Yojou-han is an 11-episode series by Madhouse, directed by Masaaki Yuasa and adapted from a novel written by Tomihiko Morimi. The story follows a nameless college student (fans usually refer to him simply as Watashi) as he pursues a “rose-coloured campus life” – a quest which inevitably fails on his first attempt. After wishing that he could turn back time and reverse his decisions, Watashi finds himself in a Groundhog-day-esque scenario, repeating his college life from the first day each episode, and each time hopelessly pursuing that vision of an ideal college life that has eluded him. This story is wrapped in an eccentric style of execution, with excellent, witty writing and a very atypical visual style.
Anime like Yojou-han are certainly a breath of fresh air. There comes a certain point where you feel as if you’ve seen all the highly-regarded anime and what’s being pushed out regularly is not very impressive. Seeing newer series like Yojou-han, then, is a very refreshing tidbit of proof that there are directors and companies who aren’t afraid of pursuing something unique, despite the risks. Now, sometimes those attempts fail or come off as hopelessly pretentious, but sometimes they hit exactly all the right notes, and Yojou-han falls into the second category. It has a story to tell, a message to deliver, and it packs those into a nearly flawless, captivating, and enjoyable 11-episode run. It didn’t stretch itself long enough for the premise to become repetitive, nor restrict itself to so short a running time that it couldn’t adequately build up to the eventual cathartic resolution.
Its success is mostly thanks to the intelligent, snappy, and evocative writing style. I say writing style because the narration which dominates each episode clearly originates in novel form, and Yojou-han has the flavour of a visualization of a novel rather than an adaptation. An oft-mentioned complaint about the show was the rapid speaking pace of the narrator, and whether this will pose a problem depends, of course, on the reading speed of the viewer. Many people on various forums mentioned that they had to pause the anime at various points merely to read all of the on-screen subtitle text. While I never found myself missing any line of text, I certainly found my eyes darting to the subtitle portion of the screen more often than a typical series. Yet pausing a series like this to read text sort of misses the point – the stream of consciousness narration and brisk pacing is part of the appeal of Yojou-han‘s execution. To pause and read as if reading on paper doesn’t really make much sense.
While the story focuses on repeating the main character’s college days, it is not an episodic series, as there are a lot of interconnecting, developing plot elements as well as an arc of episodes towards the end that are even more directly related to one another. The show’s overarching message is a simple one, but I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, as it merely means that the show will probably have something to say to you regardless of what your current position in life is. The brilliant thing, though, is that it tells this message with a brisk, clever style that doesn’t feel like sappy preaching – despite the fact that the premise and theme could easily have devolved to just that. Thankfully, Yojou-han never abandons its original tone. Though people usually think of comedies as being a “lesser genre” (mostly due to the kind of comedy that is present in most anime), I would describe Yojou-han as an intelligent comedy – a valuable and rare subgroup. The ability to make someone laugh and think at the same time is no easy feat.
I suppose the one piece of advice I’ll leave you with is that I don’t suggest marathoning this series (as viewers tend to do with anime that are already finished). This is really a very dense anime packed with not only a lot of verbiage from the narrator, but a lot of clever ideas in each episode, and I wonder whether its effectiveness may be diluted without a buffer time in which to mull over each episode.
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