Locodol Review

This is review number four hundred and six. This anime is part of the Summer 2014 lineup, and it’s called Futsuu no Joshikousei ga [Locodol] Yattemita or just Locodol for short. Locodol is also short for Local Idols, and this thirteen episode anime is about that unfamiliar concept. This anime is a big heaping pile of cuteness. It’s supposed to be a short review though, but the anime just has a lot to unpack. Let’s read on.

Story

The anime follows Local Idols Nanako and Yukari as they go through their unusual everyday routine. In order to promote the small town of Nagarekawa, the Locodol’s job is to feature the town’s product and spread the word of how awesome their town is. It’s not a glamorous job, and it also has low pay, but these idols are dedicated to their work.

Taking the Pants Off

After eating up a good week watching one of the most awful anime I’ve ever encountered, I wanted to take my time watching this anime. I actually mentioned before that this anime and Jinsei both looked unappealing to me. I just think the title and the cover pictures didn’t really scream good. I wanted to avoid watching this show as much as I could. After Argevollen though, I just wanted to get things over with. Why even bother wasting time on good shows? Let’s just go scape the bottom of that barrel and be done with it already. Anyways, long story short, I finished this anime in two days. This anime is just that good. It personally works for me because of two things. Firstly, it’s an original marshmallow anime. It’s one of those four koma manga that are easy to watch, but the show’s premise had an original spin on it. Secondly, this anime is a very anti-idol anime. I mean that this anime featured idols, but it doesn’t act like an idol anime. I’ll expand more on that, but this anime is pretty easy to sum up. It’s just cute girls doing cute things, and that’s honestly one of the reasons why I wanted to avoid it. I hate marshmallow shows. It’s an anime that just looks fluffy and full of air, but not actually fulfilling and a little too sweet after taking a few bites of it. That’s the appeal though, and other people just have the sweet tooth for it. I don’t though. I just don’t like them.

I honestly once reviewed five marshmallow shows straight, and I developed a hatred for them. This anime didn’t strike me as anything, but the first episode did appeal to me. The show opened with our main character, Nanako Usami, asking for money to buy a swimsuit. The first episode basically followed Nanako and her friends looking for a cheap swimsuit. When her uncle visits though, he agrees to give her the money. All she has to do in exchange is help out with some local town promotion in the pool she’s already going to. The work is actually an idol job, and it involves promoting the small town in her new swimsuit. She doesn’t want to do it, but she was already paid in advance. The show then focused on a wonderful scene of Nanako and her co-idol, Yukari Kohinata, fumbling their way to the entire sequence. It’s a very powerful scene, but it’s so beautifully layered. The awkwardness of Nanako, the cheesy attempt at promotion by the local government, and the sudden heartfelt song that happened in the middle of it all nicely sums up the anime. It’s actually a wonderful first introduction to the series. You’re instantly rooting for Nanako, you’re suddenly engaged with the show’s premise and you smile at the sincerity of the crowd and the idol singing their local theme song. It just really works, and I was instantly hooked.

The anime is still a marshmallow show though, so we do get a lot of cuteness and just cake time with the characters. Certain episodes contain nothing but the girls talking, eating cake and just having time bonding. You’re also treated to just absolute cuteness with each character in regards to how they talk, act and do certain routine. Sometimes the camera would just focus on a girl’s cuteness, and that’s basically the marshmallow genre’s appeal. This slice of life anime contains a lot of cuteness that makes the pointless dialogue endearing to watch and the daily routine of the characters enjoyable to experience. Marshmallow shows are usually just set apart by their initial premise. Cuteness, cake talk and routine are the core elements but the initial premise makes each marshmallow show distinct from each other.  It goes from normal premises, like the characters belonging to the light music club (K-on) or each character doing part time jobs in different cafes (Gochuumon Usagi desuka), to unique ones, like the characters enjoying life in a rural backwater country town (Non Non Biyori), to complex ones, like one character being married to a tanuki (Mikakunin de Shinkoukei). As you can see, the marshmallow genre is sickly sweet to me now, and I avoid it as much as possible, but premises make the experience really entertaining. This anime’s premise falls under the unique category as we follow the characters being local idols. When I read the description of the show, I was honestly turned off by it because it just sounds incredibly stupid. Local Idols just sounds unpleasantly forced, and the idea of it existing is honestly a bit stupid to me. The anime sells the idea nicely though, and they did it in the most effective way. They gave the premise some heart.

