Thursday, 25 May 2006 00:00

Shuffle! (TV, 2005)

Written by 

Overview

S'ok, everybody knows that any harem anime has to have three basic ingredients, right? You have your male protagonist, the girls - at least three, never more than seven - and some good, old fashioned Strange Events to round it all out. So, let me do a little check list here - Rin, male protagonist... check. Kaede, Nerine, Lisianthus, Asa, and Primula, girls in love with Rin... check. Next door neighbors that just happen to be gods/demons? Check. Alright, that's everything that Shuffle! needs to be your standard harem anime, complete with some great nude scenes from a set of excellent babes to top off the mix. Here's the problem: Shuffle! is a tale of two halves, and while the opening is very much a standard Harem anime, the second half of the series absolutely blows the top off the pressure cooker and ditches any pretense at being a standard Harem.

Review

Shuffle! is about Tsuchimi Rin, a high school student who lost his parents at an early age. His childhood friend, Fuyo Kaede, also lost her mother in the same accident that killed his parents, and so Kaede's father took him in to take care of, and so at the start of the series we find Rin and Kaede in a strange sort of relationship, the sweet, submissive and shy Kaede doing everything she can to take care of Rin. Of course, not all is as simple as that - Kaede has something of a fanclub, you see, and Rin is at the top of their hitlist - and I do mean hitlist, because some of them seem to be fully trained marines. Even making it all the way to school doesn't get poor Rin to true safety, as there's always Asa-sempai waiting to give him a hearty slap on the back - and by hearty, I mean bone-breaking. There's also his classmates, Thyme Mayumi, and journalist-in-training, and Midoriba Itsuki, class Don Juan.

Yet, despite all appearances, Rin is... maybe not happy, but at least content with life. Of course, we can't have that, so when rumors begin of a pair of knock-out beautiful transfer students that are going to be joining his class, you just know that something is up. That night on his way home, he meets a pair of beautiful young girls in passing - though he doesn't quite notice until after they've parted that both of them knew his name without him actually mentioning it. So of course, you should know by now who's transferring in... and you soon discover just how much trouble Rin is in when you find out that the girls, Nerine - Rin-chan - and Lisianthus - Sia - are the daughters of the King of Demons, and the King of Gods respectively. Of course, both of them are deeply in love with Rin, having both met him eight years before as children. And oh yeah - they've just moved into the houses on either side of Rin and Kaede's. Their fathers have decided to let Rin choose one of them for himself - and in doing so, inherit the status of King of either the Gods or the Demons.

Alright, that's the first episode of material for you, so by now you're asking where the interesting stuff starts - after all, that is pretty standard for a harem anime. Well, I have to admit - the first eleven episodes are, honestly, pretty standard for a harem anime. A good standard, mind you, but they're really not new territory, just a pretty good retelling of the usual plot. There is the minor issue of Nerine and Sia's devotion to Rin being a little too developed at the start, but that smooths itself out around episode six or so. In any case, it's not the first half of the series that makes Shuffle! have such an excellent plot - in truth, they're almost purely setup for what I came to consider the real story. That's because the second half of the series makes a very sharp, and abrupt shift from standard Harem to an examination of the realities of such a situation, and the effects that it would have on all those involved. We find out that not all is nearly as pleasant and happy in the characters as first appeared, either. As I don't want to spoil, I'll say only this - every single main character gets turned upside down and wrung through a ringer by the end of the series.

And the characters are good - in truth, that's as much a result as the second half of Shuffle! as it is that they simply are written well. All of the main characters are given an almost unheard of level of depth thanks to the events in the second half. The only character I can honestly think of to have been given such an equal amount of development and attention is Belldandy of Ah! My Goddess! fame - and she's had nearly fifteen years to reach that level of depth. You get to know them on a truly personal basis - and I can almost guarantee you that you'll want to grab Tsuchimi Rin and rattle him till his bones are dust by the end of the series, incidentally - and that's something that's rare, even in the best animes.

The animation in Shuffle! is pretty good. While there are some points that could have used some cleanup, overall most should be pleased with its consistency and quality. I would have liked to see a bit more life in character hair, though - with the number of long-haired characters to be found, that should have been a given, but while their hair is far from stiff and plastic, with a little more effort it could have been so much better. Also, I occasionally got the impression of a low frame rate, something I rarely pick up on though it's a fairly common practice in Japanese animation. Finally, as much as I enjoy a good breast jiggle, there were a few included at points where they should not have been - and some of the characters have breasts that put them in danger of whiplash if they turn around too quickly.

Character design is excellent and well varied amongst the on screen characters. I want to take a moment to comment on expression, especially as it relates to one character in particular - you'll see what I mean later in the series. The level of inference I was able to draw on the character's mood and feelings was impressive, even in a style of animation that often excels in conveying emotion through facial features. Kudos to the animators here, they deserve the credit. Good work all around on the animation.

The soundtrack was pretty good as well, though nothing incredible. It suited my major requirements - suit the scene, don't be annoying/repetitive - so that automatically gains high marks. If anything, I'll admit that I'd have liked to hear some of the background themes used a little more often, albeit very softly. Dialog was excellent - and make no mistake, there's a LOT of dialog. That shouldn't come as the least bit surprising, considering the nature of the story, but be warned - if you're more interested in action than chatter, Shuffle! is going to disappoint you. Incidentally, for those familiar with the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, both Kyon and Asahina's VA's show up, as Rin and Kaede respectively.

Overall

Anybody who's read my reviews knows by now that I'm a sucker for a strong story, so of course Shuffle!, despite its basic beginnings, gets a high recommendation. While people that dislike Harems probably won't like it for the first half of the series, I'm going to recommend giving it a chance anyway, as the second half really does make it worthwhile. There is some nudity to be found - in fact, the animators deemed it necessary to point this fact out with a big, black and white message pointing out that it was rated R-15 for most of the second half episodes. Also, as much as I liked the girls I'll admit that their friendship with one another made me have to press my "I Believe" button kinda hard. Again, the second half went a long way to alleviating this. By now, it should be no surprise that I'm going to advise you not give up on the series until at least episode 16, or better yet, 19. Shuffle! really IS designed around the two halves of the series, and while you can watch the first without the second, the second half won't make the least sense - or have nearly as much of an impact for what it means - without watching the first half.

Additional Info

  • Title: Shuffle!, シャッフル!
  • Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Harem, Romance, High School
  • Director: Naoto Hosoda
  • Studio: Asread
  • Licensed: Funimation Entertainment
  • Network: WOWOW
  • Format: Television
  • Episodes: 24
  • Animation: TOASTY! (+4)
  • Writing: Very Good (+3)
  • Pacing: TOASTY! (+4)
  • Voice Acting: Very Good (+3)
  • Soundtrack: Good (+2)
Last modified on Wednesday, 29 February 2012 23:21

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