Known to most avid anime fans through art and various other media, I do have to admit it was quite a surprise to find out that Super Sonico would be getting her own anime series back during the Winter 2014 anime season. Originally created by Nitroplus to promote a musical event, the character’s popularity is definitely nothing to sneeze at launching a few games, countless PVC figurines, and so many 18+ doujinshi it will make your head-spin. Not that I actually indulged in any of that material myself…nope, not me. So was the anime adaptation staring this popular character any good or just for mere kicks…?
Title: SoniAni: Super Sonico The Animation
Genre: Slice-of-life, Comedy
Super Sonico is an 18-year-old college student who plays guitar for the three-girl band Fastest Speed in Space and models for pin-ups. In spite of her busy schedule, she still finds time to her grandmother at her restaurant. One night, her band members Suzu and Fuuri are late to a concert, forcing her to play alone. The result of that show will have far-reaching consequences for Sonico.
Approaching the franchise through a comedy/slice-of-life lens, Super Sonico The Animation follows the daily misadventures of Sonico: a college student, model, and budding musician as she gets wrangled into all sorts of mischief by her friends and fellow bandmates. Falling perfectly into the “cute girls doing cute things” category, it definitely doesn’t adhere to the formula – opting for a slower pace and serene outgoing akin to that of Sketchbook: Full Color’s or Tamayura. There are episodes where that philosophy goes completely out the window and ventures into more spontaneous territory like episode 6, but such moments are few and far in-between. While most of the earlier episodes do succeed in establishing some sort of merit, the later episodes seem to suffer from quite abit from tedium as they either stretch the content too thin to take up an entire 23 minutes or frankly, not at all that enticing to watch. Even as detailed as Sonico is made out to be, she and the rest of the cast are still nowhere near personable or written with enough care to be able to carry the series for the rest of the duration. It is still a very feel good and whimsical show, however, it doesn’t engender those feelings in the best possible way in the writing.
Unlikely to be caught by the unobservant viewer, another small issue that the series brings upon itself is the obsessive push of brand awareness and trying it promote Nitroplus wares in what seems like almost every episode. From the ending musical themes performed by the fictional band to the various cameos (I’m talking about you, Steins;Gate and Demonbane from episode 8), the subliminal advertisement that works for the Japanese centric will most likely be something of an esoteric reference elsewhere – with most of the products on display not even available outside the home country. I can appreciate the attempt at the callbacks and the cheeky nature in which it is done, but the frequency at which it occurs is something a telling sign of the objective, and really isn’t a consolation. Although, where that is something of an annoyance rather than implicit problem – the real problem is the show just lacks focus on what it is trying to do or be. As aforementioned, while it does struggle with the writing to fill in some content, the show really does try to capture any sort of audience it can – bouncing from trope to trope. And considering how stacked Sonico is you can expect to see at least a few “serviceable” situations for her to be placed in. Other than that, it is difficult trying to discern who this is for and where it is trying to direct its energy toward.
Regardless of problematic writing and lack of self, Super Sonico does at least create a “day-in-the-life” story that is very down-to-earth and far removed from the other end of the spectrum that is usually more driven by events than the characters. While that still doesn’t excuse the boring and lax ambiance and Sonico does seem to be strung along by the events than anything else, there are at least one or two episodes that do seem genuinely enjoyable via its pace – just lacking on intent. In hindsight, the slower episodes do contrast sort of well with the busier aspects of Sonico’s life and able to give the more active episodes agency, but I refuse to actually give the show that kind of credit. However, while the episodes do have their high and low points, I did also enjoy a few of the characters, despite the one-note personalities. Whether it be drummer Fuuri’s insatiable appetite or Kitamura just being….plain menacing – sometimes, there are rare moments where the characters do manage to shine. Seriously, how did that guy ever have a chance to become Sonico’s manager…?
With Sentai Filmworks in charge of the logistics this time around, the series does receive a home release complete with an English dub. Just like many of Sentai’s dubbed projects, the voice actor/actress choices are more misses than hits: voices such as Monica Rial ( Fuuri Watanuki) and David Wald (Kitamura) sync up closely with their Japanese counterparts while ones like Kira Vincent-Davis (Ouka Satsurikuin) sound worlds apart. Jessica Nigri, a promotional model and cosplay starlit manages to snag the leading role – which is more or less an okay choice among many other better choices. Considering the celebrity tie-in (she happen to cosplay as Sonico for AnimeExpo2014) and she does have a few voice over roles under her belt, it is a fair, yet odd pick and even more so with Sentai going as far as making it apart of the advertisement. Paling in comparison to productions like Is the Order a Rabbit? and The Devil Is a Part-Timer! in terms of animation, White Fox visuals are at least passable. The only thing that does standout in the visual department are Masafumi Tamura’s character designs, showcasing women with a little more girth and shape than most in any series I can remember. Can’t say I’m exactly opposed to it, but it does look little strange since the animation doesn’t support it all that well – character movement for the full-figured looking very awkward.
Like many mixed-media projects, popularity does not exclude half-baked ideas, and while Super Sonico may not fall into that category, the grim reminder that is easily forgettable without the clout – it’s a very horrible indicator. Nowhere near the level of mediocrity as some of the visual novel to anime cash-ins of yesteryear, the show does create a very shallow and dull canvas for it to work off of – only truly finding some sort of higher ground among a very small group of viewers. And considering the weird appeal and even weirder circumstances for the character’s conception, I was at least inclined to think that an anime would be thrown together with little more reverence. At any rate, unless morbid curiosity gets the better of you, there are far better slice-of-life/comedy series to go than Super Sonico.
Pros: Some earlier episodes capture the slice-of-life/comedy feel, some enjoyable characters and interactions.
Cons: Some episodes lack focus/content, unfocused writing, boring and dull cast of characters, a few dub track voices seemed unfitting.