In the first episode, where Nanako was fumbling through her lines and the entire presentation was sinking, the characters sang a song to save the entire thing. They sang a really cheesy local theme, but the camera cuts to the audience. The same camera cuts, which built up the awkward tension Nanako is experiencing from before, soon tell a different story. The audience began clapping along and then singing along as you see the moment grow into a heartwarming montage. You immediately realize that the goal of the anime is not to sell you an idol anime, but it wants you to feel the slice of life aspect through a communal lens. The local idols are there for their community, and you see the community responding. The awkwardness becomes friendly, and then it becomes familiar because the show is just so heartwarming. It shows you that everything the girls will do from this point onwards will always have the community’s involvement, and I just find this premise really unique.

The anime mostly follows the girls doing their local idol stuff. There isn’t an overarching story to tie up all the episodes, and marshmallows don’t really have a strong story to tell. Since they’re just a gag told in four panels, the best you’ll get is a setup and a punchline. The local idol premise is a great way to make the episodes cohesive though, because marshmallow show is incredibly dense if it’s just characters in a club room. K-on have great animation to save itself, but other shows like Yuyushiki is hard to get into because of how overwhelming the dialogue is. It’s still good though, but holy sh*t, you don’t want to marathon a show like that. For this anime, the daily routine of a local idol is a good enough motivation to make each episode interesting. They do normal stuff like do local new and advertise the local delicacies of their town. Combined with the cuteness and the short gags, the episodes often go by smoothly. Some episodes are pretty boring though, but the anime often makes up for that with better episodes down the line.

To soften the blow of most boring episodes, the anime tries to liven up the premise by slowly introducing the other characters. Most episodes revolve around a new character being introduced, and the rest of the episode would be about them. Once they are mixed in with the characters, the show slowly gets more crowded and the daily routine changes up a bit. It’s not much, but the characters introduced often add a lot to the show. I mean, I was fine having two cute girls that shows off a lot of skin from time to time, but being introduced to Uogokoro-kun completed me. Look at this giant ball of fluff. I’m not really into mascots, especially for anime, but this show has a way of making each character likeable. It adds to the simple intention of the anime, which is to really just do a fun and intimate show. That’s why the more I think about, the more I am convinced this anime is an anti-idol anime. Maybe the word is too strong. I’d call it counter “idol” or maybe reverse idol, because the anime looks like an idol anime but it doesn’t function as one.

Idol anime is basically advertising. Love Live’s main goal is to sell merchandise and introduce the product to the masses. The song they sing, while absolutely catchy and perky, are meant to be bought. The very idea of an idol is actually a consumerism thing with a shelf life of its own. The anime is an extension of that idea. The Love Live anime’s goal is to sell the product, and it does work. The AKB48 anime is meant as a product that the loyal fans will buy. Miss Monochrome’s anime is just advertisement for her songs. The Idolmaster anime is meant to net more fans to buy the product. The gawd damn Super Sonico anime is literally just an advertisement for the idol, and that’s really the core of most idol anime. It’s driven by marketing, and I don’t really have a problem with that. My issue is that I’m wasting my time reviewing a market ad, and I know deep down that there is a good anime here if the people behind the scenes really cared. That’s why I love Wake Up Girls. Despite being the same market ad anime, it still had heart. It’s not just a soulless tool to produce more money. When it subtlety talked about the 2011 tsunami, I was impressed by the show. It doing something else, besides inform people that the girls’ album will be on sale soon. Locodal kinda brings up the same point. It isn’t pushing any product, despite the characters actually pushing products, but it’s telling a story. It’s giving us an anime experience without the guise of an advertisement. It’s selling us an experience, and nothing more.

