Saikano Vol. 1: Girlfriend
Chise is a petite, painfully cute girl who is cajoled by a mutual friend into asking out her fellow classmate, Shuji. Shuji is childhood friends with Akemi, and while she has a crush on the former track star just as much as her shy friend, she's also Chise's self-proclaimed protector. It only makes sense for Akemi to get Chise and Shuji together, for she knows that Shuji will take good care of Chise.
Shuji and Chise aren't known for their outgoing natures, and so the beginning of their relationship is somewhat rocky. It's not miscommunication so much as a complete lack of communication altogether that almost stops this love story before it can even get off the ground, but soon enough, a deep caring for one another arises between Shuji and Chise.
Saikano starts off innocuously enough. It seems to be set in a normal town, and it comes across from the start as an average love story with all the blushing and awkward moments that such a tale requires.
And then we're reminded that Saikano is an abridgement of a phrase that means something close to "my girlfriend, the ultimate weapon."
The first scenes of the show depict the devastated remains of the town wherein most of this series occurs. We find out through peripheral information that the nation, and most likely the entire world, is in the middle of a horrifying war. Chise and Shuji live in a town that is in no way the norm for the rest of their own version of modern Japan, for the raging world war around them hasn't quite hit home yet.
But it will.
The Japanese government has a plan to turn the tide of the war in their favor. For some unexplained reason, Chise is chosen to become their ultimate weapon, the last defense of the Japanese people.
Now this is all pretty heavy stuff. Chise is quickly turned into a very imposing killing machine, though her battle apparatus only appears when she's fighting. She is still somewhat able to live the life of a relatively normal high school girl, sharing her secret only with Shuji.
Yet despite the presence of a gigantic background story concerning a war that threatens the fate of mankind on earth, this is at its core a love story. Action is limited to only a few scenes that help the viewers realize how bad the war is, and in this first volume we never see Chise actually fighting up-close.
This fact might annoy some potential fans who came to Saikano looking for a series filled with spectacular apocalyptic battles, so be warned. This is not an action series. It's pure drama, and a darn good one at that.
The visuals are on par with what one should expect from GONZO, with their typically artful blend of computer graphics 2D animation. Character designs stray toward the realistic, save for when Chise is in her ultimate weapon form. There are more muted colors than bright, cheery hues, but that's appropriate given the underlying tone of the show. Animation is smooth and at times outright impressive, though a modern feature-length anime series would look understandably better.
Voice acting is pivotal in a dramatic series, and Saikano would not be nearly as powerful of a show without the talents of the seiyuu portraying the various characters within. There's more dialogue than action in this series, and both Chise and Shuji's real life counterparts do a great job of playing the roles of a tender relationship between two high school students with far more responsibility than they may be able to deal with.
It's Chise's task to keep the lives of her friends, family, and countrymen safe from their aggressors. Shuji has the even more important task of keeping Chise sane. If he fails in that capacity, then Chise will most likely mentally crumble, taking the free world with her.
This release from Viz is one of the best content-wise that the company has ever released. From the flood of new anime that we've been getting over here lately, publishers have had to put out products made to stand out so we'll buy them. The box for the first volume is a two-disc case. Disc one contains the first four episodes of the show, which is presented in a 4:3 letterboxed ratio. The second disc has all of the extras, including a conversation between Shuji and Chise's seiyuu, a TV special highlighting Saikano, a short program featuring the show, Japanese TV commercials, and color character sheets. Altogether, it's rather impressive for a release without a higher than average MSRP.
Everyone needs a good love story from time to time, and I suggest those of you in need of such a fix to check out Saikano. It's beautifully animated, passionately acted, and it contains a story with a heart that defies Chise's disconnection from her humanity.