A review of Akebi’s Sailor Uniform

Every so often I dig around the real anime blogs on this site. I don’t think mine counts as an “anime blog” since it’s not dedicated entirely to anime — my scope here is too broad, and I’ve still seen barely a fraction of the stuff out there worth watching (and forget about keeping current with airing series aside from maybe one each season, two on the outside.) Though I write anime reviews like this one sometimes, I’m absolutely not an expert in the medium or its trends, and I don’t think I’ve ever pretended to be one.

So when I watched the first episode of CloverWork’s winter 2022 production Akebi’s Sailor Uniform aka Akebi-chan no Serafuku a few months ago and had mixed feelings about it, I was ready to pretty much write it off, but when I later read the high praise it was given on the dedicated anime sites around I decided to give it a second chance. And good thing I did, because it was worth that second chance. I still wouldn’t call myself a fan of slice-of-life anime in general, but Akebi is such a fine piece of work that I think it managed to break through my bias against that genre.

Akebi’s Sailor Uniform features the title character Komichi Akebi, a girl from the Japanese countryside somewhere (not sure where exactly — if her school or home region is based on real-life locations I missed those references.) She lives so deep in the country that until now she’s attended school in a class of one, without any classmates.

Guessing this room used to hold a lot more students

Komichi’s isolation is about to end, however. She applies to the prestigious girls’ middle school Roubai Academy, which is also deep in the countryside, but not quite as deep as her old nearly dead elementary school. Komichi has an unusual reason for wanting to attend Roubai: she wants the chance to finally wear that traditional sailor school uniform she likes so much and that one of her favorite singers wears in performance. Her mother, an expert tailor who also attended Roubai decades ago, supports her efforts and takes her to the interview in a custom-made uniform, but when Komichi sees other girls attending their interviews in more modern blazer uniforms she panics.

Thankfully for her, the school’s headmaster is almost unrealistically cool about the whole thing. It probably helps that she’s on good terms with Komichi’s mother, but the headmaster also seems to see the girl’s passion during the interview and decides to make an exception: Komichi can wear her mother’s custom sailor uniform to school.

I never attended a school that had uniforms, but I wish I had. Imagine going to school in a tie and blazer or that gakuran with the high collar. Far better than that “let the kids express themselves” bullshit I got to deal with, being mocked for wearing the “wrong thing” and all that.

By the end of the first episode, Komichi has met her first friend, Erika Kizaki, alone in their homeroom early in the morning. It’s a potentially awkward first meeting in which Komichi accidentally catches Erika doing something strange and maybe a little embarrassing: clipping her toenails and smelling the clippers. Komichi is so naturally friendly and unassuming, however, that she puts Erika at ease without even realizing there was much of anything to be embarrassed about in the first place.

This was the scene that weirded me the fuck out about Akebi when I first watched the first episode months ago. I still think it’s a weird scene, but it does make more sense when you put it into the context of Komichi’s carefree attitude and how it helps her create her place at school.

The following eleven episodes shift away from that sailor uniform in the title and focus on Komichi’s life at her new school as she meets her classmates and befriends pretty much every one of them. There’s not much else to say about the plot — Akebi’s Sailor Uniform is a pure slice-of-life anime, and aside from a school sports/arts festival in the final episode, there aren’t any big events to focus on or much of a plot beyond “girl lives her everyday life with her friends.”

Typically this kind of show bores the hell out of me. The only exception to my coldness towards slice-of-life anime so far has been Yuru Camp, which has more to recommend it than just this daily life stuff anyway. It’s not a “pure” slice-of-life in that sense, whereas Akebi is. So why did Akebi work for me where others in this pure slice-of-life genre haven’t?

