Amagi Brilliant Park (2014)
Look at the sky, it’s Magic Hour!
Being the all-out anime aficionado that I am, I’ve encountered an array of weird and wonderful small-screen series; from the loopy gender switching parody, Gonna be the Twin-Tail!! (2014), to the boobalicious T&A gems Maken-Ki! Two (2014) and the High School DxD saga. But I’ve never come across anything quite like Amagi Brilliant Park, a series that mixes colorful comic tomfoolery with quirky and unusual drama, the 13-episode anime (plus OVA) stunningly brought to life by Kyoto Animation, the company responsible for producing famed shows such as Free! – Eternal Summer (2014) and Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions! (2012).
Based on the Japanese light novel series of the same name — penned by Shoji Gatoh and illustrated by Yuka Nakajima — Amagi Brilliant Park follows the handsome yet egotistical Seiya Kanie, a popular high school senior with a superiority complex, Seiya a former child star, well versed in the world of showbiz. His untroubled existence, however, goes topsy-turvy when he’s forced at gunpoint (via a magical musket) to go out on a date with a mysterious golden-brown-haired transfer student named Isuzu Sento, a busty babe with a stoic, straight-faced personality. Things get even more bizarre when Isuzu takes Seiya to the mismanaged Amagi Brilliant Park, a rundown funfair (picture a cheap and nasty version of Disneyland) where the rides and attractions range from being exceedingly dangerous to lame, rickety and dull; not to mention the costumed performers, who are either bored, pugnacious or just plain rude.
Seiya soon discovers that the badly maintained Amagi is no ordinary locale, the adventureland actually staffed by refugees from an enchanted kingdom known as Maple Land, the cloaked thespians and behind-the-scene workers actually denizens of said empire. As it turns out, harvesting Animus — an energy derived from the happiness of park attendees — is what keeps these beings here on earth; but, with the number of guests vastly dwindling, collecting Animus has become all the more difficult. And so, Seiya learns that his seemingly ‘random’ trip to Amagi was no sheer coincidence, Isuzu hailing from the same magical domain, the buxom beauty residing in the staff dormitory located inside the park.
With little time to waste, Isuzu quickly informs Seiya that Amagi Brilliant Park was facing serious financial turmoil (due to a complicated land-use contract), the playground carnival only months away (three to be exact) from having its doors close forever, thus leaving the supernatural creatures without any jobs or place to call home — their mere survival, and very existence, hanging in the balance. But, if the park could somehow attract its yearly quota of 500,000 visitors (before July 31st) — a near-impossible task given the current state of things — the Maple Land critters would be free to keep the exhibition open, Amagi escaping a corporate redevelopment led by a greedy real-estate tycoon. It’s here where Seiya realizes that he’d been brought to Amagi, by a desperate Isuzu, to take over the reins, the ex-celebrity set to replace 14-year-old Latifah Fleuranza, the park’s prior handler, who also happens to be the First Princess of the faraway realm.
Though skeptical at first, Seiya eventually agrees to take on the daunting duty as the park’s new manager, our protagonist compelled by a pledge he vaguely remembers making to a young girl years earlier, a girl who very much reminds him of Latifah, Seiya hoping to make good on a promise he was unable to fulfill as a child. Now, employing every trick in the book, along with all the resources at his disposal, the 18-year-old perfectionist sets out to save Amagi, the responsibility of the future of the park — and the fate of its crazed inhabitants — resting on his untested shoulders, the go-getting Seiya drawing on the vast array of skills and knowledge he’d gained from working in the entertainment industry years earlier.
Delightfully directed by Yasuhiro Takemoto — best known for helming Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu (2003) and Full Metal Panic! – The Second Raid — Amagi Brilliant Park boasts some of the finest animation for a TV anime to date — the images are crisp and vibrant, the movement zippy and fluent, and the character designs distinctive, attractive and highly expressive. The voluptuous Isuzu is a delectable highlight, her signature scarlet uniform, which resembles that of a British Army Bandsman, really dazzles (especially the sleeveless summer version), her lolita-like mini, which holds her silver-white-and-gold muzzleloader, particularly racy, too; but don’t be fooled, Amagi Brilliant Park has little in the way of fanservice — outside of short skirts and scantily-clad fairies — most of its bawdiness generally on the tasteful side.
Granted, the idea of imbuing a fantastical place — a theme park — with actual fantasy is pure genius, Amagi fully embracing this cool concept; what’s especially unique, though, and what truly sticks out, are the muppet-like mascots — who (in fact) are otherworldly visitors in disguise, parading around as masked performers, these foreigners surviving off the glee and laughter generated by the park patrons. The hat-wearing, mouse-faced mascot, Moffle — who’s constantly butting heads with Amagi’s smug new superior, Seiya — is a genuine standout, this Mickey Mouse-type entertainer sharing an uncanny resemblance to Bonta-kun from director Takemoto’s Full Metal Panic! A coincidence? Unlikely, this crafty titbit working as an ironic running joke, the combative hothead getting extremely wound-up whenever he’s accused of being a rip-off — which he kinda sorta of is!
