Most of the time when anime use far-away shots, this is to save budget: after all, it’s easier to draw something smaller because you don’t need as much detail. Hourou Musuko however puts a great amount of detail into these shots, making them look just great. It’s really something that could not be done before the era of HD. On top of that, I also love the attention this series spends on its backgrounds. I don’t mean the regular background art: that’s just some art with a watercolour filter over it. Instead, I love how this show draws all of the people in the background, with all sorts of realistic poses and make them more than a bunch of cardboard copy-pasted cut-outs that are just there to fill space.
This episode, among many others, also introduced a staple of school-based series: the school festival. Interestingly, with some help from Saori the thing that the class ended up doing was a gender-bender play. Interestingly, the students get to write the play themselves (by Shuuichi and Saori, to be exact). It’s here where Shuuichi shows that he’s actually a capable writer, but like most writers of his age, he’s very much into self-insert fan-fiction.
Oh, and this series broke another big taboo here as well: some people actually have a relationship with each other. Maho (Shuuichi’s sister) actually has a boyfriend; romance isn’t limited to a bunch of love triangles surrounding the main couple! And even the lead couple is more than just “will they won’t they”: while it’s true that it’s still uncertain whether or not they will end up together, it does seem like they actually both considered to go into a relationship, but chose to just stay as friends. That’s actually much better compared to all of those character that are oblivious to their own feelings and refuse to take their relationships anywhere.
Probably the biggest question-mark of this episode was: who actually knows about Shuuichi wanting to be a girl, and who actually knows about about Yoshino wanting to be a girl? I’m suspecting that very few know about the latter, but at this point I’m not quite sure why exactly Mahou didn’t want her boyfriend to see her brother, because Riku seemed more surprised at Maho wanting to strip her brother than that brother actually walking around in girls’ clothes.
Overall it’s a great depiction of middle schoolers, though. Their actions at times are a bit irrational, like when Saori tried to dress up Shuuichi despite earlier telling him not to, and at the same time it’s not like this show is caught up in its own angst at all: the tension comes and goes very quickly and naturally. Is it as good as Aoi Hana, though? At this point, I’d say not yet: Aoi Hana brought in even more layers in making its characters feel alive. At the same time though, I don’t see it doomed to remain in Aoi Hana’s shadow: if the rest of the episodes are good enough, I can really see this show getting progressively better as it goes on.
Rating: ** (Excellent)