Sasameki Koto – The Anime

NOTE: If you got here looking for the Miyazaki anime The Wind Rises, it’s because one of the characters in this anime is reading the book. See the trivia note at the very end of this posting. UPDATE July 2014: The three volume manga is now available on Amazon. Buy it. You won’t be sorry.

Sasameki Koto (Whispered Words) is a lightweight, enjoyable, slice of high school girls life anime that faithfully follows the source manga — and that’s the problem. It’s a 13 episode one-shot series from 2009 that covers the first 12 chapters of a 40+ chapter manga. Despite the fact that every episode is exceedingly good, there’s no closure, no resolution, no conclusion.

Ushi and Sumika

The Girls Club

I picked it out of the lineup at Crunchyroll (my latest fad) based solely on the cover art. I had no idea what was good in the offerings, although I knew there were a couple of programs I wasn’t interested in. I was looking for artwork that was realistic, with no mechs, boobs, lolis, or spiky hair (So, why does he even bother to watch anime?). I was hoping for another Hanasaku Iroha, or maybe even another Chihayafuru. What I got was K-On for big kids. The plot is typical anime romance: A loves B but is afraid to declare. B is oblivious and has a crush on C in disguise. C loves A, who exploits the situation. D also loves A, and is horrified to learn about B. E and F are in love. G enjoys hanging out with friends. As you might have already guessed, everybody but C is female, and he’s a cross-dresser.

Naming names, we have as the main POV character, Murusaki Sumika, a great horse of a girl with a hime hairdo — daughter of a karate teacher, sister to three karate brothers (who, it is said, all look like Ryu from Street Fighter), good at sports and academics, terrible at fashion and cooking — and her long-term friend and love interest Ushio Kazama. Kazama is avowedly yuri (lesbian is too strong of a term for this series), but only likes “cute” girls. At one point early on she crushes Sumika’s plans to declare her love with a simple, in passing, remark that “I mean, you’re not my type, but everybody at a girls school would love you.” She is always asking the world “Where is my princess”, when all she has to do is look at the haircut standing next to her. I don’t know if that was deliberate on the part of the developers, but it’s a nice touch. The other two yuri girls are Tomoe and Miyako. Tomoe, at 18, is the hidden adult in the series (and I’m pretty sure it’s illegal for her to be hitting on 15 year-olds), because she was out of school for two years for unspecified reasons. Miyako is her near-bratty, near-loli friend, who always knows what pervy thoughts Sumika is thinking about Kazama, and who provides some of the more fun comic relief (and is always getting into face-pulling fights with Sumika). Tomoe decides to form a Girls Club, because, you know, club activities are important in high school, and her actions turn out to be what drives most of the episodes. Also along for the ride are Sumika and Kazama’s long time friend, Kiyori (straight, but willing to come to the club to hang out), Azusa (yuri, but reserved and classical about it), and Asaki, the short boy who is in love with Sumika and started cross dressing so he could be around her more (anime logic at its finest). He makes a good-looking girl, has landed a job as a fashion photo model, and Kazama at one point has the hots for…her.

Despite the title and the topic, the series is nowhere near as angsty as you might expect a “teen girls unrequited love” anime to be (and it’s up front about the yuri — only four minutes into episode 1, Sumika says about Kazama “It’s true. This girl like girls”). On the other hand, there’s no great conflicts, no villains. The slice-of-life program ambles pleasantly along, much like K-On. Most of the episodes turn on the Sumika gets closer to declaring herself, but something always intervenes (and the creators are masters at timing), or Kazama is puzzled by how lonely, jealous, anxious she feels about Sumika but never quite makes the connection tropes.

One thing that makes it fun is the fact that the creators work very hard at turning various other yuri/anime tropes on their heads — the obligatory beach episode isn’t actually about the beach, and anyway, Sumika had to stay home to help Azusa with her fanzine; Kazama is worried about her first kiss and wants to practice with Sumika, but realizes at the last minute that a practice kiss is a real kiss, so she ends up wearing a Ultraman mask, spoiling things for Sumi; Asaki as a crossdressing guy who really doesn’t like crossdressing…. Meanwhile, there are things that leave you shoutlaughing in every episode. Kiyori dropping her food from her chopsticks in the very first lunch scene…and catching it again. The shot of Sumika in the chem lab, flanked by the skeleton and visible human, listening to Kazama’s plan to practice kissing.

