Laevatein’s Christmas Special: Amagami SS

Yohoho, Merry Christmas! And all that jazz. Considering it’s the season and all, I thought I’d get in the mood by reviewing a couple of Christmas themed shows. And what better show to review than Amagami SS, now that the second season is just around the corner?

Looks like a standard harem so fa-- wait a minute, these character designs aren't over the top and outrageous!

Amagami SS is an adaptation of a videogame/VN, Amagami, for the PS2. Now, we may have tons of those, so you may be asking “what’s so special about it?” Well, for starters, the anime adopts the game a bit differently: rather than trying to mishmash everything together, the anime covers each heroine’s story, then resets after each story. This way each heroine gets equal amounts of focus, and the events of the game aren’t squashed together like the more popular option (such as with Clannad). Secondly, though this is complete conjecture on my part and may likely be incorrect, I feel as if Amagami was marketed to a different group of gamers/readers: from what I’ve seen in the anime, it doesn’t feel as if the game was marketed towards those who read VNs and eroge. Though I’ve mentioned how Amagami SS feels different from the norm, I’ve yet to mention if it’s good or what Amagami SS has to do with Christmas. Well rest assured, for my early Christmas gift to you guys will be telling you whether or not you should check out Amagami SS.

Amagami SS’s main story, aside from those heroine arcs, takes place in a standard highschool setting where Christmas is fast approaching. However, the main protagonist, Junichi, has a painful memory of Christmas two years past, where a girl he asked out stood him up and left him waiting in the cold (dating on Christmas Eve is serious business for some people, after all). As he finds himself getting involved with a few girls, he finds that he has to come to terms with his experience. While I make the plot sound rather involving, in actuality, these elements don’t show up nearly as often as you’d think. What is actually shown is pretty good, as past relationship drama doesn’t often show up in harem romances, but I wish there was a greater importance placed on this aspect.

Being stood up is suffering.

Instead, chunks of the plot belong to each of the main heroines, and the show focuses more on those heroine plots. Each arc tells the tale of Junichi and the girl involved interacting with each other more, and becoming quite close. It’s different for each girl, as sometimes, the plot progression for each arc is unexpected. What’s also rather interesting about this style is that each arc is presented differently, leading to a different storytelling experience every time (one arc, for instance, has an obnoxious narrator that’s quite funny). That may seem fine and dandy, but I couldn’t find myself liking the plot of some of the arcs. Two of them employ forced drama and ruin their arcs, two of them have next to no conflict (though I did like one of those two, but the other one was fairly uninteresting), and the last two actually manage to balance drama and lighthearted moments quite well. In fact, the main heroine’s arc so greatly balances the two that I feel her arc carries the show’s plot quite a decent amount. Unfortunately, that decent amount isn’t enough, as I feel much of the plot is lacking. Of course, part of the problem comes from the format: with six heroines, and 24 episodes, only four episodes can be devoted to each plot. Now I know some OVAs have developed better plots in a shorter time, but I still can’t help but blame the format and how they develop the romances: often enough, each episode feels paced like an episode out of a normal romance series. As a result, it’s a tough task to do proper build up, conflict, climax, etc. Even so, if some of the arcs had well-developed plots, it makes you wonder why the effort wasn’t there for some of the others.

Oh and in case you're wondering if there are more Christmas elements in the show, be glad to know that there are!

