Imagine if you were hired to tutor five identical quintuplets!

That is the entire basis of this series. And it’s about as harem as harem can be, right down to that excessively convenient premise. Adorned by beautiful artwork and popular VAs, this series continually plays off the differences and the similarities between such a unique group of siblings. There’s only so much you can do with this idea however, and as this series progresses that becomes more and more obvious. It can only be unique for so long.

As of the end of the Winter 2020/2021 season, the series just wrapped up its second season. If there is ever a third, and I feel that’s likely, it’ll have to be a little more creative, lest this theme continues to lose it’s effect.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Characters

Rating: 6

Everybody loves to go on about how twins are always the same. Then comes the next thought: what are their differences? Primarily, we just want to be able to tell them apart! But also, we want to know about individuals. One could hardly be friends with a group of identical people. Much less be in love with five identical sisters as if they were all one person!

Yet somewhere in his pedagogical heart, Futaro Uesugi is in love with all five of these girls in precisely this way. Poor Futaro (poor?). He’s the schlub that gets contracted with the Nanako family to tutor their five daughters. From there, he has to deal with their poor study habits, weak commitment, spoiled mentalities, and tsundere adoration. He himself is somewhat droll, never particularly standing out apart from academics. He’s perfectly average in many ways.

If I had to pick just one positive for this harem MC, it’s that he’s not quite the typical type we see in this genre. True, lots of harem is also fantasy or isekai, further burdening an MC with stereotypes. Did somebody just say fantasy? Anyway, Futaro isn’t stereotypical in this way at all. We’re pretty accustomed to the mild-mannered, kind-hearted, rather diminutive highschool male who unhappily finds himself surrounded by gushing females (unhappily?). This does not describe Futaro. He’s rather harsh actually, and very distant with the girls. The word “tsundere” gets thrown around a lot, but he certainly fits that description. Hey, when someone’s favorite word is “betsuni,” we all know they’re a tsundere. So he’s tsundere and heartless (something the quintuplets like to harp on at one point), atypical of most harem MCs.

I think it’s because of this that Futaro isn’t developed any better. It’s kind of ironic, as it’s typical to see a lack of development in the harem MC. There’s simply too many stereotypes to overcome usually. And too many girls! Certainly the focus on the girls hurts Futaro’s character development, but because he’s somewhat atypical as I noted, we end up kind of not knowing much about Futaro at all. We find ourselves with neither stereotypes nor original development to rely on! Sure he’s at the center of everything, but he’s so overshadowed by the girls, it’s kind of like he’s not there. Like, say you know someone must have played some role in your life but you can’t remember anything about that person. It’s like that almost. So as central as he is, he gets a little lost in the story. I feel like the writers want to focus on him at times, considering how they introduce his rebellious faze from his past involving Nino and the whole Rena thing in S2. But it ends up feeling a little empty, especially since none of those momentary side stories amount to anything in the end. So he’s both typical and atypical at the same time, leaving us not quite knowing what to think of him.

Did somebody say tsundere?

Imagine you’re writing a story, and it’s about five identical sisters. How would you deal with the duality of their differences and their similarities? You can easily imagine how this could undergird everything about these characters. And that’s pretty much what happens here. And frankly, it gets a little tiresome after a while.

To tell you the truth, as I approached the writing of this review, I didn’t know whether I should treat the sisters individually or as a group. Just as Futaro ends up being both typical and atypical and therefore sort of neither, so the quintuplets end up both individual and indistinct, and therefore sort of neither.

Right now some of you are pulling your hair out in disbelief. Some of you feel rage. “How can he say that about my precious Miku?” you say. “How can you possibly think Ichika isn’t her own person?” you say. “There’s no way in hell he thinks Nino is the same as the others!” you say. “Yotsuba is dumber than all of them!” you say. “How dare you insult Itsuki!” some of you say.

Exactly. The characters are absolutely treated as distinct and developed individually. Almost so much so that if it weren’t for the near constant reminders that they’re quintuplets (and completely identical eyes) we might think they weren’t related at all. But that’s where these characters create frustration in me. There’s so much focus on contrasting their similarities and differences that it’s all you remember from this show. Sure you remember the individual girls. But at the same time you remember how that character is portrayed as similar to the others. And usually it’s a stretch to even do so. “We’re all sisters so we have to stick together!” It boils down to that, over and over again.

