teko slowly starts to open, trying new outlets and seeing life in a better light than she had when she first moved to this town. Her first true trial, though, comes with her first diving excursion (in the school’s pool). The water in her eyes and difficulty breathing scare her to the point that she just about gives up. But, thankfully, Pikari is there. Holding her hand, encouraging her on. Being the perfect buddy for her newfound friend.
As Teko continues to adjust to her new world, she finds further comfort in diving. Their new clubmates – “Big-Sis Senpai” Ai and “Little-Bro Senpai” Makoto – are (always for the brother, usually for the sister) kind and inviting, giving Teko the goal she wants to now achieve: become an official Open Water Diver.
Before she can get there, though, she must learn how to swim. And, when she can’t, she feels as though she’s bringing everybody around her down. But, and as she clearly states, she does not want to give up. Having found something that she herself wanted to take part in, she wants to see if the ocean contains something that her “insignificant self” does not. Her sincere gratitude towards Pikari, for everything she has done up to this point, is also not lost on Teko.
While Mato gets some time in the spotlight, providing wisdom to the audience, and Makoto talks about his older sister, Amanchu puts Pikari at the center for a bit. To her, Teko is a mature, beautiful woman – who can sometimes, contrary to her usual self, act like a helpless doggy. She also notes how Teko hates to lose (from their school’s endurance exercises) and how learning about new sides to loved ones makes one want to love them that much more.
Most importantly, Pikari imparts wisdom of her own. She tells Teko, “What matters is your approach and mindset! That “you don’t have to let things you don’t like get you down!”
With these words in mind, Amanchu provides Teko with her greatest character moment in the following episode. Her phone fills up with pictures, preventing her from taking new ones until she moves the old ones away. She doesn’t want to, and so she reminisces about her old friends and the negative way in which she took her leave.
Thankfully, and per usual, Pikari is there, giving Teko two amazing treasures. The first is the actual gift: the digital picture book. The second is the most important: reaffirmation of their friendship. Together, Teko realizes that she has been approaching it wrong the whole time. That the memories of her old life and the experiences in her new one are equally worth cherishing. As she best puts it “The places I cherish, and the places I love… Be it back then or right now, they only grow more and more beloved with time.”
Thus, her mindset shifts permanently from that initial, overbearing sadness to appreciating her life and the newness within it. Yet, still, Teko goes through even more. Pikari teaches Teko that being at a loss is fine since “it’s a wonderful chance to have more fun” (and to “let’s-a-go” even more.) And, when the two save Ohime, the tiny kitty, Teko wants to do for the pet what Pikari has always done for her. That is, be there for her in her time of need.
Come time for their first official ocean dive, Teko is the most excited. Her buddy check with Pikari goes swimmingly, but, as they prepare at the buoy to dive, Teko sees the fading light and the swathing darkness that engulfs it. She’s scared, but, when she sees the columns of bubbles from the other divers right below her (after losing her left fin), she becomes reinvigorated, wanting nothing more than to see the new world directly below her.
Which she does. The various sea life, the rocky formations, the brilliant light that shines from above. This new world, something that she has never seen and could never see before, is one that she loves. In her own words, “I’m so, so glad I got to come here! See you soon.”
She records in her diver’s diary what she saw on her first dive, and she passes the exam, becoming an official Open Water Diver. But, appropriately enough, it’s not quite the end, for Amanchu gives Teko and Pikari one last scene together.
Pikari tries to put into words how thankful she is to Teko for going along with her and being her friend and loving everything that she loves. In return, Teko thanks Pikari for giving her “…so many new things to love,” a far cry away from who she was at the beginning of her tale. The final words from Teko ring out, she takes Pikari by the hand, and together they walk, awaiting the bright, amazing, and fun-filled future before them.
And so, Teko’s tale concludes. Arguably, the twins, the teacher, and even Pikari (no matter how much of a foil she is) do not get a lot of attention and time thrown their way individually. A small blemish on the overall experience.
But Teko’s small, gradual changes. Her transformation from a person scared of the unfamiliar to wanting to explore the new. The thoughtfulness backing it all. Everything comes together for Teko, creating in her a beautiful, heartfelt character journey that won’t be forgotten for a long, long time.
