Today would be my day of culture and errands. I wanted to visit the Imperial Palace, and find a few things I needed: an AC adapter for my laptop (it was just too convenient to check the weather and change reservations from the laptop), and an extra SD card (I’d already burned through most of a 16 GB and all of a 2 GB card). I also needed extra cash; I’m used to operating mostly with cash and had already spent most of my initial $100 on tickets, meals, etc.
So I went downstairs, had my breakfast, and headed into Tokyo to visit the Imperial Palace.
Fortunately, Tokyo Station is right next to the Palace. Before I exited the station, I asked around for an ATM. I found it, but it didn’t accept VISA. Blast. I exited the station, and out of the corner of my eye noticed a currency exchange area. My heart full of hope, I entered, saw an ATM, walked up…and saw the VISA logo! Huzzah! Even better, this one let me withdraw up to $500. I took $300, figuring I’d be back in Tokyo in 4 days anyway and could fill back up if absolutely necessary.
I didn’t realize just how big the Imperial Palace is. I walked and walked and reached just one of the gates. Then I walked and walked to find an open entrance. The ones I could find were closed. Odd.
It took me far longer to figure out than you probably have. I got halfway around the palace before I found a sign informing me that the Imperial Palace was closed Mondays and Fridays. This was a Friday.
Well. By this point, I was close to the various cultural buildings near the palace, so I headed in that direction. Unfortunately, when I arrived I found zero English (other than the names of the buildings). So that was a bust. Fortunately, they’re all situated in a lovely area of cultivated forest full of quiet, well-manicured paths, so I wandered there for a while before heading back to Tokyo Station.
I’d been walking for hours; it was now noon. Tokyo Station is near the financial district, so I figured there had to be some good restaurants nearby. I walked parallel to the station for a while, and found an Italian restaurant. I figured the Japanese passion for noodles would combine well with this cuisine, so I went in, and was seated by a waiter who spoke excellent English. I ordered the special, and was rewarded with pumpkin soup that had a delicate flavor, a slice of bread that was so soft it was practically sponge cake, and spaghetti with broccoli and shrimp.
Only one problem: the shrimp were whole. They still had their tails, bodies, and heads.
So, er, I ate around the shrimp as they stared back at me, paid up, and left.
I decided to head up to Akihabara, buy the SD card and the power adapter, then head further north to Ueno to explore the culture there.
I hopped on the train, disembarked in Akihabara, and headed into the nearest electronics shop. Getting the SD card was easy, and the price was incredible: a 32 GB SD card for $14. The adapter was harder; I had to go to another shop, but found what I was looking for on the rack. I took it to the clerk, who asked if it was okay that it was an ”exchange.” I said yes, then paused and replied, “exchange?” He held up a hand, then his hands flew over the keyboard. He turned the monitor towards me to show that he was using the keyboard on the register to type a question to me in English. I love geeks some times. I confirmed that it was what I wanted, and it was mine (again, cheap: $6).
I then wandered Akihabara. I discovered several legendary stores: Gamers (all 7 floors!) and Mandarake (6 floors). I wound up spending all afternoon poking through various shops and buying a few CDs. We’re talking whole floors devoted just to manga, or to figurines. I even poked my head into an adults-only floor, though it wasn’t exciting: cases of porn magazines, adult video games, and pillows printed with nude anime girls.
As I explored Akihabara and walked past the AKB48 cafe, I noticed a line forming. I stopped, took a few pictures, and waited to see what was going on. Unfortunately, it looked like the sort of thing geeks were standing in line for hours to attend, so after a while I wandered away. Good to know that stuff is true, too.
I also found Tokyo Anime Center. This is a small gallery devoted to showcasing art from various shows, and studios use it to promote upcoming shows. Hanging from the walls was art from Gundam Wing and the upcoming Gundam Gunpla series, plus a few Gundam models. Clips from various shows played on video monitors throughout the place. Nice, but maybe 10 minutes’ worth of material.
Next door was the Tokyo Anime Center shop, and this was actually more fun. It was stuffed with merchandise from all sorts of shows, modern and classic: Nadia, Totoro, Evangelion, Tiger & Bunny, etc.
By dinner time, I looked up at the station platform, and saw the the trains were packed. I started looking for dinner. After rejecting McDonald’s and KFC, I found a department store with lunch counters, where I bought an awesome little box containing half an egg sandwich, half a chicken salad sandwich, and…other things.
