[Review] Urara Meirocho – episode 1

On turning 15, selected girls are invited to train to become fortune tellers under an ‘urara’. There is strong competition for apprenticeships, but one girl, Chiya, has come in from the mountains with no idea what an urara is or even how to behave around other people.

Urara Meirocho is a great example of a show that could work really well for children… if it weren’t packed full of the sexualisation of children. It’s cute, colourful and shows off a whimsical world inspired by Edo Japan with shades of Spirited Away or My Neighbor Totoro – right down to including a catbus!

A bus with a cat's face decorating the front of it drives down a street in Edo Japan as Chiya and a group of animals look on in awe.

It doesn’t matter how much I like the world a series is crafting though, it is really hard to get over the constant and often non-consensual sexualisation of these girls, who are apparently 15 but look more like 10-year-olds with breasts.

Chiya sits on the lap of a girl in traditional Japanese clothing with long black hair, who Chiya just knocked over., as Chiya lifts up her shirt in apology. Subtitle: "When you apologize, you have to show your belly!"

Chiya grew up with animals, so she’s learned from copying them that you show you’re sorry by showing your tummy! Only, unlike animals she actually wears clothes, so she has decided completely independently that this means showing the actual skin on her belly rather than just adopting a submissive pose! Although she does the pose sometimes as well, so there’s no internal consistency to her point whatsoever! Anyway, it’s cute. (Just ignore the underboob.)

Chiya lies on her back with her shirt pulled up to her breasts, arms and legs curled up in a submissive pose, while woodland creatures around her do the same. Subtitle: "I'm really sorry!"

Gets a lot less “cute” when she starts enforcing this standard with the girls around her, who are naturally distressed and mortified.

Chiya is smiling between two embarrassed and tearful classmates as she pulls their clothes off to expose their torsos.

And when the novelty starts to wear off this very thin and much-repeated joke, she adds a bit of variety by flipping up her new friend’s skirt – in order to look for a tail. She’s so cute.

One of Chiya's classmates is on all fours, looking behind her as her skirt is pulled up to reveal frilly white underwear. Another classmate's startled face is on screen. Subtitle: What're you doing, Chiya?!"

However, when her friends figure out that her very long hair is actually really soft and smooth, she becomes very uncomfortable with them touching and leaning on her uninvited. Fancy that.

All three of Chiya's new classmates are leaning on her with their eyes closed, looking content as they touch Chiya's hair, but Chiya is not happy. Subtitle: "Don't calm down on me there!"

In an alternate universe somewhere they have skipped this aspect entirely, and the series is about four very different girls who become friends as apprentices to a fortune teller in a tea shop. They all have different backgrounds, different cultural customs and different expectations from their apprenticeship. Over time they make mistakes, work hard to pass their fortune telling exams and learn which style of fortune telling each of them is most suited to.

All of this is present in the text, and on that premise alone I would have been very interested. It could make for a decent supernatural school show, but they aren’t even handling those aspects of the story well. I was most intrigued when they explained that there are different types of fortune telling and they would eventually choose which to specialise in – only for three of the four to reveal they had already chosen their specialism. What’s the point of a hook if you’re just going to dilute it?

Short haired captain Saku is flanked by two of her subordinates, both thinking the same thing as hard as they can. Subtitle: "I... I... I... I want to catch the Captain's cold!"

We also need to talk about the presence of yuri undertones – and overtones. Chiya and the other girls, Chiya and the tea shop owner, their interactions are dressed up as yuri for titillation purposes only. Then, at the end of the episode, we find out that the short-haired and gallant police captain has two subordinates with a massive crush on her, played for comedy purposes. It’s very unlikely this will be treated seriously, and it will almost definitely be mined for the male gaze.

A crowd of women in traditional Japanese clothes in the middle of a beautiful Edo-era street with sakura blossoms and a blue sky in the background, look on in horror as Chiya raises her shirt all the way up to her breasts.

Ultimately, the tummy-baring and yuri-tinged interactions are presented as the main draw of Urara Meirocho, which makes it a hard pass from me. If you’re reading this site then chances are no amount of pretty aesthetics or a decent premise at heart can offset regular child-underboob.

Read the ANN Preview Guide review.

 

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  • Ashen

    Exactly. Before I read any reviews I was toying with watching this show purely on its visual strength; the girls’ designs are adorable and decently memorable, and the detailed, texture-rich backgrounds look lovely!

    I cannot stomach the cliched yuri-bait. If you want to tell a story about lesbian love, by all means do so. But don’t play it as this half-assed “joke” where characters display horrible, invasive behavior that’s written off because “they’re gurlz lolhawt.”

  • It’s yuri.
    Well, it’s a nuance off straight-out yuri, but lesbians seem to love this sort of stuff. I mean, the stuff that requires and enables yuri googles at every turn.
    The point is to imagine the deep “friendship” between the main characters and so on. But, again, that’s what most lesbian manga in Japan does, so who am I to hate on lesbians? I’m not one, they know better and they do vote with their money.

    P.S. swap “male gaze” for “female gaze” and your article would make more sense. You should have started with the word “yuri”. Heck, the whole fucking town excludes males from living in it. Males get epsilon screentime. How the fuck could such a thing work well for children?

    • Peter

      Yuri is a genre of anime and manga whose largest audience in Japan is adult men. In this case, the use of “male gaze” would be correct since the depiction of females Urara Meirocho are intended to please its predominantly male audience. From my own experience with the series, I’m guessing Amelia meant the themes of the story were idyllic and simple enough to appeal to children except that the female characters were repeatedly sexualized, excluding any potential audience besides the usual yuri demographic.

      • This is it – although I question whether yuri as a manga genre is mostly for men, I have a feeling that may be a myth, but there’s no denying that the yuri which gets made into anime tends to be published in magazines targeting men. Urara Meirocho is no exception, making male gaze extremely relevant.

        I’m well outside my knowledge comfort zone here though, very happy for more informed commenters to step in and give us more insight into how the yuri market works.

        Either way, I think Urara Meirocho is pretty and adorable when you overlook the constant underboob.

        • Aaaaand disregard what I said, because the fifth episode started really fucking creepy.

          It introduces the “Wedding Kimono Festival”, based on the legend how the Myriad Gods are searching for brides among the girls in the town made of only girls.
          And it’s all about preserving traditions, what with showing legs being damedame.
          And another tradition is to ARREST males who have come to the festival to flirt.
          And they just had to remind me of my misgivings about the Aria manga.

          This no longer reads as yuri-baiting, but just as male gaze indeed. You know, the audience is the gods, any other guys are not allowed near the girls, the girls must maintain their purity (lesbian sex is pure), and the audience gets to choose any girl they want… damn. Couldn’t they make the fucking gods obviously female too? Preferably her own mother being the god she sees.

          This type of tonal dissonance is a sign of bad writing and subpar series. Not that it was particularly good anyway.

          Also I’m quite pissed off at the whole traditionalist crap. That’s also tonal dissonance, arguably.

          • That’s such a shame. 🙁 I get the impression there’s a massive audience out there for true yuri, if only anime studios would be a little better at providing it!

          • And then, to make the contrast even starker, episode 6 had no crap like ep5, and even no fanservice, instead focusing on comedy.

            It’s an inconsistent series indeed, but for now there’s a chance I won’t regret watching it.