Sunday, 30 March 2008 23:10

H2O ~Footprints in the Sand~ (TV, 2008)

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Overview

Geeze... short season, wasn't it? Aside from Persona and one or two others, everything for the Winter 2008 season was a short thirteen episodes, and I'm left feeling a bit unfulfilled, honestly. But, alright, since it looks like I haven't got much choice, I suppose that I'd better take a look at a couple of the shows that just finished wrapping up. First up on my list is a little gem called H2O ~Footprints in the Sand~. Now, before I go much farther, I should mention that there's something about H2O that will either utterly turn you off, or draw you in like moth to flame. Part of the opening includes scenes of one of the main characters - a young girl - getting the tar beaten out of her by a pair of boys. It's not an accident - and not a case of metaphor. Stick with me here, I'm going to delve into it a bit shortly.

Review

Hirose Takuma is a young man that lost his sight from the trauma of seeing his mother die in a train accident. The series opens on him moving to the small, rural village that his mother was born in. He's moving in with his uncle, in the hopes that the change of setting might help him. A new village means a new school too, and being blind, he gets himself a little lost on the way - though a girl named Otoha being chased by a wild boar that shows up doesn't help out much. Surprisingly strong, she grabs him and drags him a fair distance in her panic - yeah, and if you'll buy that I've got some nice ocean front property in Minnesota for you - to escape the boar. Somewhere in this wild chase, she lets go of Takuma, and he winds up face to face with another girl, named Kohinata Hayami, who saves him from the boar by shoving him out of the way. Hilarity ensues, as he tries to get a feel for his new company... I mentioned the boy was blind, right?

Takuma does finally make it to school, and the class representative, Kagura Hinata, is assigned to take him on a tour around the school. I should mention that there's a little more hilarity that takes place here - the writers really took advantage of Hirose's blindness for a few (ahem) sight gags. Anyway, we meet the rest of the supporting class mates, including Tabata Yui and Goon A & B, and Yakumo Hamaji. Eventually they reach the classroom, and after Takuma takes his seat, we find that Hayami is in his class too - in fact, she sits next to him. But this is also our first hint that not all is well in this world - the class's reaction ranges from cold to out and out cruel. Shortly, Hayami leaves the classroom, only to be followed by Yui and her two goons.

I'll break off the first episode overview here, save to say this... there IS a reason for what happens following that, and it IS explored, in considerable detail. There are those who will write the series off because of this one scene, and frankly? They're cowardly fools that too are afraid to view something that Hayami herself is willing to endure - and that should speak volumes. Her part played is voluntarily chosen... Certainly forced upon her... but a role that she chose for herself none the less. Don't mistake me - I was, and remain every bit as uncomfortable with the scenes in question as the next guy. I don't mean to suggest for a moment that it was justifiable in that sense... but the story DID explain it, and in terms of the world, had I been in the villager's place? Had I been in her place? Is it justified in that sense? Given the terms of how that situation arose... I find myself unable to say that I wouldn't have hated her just as much as the villagers do. I would have been wrong, but I would have hated her.

Onto the characters, then. Hirose is something of an odd duck, in the grand world of anime males. He fits most of the features of being a typical spineless anime wuss - to be fair, H2O was based on an eroge. The trouble is, he's not - and you'll see what I mean fairly quickly. Though he starts the series blind, his chance meeting with Otoha provides him with restored vision, and Otoha hints that there is a greater purpose to this... after all, he's the Promised One. As for Otoha, if you haven't guessed by now, there is something a little... off about her. I'll leave her to explain that one, I think. Hayami is quiet - down right anti-social, in fact. That's not surprising... after all, years of being the 'cockroach' of the school will do that to a person. On the other side of the equation is Hitomi, sweet, shy, and yet the most popular girl in the school.

There's a smattering of other characters to be found that play supporting roles, and of these arguably the most important is Yui, if because she plays the role of torturer and reveals a few important facts about the larger story. Beyond that, she - as well as most of the rest of the cast - is relegated to humor status, and believe me, this series needs it. If not for the fact that there is a fair amount of humor to be found, it would have been damned depressing to watch, to be honest. There's a taste of Myself; Yourself in the storytelling of H2O, but where the former never managed to reach a point of true darkness, merely dabbling within it, H2O takes turns throughout the story wading deep into that pool balanced with lighter themes and moments. So how is the story line, you might ask? Actually, it's pretty damned good, if you can get past some of the more cornball moments. As I said, there's a flavoring of Myself; Yourself in the story of H2O, and the two series share a fair bit in common in terms of tone and pacing. One of the best for this shortened season.