The opening track of Amanchu is quite the calming piece. It starts off with soft, quiet singing and a host of dainty instrumental work that each refuse to overtake the listener but rather invite them in with a warm hug. The middle section picks up the tempo and the passion, coinciding with Teko’s own change over the course of the story. By the end, it reflects the beginning, letting the audience know that what they are about to see is soulful indeed.
The original soundtrack aims for that Aria emulation one last time. Heavy use of acoustic guitar and emotional piano keys almost create a sense of nostalgia. Or, if nothing else, feelings of happiness, sweetness, and togetherness. Like Aria, it relies a bit too much on one singular track, but, like Aria, the tracks stand strong in their purpose and their execution.
Interestingly, it also has a similar problem to Aria when it comes to its lyrical-based tracks. In particular, Teko’s ocean dive is overlaid with such lyrics. Rather than bolstering the moment, the track detracts from it since (subconsciously or otherwise) the singing forces the audience to focus on that rather than Teko’s big experience.
The ending track of Amanchu mirrors many of the tracks in the OST. Shakers, a lot of acoustic-guitar playing, and soft singing lead the audience out of each episode with as warm and friendly of a goodbye as its hug was in the beginning.
And the voice-acting is top-notch, too. Ai Kayano as Teko musters her courage with a soft, refined speaking voice. Eri Suzuki as Pikari brings enough whoopity-whoops to fill an ocean. And Saori Oonishi as Ai fires herself up and agitatedly reacts to victory.
There’s a lot I can say about this one.
I can talk about how hilarious and cute it was to me. Teko bowing while saying thank you, but the tank of air on her back causing her to fall forward. Pikari saying that they “found the treasure that is you” to Ai, and Ai subsequently kicking the laughing spirit of Makoto out of embarrassment. The tiny kitty cat that made me squeal.
I can talk about how much I liked Teko. How she always got super red out of embarrassment, her audible “Hehhhh…,” the way she floated in the water during her swimming test, and the kindness she always displayed.
I can talk about some of my favorite moments. Pikari’s wish being that she wanted Teko’s wish to come true was so unbelievably nice that, in my notes, I wrote it down (with the same wording) in capital letters.
I can talk about how, after many of the scenes, I said out loud, “I like this one!” I couldn’t contain my excitement over the show because it filled me with elation no matter what it did.
But all I need to talk about is episode nine.
Teko’s heart-wrenching realization on the phone with her soon-to-be old friends. Her thoughtful words on those friends that gave her more than she ever had. The amazing gift that Pikari and the others got for Teko. Teko’s shift in mindset, the full-circle phone call, and the final shot of both sets of “treasures.” Everything backed by the right music, the right timing, and the right execution.
I cried. I had to reach for the tissues near me since tears were sliding down my cheeks. It was the first time in a long time that an anime got me so emotional, but it did so without a doubt. Her separation from her old life and the culmination of Teko’s words and the support she got from everybody else made the last five minutes of the episode simply wonderful.
I am very grateful to the show for letting me experience something so genuine, and I cannot wait to cry at another scene like it somewhere down the road, within this medium that I adore so much.
Amanchu!, like its spiritual predecessor, achieves its healing and happiness with ease. The story’s thoughtful events, the attractive designs of the characters, Teko’s amazing growth, the calming music, and the emotional resonance craft a beautiful anime worthy of praise. Water’s one dollar, and it’s two bucks for the big one. But this one is worth much more than that.
Story: Fine, while it emulates its sister series a bit too much, its comedy, thoughtfulness, and ocean-related themes provide a solid narrative
Animation: Fine, okay artistic direction, okay actual animation, and nice character designs with Teko’s on top
Characters: Good, almost all the cast don’t get enough attention, but Teko’s genuine journey from hating the unfamiliar to embracing the new makes her into a very strong character
Sound: Good, okay OP, good ED, great OST, above average VA performances
Enjoyment: Great, hilarious, heartwarming, and the first time in a long while that a tale from this medium got me crying
Final Score: 7/10
Thanks for taking the time to read my review. If you want, take part in the discussion below! :3