Let me start off by explaining why this is a single episode review. I haven’t watched Soni-Ani, nor do I ever plan on it. But recently I heard that episode 7 is surprisingly good as a stand-alone. Curious, and mildly bored, I decided to watch it, and, yeah, it’s great. In fact, it’s probably the most profound Slice of Life anime I’ve seen.
Sonico herself is pretty much what I expected after seeing the first bit of artwork for the series, a stupid, bland moe-blob, but it’s done well. It’s not that she’s more than a moe-blob, but in her blandness she’s also very nice and respectful. And unlike a lot of other moe protagonists, she doesn’t whine or cry when something doesn’t work out, she’s disappointed, but she deals with it, and works to fix it. It doesn’t change the fact that she’s a simple character, but it at least makes her a likeable one. And while liking a character shouldn’t be the basis of whether they’re well written, if they’re not going to be interesting they may as well be pleasant. I found that, despite not having any real interest in her character, I was able to get engaged in her story because I like to see things work out for good people.
Also, given Sonico’s design it would be safe to assume that there would be heavy fanservice, but there isn’t. Though she’s certainly made to be attractive, she’s dressed very practically and her animators treat her with respect. There is a brief hot springs scene that could have been improved, but I don’t think there’s anything offensive about it; it’s not used as a chance to showcase Sonico’s body, it’s played straight. What I didn’t like about it wasn’t anything to do with fanservice but the mood; the scenery around the hot springs was beautiful, and focusing on it could have conveyed the serenity of the moment, but instead the show just focuses on Sonico falling asleep. It still gets the feeling across, just not as well as it could have.
As for the other characters, none stay for long, but they have a lasting affect. Though we only a few minutes (and in some cases a few seconds) with each, they’re all good natured and contribute to the journey of the episode. That said, my inner cynic had some trouble believing it all. Every single person in the episode is as nice and trusting as people actually get. Though it probably helps that each one seems to have an entire town to themselves. The supporting “cast” is charming, but the lack of background characters and amount of hospitality is a little surreal and unnerving.
As for the story, I couldn’t really identify a three act structure, but I think this was intentional. Basically, Sonico gets on a bus one evening and just starts heading north across the countryside. I’m don’t know if episode 6 set up for this or not, but on its own it’s an odd juxtaposition of a calm and relaxing scene, and heading right into the action. On her way she meets several strangers who wake her up so she doesn’t miss her train, let her out of the rain, or offer her some watermelon in passing. At the climax of the journey, Sonico finds herself in an open field, surrounded by others, gazing at shooting stars. And that’s where it ends.
Almost all of this is told through the animation, with the dialogue being more tonal. Characters don’t talk to explain things, they talk when it’s just natural for them to speak, which apparently isn’t often. So of the dialogue servers a story purposes, such as one person telling Sonico where the hot springs are, but for the most part the characters’ actions explain everything.
The whole episode feels like a second act, with Sonico constantly traveling out of her comfort zone. By never establishing a state of rest, it creates a long lasting feeling of mild adventure and anxiety, which is simultaneously relaxing, a little thrilling and a little striking. but though the lack of a first act gave the episode this impact, I think it still could have used a short third act -a destination.
The message of the episode was pretty clear, that it’s an emotionally rewarding experience to venture out of your comfort zone a bit and go on a little adventure (or, for short, it the journey not the destination), but having it end at the star gazing makes it feel like that was the destination. A short scene at the end where Sonico arrives at a place she was apparently going to the whole time would work to separate the journey from the goal more, and make it feel more like the real reward of it all. We wouldn’t even half to know about it until that scene, so everything before it would be the same. Ending on the climax just seems to cheapen it.
All in all, episode 7 of Soni-Ani is probably the best slice of life I’ve seen. It focuses on adventure and escaping ones comfort zone, rather than the mundane moments of everyday life, while being completely realistic. It gives a semblance of the greater emotional payoffs of leaving ones routine life for day or two for something simple but different. Though a couple things could have been executed a little better, it did it’s job better than anything I’ve seen before, and makes an outstanding stand-alone episode.
Don’t Lose your Way