Rice paddies and those that call them home: a songbird, a couple of farmers and a girl who runs for the pure joy of it. She pauses to gather herself, thinking of her favorite idol and her goal of making friends at her new school, before throwing herself into a cartwheel that turns into a handspring, followed by an arcing leap and a perfectly executed corkscrew—well, almost perfect. She lands in the irrigation ditch. This opening sequence captures the threads of exuberance, elegance, and awkward coming-of-age that weave through the rest of the episode. Akebi Komichi is a protagonist who is both heartwarming in her earnestness and vulnerable in the way she wears her dreams on her sleeve. In fact, one of those dreams is quite literally threaded into her sleeves, since it has been her heart’s desire to wear a sailor uniform throughout her years at the local village school, where she has always been the only child in her year group. There are hints as to the inspiration for this dream in the decor of her room: the photo of her mother as a teen, when she too attended the prestigious middle school, Roubai Academy, and donned the sailor uniform; the poster of her favorite idol, sporting a similar outfit. But Akebi’s uniform is also infused with an emotional resonance all its own, as she and her little sister Kao choose the fabric with their mom, Yuwa, who then makes the uniform by hand. Akebi even carries out all the household chores in an attempt to free her mother up to spend more time at the sewing machine. When the garment is ready, it is a work of art, stitched through with love. But when Akebi and her mom arrive at the entrance ceremony, something strange is going on. All of the other girls are wearing blazers! Will Akebi trade in her seifuku for a smart jacket to fit in with her peers, or will she stick to her dream and don the sailor uniform all alone? Would wearing her dream outfit help or hinder her other dream of making many friends?
Folks, give this one a chance. Please. I promise you won’t regret it! Yes, the title’s a bit meh, and the premise may sound a little too niche, suited only to fans of “cute girls doing cute things”. But that’s not at all what this is. In its opening episode, Akebi’s Sailor Uniform is a thoughtful, delicate and luxuriously animated work shot through with color, joy and background art that is so tangible you feel as if you could step right into the scenes. The opening fifteen seconds alone will transport you to another world, one that is equal parts Non Non Biyori (for its setting and vibe) and The Heike Story (for its cinematic quality). As it progresses, or should I say, blossoms (because that’s what it feels like), strong echoes of Super Cub emerge in terms of its aesthetic, emotional nuance, and attention to the kinds of small details that make a show stand out. And no wonder, considering that this series and Super Cub share a common source: the mangaka and character designer Hiro. This is also CloverWorks at it’s Naoko-Yamada-inspired best, reminiscent of the first episode of Wonder Egg Priority. I mention all these other series not because Akebi’s Sailor Uniform is derivative. It isn’t. Instead, it’s as if Akebi’s production team has been the student in the back of the classroom quietly absorbing everything from the greatest teachers working in anime today, and is now standing before the class, demonstrating not just what has been learned, but where things can be taken from there. And indeed, most of the team behind this beautiful work is relatively new to the industry or in their roles. This would normally make me a little nervous for the show, but if what I’ve seen today remains consistent, and the content of the story is up to the task, then I have to say, I think we have a contender here for my favorite of the season. Here’s hoping, at least!