What’s it about? Akebi Komichi is thrilled that she’s been accepted into the prestigious middle school her mother also attended, even though it will mean leaving the familiarity of her small country town behind and throwing herself into a cohort of rich kids. More than anything, she’s excited to wear the school’s sailor uniform. She and her mother embark on a quest to craft the suit from scratch… only to realize at the entrance ceremony that there’s been a terrible mix-up regarding the uniform policy.
This is going to be a bit of an odd one to talk about. Watching this premiere, I was impressed by the beauty before me: lush, detailed backgrounds and environments that felt lived-in and lovingly-crafted; characterization of young girls that felt earnest, cute without being too twee. I was ready to praise all of this, and then the episode used its gorgeous detail-oriented animation to meticulously depict a middle school girl clipping her toenails and smelling her own feet.
And I said “Well… okay. Okay. Well. Okay.”
Well, okay. Akebi’s Sailor Uniform is a beautifully-put-together show with a voyeuristic undercurrent, that doesn’t necessarily affect the overall experience but leaves it (at least, leaves me) feeling… off.
It’s about that lush, detail-orientated animation. The camera lingers on Komichi’s wiggling toes while she’s talking on the phone. Highlights the shine and viscosity of sweat or water droplets as they roll down her cheek. Doesn’t leer over her body or manufacture upskirt shots, per se, but it sure does lovingly craft every angle of her getting dressed into her beloved sailor uniform.
I’m sure it’s not an aspect that everyone will notice, and it’s not an aspect that will detract from everyone’s experience with the show. And it’s a fraught topic to discuss, because it’s not “fan service” in the traditional use of the word, not explicitly sexual imagery or framing or placing the female characters in compromising positions. There’s a scene of Komichi and her little sister in the bath together that manages to be very frank and un-leery about their nudity, which I was impressed by until I started noticing other things that the storyboarding did focus on with an adoring intensity: an extra-shiny pair of lips here, an extra-crinkly piece of fabric against a girl’s body there.
Then Komichi walks in on a new classmate mid-pedicure, and this habit becomes hard to ignore. And it… complicates things, because I genuinely do want to praise this show for its use of visual storytelling and characterization. I want to nod and smile and say this show did a great job using the visual medium to provide a window into the emotional day-to-day life of a pretty authentic-feeling young teen girl. I want to be able to celebrate the intricate, intimate picture this premiere builds without wondering if all this detail was put there for as fetish fuel for someone.
And it’s tricky, because all anime—all art!—is made for someone. Anime characters, anime girls, no matter their handling in their individual properties, are imaginary constructs designed for audience consumption. It may seem a circular, handwringing discussion to worry about this when it’s part and parcel of all creative industries, particularly this one. Yet I just can’t shake how the invited, implied method of consumption for Akebi feels oddly as though it has extra eyes and teeth. I just can’t shake my discomfort with the intimacy of some of these shots. The way this sweet-natured girl is placed so deliberately before us.
I want to talk about the sweet relationship between Komichi and her mother. I want to talk about the plot, which is cute but relies on a breakdown of communication that could have been avoided pretty easily. Komichi gets her dream of wearing a sailor uniform, only to turn up on her first day of school and discover that the uniform has been changed since her mother attended. Determined to honor her wish and her mother’s hard sewing work, Komichi resolves to attend in her sailor suit even if she won’t match the rest of the student body.
I want to talk about how that’s fun but ultimately silly, and wonder aloud if it there’s any cultural commentary in how the “modern” uniforms are more typically European-looking blazers, linking ideas of progress with ideas of Westernization and lending significance to Komichi’s little rebellion. I want to talk about all the nice patterns we saw in the fabric shop. I want to talk about the interplay of light and color. I want to talk about literally anything except teenage girls’ feet but by God the show really wants me to look at them.
I’m going to give this one the three-episode try, but it’s going to be a complicated one to engage with. I want, so badly, to just enjoy a nice little school story about a girl jumping out of her comfort zone and making friends against some lovely backdrops. I want to be able to put all this from my mind. But I think it will always be there and, for me personally, it will be difficult to shake. This review draws on my experience and yours may be different, and that’s okay: but if you were thinking of checking this one out, be aware it has these caveats crawling around in its construction.