I took my meal to a small row of tables in the department store and sat down next to an older Japanese couple. It was here that I had my most uncomfortable experience so far. The woman kept staring at me. When I looked over at her, she’d look away, but as soon as I looked away she’d look back at me, slightly frowning the whole time. Maybe the frown was my imagination, but I felt judged the whole time.
The food tasted great, at least.
I headed back outside and up to the station, where it was now 5:30pm and the trains weren’t packed. Ueno was out of the question; my feet already complained. So I went back to my hotel, plugged in my laptop to charge, put my feet up, and prepared to rest for my next day: leaving Tokyo for northern Japan and the samurai town of Kakunodate.
This was my only sunny day in Tokyo, according to weather reports, so I awoke with a dilemma in my mind. I had originally planned to visit Mount Fuji this day. More internet research revealed that Mount Fuji is 2.5 to 3 hours from my hotel, and is a bit of a tourist trap. You arrive, snap a photo, and get back on the bus. Also, no JR Pass trains go there, so you have to really schedule it (or take a bus tour).
The Himiko arrived and out we went. It’s a beautiful craft, all curves and metal, with gull-wing doors. The onboard loudspeaker tour was pre-recorded by the characters from Galaxy Express 999, which felt right.
I decided to instead take the Leiji Matsumoto boats to Odaiba. I wandered down to the waterfront, taking photos as I did, to find the ticket office.
Travel trip: if you want to find something in a foreign country where the written language doesn’t use Latin characters, write down the URL of their website. This is inevitably on a poster or other sign on the building you’re trying to find.
I had written down the name of the boat and route I wanted to take, so I just said to the clerk “Odaiba, Himiko” and she procured my ticket. That secured, I waited and read handouts about various Leiji Matsumoto projects.
An hour later, we arrived at Odaiba. Odaiba is almost unthinkably huge. Imagine a 6-story shopping mall, then put 4 of them side by side. And that’s one corner of the island.
I knew roughly where the Gundam statue was supposed to be on the island, but when I actually stepped off the boat onto the shore and walked past the miniature replica of the Statue of Liberty (no joke), I couldn’t be sure where to go. However, I figured if i walked far enough, I’d eventually find the 50-foot giant robot. And after about 15 minutes, I rounded a corner, and there it was.
The Gundam statue is strange because your brain tells you it shouldn’t exist. I felt huge cognitive dissonance during the whole time I stared at it. A piece of anime extruded into real life. I, of course, took plenty of pictures.
Next door sat a small hobby store selling model kits, posters, and such. Near that was a smaller Gundam Cafe, which sold mugs, glasses, etc. I was amazed to see Gundam Wing-themed OZ glasses.
By then it was lunch time, so I entered a nearby mall. One noodle shop had English on its overhead menu, so I ordered there. I managed it, though I was flummoxed when the cashier asked which size I wanted. I eventually got it, and received excellent noodles with chicken.
Satisfied, I returned my dishes to the noodle shop (you don’t leave your tray out for someone to pick up; that would be uncivilized) and explored a Japanese mall. It wasn’t totally unlike the American experience; it’s just that the bar is higher. Imagine the most elegant shop in an American mall, with the most pleasant service. All the shops are like that.
THe top floor held an arcade, and what a blinking, flashing, beeping experience that was. I saw many claw machines, a few standard video games (mostly shooters), and quite a few mini-pachinko machines. Many of the pachinko machines were anime-themed, each with a small video window playing original animations for Evangelion, Macross (original), Macross Frontier, and the like. There was even a K-ON! rhythm game.
But at the back sat 8 Gundam pods. I had to try them. I got in, but sadly, I couldn’t get it to work. It rejected my coins, and when I bought a card, it rejected that, too. Ah well.
I went back to to explore Odaiba some more, including Sega Joypolis and a miniature Legoland. Unfortunately, both required payment to get in, and looked to be Japanese-only, so I abstained.
I marvelled again at the immensity of Odaiba. One whole building was apparently devoted to a single department store.
Then I returned to the dock, where I took the other Leiji Matsumoto-designed boat, the Hotaluna, back to Asakusa. Sadly, while the Hotaluna sported a top observation deck open to the sky, an employee closed it as we disembarked.
By this point my feet cried out for rest, so I spent the rest of the night watching Japanese television. A few anime episodes came on, and I learned a few interesting things:
The typical shonen titles like Naruto airs at the same time slot as Pokemon, late afternoon and early evening. The ads that air during those shows are aimed at younger boys than I expected: maybe 8 years old at the oldest.
