Jel’s Final Impressions
With its unique premise, endearing cast, and lovely presentation, Engaged to the Unidentified stretches the bounds of what to expect from a 4-koma anime adaptation. It’s bright and bold and colorful but not without the subtlety and nuance necessary to tell a decent story. Kobeni’s path from regular high school girl to potential fianceé is a slow but steady one, and when you mix in some well placed supernatural elements it breathes some new life into the genre.
While new ideas are great, it’s really the cast that makes the series so endearing. Kobeni makes for a believable and sympathetic lead as she tries to figure out where her bombshell engagement fits in with the rest of her life plan. Hakuya evolves from a silent background character into her caring and devoted friend, regardless of her final decision. And finally Mashiro manages to avoid being too precocious for her own good, striking the right balance between being Hakuya’s responsible little sister and the fact that she’s still 10 years old. Their time together produces some of the most delightful Slice of Life scenes in recent memory. As Kobeni and Hakuya’s relationship blossoms and Mashiro stays just on the right side of adorable, the show becomes a joy to watch.
It’s really only big sister Benio who outlives her welcome. She does have an important role to play in the story as the older person who has seen the whole situation play out from the beginning, but she ends up with far more screen time than she needs to accomplish that. I’ll concede her scenes are amusing in moderation, but her one joke is mercilessly beaten to death and then some, well past the point of being funny. Benio ends up being the biggest individual reason I still have to add “…for a 4-koma” when I say “Engaged to the Unidentified was a good series”.
What that means is I couldn’t shake the feeling that Engaged was in over its head. It aimed high with a story full of potentially complex characters and relationships and just couldn’t quite overcome the format to reach it. Benio was the biggest offender, but really all the characters spend the bulk of the show defined by their one joke. In addition to Benio being a pedophile, other hits included Kobeni has big boobs! Mashiro keeps getting Nessie in her capsule toys! Konoha is just as obsessed with Benio as Benio is obsessed with little girls! And the list goes on. You can even tell in several scenes where the 4 panel strip starts and ends, awkwardly breaking the flow of the episode to finish the mandatory punch line. This was fine for the first couple episodes but as the series wore on and the jokes grew stale I couldn’t help but feel frustrated.
Fortunately as some of the later episodes dragged – particularly the ones involving Konoha’s sub plot – they managed to bail themselves out with some serious drama bomb or plot twist near the end of the episode. In fact, the entire final episode feels different than the rest of the series, putting a lovely, cinematic cap on the story so far. It almost serves as a tease of how a good show could have been great with a little more fine tuning. Even so, I’m still counting Engaged as a net positive and a step in the right direction for Dogakobo as they’ve become a studio to watch every season. This may not be their masterpiece, but I’m further convinced they’re capable of making one in the future.
Marlin’s Final Impressions
I started out loving Engaged to the Unidentified. It was a very cute romantic comedy that seemed to want to tell a heartfelt story about a strange situation. In fact, for half of the season I was very much enjoying how the relationship between Kobeni and Hayuka grew as they got to know each other beyond their titles as fiances. Then, sometime around then, the show decided to slam on the breaks and I became almost immediately disenchanted. I know this was based on a 4-koma, but after Kotoura-san no show will ever get a pass on that technicality anymore.
The primary offender was absolutely horrible characters, and the comedy that was basically their only purpose in the story. While Kobeni started becoming more rounded as a character, every individual around her remained flat as a board. Mashiro is naive but pretends to be older, Hakuya is silent, Konoha loves Benio, and Benio, god I could write a goddamned thesis on Benio. She is by far the worst character in the entire series and drags down any sense of tension or plot progression with her scene chewing ham. Her one-note joke is so unfunny that it managed to take what was a touching if flawed finale and totally ruin it. For once, I thought, the show might have a serious moment without that harpy ruining it with her presence, but no, it was not meant to be.
