Friday, October 21, 2016
Video Backlog: “Girl Friend Beta”
Format: Region 4 DVD, NTSC, Japanese Dialogue with English Subtitles
Length: 12 episodes x 24 minutes
Production Date: 2014
Currently in Print (as of writing): Yes
Kokomi Shiina is a second year high school student in a Tokyo high school. In the rhythmic gymnastics club, she feels that she is gaining weight, mostly due to her mother feeding her up for an upcoming competition. She resolves to go on a diet but seems to be failing. She asks various friends for ideas on how she could lose weight and the exercise club ends up helping her get the kilograms off. However her friends reward her and the club with melon bread which undoes all the hard work. Later Kokomi enquires about how her friends, the hyper Erena Mochizuki and literally bookish Fumio Murakami became best buddies. Erena tells her the story of the first meeting. Spotting Fumio in the library, she starts snapping away with her camera (as Erena is the in photography club). Erena wants Fumio to be her model for an upcoming photography competition; however Fumio is not keen on the idea. However Erena is quite persistent (though in a playful way) and keeps taking candid photos of her whenever she can. Eventually Fumio can’t take anymore and politely asks Erena to stop bothering her. But Fumio has regrets and eventually she agrees to Erena’s request.
A box of kittens is found by one of the students a brought to school. Akane Sakura of the broadcasting committee takes it on herself to find homes for the five little cats. While five girls put up their hands to takes them, most of their parents place conditions to take them in their homes; mainly they get better grades at school. It is decided everyone should study together at some’s house. That someone turns out to be Isuzu Shiranui, a reserved second year student. When the girls arrive at her family home, they are surprised to discover a very traditional looking Japanese home with Isuzu waring a kimono. As the afternoon flows into the evening, no real studying is actually getting done. A 10 minute visit to a convenience store for snacks ends up being more than half an hour. Eventually night turns into early morning light with scant study actually done, but friendships made and strengthened.
A crisis occurs within the school when the cafeteria staff end up stranded on a trip and unable to return. Student council president Kanata Amatsu decides that the student council should run the cafeteria. Though the other member’s voice objections to this, the ditzy and almost unstoppable Kanata forges ahead with her boundless enthusiasm. Though Kanata gets in the way and often manages to cause more trouble than solve problems, somehow the first day of operations is a success. However word spreads amongst the students and the customer numbers double the following day. Members of the cooking club and indeed anyone at all who can cook are recruited to help out. However Kanata ends up being a spanner in the works by recommending dishes to customers that aren’t even on the menu.
This series is unsurprisingly based on a dating simulator from a few years back. Essentially the aim of the game is to date one of the over 100 girls in the game. It was a free online game, but of course required payment for sections of the game or events. While the original game did have more than a hundred characters, this anime adaptation pares back the characters to just under 50. The series is episodic and has some pretty bog standard scenarios for this type of show with various characters having to deal with weight issues, getting ready for the school festival, working part time at a café, dealing with hardships at school etc. It’s a show that you couldn’t exactly say breaks any new ground.
While at times I did feel it was little bit slow going, for most of its length it’s reasonably fun. Though the promotional artwork highlights five characters, the stories don’t always focus on those five. A large number of side characters flow in and out of storylines with relative ease. While a lot of them aren’t really fleshed out character wise, I’d say more the most part they aren’t clichéd or are shallow and have no personality. There are some really interesting stories in the series such as the one where the shy Tomo Oshii has to be an emcee for a school beauty contest and her friends rally around to help and support her. Another fun story has quiet writer Natsume Mahiro writing a novel for fun since primary school. A friend reads her incomplete novel, and though thinks it’s a bit bizarre, is intrigued by the story so much she encourages her to complete it. However Natsume has writer’s block. Eventually the story gets distributed around the school and Natsume is overwhelmed with fans begging her to complete it.
There are some really silly stories as well. French exchange student Chloe Lemaire can be a bit grating at times. She’s butt of jokes for the screenwriters as she constantly misinterprets Japanese culture and gets sayings mixed up. You know the usual “these gaijin know nothing” attitude. Apart from the very, very dodgy French Chloe speaks, there’s also one episode when her father misinterprets Japanese New Year celebrations as dangerous and decides to take her back to France. Of course the other girls sort everything out and explain everything to the dumb gaijin, but it’s an episode which was pretty bloody silly.
While the scenarios, setting and story for the most part seem firmly rooted in reality, there are some really weird fantastical elements to the show. For example Miss Monochrome who is an android (and also had her own short spin off TV series) and Ishida Isuki who loves ammonites. However most of these elements are in the background of the series. Like many of these types of series, men are an endangered species. Even though the school is co-ed, most of the male characters are background characters. Some of the latter episodes there isn’t a male to be seen or heard. You could probably count all the lines in the show spoken by men on one hand and have would have a couple of fingers left over.
This is the only commercial English language release of this series anywhere in the world as far as I’m aware. While it is an Australian release and coded for region 4, the video is indeed NTSC, not PAL. Another curious thing with this release, and a lot of the more recent subtitle only anime Madman has put out on DVD is that it is hard subbed. While the disc seems to indicate that there is a subtitle track (that curiously can’t be switched off), it’s patently obvious that the subtitles are matted onto the video. They are far too sharp, clear and occasionally too multi-coloured to be “soft” DVD subtitles. Remember when dopes on the Anime News Network forum called sub only DVDs “fansubs on DVD”? Well I suspect this set is “streams on DVD”. I’m really not too sure but it seems that with many of their recent sub only releases they’ve just slapped the streaming video from their streaming service, Animelab, on to DVD. It just seems rather lazy, cheap and nasty. Concluding, “Girl Friend Beta” really isn’t anything new in the genre. It’s relatively fun and is quite amusing at times. It’s a pleasant way to fill up a couple of evenings. Unfortunately it’ll probably be forgotten by fans in a few years’ time. 6.5 out of 10.
Remaining Backlog: One movie, one OVA, four TV series. In addition I am also waiting for the second part of one TV series to be released before viewing it.