Slice-Of-Life Done Right
Sometimes when an anime series doesn’t catch on, it’s not the fault of the series itself, but just a matter of a mismatch with its audience. The 2010 anime And Yet the Town Moves from Sentai Filmworks (known in Japan as Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru, or Soremachi for short) is an excellent case in point. It didn’t make much of a splash here in the United States because it’s such a thoroughly Japanese slice-of-life anime, but that obscurity is a darn shame, because the series is pretty fantastic.
And Yet the Town Moves follows the daily life of Hotori Arashiyama, a loveable dingbat of a high school girl who lives in a small Japanese town, dreams of becoming a detective, and works part-time as a waitress in a maid café. The series also features her family, her teachers, her boss, and her friends: a brainy but slightly arrogant cutie (Tatsuno / “Tattsun”), a cool and rockin’ upperclassman (Kon), a boy who secretly crushes on her (Sanada), and a ping-pong champ (Haribara). Together they… just live normal lives, really. Just funnier than ours.
On the surface, it sounds like a less-than-inspired entry into the “cute girls doing cute things” genre, but that stereotype and even the summary I just gave start to break down when you start looking at the details. With the exception of Tattsun, none of these girls are breathtakingly pretty, and poor buck-toothed Haribara is ugly as sin. The maid café where Hotori and Tattsun work is actually a run-down regular café the elderly owner thought she’d spice up by wearing uniforms. Despite occasional flashes of surprising brilliance, Hotori is mostly dumb as a rock and whines a lot. Wannabe-badass Kon is secretly a mama’s girl.
All of these characters, and the town itself, are just very real. This is not the cute-washed Japan of most girl-group anime, nor a self-absorbed otaku geek-fest, nor a stylized samurai epic, nor a whimsical Miyazakified Japan of Disney-level purity. This is how people really live, and how people really are: flawed but generous at their cores, living a life that can be funny not because of the environment itself but because of people’s reactions to it. That level of comfort with everyday life and confidence in finding what’s hilarious about it are the qualities that make And Yet The Town Moves special.
With that said, this same realism might have hurt its chances on this side of the Pacific because the series is just so Japanese. I consider myself fairly well-versed in at least most surface aspects of Japanese culture, but this show pulled out puns, folklore, superstitions, and random little customs and traditions that I’d never even heard of. The style of humor is also very typically Japanese, which won’t deter dedicated anime fans but might raise the hurdle a bit for more casual viewers.
Speaking of humor, the plotting of the episodes deserves major credit for the way it contributes to the slow-burn comedy. Virtually all of the comedy can be tied to two concepts: a meandering common thread that leads to unexpected results, or an escalation of something that should be simple and low-key into something epic. The “common thread” is announced by our very philosophical narrator at the beginning of each episode and repeated at the end, at which point his abstract point has often taken on very funny concrete implications in the lives of the characters.
And Yet the Town Moves was produced by studio Shaft, which also produced Maria Holic. Fans of the latter will definitely see some correlation in the humor styles and in some characters (esp. math teacher Mr. Moriaki and MH’s Father Kaneda), but Town is much gentler in its humor compared to the dark, biting parody of the yuri genre presented in Maria Holic. Another commonality with Maria Holic is that Town sometimes introduces strange science-fiction elements into its otherwise grounded story, much of which can be attributed to Hotori’s overactive imagination, but not all.
Other stuff worth mentioning include the visuals and the music. As I mentioned, this is a Shaft anime (which produced Maria Holic, Monogatari, etc.), and their reputation for beautiful artwork does not fail them here. The town itself is vibrant and well-realized, and the variety of character models is a great breath of fresh air. While the background music is seldom anything to write home about, the opening and ending tunes do deserve special recognition. The ending, “Meizu Sanjou!”, is not exactly contagious, but it is funny and captures the series’ humor well. The opener, “Downtown,” is a beautiful, jazzy earworm that uses trumpets and glitz to great effect while capturing the visual beauty of the art style and animation. (Watch it below.)
Altogether, And Yet the Town Moves is 110% worth your time. It’s visually gorgeous, laugh-out-loud funny, and genuinely sweet without ever dipping into cheap sentimentalism, melodrama, or five-cent whimsy. It’s a slice of life done right, which is a rare and beautiful thing. Be sure to check it out.