First Look: Adachi and Shimamura

Alternative title(s): Adachi to Shimamura
Light Novel Adaptation by Tezuka Productions
Streaming on Funimation

Premise

High school delinquents Sakura Adachi and Hougetsu Shimamura spend their days cutting class, playing ping-pong in their secret hiding spot, observing the rest of school toiling away at gym and cultivating a relationship they both realize can grow beyond mere friendship anytime soon.

Aqua’s verdict: (Not) Like Other Romances

As the apocryphal Native American parable goes, there are two wolves inside director Satoshi Kuwabara. One wants to make a witty indie drama laced with symbolic and a dash of magical realism. The other one, is really, really horny. It’s impossible to talk about Adachi and Shimamura without mentioning the male gaze. Kuwahara’s lecherous cinematography is the first thing anyone paying attention will notice about this show, and I can imagine it calling into question just how genuine this show wants to be about portraying the blossoming romance between its two endearing leads. It takes one heck of a lot of skill — especially as a straight, cisgender man — to properly distinguish between portraying teen sexuality, and sexualizing teens, and Adachi and Shimamura doesn’t quite make the cut. With the camera perpetually on the same height of the hems of their dangerously short skirts, Kuwahara’s directing fails to depict the girls as physically attractive to each other without inviting the viewer into their mutual attraction in ways that will satisfy voyeurs more than it will please armchair psychologists.

Nevertheless, fans of character work will still find a lot to love here. The titular characters defy easy classification both as individuals and as a couple — a breath of fresh air in a genre that thrives on  familiar dynamics. While we spend most of this first episode in Shimamura’s head, the more introverted, melancholy Adachi gets more than enough moments for herself to sell their relationship as a mutually nurturing one. These are characters that truly feel like the truants and petty shoplifters they are supposed to be, teenagers as an indie rock song would describe them — listless and detached, but witty, levelheaded and ultimately, ready to tackle life’s big questions in their own way. Unfortunately, the secondary cast isn’t similarly fleshed out. Both Nagafuji and Hino are written as rejects from a long-forgotten incarnation of that one anime with four girls in a club doing nothing, and seem to only really exist just so illustrate how “not like other girls” Adachi and Shimamura are. What they end up doing, however, is making Adachi and Shimamura exactly like other shows whenever they’re around.

When the spotlight is solely on the titular duo, however, this anime manages to scratch an itch for its kind of ridiculous, but relatable low-stakes banter I haven’t felt since 2017’s utterly bonkers Seiren. The adaptation’s scattershot chronology keeps the viewer on their toes as it ping-pongs between Adachi and Shimamura’s flirtatious teasings, bizarre musings on cicadas, and encounters with stranded astronauts, yet in the end still manages to tell a compelling story. Stories that focus heavily on romance, or even just friendship, are hard to write, because their entire appeal rests on the shoulders of a single question: “Do you like seeing these characters be together?” If this is the question by which Adachi and Shimamura is to be judged, the answer will be a resounding “yes”. The only problem for now is, however, that this is not the only question on Satoshi Kuwahara’s mind. I hope, for his sake, that he’ll realize sooner rather than later that for those questions, there is really only one correct answer: “You do know that’s illegal, right?”

2 thoughts on “First Look: Adachi and Shimamura

  1. Maybe I’m just too inured to anime’s constant lecherous gaze at teenage girls, but I honestly wasn’t troubled by anything I saw in the premiere episode. I guess I should go back and look at it a second time, more critically.

    Although there are tons of crappy romances in anime, it’s one of the few genres that I feel certain will produce a gem at least once a year. While it’s impossible to tell yet whether this show will ultimately be such a gem, this was easily my favorite first episode of the season, heartfelt, low-key, and bewitching in its character dynamics.

    • I would broadly agree with you on the topic of being mostly desensitized by anime’s heavy reliance on male gaze. It’s just the kind of thing where you roll your eyes, think “Yup, that’s just how anime is” and try to ignore to focus on other aspects that are more worthy of your time and thought. This kind of stuff *annoys* me, but it doesn’t *piss me off* in the way the actual text being objectifying would.

      Then again, I did end up pointing out the heavy reliance on male gaze here because it to me is emblematic of what appears to be the show’s core identity crisis — its inability to choose whether it wants to be a heartfelt romance or a “haha, girls grabbing each other’s boobs” kind of straight male fantasy. In other words, if the lecherous camera is there *in spite of* the text, or *because of* it. I really hope it’ll be the former that wins out, though, because as you said, this one’s got potential.

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