I’ll start with its most obvious strength: how good it looks. Akebi is a beautiful series with an almost unbelievable level of detail for a TV production. Parts of it look like they belong in a film. And this high standard is maintained throughout all twelve episodes. I said I’m no expert, but I’m guessing just based on what I’ve seen and heard that this is a seriously impressive feat (and add to that the fact that CloverWorks was producing Sono Bisque Doll at the same time, which looked pretty nice itself, even if a lot of that budget went into Marin specifically.) The soundtrack adds to the effect, complementing the visuals with some nice piano and strings and a couple of pop themes that fit well even if they’re not quite my style.

The only issue I had with the aesthetic aspects of Akebi was its character designs, which took some getting used to. It’s not that Komichi and her family and friends look bad, but there’s something about their faces and eyes specifically that are unusual. I imagine these were probably carried over from the original manga, which I haven’t read. Not a huge deal anyway, and hell, if I could get used to Nobuyuki Fukumoto’s pointy noses and all the other crazy shit he does with his characters’ faces in Akagi and Kaiji, I can get used to Hiro’s style too.

Komichi looks fine here, but occasionally there’s a weird uncanny effect going on with these characters. Maybe this is just how people unused to typical anime aesthetics see a lot of anime characters with their huge eyes? I’m so used to it that I can’t say but might be an interesting thought for artists out there.

Of course, a show can look beautiful and suck on every other level. If some nice visuals were all Akebi had to offer, I would have actually fallen asleep to it, but that’s fortunately not the case. Even though it doesn’t have much of a plot, Akebi still kept my interest, and most of that had to do with its characters and specifically with the title character herself.

Komichi might be a girl just starting her middle school life, but she contains so damn much positive energy and optimism that she’s practically a force of nature. Her unique sailor uniform sets her apart from the rest of her classmates at first, a move that takes some guts especially considering how shitty and clique-y students can be when they’re developing their personalities around that age.

Or maybe Komichi gets to wear a different uniform because she’s the main character, JRPG logic style.

But she manages to turn that to her advantage too by being so carefree that she draws everyone else towards her like a magnet. I saw jokes in comments that Akebi is about Komichi building a harem out of her whole school, and while there’s no romance element to Akebi that I can see,* the joke still works just because of how completely she charms all her classmates starting with Erika. Each of Komichi’s homeroom colleagues has some kind of quirk to them along with their own special talent, all of which she makes a point of learning about and taking an active interest in.

If Komichi were even 1% a jerk, she could use her charisma all to her own advantage or just to feed her ego, but part of her charm seems to come from just how guileless she is. All that optimism and positivity I mentioned is completely natural and pure, and it all radiates out from her as if she were the Sun. Aside from a couple of points in the season where she gets discouraged but is picked up again by her family and friends, Komichi is creating that energy seemingly without exhausting her own supply of it.

Even the fish are attracted by her sheer magnetism. Or maybe just the bait she’s using.

This optimism is another aspect of Akebi I wasn’t sure I’d be able to take after watching the first episode. In case you’re not a regular reader or you’re very new to the site, I’m just about the opposite of positive and optimistic. If there’s any single anime character I relate to completely in terms of outlook on life it’s Nozomu Itoshiki, Zetsubou-sensei himself, which I really hate to say, but it’s the truth. There’s a reason I use those SZS screenshots so often in my miscellaneous posts and not just because I like how they look (though that is another reason.)

So normally all Komichi’s youthful optimism would drive me insane, but it didn’t. In fact, it had just the opposite effect. Akebi’s Sailor Uniform is another anime like Yuru Camp with the tag iyashikei, something like “healing” from what I can tell, and it was pretty effective at healing my soul in a time when I needed it more than usual. A lot of shit has been going on in the world and in my country in particular that directly relates to what I do for a living, and while my living itself isn’t threatened at all, the shaking up we’re going through still isn’t pleasant. I won’t get into specifics, but my already dark outlook on life and our future has gotten even darker in recent years and months and even weeks. These days I think back to the oath I swore and wonder whether it wasn’t all a joke I wasn’t let in on.

