Feb 27, 2015

Anime Review: Kin-iro Mosaic

Kin-iro Mosaic title/logoSuper cute, colorful, and charismatic. Do you revel in lolicakes? This show excels in loli by putting on a fantastic presentation. It’s got fairly high production value and it shows by having gorgeous storybook backgrounds, a swelling soundtrack, and more cute little girls being friends and cute together then you’ll know what to do with. Pedobear approved! And did I forget to mention the Engrish? Because there’s lots of it. Part of the setup is that one of the main girls is from England, so… yeah. It’s pretty bad rad. (No, they don’t try for any British Engrish… probably for the best.) A lot of later jokes and conversations revolve around this foreigner shtick particularly with regards to blonde hair… despite the main cast including girls with red and blue hair. Who knows, maybe in this universe Japanese people are limited to a Ro G. Biv palette of follicles.

A three shot wide composition showing the two lead girls' idyllic England time together

Kin-iro Mosaic (lit. Golden Mosaic or just Kinmoza for short) is the kind of show that’s probably better spent on someone not me. Considering my long history with this medium, that’s more of a statement than it may seem at first. I mean, I’m no stranger to the doinkier series, the broader loli sub-fandom, and even just cutesy slice-of-life stuff, but even Kinmoza is a bit much for me. A tad too squeaky, a tad too tame, a tad too mild, I couldn’t shake the feeling the whole time that I wasn’t getting the full effect like the package hinted at. Indeed, it was the polished appearance that caught my eye to begin with. And as I’ve already said, I found the result to be great looking, great sounding (aside from the squeaky cast), and just all around well done. The music is often good, the visuals are always pleasing, and the execution is smooth and mostly consistent. So why was I not digging this more?

The main cast in yukata enjoying a traditional summer festival

Kinmoza becomes a huge letdown, in my opinion, after the first episode since it switches from an interesting backstory to run-of-the-mill slice-of-life shenanigans. Turns out it’s based on a yonkoma and boy does it show. Disjointed, highly erratic, episodic, and random, with the tell-tale four-panel-gag rhythm. Too bad it’s neither very funny nor has anything in the way of characters or plot or anything to make up for the weak comedy muscles. Amidst the numerous scene transitions (the smoke signals of source comic strip switching), you can even see the writers struggling with the inconsistent timing by occasionally, even desperately, trying to reign it in and create longer more cohesive scenes out of what is likely longer strings of consecutive strips. They’re sadly playing a dangerous game of trying to be “true to the source material” while trying to salvage this full-length broadcast animated incarnation. Had they gone with a short 3 minute time-slot or something it might have been a lot less jarring but instead they’ve ended up with something that struggles and drags most of the time.

I won’t say yonkoma are easy to translate, but it’s certainly possible as shows like Azumanga Daioh or hell even GA Geijutsuka Art Design have proven. Nothing of interest ever really happens in Kinmoza and it’s incredibly disjointed and meandering throughout the empty “storyline”. This is easily excusable when there’s something else to glue it all together, like an over-arching otaku vibe ala Lucky Star or hell even just a yuri glaze like YuruYuri, but Kinmoza has neither. Intead, we get squeaky syndrome due to the high amounts of loli. It sort of made sense when they were supposed to be single digit ages, as seen in the prologue first episode, but the bulk of show takes place in (or around?) high school so it’s more than a little grating on the ol’ ears (unless you’re into that sort of thing I guess… I know you people exist).

Alice and Shino observe some flowers while the rest of the cast poses in the background

Kinmoza starts so strong, too, but it seems this was all just backstory expanded on exclusively in the anime adaptation. It’s pretty sad when that’s the strongest and most interesting part… the part they made up. But it just goes to further show how the adapters were holding back on what they could have done given more freedom with the source, though I get that it would be a very risky move that could alienate the original fanbase. But even so! Two young girls from wildly different cultures learning to get along and be friends despite the language barrier? It’s surprisingly sweet and touching, if a little overly saccharine. (Not that the whole show isn’t super sappy with the overly cutesy style and girls.) There’s a wealth of material to be mined there, but no… we get the same tsukkomi routine, the same mild school events, and zero development of their friendship or anything. Things are slightly improved by the early arrival of Karen, the token half-foreigner with broken Japanese, but only because compared to the rest of the case she’s dynamite wrapped in wild cards. In the end, she’s largely forgettable as well.

The main cast in school outfits jumping happily all together

Soooo… overall, a bit of a disappointment really. It looks damn good, but it never really has anything compelling to show you and while it is technically high in quality it is not particularly inspired or artistic, very by the numbers style and delivery. It’s the same tired stock characters and situations with dialog you could have written yourself. But, that said, it’s not badly done either. It’s just really good looking generic for the most part. Kinmoza feels ten times better when it relaxes a bit and avoids its erratic gag roots to sit back and bask in its excellent presentation, with the school festival montage in episode eight being a prime example. When its allowed to breathe, exercise its cuteness factor, and flex that surprisingly good-at-times soundtrack, then it shines. But those moments are sadly few and far between, and it waits until the final episode to finally spread its wings and try something bold — a silly musical that surprisingly works as much as it feels out of place. If you’ve not seen many SoL shows then it probably won’t annoy you so much and you could do a lot worse I suppose. At least basically devoid of panty/boob fanservice and perverted humor, likely a good choice given that everyone skews so visibly young.

The girls sit on a bench eating ice cream cones together while Karen uses a traditional British phone booth behind them

Despite all of my grumbling it wasn’t terrible and I watched it all, mostly because as limp as it usually is it still has pretty nice production and presentation and it’s much easier to swallow as a result. I was just expecting/hoping for much better, especially after the first episode. It’s a shame it was kind of a bait ‘n switch, however likely unintentional. And as it turns out, I’m still a huge sucker for good lookin’ girly shit, and it is ridiculously cute even if it’s in a slightly shallow kinda way. It’s hard to hate, too, what with it being so full of happy cuteness and oozing positivity. But that amount of sugar can lead to cavities so you’ve been warned.

As of this writing, you can watch Kin-iro Mosaic for free on Crunchyroll.

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