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"The Wallflower": It’s Raining Men But Get An Umbrella

by on December 2, 2009

Name the anime series from the description:

Through a mildly contrived series of events, a fairly eccentric high school girl ends up living in a house with four beautiful guys. She ends up cooking and cleaning for them, and she’s amazingly adept all sorts of housework. The guys are so drop-dead gorgeous that there is even a crazy fanclub for one of them at school, and in general, they have to put up with a lot of attention from the ladies. The whole group ends up doing all sorts of madcap but clichéd things like going to a hot spring, taking a tropical vacation, and so on.

If you guessed Fruits Basket, you’re wrong. There are only three bishonen living with Tohru Honda. Also, they only have the hot-springs episode.

If you guessed Ouran High School Host Club, you’re even more incorrect. Haruhi Fujioka only works with pretty guys, and she works with six of them.

If you guessed The Wallflower, you know your generic, Mary-Sue laden, reverse-harem, shojo dramedies.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love that genre of anime and manga, but let’s be real, it has become something of a trope. So, how do you put life into what has become a formula?

Well, you might think you need only two words and a nickname: Shinichi “Nabeshin” Watanabe, director of the all-time, madcap anime champ, Excel Saga. That’s not to say The Wallflower is even close to as zany as the psychopathic, machine-gun fire humor of Excel Saga, but those tired of the semi-maudlin undertones that usually dominate reverse harems are in for a treat, sort of. Those looking for a little more content will be disappointed.

Our story begins with the previously mentioned pretty boys living in some eccentric millionaire lady’s mansion. Said millionaire landlady makes the boys an offer any independent high school student would be a fool to refuse: She’ll lower their rent to nothing if they can turn said lady’s niece into a elegant lady. An easy task for four attractive, refined boys, right? Of course not. There’s no show if it’s not a challenge, and oh what a challenge making Miss Sunako Nakahara into an elegant lady will be. You see, she was brutally rejected by her first love, so she never takes care of herself and has become totally obsessed by the macabre, going so far as to own anatomy dolls, organ specimens, and skeletons. She also constantly watches banned horror films. Add to that a neurotic aversion to beauty (like the beauty of her new roommates,) and they’re gonna have a hard time just getting her out of her room. Making her over into a classy, high-society debutante might as well be rocket science. However, the boys can’t afford to fail. Literally. Because if they don’t make her a lady, their landlord will triple the rent.

So, I could detail all these little episodic adventures, but I’ll cut to the chase. She is secretly pretty, but every few episodes she has to suck it up to help the idiot boys out—and then things return to the status quo, just like in an American sitcom. The plots are all standard fare for any harem—reverse or regular—and it even retreads some of its own plots during the course of the show. (Though, at least it’s self-reflexive enough to remark that kidnappings seem to happen an awful lot during the series.)

So why doesn’t it work? Basically, because it tries to be funny without balancing the humor with any good characterization. The on-going character flaws are scarcely flaws at all: if you’re too pretty, get an agent, some bodyguards and become a model, especially since you’re hard up for cash. If you’re a horror-obsessed shut-in with a constant aversion to beauty as a result of PTSD, you probably require psychological help. Most of the issues in the show boil down to one piece of advice: “Wake up and deal with it.” While those silly flaws could have been spun into a lot more in the way of laughs, the story attempts to use those elements as the character’s sympathetic traits. It doesn’t result in a bad show, but it misses out on being something with rewatch value. It’s just too empty.

The technical side isn’t of particular note either. There’s nothing amazing about the animation, but there’s nothing that jars you out of the show either. The direction is typical Nabeshin for the most part, though he’s slowed things down and restrained himself from too much referential humor. (There is some, including a gut-bustingly funny Eva parody later on that is, to me, the highlight of the series. The show might have been better had he just gone full out from the start.) The music is standard anime fare that never once shows any unique flavor, even in the OP and ED.

Now, I will note the voice-acting for both casts is very solid, and that itself is notable, as it’s one of the better dubs from the late ADV, especially for a comedy. The directorial choice to keep with the manga’s heavy use of chibi design as means of visual communication is fairly cool. However, a relatively solid dub and a single stylistic element don’t make a show great.

All in all, The Wallflower is neither fish nor fowl, neither bad nor good, and it doesn’t play in a genre whose existence owes itself to great characterization and storytelling out-maneuvering the improbability of the setup. My advice? Unless you’re really looking for a more comedy-heavy mix with your reverse harem, Netflix or rent the The Wallflower. If you’re looking to make a purchase, buy Fruits Basket and Ouran High School Host Club instead if you haven’t bought them already.

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