Not that I was super pleased with that finale before her unwelcome intrusion. That the entire crux of drama in the first arc was all a big misunderstanding was ridiculous. Not to mention it made absolutely no sense. If Hakuya and Mashiro were only going to be gone a few days, why did they take back everything? Why would Mashiro leave the message up to Hakuya when she knows he’s bad at communication? Hell, why didn’t they tell anyone in the first place? It’s not like they couldn’t have told Kobeni or her mom “Oh, hey, we’re going to our village for a little, see you soon!” If they had stuck to the original drama and actually had it about something that made them called back to the village, it would have had way more impact. Instead, we get this forced drama with Kobeni magically getting sick. Simply put, it was disappointing.
My last problem, the one I had the biggest disagreement with Jel on, was the state of the relationship between Kobeni and Hakuya by the end of this show. Despite all the supposed growth that has happened over the series, it still seems like things are the same as shortly after she first met him. By the holidays given it has to have at least been two to three months since Kobeni and Hakuya first met, and yet when she is in public she still denies any direct feelings for Hakuya. This is very frustrating as we get plenty scenes of the two of them together where it seems she has accepted their relationship, and yet the minute pressure is applied from outside the couple she crumples back into indecision. I feel with the amount of time they have had to get to know each other, it is unreasonable for both Kobeni and Hakuya to not have figured out whether they wish to pursue a relationship. Any prolonging is obviously just there to keep the status quo in check and it’s incredibly frustrating to see it play out that way.
In the end, all that’s left is a lot of bitter resentment for what this show has become. The first time Kobeni said she was comfortable with the engagement, I thought we’d actually see some growth as the two became more like a couple. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t saying you’re comfortable with being engaged to someone at the very least the same as saying you’re willing to be romantic with them? If so, why does Kobeni then dodge every question on the true progress of their relationship? It was a maddening case of a dog chasing its own tail as the narrative just ground to a standstill and new characters brought their own flat one-off jokes to the table. This all culminated to me dreading each new episode, keeping on in the vain hope it might get back in the right direction, and ultimately being disappointed.
Lifesong’s Final Impressions
Every so often I find an anime that I just completely fall in love with. Engaged to the Unidentified was one of those. If you were to ask me why I loved this show as much as I did I would tell you two things. First is that I adore the characters and their interactions. Engaged struck the right balance between comedy and drama. The pacing always fit the mood for someone in high school exploring the idea of an arranged marriage. The second thing I would tell is you is that I loved the setting. Good slice of life is all about the setting. The mystical undertones that grew stronger and stronger as the show progressed struck all the right notes for me.
From start to finish I don’t have a single complaint for this anime. I see other people complaining about Benio, but I thought she was both funny and a vital part of what made the show tick. The fact that this anime is a 4-koma adaptation didn’t drag it down in any kind of meaningful way. Kobeni’s development as she comes to understand both herself and Hakuya was always fun to watch. In particular I loved way Kobeni’s opinions of her situation transitioned as she grew to understand Hakuya. Benio is a constant troll who is out for attention. Her motivation is suspect at a glance, but her episodes of acting up are a way to hide her worries for Kobeni. Benio’s antics are on the extreme side, but that only makes them more amusing. Hakuya and Mashiro have a great dynamic as they play off the way he doesn’t say much and she explains most things for him. The way this anime explores their background was a selling point for the series. It often left me guessing and wanting to know more.
It is true that Engaged to the Unidentified didn’t follow the typical romance saga of most anime romcoms. The idea that getting married is an established end goal sets a different mood. No the characters don’t fret over a first kiss. There is no establishment of dating in the traditional sense because an engagement trumps that. Mashiro even hijacks the one date that Hakuya and Kobeni go on. I see all the above as a positive. I think this was a refreshing take on the genre and while I am happy with how it ended I am sad to see it go. I suppose it is the mark of good Slice of Life when the ending of each episode leaves you feeling good, but also wanting to see more. Who knows, maybe we will see a second season. I can hope right?