Aiding the muffling Moffle are two other Maple Land ‘artists,’ who (no surprises here) are equally as amusing; we have short-tempered sniper-trained violinist Macaron, (who knows a thing or two about explosives), this music fairy’s outer shell being that of a cutesy sheep; and his debaucherous partner in crime, the flower fairy Tiramie, a pink-and-fluffy kitty-cat who, despite his kawaii appearance, possesses the personality of a thirty-something horndog (whenever the kiddies aren’t around, of course), his lewd and lustful shenanigans supplying oodles of laughs. Needless to say, this bantering threesome is a downright hoot, their dysfunctional dynamic, ridiculous scheming and comical antics oh-so entertaining! Interestingly, each of these fairies has been given their very own sentence suffix, which is added to the end of most of their dialogue — it’s playful subtitles, such as these, that make Amagi such a joy to watch.
We’re also introduced to a ton of fun side players, these characters adding their own quirk or eccentricity to the zany band of pageant workers. We meet the Elementario, four fanciable fairies — klutzy Kobory, the cheerful Muse, slack Salama and airhead Sylphy — each able to manipulate (to some degree) the four elements — water, fire, earth and wind — which they flaunt during regular stage shows, wowing the audience with their bells-and-whistles act; an episode that sees the foxy foursome trapped inside of Maple Castle, after its automatic defense system is unwittingly activated, is pure pastime bliss, the gals compelled to exercise teamwork (which they’re really no good at) in order to reset the device, this via a bonkers set of trials and tribulations. Audiences also find out more about the fragile First Princess, Latifah, this lil’ miss complete with her own tragic backstory — one that’s sure to tug at the heartstrings.
Over the course of the series, viewers also encounter a feast of other madcap Maple Landers, including a jittery crocodile, a shark that’s afraid of his own terrifying reflection, a deviant triceratops (employed as head of sales), a crybaby dragon and a pervy MMO-addicted ferret, the latter having gone missing (for 10 odd years) inside the park’s very own ‘Trial By Fire’ attraction, the rodent ‘presumed dead’ while seeking treasure inside. And let’s not forget the ‘common folk’ characters, who pop up from time to time to cause mischief and mayhem for our principal cast; there’s a group of devilish children, Isuzu the primary target of their impish actions, and three adorable adolescent girls, hired as extra hands around the poorly staffed park — one is stabbed by her brother pre-interview (hilarious but random) with another stating to have experience in AV during her face-to-face screening, the Amagi mascots mistaking the acronym as ‘Adult Video,’ Tiramie (in particular) convinced that this cutie-pie were a former porn star.
Amagi Brilliant Park is so unorthodox and offbeat that some of its character names have actually been lifted from notable rap and hip-hop artists (who’d have thought, huh!); Isuzu Sento is a play on 50 Cent, Seiya Kanie Kanye West, and yep, you guessed it, Princess Latifah derived from Queen Latifah.
Marvelously adapted for telly, Amagi Brilliant Park manages to ideally balance drama with comedy, the narrative simple yet charming. Moreover, the show never takes itself too seriously, most of the humor coming from the ludicrous setups; there’s loads of situational hijinks with misconceptions aplenty, proceedings enlivened by the at-odds ‘relationship’ of our bickering heroes — chiefly Moffle and Seiya. On Seiya, his sharp-witted remarks bounce well off Isuzu’s deadpan delivery. Yes, (at times) Seiya can be a bit of a conceited jerk, but he’s still shown to be awfully vulnerable, the hard-working high schooler made out to be a pretty affable guy. The same can be said about Isuzu, who lacks simple social etiquette, her shoot-first-ask-questions-later temperament due to mere naiveté, this bombshell lacking the skills required to approach certain ‘human’ scenarios — asking for help, being good example. Either way, our protagonists are delightful and wacky yet relatable and flawed, both Seiya and Isuzu hauling around their own personal demons.
Though episodic in structure, with the overarching narrative moving ever-so-slowly in the background, Amagi Brilliant Park is inventive to a tee; the obligatory ‘beach trip’ has been replaced by a wet-n-wild pirate escapade, our heroes forced to deal with a bunch of charmed swashbucklers wreaking havoc around the pool attraction, while an episode that sees the over-worked Seiya ‘too sick to go to school’ emerges as an apex, the freed-up park personnel obliged to don a life-like suit of Seiya and attend class in his stead, each character causing a whirlwind of (unintentional) commotion for our bedridden boy wonder. My favorite eps, however, are the riotous OVA, which revolves around Seiya’s birthday, where a bunch of ill-timed mishaps threaten to foil his surprise name-day bash (amongst other things), and the OVA-like episode 13 — which takes place outside of the main storyline — centered on a promotional video that winds up being more dubious than enticing.
Just like a majority of other anime, Amagi comes garnished with a bright and breezy opener and closer, these bookending each 24-minute adventure; the intro, ‘Extra Magic Hours,’ performed by Akino, is enthusiastically upbeat, while the stained-glass inspired visuals laid over the end track, ‘Erementario de Aimasho,’ really elevate the light-rock-y number sung by Brilliant4 — a group comprising of the Japanese actresses who voice the Elementario ladies.
In closing, I’m happy to report that Kyoani have another winner on their hands, Amagi Brilliant Park wholly delivering on its strong premise — this, no doubt, one of its biggest virtues — the anime bolstered by a host of endearing characters. Just like the titular wonderland, this series is bound to appeal to a broad range of audiences; there’s literally something for everybody to enjoy — be it gags, gimmickry or heart. So, step right up to the turnstiles, folks, I can assure you that once you walk into Amagi Brilliant Park you won’t come out disappointed.
4.5 / 5 – Highly Recommended
Reviewed by S-Littner
Amagi Brilliant Park is released through Madman Entertainment Australia