Pokemon is even more huge than I thought. The episode of Pokemon XY ended with two Japanese men coming on to explain the basic concept behind Pokemon XY (that each Pokemon has one variant in X and a different variant in Y).
I soon fell into a blessed sleep.
I awoke today at 4:00am, to my lack of surprise. Even that gave me 8 hours of sleep.
Still, I dozed and watched TV for another 3 hours. I was thrilled to catch an episode of Pythagoras Switch, a Japanese equivalent of Sesame Street that’s far more smart, entertaining, and heart-warming to my taste. I even caught their special dance, an Otosan Switch segment, and one of their wonderful Rube Goldberg segments where a ball rolled down a ramp to hit a cylinder that rolled and hit dominos, etc. It finished by activating an agitator underneath a bowl of popcorn, which caused a submerged foam ball to rise to the top, revealing the show’s name. Brilliant.
Early morning Japanese TV is much like the American version: ads for beauty cream, early morning news shows, etc. Except they also show TED talks. Followed by commentary. I’m not joking.
The news brought an unwelcome surprise. I swear the first words from the weatherperson’s mouth were “Typhoon wa….” Not only that, there were two typhoons. Fortunately, the nearer was paralleling the coast and the other was scheduled to veer off towards the west. Unfortunately, the first dumped rain on Tokyo all day and the second would do the same in a couple of days.
Nothing to be done about it, so I took the elevator downstairs for breakfast. I’d pre-paid for an ”American-style” breakfast, which was mostly -style: A sandwich of hard-boiled egg slices and shredded beef, corn and broccoli, three potato wedges, and a bun. But oh, that bun. It was practically cake.
Then I headed outside to find a shrine that, according to the laminated card on my desk, was nearby. I sure found it; only a few blocks away I found a huge gate (at least 2 stories tall), which led me down to a massive shrine. This was Senso-ji Temple, one of the more famous ones in Tokyo.
I followed a few side streets in search of good photographs, and generally explored the environment. This was good, as the shrine quickly filled with school kids, despite the downpour. it was fun being an object of attention. More than once a wide-eyed grade schooler passed and a few seconds later I heard a whispered “Amerika-jin!”
The shrine complex seemed to go on forever. Not only did I walk down a massive approach, at least a block long, but gardens and other, smaller shrine buildingss sat nearby. The shrine itself stood at least three stories tall.
Satiated, I bought a melon pan–a type of sweet bread–to tide over my hunger. Then I decided to try a trip to Akihabara, the Electric Town. Fortunately, I passed through Akihabara Station on the way here yesterday, so I just took the same route backwards.
Akihabara is impossible to describe. Imagine a bunch of electronics and anime shops crammed together like commuters on a Tokyo train, and the only place to go is up. The first place I stopped in sold models. Six floors of them. Their selection ranged from the latest characters to kits actually produced in the 1980′s.
And then, of course, there are shops selling anime, manga, light novels, posters, and the rest. Unfortunately, it’s all in Japanese. Sure, I could buy a toy, but I’d have to carry it back the whole way.
My stomach began growling again by this point, so I looked for a thing I’d very much wanted to see: the Gundam Cafe. After realizing it’s not actually in Akihabara Station but beside it, I found it and hovered outside in amazement that such a thing actually exists. Two wet young men came along, similarly marvelled, then laughed and went in. I screwed up my courage and followed.
The Cafe looks like the inside of a ship. In fact, the first thing I heard upon entering was “Welcome to the Archangel!” (one of the carrier ships from a Gundam series). A giant screen plays clips from various Gundam series–which also discreetly advertise items for sale in the adjoining store or upcoming box set releases.
The cafe changes its cuisine occasionally to theme around one Gundam timeline. I happened to be there for the SEED universe; the drinks were named after characters from that timeline (I had the Athrun Zala, a surprisingly sweet cherry drink) and the food looked like the meals served on board the Archangel in the anime. I checked the screenshots, and sure enough, I ordered and ate a meal that Kira ate in the show.
And, of course, you could order Andrew Waldfeld’s special blend of coffee.
Satisfied, I re-entered Akihabara Station and headed back to my hotel, though I stopped at Ueno to explroe one of its endless shopping arcades. These are old streets converted to walking malls, and they seem to go on forever. In this case, it mostly sold produce, fresh meat, and shoes, so it wasn’t really tourist-friendly.
