Sunday, May 27, 2012

PapaKiki - Anime

Somehow when we weren't paying attention, the theme of sudden-onset parenting became an anime fad. While a lot of trends quickly become tiresome, if future shows in the "Guess what dude, you're a parent now!" subgenre are as good as 2011's Bunny Drop and now 2012's Listen to Me Girls, I am Your Father (otherwise known as PapKiki!), we're certainly not complaining.

Nineteen-year-old Yuuta Segawa is minding his own business when his married sister, the vivacious Yuri, asks him to babysit her three daughters while she and her husband Shingo are on vacation. Two of the daughters, fourteen-year-old Sora and ten-year-old Miu, are from Shingo's two previous marriages, but the adorable three-year-old Hina is Yuuta's blood-related niece. Things take a turn for the dramatic (but not implausible) when a horrible plane crash ends the lives of Yuri and Shingo, leaving the three girls orphaned. Feeling responsible for these girls he's just come to know, and knowing that his sister considered them all her true daughters and wouldn't want them separated, Yuuta volunteers to raise all of the children himself. With little regard for propriety (or even common sense), Yuuta takes all three girls to live with him against his family's wishes, turning a college freshman in a tiny one-person apartment into a father of three overnight.

While the plane crash that kills Yuri and Shingo may seem contrived, Papakiki! surprisingly resists the temptation to turn into a melodramatic soap opera, instead featuring some remarkably sensitive writing. Instead of dwelling on the tragedy that orphans Sora, Miu and Hina, the show mostly deals with the everyday problems that would occur in Yuuta's situation in a realistic manner: laundry, food costs, and transportation are just some of the trials this young family must overcome. It's this focus on the mundane that makes the character's struggles so easy to relate to.

Unfortunately, a lot of anime that feature young girls can feel exploitative, and Papakiki! is not completely immune to this. There are some cliche scenes of Yuuta accidentally walking in on teenaged Sora changing, and while he never means any harm, some viewers will be turned off by using such a young character for fanservice. However, for the most part the show is respectful of its cast: in the opening credits, both Miu and Sora hold down their skirts while running up a flight of stairs, avoiding the dreaded panty shot. That's pretty indicative of the show's take on fanservice of the girls as a whole- you can't ignore the fact that the potential for the show to cross a line into uncomfortable territory is there, but to its' credit, it never really goes there. Most of the actual fanservice comes courtesy of Yuuta's college-age love interest Raika, who is pretty much all for it.

Speaking of Raika, Yuuta's college friends at the Street Observation Research Society (one of the stranger clubs we've seen in anime) are a lively bunch, and watching the club become an extended support system for the three girls is a pleasure. While some of the characters, like Yuuta's best friend Nimura, don't get much screen time, some of the show's best moments take place when the club members go all out to support Yuuta and his little ladies. Spacey Raika herself is a hoot, and should definitely hang out with fellow oddball beauty Hitagi Senjougahara from Bakemonogatari one of these days.

Yuuta himself is a little bland, but watching him change from an inexperienced student to a reasonably responsible guardian makes for an interesting character arc. Typically it's the girls who bring the personality: Sora deals with her inconvenient crush on Yuuta realistically, the half-Russian Miu is a ten going on 35, and the Rapunzel-haired Hina is cute enough to give the kids from Hanamaru Kindergarten a run for their money, which is saying something. As an added bonus, beginning students of Japanese will love this show because they'll be able to understand 99% of Hina's dialogue without subtitles.

While the production is high-quality overall, one thing that should be noted is that there's some weirdness with the character design: Sora and Nimura both look a lot like characters from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzimiya, and it can be a little distracting. It's not a big deal, but seasoned anime viewers might find themselves wondering why Sora "Haruhi" Takanashi doesn't just reset the universe to bring her parents back. We found the music and OP/ED sequences unremarkable, but they have their fans.
Finally, unlike a lot of 12-episode anime that seem to merely run out of screen time, Papakiki! features a truly satisfying ending that neither trivializes the difficulty of Yuuta's position nor seeks gritty realism at the expense of hope. A thirteenth episode will be included on the Blu-Ray release, and while bonus episodes are often filler, in this case we're excited to see what Yuuta and the girls get up to next. Papakiki! is currently available streaming on Crunchyroll.

Reviewed by Karen Gellender, May 2012

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