Another similarity that H2O shares with Myself; Yourself is that despite a somewhat cliche outward appearance, most of the characters actually have very carefully constructed and interwoven personalities. Indeed, it's because of this that the storyline proper works so well. There's a lot - a LOT - of cause and effect going on in H2O, and the characters seen are a result of that process, and everything is traced back to their root cause, which started a ripple effect - yeah, pun intended - that coursed through the entire village. It is, indeed, those very effects that are still seen in the beginning of the series, and that Hirose must sort through, because not a damn single person wants to talk about what really happened.

That's not to say that the entire storyline is what I'd call good, though - actually, I thought that a significant portion of the last couple episodes really dragged along. In part, that's to be blamed on the subject at hand... While they'd been hinting and making allusions to the truth surrounding Hirose's condition, they still had to spend a little too much time cementing it in before the finale of the last two episodes. However, there were a couple events in the last episode that also made me lose a great deal of respect for a couple of the characters. The series was rapidly heading for lousy ending status... and then something happened that made me go, "Wait... WHAT THE FUCK?!" and made things awesome again.

The animation is pretty good, though not really anything exceptional by today's standards. Better than average, let's call it. The few action sequences are smooth - actually, that pretty well describes the whole series. I should mention that one of the reoccurring themes throughout the series is that of the wind(s of change?), and the animators did take their time to at least get that effect looking great. Still, overall, nothing to be IMPRESSED about, just good, solid all around animation that's pleasing to watch. Character designs were a bit eh - partly that's because of the School Uniform effect, partly because there's really not a lot of new material to be covered in yet another school drama series. I should mention that there are a couple nice twists to be found because of the design - though I'll leave you to see them for yourself, as saying what they are here would spoil one of the better jokes.

The voice actors were spot-on, and I'll give 'em credit - they did a damned good job for the series. Hirose's VA in particular did a great job. The character Hirose is one of those that, while a great character, require a really good VA to give real life to keep them from seeming flat. You have to really be able to get a feel for their... soul isn't quite the right word, but it'll do, through their dialog and the emotion placed into it. Hayami and Hitomi did a solid job too, and Otoha was every bit as energetic as the character required. The supporting cast was nice and comfortable in their roles, so all around a high mark for the voice acting.

The opening theme was actually surprisingly memorable, but I'm afraid that there are just plain better out there this season. With that in mind, Katayoku no Icarus is worth a listen to or three. The ending theme was pretty plain - generic, if you will. Ah well. As for the series' back ground tunes, they all did a good job of not being annoying, but... I dunno, there just wasn't really anything special, I thought. It's good music, but there just wasn't anything to really stand out, and I'll admit to honestly being a bit surprised by that. If there's a series that could have afforded a couple stand-out themes, H2O would be one. -Shrug- Again, oh well. The series still gets points for back ground music that fits the series and doesn't get annoying.

Overall

Ok, just to repeat myself here... I guarantee that there is a sequence in the first episode that will make you want to walk away from the series - and if it honestly doesn't, then you really need to get your head examined. Don't just walk away, though... give H2O a chance, because the entire damn series is about what lead to that situation, and the healing of wounds to bring it to an end. As I said, Hayami herself made a choice to endure it - and I think at the least we can afford to respect that. More to the point, it's well worth it for a story that does a DAMNED good job of wrapping itself up.

Now, that said, I actually have to give this series somewhat average marks in terms of overall enjoyability. As I said, H2O takes some extended dips in the darkness, and despite a fair amount of lighter material, there's a certain pall cast over the entire series that actually makes it a bit depressing to watch. Although there's some good humor, a great love triangle, and some nice side-plots, everything is tempered by the fact that There's Bad Shit Going On Here. Unlike Myself; Yourself, H2O never quite manages to keep you from wondering when things are going to get worse again, and while that makes for a good drama, I have a sense that most will find it a bit unpleasant. Yet, oddly enough, I wouldn't have wanted the story to be told differently - I think that stain of, 'What next?' suits the tragedy being told, and allows the ending to be honestly joyful, despite all that has gone before.

Yet, despite that I can only call it average for enjoyability, the series on the whole I give a high rating. Like Myself; Yourself before it, H2O ~Footprints in the Sand~ bucks the norm of happy characters leading happy overall lives in happy little towns... I think you get the point. It's a hard thing to do and get it right, making characters that are actually human, rather than ideal, and that's something that the characters of H2O are - human. Pick the series up! Give it a chance, and I doubt you'll be displeased.

Additional Info

  • Title: H20 ~Footprints in the Sand~
  • Genre: Romance, Drama, High School
  • Director: Hideki Tachibana
  • Studio: Zexcs
  • Licensed: Kadokawa USA
  • Network: Fukui TV
  • Format: Television
  • Episodes: 12
  • Animation: Good (+2)
  • Writing: Very Good (+3)
  • Pacing: TOASTY! (+4)
  • Voice Acting: Very Good (+3)
  • Soundtrack: Average (0)

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