Now, I have no problems with idols. I personally don’t get the hype, but I’m not just knocking on them for no reason. I’m also not saying idol anime are bad. Please, I wouldn’t finish an anime if it’s truly bad, and this is coming from the guy that just finished an awful anime (damn you to hell, Argevollen). I also don’t really have a problem with idols using anime as an advertisement, since most manga does the same thing. I just want idol anime to try harder and actually reach the potential it was meant to achieve. Love Live could’ve been awesome if the anime bothered to introduce real rivals instead of just pushing out the product. The anime just gave up, and we just see the characters become popular by default. It doesn’t work out that way, realistically. Put more effort in it. That’s why I am so impressed with Locodol. It’s not trying to be anything but a laidback marshmallow show. It’s even poking fun with itself. The girl’s songs are cheesy and cringy, and they only have three of them. Their fan base is a bunch of kids and old people, and their efforts don’t automatically make them famous. The show remains grounded even if it has a chance to make the girls intensely popular. Remember in Love Live, people voted online and the girls just won by default? Locodol had the same chance, when they got into national TV, but the anime didn’t jump the shark. It refuses to make the girls famous, and this approach actually makes this anime the most idol anime there is. So it’s a real idol anime but it’s an anti-idol anime. Ok, wait.

The elements of an idol anime are about pushing a product, but it lacks sincerity. The essence of being an idol though is about making people smile and make them look up to you. I mean, I’m not an idol expert but that’s the ideal premise of an idol right? Sure, being kayfabe virgins and pure souls is part of the package but that’s to bring the point home. They are down to earth people that you can look up to, because they are larger than life. Most idol anime miss this point, because we never see the fanbase that supports them. Love Live shoves them into the internet. We only see the idol anime ideal that sells products, and nothing more. Locodol is different. While their fanbase is pathetic, the communal vibe of the show really adds a lot. Despite being small time hicks, the characters still play their idol part because they love their town and the anime really convinces you of that point. Seeing the girls smile and seeing the community responds is basically the essence of being an idol. This anime nailed it, and it didn’t have to try hard. Once you realize the show have heart, anything it does just becomes endearing because their intentions are simple. I love this anime for that. It respects the idol essence while poking fun of the idol anime elements.  Its f*cking deep, and I never expect that from a marshmallow anime.

I don’t think this anime is pointing out how idol anime sucks though. It really just functions like a marshmallow show drowning in cuteness, but it unintentionally knocks on strong points. I watch anime weird. I’m sorry. The later episodes do feature an actual idol group meeting the local idols. They’re local idols as well, but the other group has a more mainstream appeal. The show also contrasts how each group functions. It’s an interesting side by side comparison, but it doesn’t point out that one is superior from the other. It just gives you an idea how actual idols work, and hammering the fact that the main characters aren’t actual idols. This is where that essence of an idol kinda comes up though, because despite being superior to the local idols, the more mainstream group looks up to the main characters. It’s subtle and it’s cute.

Oh crap. Look at me talking about idol anime. My gawd, I hate shows that turns the dials in my head. Anyways, despite lacking a story, this anime is a true character showcase. It focuses on making the characters look good to make up for the lack of a meaningful story. The main characters will really grow on you and I love how each one slowly develops a quirk that the show uses for a running gag. My favorite one is the “taking it off” jokes, because I just love anything pantsless related. You also see a lot of characters just shedding clothes, and it’s not done in an ecchi way. The characters just use it as a gag to make the punchline funnier. I won’t dive deep into the characters, since they’re the best part of the show. The anime’s main appeal is also slowly introducing them to the audience and to make them fall in love with each cast member. It honestly works for me, because the anime doesn’t just function on comedy. There are also some really heartwarming moments in the anime delivered both directly and indirectly. The best one is the intention of Nanako’s uncle to help her achieve her dream because he never got to make his own dreams come true. In terms of an indirect scene full of warmth though, I personally love this:

