If you’re a follower of modern Japanese culture you may have heard, or at least have seen an image of, Super Sonico. She’s a mascot for the visual novel company Nitroplus, first appearing in 2006 to promote a music festival and later developed into her own franchise including music products, computer/video games, toys, merchandise and, of course, manga and anime series. The design of the character: pink hair, headphones and full voluptuous figure, are all to drive further sales of the company as well as the music festival that continues to this day. With such knowledge it’s easy to be quickly drawn to a cynical conclusion that the animation series is just another marketing ploy to further push Super Sonico merchandise. However such assumptions don’t always apply as not everything that’s made for the purpose of sales is soulless by default. Nostalgia classic animated shows such as Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were made purely to drive toy sales, with stories even being written around whatever the toy company makes, and yet both those shows are highly loved by many adults of today. So having an animation made by committee can have pleasant results, sadly Super Sonico: The Animation isn’t a stellar example.
The series centres on the pink-haired girl herself in a slice-of-life scenario during her college years studying marine biology, whilst also juggling a part-time modelling job, helping her grandma as a waitress in a bar, being the lead singer/guitarist for her band ‘First Astonomical Velocity’ AND looking after a litter of cats. No wonder she struggles to wake up every morning! There’s twelve episodes in total with each one being self-contained; you can tick off the usual ‘filler’ types from the beach/swimsuit interlude, to the murder mystery, with even a zombie(ish) episode. The only connecting tissue across all of them is Super Sonico herself; there are other cast members such as her fellow band mates (Suzu and Fuuri), her grandmother or her mystery mask-wearing manager Kitamura that appear in several episodes, but only Super Sonico remains a constant. As a character Sonico is sweet natured, polite, has a can-do attitude and is likeable all round, but she’s not a strong driving force for a series as she has no set goal in mind. She’s not out to get a recording contract with her band, or conquer the modelling world, or anything that usually drives this kind of show or character. She’s just coasting through life and enjoying being with her friends, which is hard to pull off as a concept and keep the audience engaged, especially where you have no set structure of beginning, middle and end, which Super Sonico lacks.
To compensate you need strong characters to draw in the audience, or some kind of conflict that the protagonist must overcome, but we get none of either. There’s no denying that Sonico is a Mary Sue stock type, despite having a few bumps along the way with her busy schedule or trying to sell tickets to her gig but there are no difficulties achieving them because either her friends bail her out swiftly, or her manager deals with it, or her sweet personality wins others over to the point that the problem ends before it’s even begun. You know everything will go her way with as little resistance as possible, which makes her journey overall a dull watch. As for the few interesting characters, we have the manager who could have been really funny if he provided some genuine opposition, but neither he nor the other characters get past the ‘mildly amusing’ stage of comedy.
The only thing that Super Sonico excels at is fan service, which from Sonico’s figure you know you’ll get a face full of in every episode. To give props where it’s due it’s nice to see a big boob character that doesn’t have an impossible tiny waist. Realistic body proportions are never something that’s expected in anime but with Sonico’s full bust, hips and thighs, it looks more believable alongside her other curvy friend Fuuri, and it’s nice to have this variation outside the norm. Not every episode thrusts Sonico into a situation where she must strip down to minimal clothing but there are several and it’s hard to hide such a full figure anyway so those inclined may enjoy it. However the major drawback is that in all the times she’s forced to wear little clothing, it’s very clear that the character is uncomfortable. She’s shy by nature so you expect some reservation and blushing but when you have a situation in the first episode where she’s being pressured into wearing a skimpier outfit than the one agreed upon for the shoot (she was wearing merely underwear before) and the photographer sees that she’s obviously uncomfortable with wearing it but choosing to ignore her suffering for his own enjoyment, that’s not funny or sexy, it’s disturbing. It doesn’t help when the series has a self-aware moment towards the end; it knows what it’s doing but is choosing to subject the girl to stripping off anyway. If you can switch your brain off there’s some fun to be had, but if not, prepare to find the objectification of the main star a real turn-off.
Studio White Fox handles the animation for the series, and they clearly know the phrase; “you’ve got to spend money to make money” because visually the series is above standard. Although background and character designs are nothing to sing songs about (outside of Sonico of course) the quality of animation is consistently good across the board, with very little use of still images or obvious shortcuts. Even when the show flips into 3D for the ending themes it doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb; although Sonico’s face isn’t as vibrant as it is in 2D, there’s still plenty to admire visually since each ending theme is like a mini-music video from the creative (Sonico as a Godzilla type giant) to the downright weird (live action footage of people in weird costumes dancing with Sonico).
Sonico’s band performs a song each episode, so there’s plenty of J-pop tunes to get stuck in your head, especially the sickly sweet opening ‘SuperSoni<3’. Each episode even has its own ending theme; most of them ring true to Sonico’s love of rock and roll, whilst others have been tweaked with a poppier edge. The best one is the surprisingly catchy AC/DC rip-off ‘Moonlight Star’, others are pleasant on the ear and, as mentioned before, they all offer a new ending animation so it’s worth leaving the disc spinning to see and hear each new crazy track.
Even if you only shell out for the DVD version you’ll still get a tons of extra content; there’s the Sonico Reveal collection where we see snap shots of the cast recording the dub, English Radio spots, clean opening/closing, trailers for Familiar of Zero, Devil Survivor and Hakkenden, an interview with Jessica Nigri (voice of Sonico) plus a photo shoot of her cosplaying, English outtakes, and bloopers which are actually funnier than the show itself.
Super Sonico: The Animation is harmless at best and dull at its worst; it’s clear the show was made just to paint the character in the best light possible to sell merchandise but as a result doesn’t give anything for the audience to engage with. Super Sonico fans may get some easy watching fun out of it but the rest will find little to enjoy here.