Three high school girls are putting together a limited-time shop called “PARK” in Japan’s Harajuku. One day, aliens come to Earth with the intent to steal the famed district’s culture. At the same time, a mysterious girl appears. The three girls band together to defeat the alien threat and protect their beloved Harajuku.
Source: Anime News Network
If I were to describe Urahara in one word, it would be “pastel.” Adding “as fuck” is up to each individual’s discretion. Given a few more words, I could assure you that this is one of the most frustrating sorts of premieres: the kind that’s a slog until the last five minutes or so, at which point a promising hook tries to tempt you back in spite of the 15 miserable minutes prior.
Urahara is a pretty series, clearly made with love for the fashion of Harajuku and drawn in a sketchy style to make everything as flat and pastel and cute, cute, cute as tooth-rottingly possible. It’s like walking in a world of notebook stickers. Unlike a lot of cute series, though, this one gains a lot of success through an ironclad dedication to its aesthetic, reimagining even the invading aliens and deadly missiles as doodle-style non-threats. That’ll be a problem if the show ever wants to establish anything like actual tension, but for now I can at least praise its commitment.
That ending hook holds a lot of promise, too. Since the aliens are out to steal creativity, it means our three magical girls can make up literally anything to combat their opponents—an open invitation to both surrealism and shenanigans. There’s already the barest hint of that in the premiere in the form of a talking fried shrimp mascot, which is then rendered as an actual real-world fried shrimp with a face animated over it in the next episode preview. Those bits of the episode are actually clever, and this could certainly be a series that thrives on art direction and Wes Anderson-levels of carefully constructed quirk.
The big hang-up in this first episode are our three protagonists, who’re flatter than the paper they’re painted on. More than half of the premiere is dedicated to telling us things about them and what they do, and “telling” is precisely the word for it. Kotoko in particular speaks entirely in exposition in a manner that fast outstrips “ditz” and hurtles into bad writing.
There’s also not a lot of weight behind the stakes established here. We’re told that these girls… these high school-aged girls… love the shop they run in Harajuku, and all have fashionable dreams (there’s a nice line about wanting to create clothes for all sorts of girls, though it kind of falls flat when there’s not a bit of body diversity in the designs), but it’s all lip-service without any sense of what they’ve sacrificed or how this fits into their overall lives. They’re veritable nonpersons I didn’t really like spending time with.
By the time the credits rolled, I’d wound up playing the Shows I Like Game (where I ask myself “what do I like about this uneven show?” and “do things I already like do it better?”), and Urahara didn’t tally up as a “win” for me. It’s certainly artistically distinct, has visible potential in its sense of humor, features a pleasant lack of fanservice in the many outfit swaps, and its main cast might yet become tolerable. I’ll keep an ear to the ground on if it does anything interesting, but for now it’s a drop for me, at least.