The Kiss

The Kiss

Or the episode where Sumika and Miyako compete to show their girlfriends who is the best cook, and the result is a column of smoke, sirens, and squid ink spattered across everything. Miyako talking into a floor fan, and who hasn’t done that?. Asaki approaching the mysterious locker that hasn’t been opened in years, only to find that it’s stuffed with highly unwashed gym clothes. In the waterpark episode, which follows the abortive beach weekend, Kiyori drags Azusa and Miyako away from the girls they’d rather be with, and inflicts on them all the pleasures of a waterpark. At one point, they are going up in the free-fall roller-coaster, and as they crest the top we have roughly the following dialogue, in [japanese] and {english}:

Clueless Azusa, looking around: [What happens now?] Ride junky Kiyori, looking out: [This will be so much fun!] Reluctant Miyako looking down: {Oh, Jesus!}

There’s an anime trope about people getting a nosebleed in sexually charged situations, as if the increase in blood pressure in various body parts also blows out the veins in the nose. These are metaphorical nosebleeds, and it’s rare if one of them causes an impact in the ‘real’ anime world. Except when Kazama comes in to the bath clad only in a skimpy towel, saying she wants Sumika to do her back. Sumika’s nose starts to bleed, she slips beneath the surface, and we see a red film drift across the water.

The art is simple but good, it looks like it was done in chalk. The animation is a little jerky, with much scanning across stills. The music (listen to samples here) is 35 cuts running 53 minutes on the OTA, and ranges in style from tea room piano (or other percussion) to rag to collegiate, with some Asian (and faux Asian), and even Russian thrown in for good measure. For the most part it’s quiet and appropriately unobtrusive (with a certain amount of choruses going ahhhh, ahhahh… at romantic moments), and there’s one recurring piano, almost music box, theme that will stick in your head for a while. Typical of incidental music, a two minute tune may only get 30sec of play, so in the OTA you get more than shows in the anime. The OP and ED are unmemorable ’60’s style ballads, but the intro to the ED is nice and sprightly (and, as usual due to licensing issues, neither is on the OTA).

The characters are well-enough presented that you really start to care about them. The voicing develops the characters, but it’s a little close-miked. As I said, the anime follows the manga faithfully, those bits that I checked. I wouldn’t be surprised if they just cut up and posted a copy of each manga as their episode storyboard sequence. The trouble is, the manga was reportedly a good two volumes away from a suitable end point when the anime hit Chapter 12 (Episode 13), and it shows. In that last episode, Sumika goes into the mountains with her family, to visit the grandparents and the ancestral graveyard and attend the local festival (BTW, she looked silly when she tried to dress up in a cute and frilly style in episode 2, but is stunningly elegant in a yukata).

The fashion suits her

The fashion suits her

She promises to call, but finds she is in the mountains out of cell phone coverage. Kazama is by turns anticipating, anxious, worried, and miffed. Finally, a full day after she left, Sumika gets through (also after the usual round of The Course of True Love Never Did Run Smooth), and Kazama finds she is happy just to hear her voice. That’s it. All done. Roll credits. Post-credits, there’s a shot of the two of them sitting at a study table. Sumika is reading, and Ushio is working on her homework. Ushio stops and stares at Sumika.

Sumika, looking up:[What?] Ushio, with a gentle smile:[Nothing.]

It’s listed with a seinen (high school boys) target demographic, probably due to the magazine the source manga appeared in. Based on the fact that there’s no action, little fanservice (mostly in Sumika’s dirty-old-man thoughts), and nothing even approaching sex, I’d say it’s more targeted at high school girls. Go watch it on Crunchyroll. Too late. It didn’t get a second season, there’s nothing of the anime on Amazon, and my overseas supplier sold me their only copy, so you have missed your chance. UPDATE: Kiss Anime is streaming it, as of January, 2016.

Interesting Trivia: (1) The book that Sumika is reading in Episode 1 is, according to Wikipedia “The Wind Rises” (風立ちぬ – Kaze Tachinu … a Japanese novel by Hori Tatsuo, written between 1936-37. It is set in a tuberculosis sanitarium in Nagano, Japan. The plot is rather uneventful, mostly following the condition of the female character’s illness.” An abridged translation is available on Google Books (you have to search inside the linked book). The Miyazaki anime is very loosely based on the novel. Actually, the WR anime is a very fictional biopic about the designer of the Zero fighter, and the content of the WR book provides the fictional romance angle. (2) Where most anime uses cherry blossoms as a visual theme, SK uses ginko trees and closeups of ginko leaves. For my other reviews, click on the Anime tag below


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2 Responses to “Sasameki Koto – The Anime”

  1. Yi Says:

    I think I will give this a chance after reading this review. I like that it’s not as angsty as typical of stories about unrequited love. And, the chalky art style looks pretty good indeed. ^ ^

    • FoundOnWeb Says:

      It’s really hard to do angst with the level-headed Sumika around, and her response to her own angst is to go beat the snot out of a sandbag in the dojo. If you’ve read the manga, you’ll appreciate it that much more, and if you haven’t read the manga, it will encourage you to do so. There’s 30 or so followon chapters that you can anim-et inside your head. BTW, I edited this post to make the link to the music a little more obvious. They give you 30 snippits, so you can see if you like it.

      Watching it on Crunchyroll is like watching broadcast TV, you are bombarded with commercials. Fortunately, they are short.

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