SHOSHIMIN: How to become Ordinary – Episode 1

By: Alex Henderson July 7, 20240 Comments
A boy and a girl in high school uniforms looking surprisedly into the camera

What’s it about? Osanai and Kobato vow to “become ordinary” upon getting into high school together, but their plans to go get sweets are swiftly foiled when a friend of Kobato’s ropes him into helping solve the mysterious disappearance of a girl’s purse.

This premiere is lovely to look at, but left me feeling… not much of anything, which is unfortunate for what is (if its synopsis is to be believed) a mystery series. By all accounts I should be feeling a sense of intrigue and suspense, perhaps the delight of a case solved. Yet this episode floats in a strange in-between space where it’s simultaneously extremely down-to-earth, rooted in details of daily life that are richly drawn and articulated in the animations and background art; and lofty and wafty, symbolic and cerebral in a way that means I can’t get a grasp on anything.

A lush grassy landscape with stone steps descending through it, the sky blue and vibrant in the backdrop. Two young people stand in the right of the frame facing each other

I absolutely understand and appreciate the creative decision to keep character motivations under wraps early in the story, to show subtle interactions and let characterization speak for itself rather than feeling the need to explain everyone’s inner worlds and backstories. I am also always down for pretty set pieces that make a world feel real and lived-in. But maybe it’s too subtle and too pretty—the overall effect of SHOSHIMIN’s execution is this odd sense of distance between the audience and any of the humans on screen. Rather, it feels like there’s this (admittedly beautiful) glossy veil between you and the characters, dazzling the eye but ultimately preventing you from understanding what exactly is going on with anyone. What do you mean, you’re on a mission to become ordinary? You seem pretty normal to me as you are, kiddo—dare I say bland. All the lush background art and poetic dialogue in the world can’t keep an audience anchored if they can’t get attached to the characters.

The character with the most concrete motivations in this episode is our female lead, Osanai, and I just ended up feeling bad for her, both within the events of the story and in the meta context. She’s a quiet, shy little thing who spends most of the episode waiting for or hiding behind Kobato. All she wants is to go get a limited edition strawberry tart with him, and spends half the episode sitting on a bench awkwardly while he gets pulled into helping with the search for the purse. The cruel cliffhanger at the end of the episode—the closest it comes to genuine drama—is those coveted tarts getting ruined when someone steals her bike. I want to be interested in her as a protagonist, but I just feel sorry for her and have no idea if the storytelling is going to give her any kind of emotional resolution—or even focus or interiority.

Closeup of Kobato's face looking somber. Subtitle text reads: "An ordinary person must never stand out."

She also serves as Watson to Kobato’s Holmes as he talks through his hypothesis about who took the bag and where it is, and goes with him to help find it, all for a grand reveal that’s… well, sorry, but it’s a teen boy stealing and hiding a classmate’s bag because he got embarrassed about a love letter, so it’s not exactly a gripping climax. There are ways to make the most mundane, everyday mysteries and conundrums feel exciting and worthy of the detective fiction framework; SHOSHIMIN opted for none of them and it feels, ironically, very ordinary, in a way that makes for dull viewing. Osanai being the nervous sounding board for a very boring “aha!” moment does not build my confidence that she will get to be an interesting character in her own right.

With its quiet, sober tone, gorgeously detailed setting, and focus on mundane yet significant schoolyard mysteries (from the point of view of a boy trying his best to fly under the radar, of course), the whole thing is reminiscent of the 2012 KyoAni series Hyouka. The big exception is that the characters in Hyouka were zanier and a little more archetypal, something SHOSHIMIN’s grounded approach is perhaps trying to avoid. That will definitely work for some people, but I, personally, felt like this premiere was bereft of energy. I don’t want to say it’s style over substance, because it seems clear that there’s something bubbling carefully under the surface with these characters, but… between that floaty detachment and the way the supposed female lead is sidelined and characterized, I’m not super inspired to stick around and wait for the show to dive into those hidden layers.  

About the Author : Alex Henderson

Alex Henderson is a writer and managing editor at Anime Feminist. They completed a doctoral thesis on queer representation in young adult genre fiction in 2023. Their short fiction has been published in anthologies and zines, their scholarly work in journals, and their too-deep thoughts about anime, manga, fantasy novels, and queer geeky stuff on their blog.

Read more articles from Alex Henderson

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