Not to be too dramatic, but those thoughts do occur to me along with feelings of powerlessness and pointlessness — pretty damn far from anything resembling youthful optimism. And all that’s aside from my natural pessimism and the general feeling of powerlessness I already have over my own life, forget the direction of the world itself.

This isn’t the song she’s playing here, but thinking of George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun” isn’t a bad way of dealing with this bullshit for a few minutes either. That song and most of that album still hold up.

By contrast, Komichi lives in an idyllic setting and lives a pretty idyllic life, at least for now. In ten years she might have to start worrying about paying bills and working at a job she hates, but for now she has a good time at school with her friends and lives in the countryside with her mom and little sister and her dad when he’s home from work, in a cottage that looks like it’s straight out of one of those cheesy Thomas Kinkade paintings.

A series like Akebi’s Sailor Uniform could easily fall into that very same trap of being too cheesy and embarrassing to stomach, and maybe some viewers felt that way about it, but I think it manages to almost completely avoid that pitfall thanks to its honesty for lack of a better term. The world Komichi lives in isn’t familiar to me at all, since the one I live in seems to be going to complete shit and wasn’t all that great to begin with, but the characters feel real enough.

Speaking of realism, these dorm rooms for god damn middle school students are a million times nicer than the shitty cinder block lined ones I lived in as a college student. How is that?

That might be the most important reason Akebi’s Sailor Uniform worked for me now, where I think it might not have several years back. I’m tired, but despite that I have to work constantly at a job I can tolerate but certainly don’t love. On top of that, I’m working towards goals I don’t exactly care about achieving for my own sake. And on top of all that, all of humanity looks like it’s headed down a steep cliff without brakes, so it’s even a question whether we collectively have a future to work towards at all.

Watching Komichi and co. living their lives in their own peaceful moment was a nice break from that reality. Maybe this is what people love about these slice-of-life shows. Am I finally getting it now?

Akebi still reminds me of how comparatively not enjoyable my middle school years were and of how any youthful enthusiasm for life and wonder and all that stuff I might have had was soon ground into a fine powder and scattered into the wind. But oh well, I’m pretty resigned to all that now.

And that’s my recommendation: watch Akebi’s Sailor Uniform if you want a break from the stress and anxiety of everyday life in the real world. That seems to be largely what these healing series are made for, and so far at least two of them have worked. I’d still place Yuru Camp higher than this or probably any other pure slice-of-life series, since it has such excellent characters and, more to my taste, is a lot heavier on the comedy and a little lighter on the sentiment. By contrast, Akebi did come close to laying it on too thick for me a couple of times.

But this is still a recommendation. I liked Akebi, and I’d watch a second season if we ever get one, because God knows how much shittier things might be then and how much more I might need that escape. At least until someone finally develops that full-dive ultra-realistic VR world we’ve been waiting for (i.e. not that Meta piece of shit, and probably not anything Elon will do either, though I guess you should never really count him out, as clownish as he can be.) In the meantime, I’ll look forward to the next CloverWorks anime, because between this, Bisque Doll, and their co-production of Spy x Family, they’ve been doing amazing work lately. And hey, Bunny Girl Senpai is near the top of my backlog too, so maybe that should be up next.

Anyway, next post will be the end-of-month one, put off to the middle of the month yet again. Sorry about that. I said this wasn’t a dedicated anime blog, but this is my third straightforward anime review in a row, a first in the site’s history, and there’s still more to come, so you can look forward to that as well. See you next week hopefully.

 

* I should say in the anime. I’ve heard the source manga may include a yuri theme — speaking of tags, the manga has the yuri tag on Anilist while the anime doesn’t if that’s any indication. I haven’t read the manga, but the anime features a lot of what I’d call friendly intimacy between Komichi and her classmates, the kind that some people seem to mistake for the romantic kind. Those sentiments would have to be pretty tame Takagi-san style anyway considering if they were there, which again I’d say they aren’t.

