What’s it about? Chio is a first year high schooler who just wants to go through life unnoticed. Unfortunately, her daily life to school is plagued with trials both absurd and mundane.
The good and bad thing about short-form comedy like this is that on the one hand, what you see is a pretty good indicator all the way through; on the other hand, if you’re not hooked by the premiere, sticking around for three episodes probably isn’t going to yield different results. As far as Chio’s School Road goes, I left charmed enough to overlook the series’ small but persistent irritations.
“Socially awkward protagonist with a snarky internal monologue” shows are glutting the market—you can’t throw a rock without hitting some dude who cheevo’d his way to a hot fantasy girlfriend or two. But it’s still a rarer archetype to see on female characters, particularly ones who’re allowed to look awkward and ridiculous. Even Watamote couldn’t rebuild the industry entirely on its own.
Chio might not exactly be novel, but she’s pretty fun to hang around with. She’s not the kind of character who’s actively disdainful of other girls, but rather worries that being noticed would mean making a fool of herself and being mocked for the rest of her days. By the end of the episode it’s established that while she’s not angling to be noticed in general, she would like some friends, and there’s already one prospective candidate.
Since Chio doesn’t have that snide tone that makes a lot of these characters very grating very quickly, her wild daydreams settle into being both fun to watch and pretty relatable. The second half of the episode begins with the eternal social quandary of “is this person saying hi to me or is there someone behind me,” and Chio’s solutions to socially awkward situations often involve taking cues from her favorite video game, Some Game About Assassins That’s Definitely Not By Ubisoft.
It’s also not a particularly cringe-focused show. Instead, escalation is the name of the game. Chio’s decision to overcome a road blockade by walking on rooftops briefly involves ducking under a window while an old man brushes his teeth. Except she’s right under the window, and toothpaste spit is falling onto her glasses in horrifying close-up detail. Dialing from cartoonishness into hyper-realistic grotesque is a time-honored technique, but those sensitive to gross-out stuff might want to take care.
The opening credits, meanwhile, go even further by implying Chio’s journey will take her to far-off fantasy lands and the realms of being a cool action star, so it seems likely that the absurd humor is only going to get more daring.
Then, of course, there are those minor irritations I mentioned: namely, a whole lot of boob nonsense. Some of it seems to be played for comedic intent, as Chio recoils in horror from several ridiculously flappy breastises in the opening; but plenty of it is plain old nonsense too: Chio’s chest has a lovingly animated bounce while she’s gaming, and a poor young mother can’t even breathe without sending the water balloons under her shirt a-wobblin’.
It shows an irritating lack of self-awareness for a show that seems to be gearing up for a fair number of sex jokes in the future. Even here, Chio’s rooftop adventure ends with her unknowingly walking out of the parking garage of a Love Hotel, cuing looks from bystanders. That would work a whole lot better if the protagonist were actually immune to these things and not showing off an un-emphasized but definitely present panty shot every time she takes a tumble.
It wasn’t a dealbreaker for me—Chio is pretty great and this show’s humor is definitely my style—but it was a disappointment. It’s still too rare to see comedic heroines who aren’t also made a subject for sexual consumption, and I guess this show won’t be hitting that mark either. Still, there’s a lot of good here, and thankfully there’s never actually a component of active sexual menace. I’m in for at least a few more episodes.