All of this was done in the pouring rain, I should add. So I returned to my hotel in the late afternoon, and put my feet up to dry.
And the sun came out.
I sighed and walked out onto my tiny private deck. Looking out over the glittering water of the river, my gaze fell down to a cruise boat nearing me. My brow furrowed as my eyes took in its strange shape, all sleek curves like a Jules Verne ship.
And then I realized: I was looking at the boats designed by legendary manga artist Leiji Matsumoto. I had hoped to at least see them while in Japan. In fact, they docked right outside my hotel.
I ran back inside, opened my laptop, connected to the hotel internet, and researched those boats. They go from there down to Odaiba, a natural island built as a shopping district that also houses the full-size Gundam statue.
My plans for the next day immediately changed.
I first became seriously interested in anime in the mid-1990′s, when the Sci-Fi Channel showed their week-long festivals of anime. Those started in 1993, so I’ve been an anime fan for roughly 20 years.
What’s changed? Let’s look at the anime market as of the mid-1990′s.
If you wanted to watch anime, there were only two places you could go: television or VHS. A smattering of anime series played on TV at the time: reruns of Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon, and occasionally even older shows like Voltron or Robotech. A few of the more daring cable networks occasionally broadcast a movie like Akira or Ghost in the Shell.
VHS tapes were even harder to find. The only place in my area that sold anime was Sam Goody (a record store), which had a wall of tapes. As I recall, mine had the following titles: Akira, about 10 tapes of Dragon Ball Z, 5 of Sailor Moon, 3 or 4 Ranma 1/2 tapes, and 1 or 2 Tenchi Muyo! tapes. That was it.
Mail order catalogs existed, but you had to stumble on them. They weren’t just sitting around. You had to read ads in anime magazines (of which there was only 1 or 2, and very rare) or hear about them from fans.
This is what was most different about fandom back then. Information was so hard to find.
How much would you pay for anime? About $25 per tape, which would contain 2–3 episodes of a show. Worse, it was either subbed or dubbed; you couldn’t get both.
And that was the price wherever you went. There were no deep discounters. The few mail-order or online sellers required you to pay for shipping, and S&H charges almost always ate up any discounts.
There was little in the way of organized fandom. The only anime magazines I remember seeing were Animerica and Protoculture Addicts. I remember hearing rumors of conventions like Anime Expo, but even that had just launched in 1992.
The web provided tantalizing hints. Back then, each anime website was an independent project by individual fans. The vast majority of sites lived on shared web hosts like GeoCities or Tripod, or on a college web account that would disappear after a year or two. Most sites were “shrines” to individual characters or shows. We’re talking 5 or 6 pages per site.
Sites were organized into “web rings,” or hopefully listed on the Anime Web Turnpike, which was the only major directory of anime sites. There were no news sites. There was precious little news. What was there to write about? New releases. Nobody was in Japan talking about the industry there.
As for Wikipedia: I actually wrote several Wikipedia articles about anime back when it had only a dozen or so anime articles. (I think I wrote most of the Tenchi Muyo! article.)
As college students saw Akira and Ghost in the Shell and fueled the big anime push of the 1990′s, tapes became easier to find. Sub/dub wars sprouted on forums, because you had to choose.
Then came DVD. This mostly ended the sub/dub wars, but DVDs were more expensive for more content: $30 per disc for 3–4 episodes per disc. The Tenchi Muyo! Perfect Collection, which contained OVAs 1 and 2 plus a single-episode side OVA, cost $120.
Streaming wouldn’t be viable for over a decade. I vividly remember the first anime streaming site I found, around the year 2000. It streamed The Wings of Honneamise in a window literally the size of a postage stamp at about 1 frame per second. I didn’t have the vaguest idea of what I was seeing.
Fansubs had to be made on professional video production machinery that cost tens of thousands of dollars (meaning that students stole time on them in off-hours to subtitle Castle in the Sky). Desktop computers simply couldn’t handle video editing or subtitling until around 2000.
Because there was so little information, you didn’t know what you were buying until you saw it on store shelves. And then, you only knew what was shown on the packaging. Maybe if you searched for it online–Google didn’t launch until 1997, then took a few years to catch on–you’d find a page with a few paragraphs about the show. But of course, you didn’t have a cell phone, and your home internet connection was dial-up, so it’s not like you were checking up on a show in the store.
