The “local heroine fighter” of a certain city became popular and a national star. Because of this, “local heroines” debuted in various other places, and their action live events became a hit trend nationally. In Hinano City, high school girl Misaki Shirogane and other girls become local heroines (at the urging of Misaki’s aunt, the prefectural governor) and vow to produce action live events. – ANN
Episode 1 Summary: Mikan Kise and her sister are huge fans of Kamidaio, a city heroine who’s gone on to be famous across Japan. Nowadays there are many cities who utilize these mascot heroines to promote tourism in their area, but Kamidaio is by far the most famous. Now she’s slated to come to Mikan’s hometown of Hinano during the local Sakura Festival, and she’s definitely not going to miss this chance. The day of the anticipated performance, however, brings bad news; some sort of scheduling incompetence on the part of the organizers means that the Kamidaio show is canceled without any further explanation, and Mikan’s sister is heartbroken. Mikan makes a hasty promise to bring Kamidaio’s show back to the city in a week, but she’s not quite sure how she’ll accomplish such a thing. The answer lies in fellow student An Akagi, a former rhythmic gymnast and unabashed Kamidaio fan who seems game to put together a rollicking hero show for the local kids. Mikan and An work all week, practicing stunts, building costumes, and choreographing the show. At first the audience seems highly unimpressed, but eventually get caught up in the spirit of the show. After the home-made production gets put online, the girls get an unexpected call from Misaki Shirogane, student council president at their school and action heroine enthusiast. She’d like to help give Hinano City its own action heroines – and wants Mikan and An on board.
Impressions: Action Heroine Cheer Fruits is fun surprise wrapped in an initially unappealing package. Part “working women” tale a-la Sakura Quest or Shirobako, and part tokusatsu show, the premise sounds pretty ridiculous on paper. It seems sort of as though the creators wanted to take advantage of the popularity of idol group anime like the ultra-successful Love-Live! and sprinkle in a bit of something creative to set it apart. The resulting production ultimately seems much less commercial and a great deal more kind-hearted than I would have expected.
The first episode introduces a couple of different relationships that I assume will probably maintain some degree of importance throughout the series. The first is the sibling relationship between Mikan and her younger sister. Mikan seems to go beyond simply caring for her younger sister out of sisterly obligation; she seems genuinely concerned with Yuzuka’s happiness and well-being. She’s heartbroken when the Kamidaio show doesn’t happen, not so much because she missed it, but because Yuzuka was looking forward to it so wholeheartedly. While the characters themselves are pretty typical for an ensemble series, the way that their relationship is portrayed adds an extra dimension of kindness, which I really liked.
The other important relationship is the one that develops between Mikan and An. They might be fellow students at the same school, but they’ve never really interacted with one-another aside from knowing each-other’s name and crashing into one-another in the hallway between classes, as this episode demonstrates. But as two people with different personalities, they seem fated by the anime-writing gods to mesh well in a team setting and build upon each-other’s strengths. Mikan brings the kindness, An brings the spunkiness athleticism, and together they create a winning combination. Again, on paper this all seems pretty obvious and neither character feels very fleshed-out yet (and with a promo pic crammed full of several other girls I feel like full-on characterization might not be this show’s forte, in the end), but I like how the conflict between the two is kept pretty minor and their interactions quickly turn into something very harmonious. I think it speaks well for the show so far that there’s not a lot of time spent with the characters trying to struggle and assert their big personalities; with such a goofy title and premise, I think it’s imperative that at least some facets work well from the get-go in order to keep the audience engaged.
It’s fortuitous that the show wastes no time cultivating a fun atmosphere and making us all feel good, because there are some other technical areas where it’s definitely not as accomplished. The production house, diomedea, has been involved in a long list of animation projects, but mostly as an in-between studio. Of the few times it’s served as the headlining animation production studio, I’m only really familiar with The Lost Village (which was much better than most people gave it credit for; I will fight you) and Girlish Number, which I’ve watched more recently. The latter seemed particularly well-planned, and it probably had to have been; in order to portray the main character’s sour face and attitude, as well as the parody-style industry bits and the so-bad-it’s-good anime series the characters are a part of, it takes some good animation chops. This show already has more of an action-focus than either of those previous series, but the production values and animation consistency already seem kind of middling. There’s a lack of dynamic movement, as well as a few quality control problems with character animation in some of the slower-moving moments. The show seems a bit washed-out most of the time, too. Part of me tends to think that anime original series are where production studios tend to shine, even if they might often be vanity projects; in this case it doesn’t appear that that rings true.
Something worth mentioning, in the grand tradition of reviews on this website; due to the type of action being portrayed and the environment in which the characters are practicing their moves, there are a couple of up-skirt shots with underwear. I tend to think they were more incidental than anything else, but I also believe they’re always a choice in animation since someone made a storyboard and then someone else had to draw the frames. In a show where the characters read as being younger, I found it a little bit startling. Why choose to show underage girls in their underwear (or in the bath tub, hot springs, etc.) when you could choose to not show underage girls in compromising positions and potentially irritate fewer viewers? That has always been my question (and please don’t answer it for me, I realize there’s this notion that you “have to” include fanservice to love-bomb viewers into watching your show – I don’t subscribe to it).
Criticisms aside, I left this episode with a really warm feeling. I love being pleasantly surprised by an anime about which I had only very basic expectations; often times anticipated shows turn out to be duds, so it’s nice when it goes the other way! I think the show has a lot of heart and I always like the idea of girls banding together to accomplish some sort of goal, even if it’s kind of a silly one. This might be a good option for folks who enjoy magical girls, but are not as huge of fans of the “dark magical girl” trope that’s taken over in recent years. It seems very focused on its feel-good atmosphere and presenting the ideals of teamwork within a plot that’s a little bit silly, but considering Japan’s penchant for anime-related tourism, not entirely out of the realm of possibility.
Pros: The first episode is kind-hearted and feel-good; the conflicts are minor and reasonable to overcome. The character relationships are warm.
Cons: The production values are a little bit off. There are a couple of underwear shots that are made more distracting by how young the characters look.