Now the characters, on the other hand, are definitely a highlight. While they do seemingly take from archetypes, you’ll be surprised to learn that the archetypes aren’t all too common, and if they are, they’re generally any divisive ones. Many of the girls are either peppy, shy, or well mannered. However, the peppy ones aren’t frustratingly exhausting: in fact, the girls of Amagami are quite the opposite. They’re full of charm, they’re overly refreshing, they’re really funny, and ultimately, are very cute. The interactions between Junichi and each girl is usually pretty great, and can often leave one giddy. Additionally, the main heroine is actually pretty damned realistic (though saying how would be a spoiler), as her circumstances and development from them are largely believable, but at the same time, she’s still really cute. It’s this dichotomy that makes the heroine a really interesting character, and one of my favorites. While the other characters don’t have the same levels of depth, they also happen to be rather interesting. The only negative thing I have to say about the characters is the overly shy one, who is overly shy, and… well that’s it. While certainly not a terrible character, I couldn’t feel very much for her. What also happened to be pretty great was that the heroines didn’t solely exist to fall in love with the main character, as Amagami constantly shows scenes of the girls living their own lives away from the main character. Hell, even the girls even interact with the main character as if they’re just friends in arcs that aren’t their own. The sides of each character’s personality you get to see is pretty astounding. Speaking of the main character, though it’s refreshing to see him act like an actual ordinary teenager (one who actually has teenage drives and ambitions), as opposed to the blank slates commonly shown in harems. Unfortunately, aside from his previous relationship stuff, Junichi doesn’t have much depth. He’s kinda generic, but at least he’s a proactive guy: he gives the girls reasons to fall in love with him, they don’t make up any. So despite him being rather generic, he gets points in my book. In fact, just about most of the characters do.

This trio is probably the main example of "everything doesn't revolve around the main character."

I found the art and animation okay. I really liked the character designs, as they have a sense of realism (seriously, most of the characters have black hair!) about them, so differences in designs worked through more subtle means. However, though I like the designs, I don’t think the art itself stands out. Amagami SS uses bland colors and minimal amounts of detail (especially with faces), often making the scene look like it was drawn rather lazily. However, sometimes, some of the scenes look really great: in fact, most of the scenes involving snow look pretty good (though I don’t know if that just has to do with their snow effects). I think the show also uses some great lighting at times, too. However, I wasn’t very impressed with the animation. I guess since it’s not an action series, you don’t really need high levels of animation, so the animation gets by alright, but I noticed a moderately high quantity of off-model shots. None are so egregious that I’d submit to a list of QUALITY shots, but I got annoyed of seeing deformed faces and models so often. Still, it could be a lot worse, so I’m thankful the animation at least works.

Another shot of a tree again, but this time I just want to point out how I really like the lighting in this shot.

On the sound side of things, the vocal songs, on average, are pretty good. I liked the two openings, as well as most of the ending themes, for most of them are quite lovely. That’s in no small part thanks to the voice actresses, who make the songs pretty great. The background music, however, is one of the only part of the show that happens to be over the top, in some aspects. However, even though some of the music is over the top, I can’t remember most of the songs: they’re not all that memorable. In fact, I can’t say I liked most of the background music, unfortunately. Some pieces were great, sure: in fact, I liked most of the slow tempo piano songs. However, the vast majority of songs are not slow tempo piano songs, and I couldn’t find myself liking those songs much at all. Speaking of voice acting though, I think all of the voice acting was pretty great: most of the cast did a pretty great job, as they managed to convey their roles really well. Overall, despite a few negatives, I found myself liking the sound.

Rating Breakdown
While what little there is of the main plot is pretty good, the heroine stories are rather hit and miss, though the main heroine's story stands out.
All of the characters are really cute, and their interactions with one another are really fun to watch. Though I didn't really like one of the heroines, the main heroine was both pretty realistic and fantastic. Each character has a life to live that doesn't involve the main character, and the show also shows that frequently. Though the main character is a bit generic, he's really refreshing in that he's really proactive.
Though the much of the art is mostly bland and lazy, several shots, like the ones including snow and unique lighting, happen to be rather impressive.
Though characters are off-model pretty often, for a series not demanding high amounts of animation, the animation fits the bill.
Though vocal songs are mostly great, and voice acting is also pretty high quality, BGM isn't all that great or memorable.
Amagami is a fun little romance with great characters and an interesting set up that, despite some large storytelling flaws, seems to work well.

Miscellaneous Details:
Studio: AIC
Director: Yoshimasa Hiraike
Character design: Hiroaki Gohda
Music: Toshiyuki Omori
Original creator: Enterbrain (game)
Original run: July 2, 2010 – December 23, 2010

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A mad scientist who's so cool!


A mad scientist who's so cool!

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