So you still had basically two choices in consuming anime. A bricks-and-mortar store like Suncoast sold at full retail price: $30 per disc for 3–4 episodes per disc. Or you could go to an online retailer (like the new Amazon.com) which, after shipping costs, would amount to the same price and might take a week to ship to you (unless you wanted to triple your shipping costs for 2-day shipping; no Amazon Prime yet).
Were these better times? No. They were worse in almost every conceivable way. We live in a golden age for anime fans, with massive amounts of choice. Heck, the free and legal streaming options are vast.
May we never forget how hard it used to be.
Artist/Writer: Kyoko Okazaki
Published in: 2003 (Japan), 2013 (America)
American Publisher: Vertical
Genres: Modern drama, women’s issues
Premise: The most popular fashion model in Japan grows increasingly unstable.
Show x Show: It’s Nana meets The Devil Wears Prada
What are the themes? It deals with the pressures of working within the fashion industry, combined with stress about fading beauty and popularity, and the effects of idolizing others. We see how this affects the protagonist and those around her.
How’s the art? The artist uses lineart heavily with minimal-to-nonexistent backgrounds. The lack of shadows creates a flat, modern world where objects are differentiated only by their position and scale, rather than their detail or complexity. Which is appropriate.
Does the art vary from chapter to chapter? Not that I could see. Okazaki’s a pro.
How complex are the characters? Most characters are at least two-dimensional, with warring values that include popularity, loyalty, job skill, idolization, and lust. For the first half of the book, the protagonist remains simple: subject to mood swings, but otherwise blithely walking through her days. As she begins to fear the loss of her beauty and popularity, she throws people against each other to satisfy her whims, and she struggles with multiple competing values. The rest of the characters are torn between their reliance on her popularity and her increasingly crazy behavior.
How’s the plot? This is a straight modern drama (arguably, melodrama). We watch the characters live their modern lives of fashion shoots, arguments, and sex. The story develops entirely out of the characters’ desires and commands. It gets extreme, though not insane, and every plot twist follows logically from a character’s motives.
Can I show it to my Mom? Hmmm. There’s lots of sex, nudity, and people behaving badly. That said, it’s a vicious criticism of the fashion industry and the quest for beauty.
Can I show it to my kid brother? Definitely not. Way too much sexual content, and it’s about girls obsessing over themselves.
That said, I can see showing this to a younger sister.
Can I show it to a non-manga fan? Yes, with the above warnings about the sexual content. This feels more like an indie comic than a traditional manga, making it an easier sell.
Does it have any memorable moments? Quite a few. I literally shuddered at the reveal of just what the protagonist had to do to get her body. There are also several scenes of side characters doing horrible things to satisfy the protagonist; so horrible I had to re-read the page several times to verify it.
This is an unsettling book, and usefully so. I’m glad I read it.
I bought a badge for Otakon. The week before, I pored over the schedule and planned to attend concerns by T.M. Revolution and Yoko Kanno. And then, when the time came, I didn’t go.
Why? Because Otakon is a hassle. I realized I didn’t want to put up with it.
All cons are hassles, of course. But Otakon’s tipped the scales into not worth it.
Every year, either the pre-registratoin line is a few hours long, or the reg line is the same. You never know which one. This is not true at other conventions, even large ones. When I went to Anime Expo a few years ago, I stood in pre-reg for 30 minutes on the first day.
The convention space itself is cramped. It’s been cramped for five years. It’s not just busy; getting from one part of the con to the other is often a painful experience to an extent I don’t feel at other cons.
I think this has to do with the number of volunteers. I see con staffers far less frequently at Otakon than at other cons. Heck, PAX Enforcers are everywhere. There’s not enough con staff to direct traffic, so folks congregate and cluster and block up hallways.
Why is this important? At Otakon, when things go badly, the panel is canceled. I attended New York Anime Festival a few years ago, and they moved a main event to an entirely different room 10 minutes before starting, and everyone got there on time and all went perfectly. That’d be unthinkable at Otakon.
But worse are the schedule changes. You can see this on the placards outside each event room. Every year, by Saturday there are at least 2 changes on every placard; often 4 or 5.
Now, things change. Events change. I understand. I’ve caused those changes before!
But event changes happen so often at Otakon that I no longer trust the schedule. I have to put aside 3 days for the convention and attend the entire thing, and hope things will happen where and when they’re supposed to.
Why is this true only at Otakon? Why can other cons–large and small–stick to their schedules? Anime Expo manages this. Why can’t Otakon?
