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Binbou Shimai Monogatari Review

Binbou Shimai Monogatari , which translates to something like “The Story of Poor Sisters“, is a 10-episode anime based on a seinen manga of the same name.  The general premise of the story is that two girls, the older being in middle school, live alone in a rather modest apartment (think Ikkoku-kan from Maison Ikkoku).  They live in relative poverty without parental support, as their mother has passed away and their father has left them for his gambling addictions.  The older sister takes up a part time job while the younger one devotes herself to housework, and by depending on each other, they are able to live independently.

I’m sure there are some preconceptions floating around in your minds as there were when I first glanced over the plot description for this series.  It’s probably best to let go of them immediately – this is not a serious, dramatic, or particularly emotional series.  The premise may remind one of something like Dare mo Shiranai and other depressing stories, but the execution really couldn’t be more different.  In fact, Binbou is more or less a slice-of-life comedy series with only mild forays into drama.  The sisters’ poverty never poses any real threat, the possible emotional trauma of their situation is tucked aside, and the strangers around them are all more than happy to do any favour they require.  If you’re looking for a profound exploration on childhood tragedy, look elsewhere (I recommend Grave of the Fireflies). On the other hand, if you focus exclusively on the light-hearted aspects of the show, there aren’t too many faults here.  The sisters are generally quite likable, though the overt sweetness of their sibling bond lacks the more down-to-earth charm of, say, the sisters from My Neighbor Totoro.  And while new ground in comedy isn’t being broken here, there are more than enough genuinely entertaining scenarios strewn about.

The anime doesn’t really have any further message to tell the audience other than the fact that the two sisters are very, very close.  If the sound of a “sweetness overload” repels you, you will probably want to avoid the series.  Every episode has at least one or two moments where the sisters embrace in front of a flowery background  – moments where the audience are presumably expected to “aww” at the loving relationship being shown to them.  Sometimes this is emphasized for comedy – like when the camera pulls back to reveal a third character staring awkwardly at the display of cartoonish affection.  While it tends to get a little tedious, it isn’t the biggest problem with the anime.

As you’d expect, Binbou falters whenever it attempts to inject anything more dramatic into its story, due to the fact that the level of buildup or believability required simply isn’t there.  These scenes end up feeling a tad contrived.  The very first episode has an example of this, where a drawn-out conflict between the sisters occurs due to misinterpretations and conclusion-jumping.  Yet when they are otherwise portrayed as the closest and most loving siblings on planet Earth, why wouldn’t they give each other the benefit of the doubt here?  The best example of contrived drama, though, is an episode late in the series where the sisters each become deeply concerned about the other due to……problems reaching the other on their cellphone.  I couldn’t help but note the humour in the fact that a series about orphaned children living alone had to resort to cellphone accessibility as a source of tension.  Now, the final episode does contain an attempt at delving into the girls’ past and possible trauma (though only regarding their mother), but the content is too bare and is delivered too late to leave any significant impact.

It’s also possible to start delving into the plot and finding all sorts of further oddities – like the sisters’ source of income.  They seem to live rather comfortably in an average size apartment entirely on the salary from the older sisters’ morning paper route.  One episode has a side character from a rich family who nevertheless competes with the sisters’ for discounted items at the local supermarket.  The side cast isn’t particularly well-developed either, apart from the landlord – one of the only characters whose background is given a fair bit of exposition (imagine if the same had been done for the girls’).  He is one of those familiar characters with a gruff exterior masking more noble, caring intentions.  Barring the landlord, though, the other characters don’t really have much in the way of substance and sometimes feel like recurring cameos.  They are all generally kind and never pose any conflict or trigger any real character development in the series.

In the end, it’s hard to say something like “it could have been better”, because I’m fairly sure that many people looking for a light-hearted show will be perfectly content with a comedic series about two sisters in a candy-coated vision of poverty.  On the other hand, in those moments where it briefly attempted to deliver something with actual drama or tension, you can’t help but notice how much of the premise went to waste and how much potential for character development was ignored.  So if you want a short series that will be fairly easy to digest and without any real depth, Binbou is entertaining on a superficial level, but perhaps it suffers a little too much from the potential of its own premise.

 1/2

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One Response to “Binbou Shimai Monogatari Review”

  1. Tallonon Apr 28th 2010

    I pretty much just watched this when it was coming out because of Maaya Sakamoto and Tomoko Kaneda (who were just as great as always in it).

    I’d say its a good time-waster if you’re bored but yeah, definitely not anything special. It gets way too stupid at times, like as you mentioned the cellphones and another time I remember (maybe the beginning you mentioned) when it has to do with going to a festival or something.

    It got so aggravating during the poorly done drama scenes because they didn’t make sense and they could be so easily resolved regardless. I’ve always hated when they do things like that in anime or manga (or anything, for that matter), where they make a problem out of absolutely nothing and make the very simple resolution get avoided at every turn; especially stupid crap like the protagonist seeing the lead female walking home with another guy and it somehow turning into a 5 episode completely retarded and just plain annoying problem that shouldn’t be a problem in the first place. This is especially true with drama and romance series, but in this case at least the main point is the comedy and dawww factor…so it’s not as bad.

    The OP and ED were nice at least.

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