I brought this distinction up in my review of The Aquatope on White Sand and my feelings about it now are the same. I think part of this mistake, at least among American fans, might be due to the weirdly repressive and neurotic attitudes about attraction and physical contact we Americans tend to have — two friends embracing has to mean there’s something more there, when in reality it doesn’t necessarily mean that. The same might be true for the fetishistic aspects many viewers have commented on, which I think have been very overplayed (including by me in that first episode look I wrote a few months ago — now I think those shots were used to show the characters’ expressiveness instead of for any weird purposes, though again I’ve heard the manga might have a different feel.)

In any case, let me know if you have a different opinion about any of the above. I just don’t want to go hunting for themes or issues where they might not exist, and I won’t make assumptions based on what I’ve heard about the manga either, since 1) I haven’t read it and 2) the source material and its adaptation are two distinct works that I believe should be taken separately anyway. If you’re not convinced of that point, just look at the HBO Game of Thrones production that ended up driven into a brick wall and the original Song of Ice and Fire novels, which still have a future if old GRRM ever gets off his ass and writes an ending (current odds of that happening: at least five thousand to one.) Or for a reverse example where the source material has been reviled by many fans where the anime adaptation hasn’t, see Usagi Drop. I won’t get into it now, but I might soon.

3 thoughts on “A review of Akebi’s Sailor Uniform

  1. Your experience is a joy to read, and it does appear that you’re finding that some slice-of-life series are making the cut 🙂 The optimism in shows like Akebi’s Sailor Uniform, almost saccharine to a fault, is actually the main reason why my watchlist, season after season, will always include shows like these: it is escapism that lets me to immerse myself in a new space, and then take stock of what I need to do in reality. This is, in my opinion, a far healthier way to life than acting as a prophet of bad news and telling people there’s no hope, that cynicism equals maturity, et cetera.

    The character designs were similarly things I needed to acclimatise to. However, the exaggerated faces do have merits; it lets us to ascertain how everyone’s feeling without any doubts and eliminates ambiguity. Anime is afforded this luxury, and it’s always interesting to see how different art styles lend themselves towards communicating feelings and emotions.

    Finally, I’ve made a cursory effort towards seeing if Komichi’s place has any real world analogues. In about a quarter hour, I wasn’t able to learn anything about the location, but this wasn’t terribly surprising. I’ve found that slice-of-life series set in a fictionalised location are more character oriented: we care about Komichi and her friends, not about the location, so where things happen merely needs to be somewhere that can facilitate the characters’ experiences. If a series is like Yuru Camp△ and features real-world spots, then the anime is saying that it wants us readers to believe that what we’re seeing in a work of fiction is something that can be experienced for ourselves. Both approaches enhance immersion in a different way and have their own merits. Of course, if a series does what Akebi’s Sailor Uniform does, then there’s no opportunity for me to break out my Oculus Quest and go location hunting!

    • Thanks! Your blog was one of those that’s gotten me to rethink slice-of-life somewhat, so thanks for that as well. I have to admit I’ve been that “prophet of bad news” type too often, though my feelings are genuine. At the same time, cynicism is still extremely destructive — we’ve already seen its effects here. Part of being mature is trying to understand what you are and aren’t capable of doing to help the situation and then following through rather than simply drowning in misery. If getting some escapism like the kind in Akebi helps us cope with some of the shittier aspects of life then it’s all for the better.

      I see what you mean about the exaggerated expressions in this and other anime. It’s probably part of the reason live-action adaptations feel so awkward to so many people. And even if Akebi takes place in a real-world setting, just imagine Komichi pulling off a backflip in live action — not impossible I guess, but it sort of works in this medium.

      Interesting to know this one might take place in a fictional setting. I’ve heard that a lot of present-day realistic setting anime are set in real places, but no major loss if it’s not. Though I agree it would be nice to go to some of these spots in VR. I want to see that lakeside view of Mt. Fuji for myself, even if I can’t go to Yamanashi.

  2. Pingback: End of Month Review June 2022 - The Gamer With Glasses

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