Just a quick thought:
In the 1980′s, between the mecha boom and hits like Bubblegum Crisis and Akira, science fiction dominated anime. That trend softened with the science fantasy of the 1990′s (Dragon Ball Z, Tenchi Muyo!, Saber Marionette J) and the tendency towards fantasy (Ranma 1/2, Sailor Moon, Record of Lodoss War). And of course, the 2000′s was the decade of modern school life stories (Air, Kanon, Clannad, School Days, Angel Beats!).
But 2013 is shaping up to be a year chock full of science fiction anime. We’ve got Gargantia of the Verdurous Planet, Valvrave the Liberator, Attack on Titan, Ghost in the Shell: Arise, Majestic Prince, Iron Man: Rise of the Technovore, and the Code Geass: Akito the Exiled and Nunnally in Wonderland OVAs. The new Captain Harlock reboot movie will drop in October, with Coppelion, Freezing Vibration, Gundam Build Fighters, and the Gundam AGE Memory of Eden OVA on the way later this year.
It’s a good year for SF fans. Will the trend continue?
Fair warning: I love this manga beyond reason. This series pushes my buttons. When watching the original Haruhi Suzumiya series, Yuki was my favorite character. Perhaps she reminded me of myself: the quiet, bookish person who didn’t make friends easily, and was content simply to watch the people around her.
In The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan, Nagaru Tanigawa takes the universe he created for the Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya timeline–in which all the characters are normal–and further massages its elements into a workable premise for a long-term school life manga. Yuki is less of a borderline autistic girl and more of a scatter-brained, painfully shy one who freaks out when even thinking about boys. Remember the Rei Ayanami from the pocket world at the end of the Evangelion TV series? Very similar.
Meanwhile, Ryoko Asakura morphs into Yuki’s best friend, a confident protector for the Yuki who, in this world, can barely remember to get dressed in the morning. This adds a lovely dimension of conflict to the story: Ryoko wants Yuki to mature. While Yuki can change, she is so set in her ways this is actually harder for her than fighting an out-of-control alien being is for the original Yuki.
Then Kyon arrives, and the story turns into romance territory. Fortunately, this isn’t a pure shoujo manga. Kyon and Yuki like each other very much, and take steps towards a stable relationship as the volumes progress, but these steps are presented as part of high school experience. This isn’t a story about Romance; it’s about how a romantic relationship matures Yuki.
Other characters appear, again as variations of their “normal” selves: Haruhi is a self-confident, slightly spoiled girl at a nearby private academy, Koizumi is her long-suffering boyfriend, and so forth. Ironically, the relationships in this series make more sense than they do in the main timeline. Haruhi keeps Koizumi around because he’s the only person who’ll put up with her whims, and Koizumi is a natural doormat who is, quite simply, attracted to her (an intriguing reversal of the common relationship pattern of a domineering man and I’ll-do-anything-to-please-you woman).
In any event, the relationship between Yuki and Kyon develops quite quickly by manga romance standards. By volume 3 the rest of the school knows they’re a couple. At this point, the show becomes its sweetest, as we watch Yuki fumble around with her feelings and her obligations.
And then we hit the end of volume 3.
I re-read volume 3′s last page several times, not quite believing my eyes. Tanigawa can’t have done that, I thought. Why would he do that? Why would he put that there?
I immediately ordered the fourth volume with next day shipping. When it arrived, I read it in one sitting, my admiration growing as I read. I don’t want to spoil any of the plot twists–because they are delicious–but I’ll say that this manga goes places I did not expect.
The art is soft and strikes a pleasing middle ground between manga styles. There are few of the huge, page-filling expressions of shoujo. The characters are mostly framed as head shots, with plenty of backgrounds to keep everyone oriented. Framing varies from page to page, without bouncing around massively between close-ups and distance shots. The pages are a little busy, but never overcrowded, and the art maintains a certain simplicity not seen in the work of, say, Kōsuke Fujishima. The style does bounce between a ”normal” manga style and a super-deformed one as characters say silly things.
Each character speaks with admirably distinctive dialogue. Yuki stutters and appends sentences with “I think” and ”I guess,” while Kyon speaks in simple, casual sentences and Haruhi makes declarations like “Quit complaining and just come with me.” Even Ryoko has a direct style that matches her personality.
Overall, I’m impressed. This manages to tell its own story with its own version of distinctive characters. It’s sweet, silly, and heartwarming. I can’t wait to see where volume 5 takes me.