I’m going to talk about a show that’s probably flown past many people’s radar, currently airing since April of 2011 spanning almost 70 episodes. It’s famous for being called “A poor man’s Gintama”, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth, but coming from someone who doesn’t like Gintama at the slightest may be very biased. Still, it’s a show I think a lot of people should take a look at especially if you’re good with following very long series. Welcome to the first “Oh Hey, It’s That Show!” post, focusing on series that desperately needs more love or even hate. Welcome, SKET Dance!
SKET Dance is…really weird. Not as in the actual content itself (occasionally, but not as weird as Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita’s antics), but rather in its presentation. First a bit about the manga: the reason SKET Dance, both anime and manga, is frequently called “A poor man’s Gintama” is how strikingly similar both series are. Both have three main characters, two males and one female, and both work to help others by doing whatever jobs they are offered (odd jobs). Well, there’s a good reason for the comparisons: Kenta Shinohara, the creator of SKET Dance, served as an assistant to Hideaki Sorachi the creator of Gintama which is likely the basis for such striking similarities. They also had a collaboration in both manga and anime form last year as well. With Gintama being in high esteem (which it doesn’t deserve, but ahem I’ll write about that some other time), obviously fans of Gintama went and checked out SKET Dance.
They apparently didn’t like it, to the point where “A poor man’s Gintama” has become the de-facto statement against it, even Gin himself stated so in the crossover episode. However, my experience with watching 70 episodes of this series*, my experience has been quite decent with this series. But there’s a lot of things you have to do before hand to like SKET Dance: if you can’t handle lots of shouting for a comedy anime, just stop right here and stop reading this post as that composes of most of this series’ jokes. Most don’t really stick, but surprisingly some actually do stick. You also have to be ready for some…very interesting character development. For the most part this is a school life comedy series, involving the main cast of Bossun (Fujisaki Yuusuke), Himeko and Switch and their friends along with the crazy student council. But there are a few episodes that hit the brakes on all of the comedy: episodes 24-25, 36-37 and 46-48, these seven episodes deviate heavily from the series and watching the other episodes, no matter how unfunny they may be, you’ll fully enjoy a nice hard break as the three main character’s backstories are brought up to the front.
These backstories are quite frankly, extremely depressing and tragic. Wait, what? I just said ‘extremely depressing’ and ‘tragic’ in a show that’s basically a school life comedy series. Are you interested now? Good, because all of the other episodes that lead up to these “Big Seven” episodes while they may not have any impact on them, it’s necessary to know the main characters a bit before watching the Big Seven. You may not like these characters at first, but watch episode 24 and 25 (Switch’s past) and then you can decide whether to continue or drop the series.It’s this that makes SKET Dance a worthwhile show to check out, and trust me these seven episodes really deliver. It’s like digging for gold knowing you’ll never find any, but then suddenly you come across some specks of gold; these seven episodes are those specks of gold. But really, that doesn’t mean the comedy is lacking. Like any other comedy series, the jokes are hit and miss for the most part and SKET Dance is no exception to that rule. But because it’s going to be a long running series, odds are the jokes start to get better once the cast has been fully introduced.
But one aspect I really enjoy about the series, is the music. A lot of the series’ music is composed by a band named “The Sketchbook”. It’s one of the many bands/groups formed mainly for a specific anime series, in this case The Sketchbook is the real life versions of Bossun, Himeko and Switch. But despite that, their music is by far some of the best I’ve heard with lyrics that (of course) really connect with this show. Again with the Big Seven: the best Sketchbook songs come from these seven episodes, as if this show can’t do any better to please me. I do hope SKET Dance airs for more than 200 episodes, if only for the fact that I’m thoroughly in love with virtually every song from The Sketchbook. Background music is decent, but it’s really never there. Voice acting: It’s great, except for one very awful performance. That performance isn’t from a main character thankfully, but you’ll notice the acting (or lack thereof) from this ‘voice talent’ who so happens to be a member of AKB48…explains everything. But besides one bad performance, the rest of the cast really got some talented seiyuus to voice them.
For Bossun, he’s voiced by Hiroyuki Yoshino. I haven’t heard Yoshino in a while, not since he voiced Allelujah/Hallelujah Haptism in Gundam 00 but I think this is a role that works for him, as Bossun is probably the scene stealer for most of the first batch of episodes. The strongarm of the group, Hime Onizuka or “Onihime” by those who fear her, is voiced by the criminally under-rated Ryoko Shiraishi. Her Kansai dialect is spot-on for Hime, and basically Hime sounds the most realistic of the three (well, when one of them uses a voice audio software..), timid at times but fierce when the time calls for it. But the name everyone knows the most is Tomokazu Sugita who voices Switch aka Kazuyoshi Usui. Chances are you’ve already seen Gintama, and if so you know what to expect from his voice acting: deadpan, brilliant timing but also during Switch’s arc he does a great job in the more serious scenes. Like most popular Shounen Jump adaptations, SKET Dance has a ton of A+ voice actors like Yuu Kobayashi, Tomokazu Seki, Jouji Nakata, Mamiko Noto and yes Kana Hanazawa as a tsundere (Kuroneko fans rejoice!).
In short, while not a permanent review, I feel SKET Dance ought to get more attention and deserves to be called a rival to Gintama, if not on a higher plane than it. Sure, there’s a lot of iffy episodes that just don’t work but this series will surprise you with a half dozen episodes that really show a different side to the SKET-dan, and do it in a way that completely banishes the comedy and hijinks to tell these stories.
* Okay I didn’t actually watch all of the episodes, I stopped at around episode 35, skipped and went to the main character’s backstories. I watched at least fifty episodes so..yeah. I’ll go watch the others eventually..maybe.
Animation – C: The very definition of average. It’s nothing great, but for a long running series it does the job quite well. Facial expressions are done very well.
Story – C-: Backstory episodes make SKET Dance worth watching. Comedy is hit and miss, as most comedy animes are.
Sound – B-: Anything from “The Sketchbook” is either amazing, depressing, catchy or a mix of the three. “Clover”, “Hero”, “Birthday” and “Michi” are some of my favorite songs from this band. Voice acting is quite solid, considering how much A-list talent is here: Mamiko Noto, Kana Hanazawa, Yuu Kobayashi, Tomokazu Seki, Jouji Nakata, Marina Inoue and I haven’t even gotten to the main characters’ seiyuu.
Characters – B-: SKET Dance is one of those series in which the higher episode count works in its favor quite well, giving the main characters a lot of room to develop. Factor in those “Big Seven” episodes and you got a solid main cast. And like most series of its nature, SKET Dance has a lot of A-list talent. Kana Hanazawa fans, you’ll be pleased to hear her as Saaya: a big breast, twintailed Grade-A tsundere.
Overall – C: – Because most of Summer 2012’s offerings either suck or shamelessly pander to the fanbase (Eureka Seven, Lagrange), I’m revisting some past series. SKET Dance, while still airing since April of 2011, is a breath of fresh air amidst a weak summer season. Lots of humor, some really depressing scenes that work very well and catchy music.