ガールフレンド (仮) 第1話 「はじめての約束」
Girlfriend (Kari) #01. 「First Promise」
Source Material: Online social game by CyberAgent
Studio(s): SILVER LINK
Director(s): Hayashi Naotaka (林 直孝)
Producer(s): Maru Ryoji (丸 亮二)
Series Composition: Yokote Michiko (横手 美智子)
Character Design: Tsutsumiya Noriko (堤谷 典子)
Music: Kawai Kenji (川井 憲次)
Girlfriend (Kari) is a Japanese smartphone online dating-simulation game developed by CyberAgent for iOS and Android devices released in October 2012. As of June 2014, the game has an estimated over 5.3 million users. The series has also spawned give separate manga adaptations, Girl Friend (Kari): Shiina Kokomi-hen ~Koishite Madonna~, Girl Friend (Kari): Murakami Fumio-hen ~Secret Smile~, Girl Friend (Kari): Chloe Lemarie-hen ~Chole to Nihon to Mirai no Tobira~, Girl Friend (Kari): Sakurai Akane-hen ~Kokoro o Komete, Yuuki no On Air!~, and Girl Friend (Kari) ~Seiō Gakuen Girl’s Diary~.
Shiina Kokomi is a second-year high school student whose mind is currently occupied by thoughts of qualifying for the prefectural rhythmic gymnastics tournament. One fine day, she makes her way to the school gymnasium for morning practice, passing by many others of the school’s female faculty who are also preparing for the day ahead with their own early-morning activities. While practicing her routine, Kokomi is interrupted by Mochizuki Erena, a third-year student in the photography club who cannot help but to snap photographs of Kokomi in her gymnastics uniform and poses. Though Kokomi tells Erena that she cannot concentrate when people are watching her, Erena is unable to read the air of discomfort around Kokomi and insists on staying so as to help her gain the confidence to perform in front of an audience. Lemaire Chloe, a third-year foreign exchange student from France, appears and convinces Erena to come take pictures of Kokomi another time. Chloe makes a cordial self-introduction to Kokomi, has a brief exchange of words with her, and then departs. As she is leaving, Chloe drops a personal photograph, which Kokomi picks up and feels obligated to return. However, when Kokomi rushes outside to catch-up to Chloe, she is unable to find her before the school bell rings to mark the beginning of classes. With the school-day having begun, Kokomi rushes to and from various locales on campus to find Chloe during her breaks between classes; she encounters many of her female classmates while gathering clues about Chloe’s whereabouts, including the school council president, the flower-arrangement club president, a member of the library committee, and more. As the sun is beginning to set, a fatigued Kokomi finds a bench to rest and finally eat her boxed-lunch at. It’s at this moment that Chloe herself appears before Kokomi, having heard from the many other girls that Kokomi was looking for her. Kokomi returns the photograph to an elated Chloe, the two girls share Kokomi’s lunch, and Chloe promises to return the favor to Kokomi whenever she can think of a request to make of Chloe.
With some cute-ass original artwork, a cast of more than one-hundred in-game girls to swoon over, and a five-million (plus) user fan-base, it’s really no surprise that Girlfriend (Kari) green-lit an anime adaptation to cater its fans even more, but it’ll take much, much more than what’s shown in the show’s premiere to qualify this adaptation as anything beyond just that: pure promotion and pandering. Having no experience with the original dating-simulation game myself, I don’t have a basis of comparison or anything of the sort for this viewing, but I think it’s pretty clear from the onset how lax this production intends to be. In conception and execution, the events of Girlfriend (Kari)‘s premiere are extraordinarily tame; as no matter how much of a hurry our protagonist Shiina Kokomi is depicted as being in throughout the episode, a day in the life of a high-school student would most likely be more exciting even if we departed the wonderful realm of fiction and went into the real world (to technically illegally stalk an under-aged child). Though, the manner in which Kokomi bumps into three-to-five other characters at every turn certainly paints the scenario of a dating-sim game well, and in a sense, the realistic feel of an actual school environment too; so I feel there are some working points that the show could potentially build upon, albeit very minor. Despite a confirmed cast of over thirty supposedly equally important characters, this episode does choose to have a rather centralized focus on two in particular, our aforementioned (in the summary) Kokomi and Chloe, the latter who leads the former on a wild goose chase of sorts that in turn enables us to get a proper introduction to just about every girl in school along with a nice tour of the campus setting that I reckon the whole rest of the show will take place in. In speaking of that, it’s actually the set design on Girlfriend (Kari) that grabs my attention the most (especially those majestically enormous staircases basking in the glory of afternoon sun-rays), with the soundtrack coming in as a close second; though, with both of these elements conventionally being accentuations that are usually never the forefront of attention, that commendation could just as much be a critique against what should be the core presentational elements of the show. Studio Silver Link‘s production here is something that I never would have imagined to come out of their hands after witnessing (and thoroughly enjoying) their adaptations of Nourin and Non Non Biyori (and digging both the art-style and art-quality of what could probably be considered their ace production in terms of visual presentation, Fate/kaleid liner Prisma☆Illya), as it even falls short to the studio’s less stylistic and allocated series. More so, Girlfriend (Kari)‘s presentation is one that uncannily reminds me of studio Hoods Entertainment‘s work with Fantasista Doll, and Kanojo ga Flag wo Oraretara, a style that I’ve never really had a liking towards personally. Similarly so, the character interactions, particularly through the voice-acting (ironically, it’s the Japanese voice actress playing a French girl who shoddily speaks Japanese who has the most vigor in her voice-work with her unintentionally bad French and her intentionally bad Japanese), come off as rather shallow and even somewhat forced. It’s an incredibly mellow premiere that doesn’t really suggest any higher levels of complexity on the horizon, but Girlfriend (Kari) seems to have firmly established its tone as a series. What comes from now on may be a lacking in depth; but if the show continues to ride its title hard enough (no signs of a male character making an appearance yet), it’ll at least be rid a handful of generic tropes revolving around a boy’s harem. The opening sequence’s featurette of four female characters in particular certainly seems to suggest there at least being an eventual hint of focus in the show’s narrative; but at the same time, if our most central characters leave a lot to be desired in their individual personalities and their interpersonal relationships, it begs the question of why even bother including twenty-five more if they’re going to be no more substantial.