Yukari lives alone and she is surrounded by nothing but a huge space of emptiness. There is also a scene in the anime where we realize her grandfather is a former mayor, and the show subtly hints that she is an important and rich person. The anime delivers this with the visuals, but she always comes off as this chirpy and happy person. She often hugs Nanako and dutifully performs her role as an idol. Yukari is a lonely girl, born rich and overprotected, but she soon finds a way to reach out to others. We also realize she wanted to reach out to Nanako personally. I mean, this anime is just amazing like that. Nothing is taken for granted. Every moment has a payoff in simple and even complex ways. It’s one of the most complex marshmallow anime I’ve ever seen, and I bet I’ll have more to say about it upon a second viewing.

Gawd damn it, of course this anime is presented by Studio Feel. I swear, a bunch of geniuses are working in Studio Feel right now. I have been deeply dissecting a lot of their shows, and it’s tiring me out. The experience is incredible though, because this studio is challenging the norms and breaking expectations. I do hope other people give the studio the love they deserve. This anime also gave us Jinsei, so I am really impressed. Their shows look deceptively simple, but they’ve honestly given me strongly elevated shows that I just indulge in. I hope their 2015 shows are incredible, because I am always thoroughly surprised by what they put out. Hell, as of now, this studio is in my top five favorite studios. I’m bumping off Brains Base, but I’m sure they’ll sneak back in once I see their latest offerings. As of now though, I can confidently claim Studio Feel is one of the best studios out there that makes animated series. This anime is directed by Munemori Nawa. In terms of a visual experience, this guy really excels on delivering a unique one. He gave us Kiss x Sis, NakaImo, R-15 and Kiniro Mosaic. Okay, the titles are weirdly jumbled up but these shows have great flow to them. Having dabbled in a marshmallow show before, he knows how to handle a dialogue heavy anime. His background in perverted shows also makes the fan service in this anime very appealing without losing the heart that makes the show special. This anime has some solid fan service, but it can still make you go “aww” and that’s a testament to how great this director is. He knows how to make a four panel manga flow smoothly while also making the visual experience solid through and through. I’m personally impressed, because he did short cut through some of the animation, but it never ruins the show. He has a good handle on it despite the dip in quality. I applaud this director, because talent like that is hard to come by.

Sight and Sound

I could not get a beat of the original source. I only found two images related to the manga, and I’m posting them in this review. It looks like the manga is relatively unknown, and I do understand. The four koma manga scene is saturated with a lot of similar stuff, even back in 2014, so a good one can easily pass you by. Judging by the images I’ve seen though, I do think the anime just perfectly captured the design by the author, Koutarou Kosugi. I like his style a lot, because looking at the manga panels, you can see the range of emotion being showcased by Nanako. The well designed proportions of the characters also tell me that the fan service aspect of the show, and the random undressings, is present in the manga as well. I mean, look at the way the sleeves of Nanako’s shirt fall on her shoulders. There’s so much detail here, and I bet the author puts that much effort in the swimsuit designs as well. I love the use of clean lines and gentle strokes to make the manga flow naturally. Koutarou is talented as f*ck, and I can tell that much from one page of his manga alone. The detail work is fantastic, and I hope it stays consistent throughout. Some authors put effort on the first page alone, so I’ll cast doubt here to slowly level my fascination. Design wise, I love the characters. The details are more precise in the manga, but the design itself is nicely captured. Koutarou’s characters really only standout in terms of their body, and he emphasizes that a lot. He flaunts their proportions and curves, and the small details on their outfit changes are also pretty nice. Even the side characters, like Nanako’s three friends, are also nicely designed. It comes off as plain, but the author gives chances for the characters to standout with their body. Effort isn’t just on the female characters though. Uogokoro-kun’s design is pretty intricate as well. For a nonexistent mascot, he looks really well done. I hope he does exist though, because I want to hug him.

Animation is inconsistent, but incredible for the most part. You’ll notice some episodes have off animations, like misplaced mouths or cheap wide shots to reduce animation, but it doesn’t ruin the flow of the show. The anime also uses close ups a lot, since they’re easy to animate, but they don’t rely on it too much. When character undress or take off their costume, the animation is pretty spot on. I also love the use of blocking when more than six characters are involved, because there’s so much detail to look into that it’s a shame it’s only a two second image in the episode. The facial expressions are nicely animated, and Nanako’s bright personality is wonderfully presented in the show. She has a range of emotion displayed in the anime, and the animation does keep up with all her sudden reactions. I personally love the scenes where she is eating, because she comes off cute and she also displays three reactions at a time. From plain to happy to shocked to embarrassed, the animation does deliver on important moments.  The animation also got to show off on certain episodes, like the mascot competition, so the episodes with inconsistent animation never become an issue. Of course, the dialogue scenes are also nicely presented. It’s not much, but some badly animated shows can ruin the pace of a dialogue. It’s easily taken for granted, but the small details makes these scenes work. The well timed reactions, the smart use of camera angles and the utilization of close ups and wide shots really add a lot to boring scenes like this.

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The anime’s OP is “Mirai Fanfare” by Nagarekawa Girls [Nanako Usami (Miku Itou), Yukari Kohinata (Sachika Misawa)]. This is truly an idol song, as it talks about the characters trying to reach their dreams. The lyrics nicely sum up the anime though, and the voice actors actually try to sound like their vocally uninspired characters. I like it a lot, especially with the OP sequence. I love how it opens with the community letting out balloons about an event. It’s the fan base spreading the word about how much they love their idols, and I love that small detail. The OP sequence then follows a montage of the girls and their everyday routine. The animation is amazing, and the characters really made the sequence vibrant. It’s a bit tricky to introduce all of them though, but it does make them more endearing when you spot them in the OP sequence long before they appear in the actual show.

The anime’s ED is “Mirai Shoujo-tachi” by Nanako Usami (Miku Itou), Yukari Kohinata (Sachika Misawa), Yui Mikoze (Maya Yoshioka), Mirai Nazukari (Inori Minase). The four girls sing the song in the seventh episode and beyond. Before that, only Nanako and Yukari sing it until the other girls join them in the episodes they appear in. The song is pretty standard idol song as well. It’s about trying to be with your special someone, but the song doesn’t come off as romantic. With the way the characters sing it, it feels more like a friendly song than anything else. I like that small touch, because the lyrics do suggest something else entirely. The changes in the way it accommodate the other singers are also a nice touch, because the communal vibe of the anime does come off in the growing song. The ED sequence is also a nice touch. It mostly follows Nanako, looking all cute, as she searches for her friends. In the first ED, without the other characters, it’s just Yukari but the other girls have their back turned against Nanako. As they are introduced, they are soon part of the ED sequence. I love that nice touch, because it makes the sequence a lot more personal.

Overall Score

8/10 “This anime is deceptively simple, but surprisingly complex at how it delivers its themes and heartwarming messages.”

This anime is still a marshmallow show, but it does have more than cute girls doing cute things. The girls also undress, so that’s something. In all seriousness though, this anime is very complex. It has a powerful theme to deliver, but it also comes off as soft and harmless with all the endearing moments it provides. The anime has a lot of dimensions to it, and I’m sure this review didn’t point them all out. It still has cute moments and cake time, but the sincerity it provides is honestly a one of a kind experience. I highly recommend it.

These are my thoughts. Feel free to add yours.

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