So while I can instantly recognize Miku for her headphones, Ichikia for her strength (and her newly discovered penchant for scheming), Itsuki for her red hair and star-shaped hair clips, Yotsuba for her dimwittedness, and Nino for just being annoying (and gorgeous too), I’m left feeling like they’ll never be anything more than just five identical sisters trying to find their individual selves all while striving to not lose their similarities. Perhaps this is relatable in the real world, and probably a source of frustration in the lives of identical siblings. But it’s a little tiresome to have it presented to you over and over as the defining feature of the vast majority of the characters in a show.

The best thing about the quintuplets, beyond all doubt, is their VAs. Itsuki is the wonderful Minori Inase, most well known as Rem in Re:Zero (don’t mention Rem right now, I’m so mad about that still; if you’re following Re:Zero S2 you know what I mean). Ichika is one of my personal favorites, Kana Hanazawa, known for a variety of voice styles in popular series such as Monogatari, Angel Beats!, Tokyo Ghoul, and Durarara!! Ayane Sakura (such a beautiful name), who voices Ochaco from My Hero Academia and most recently the hated Gabi Braun from Attack on Titan, plays Yotsuba. As much as I don’t like Nino’s personality, Ayana Taketatsu (Leafa, Sword Art Online) does a great job of conveying that annoyingness to us. Somebody’s gotta do it, and she does so perfectly. Finally, Miku Nakano is voiced by Miku Ito. I presume the matching given name is by chance, but it makes the VA a little more memorable. Ito-san has not done any super major roles outside of The Quintessential Quintuplets. Miku got a lot more lines in S2, but in S1 she speaks very little, and usually in short, muffled phrases at that. Nevertheless, she’s fun to listen to, and I hope Miss Ito gets lots more roles.

So Tezuka Productions shelled out the yen for these VAs, and I can’t help but admire that. It certainly makes the characters more distinctive. I kind of wonder what I would’ve thought of this series if they’d let just one VA do all the characters! That actually might’ve been interesting. I think Ayane Sakura has done that once actually, if I’m not mistaken. But no matter. It’s fun to hear all these voices again!

Artwork

Rating: 10

The girls are beautiful. ‘Nuff said.

The drawing and coloring and styling in general are just perfect in this show. But two things stand out to me that make this artwork great. First is the individual characteristics of the quintuplets. Second, anime is all about eyes, and these artists do not fail in the slightest in that regard!

So above I just got done barking about the incessant contrasting of similarities and differences in the five sisters. So I’ll zoom in on that big picture for a moment and discuss one of the ways the authors of this anime chose to highlight some of the differences among the sisters. Each of them is completely distinct in appearance. And not just with hair out of place here and there or personal style choices. They have that, but it’s more than just that. Their appearances are the primary way that we distinguish them, and it leads our observation easily to the differences in their personalities, outlook, etc., effectively highlighting their differences.

Miku has headphones and brown hair that trails over her face. She’s uncomfortable in company and looks at the ground a lot, thus causing her hair to fall over her face to hide behind, ready at all times to tune out the world with her music. Yotsuba is energetic and never met a stranger, and you see that in her ribbon that seems to have a life of its own and her perky short haircut. I didn’t like when Nino cut her hair short for that very reason. Her long pinkish hair and phosphorescent ribbons are like electric shocks, enhancing the effect of her verbal jabs and forced expressions of outrage. Ichika is mature and maintains the leadership position among the squad, choosing an adult style for her hair that she keeps the same color as the girls have always had since childhood, showing her commitment to their family. And who could forget Itsuki’s lavish red hair, golden stars adorning her temples, casting her youthful light upon everyone around her?

Imagine waking up to Yotsuba.

One of the fun things about this show is Futaro’s (seeming) inability to tell the sisters apart. This might be frustrating for real identical siblings at times, but I also know it’s a source of humor to some of them! In particular, this comes from pretending to be another sibling. We see a lot of that in S2. It’s kind of fun because even though it fools Futaro for a while, we’re pretty much able to tell who is who even when they dress up as a different sister. Mostly that comes from the voices and mannerisms. But it’s interesting just how they play with the visual side of this in the show.

The other great thing about the artwork is the quintessentially beautiful eyes. Occasionally you see this deep, glassy, sparkling, dazzling eye style in girls in anime. But not super often. It’s like a rare gem in that sense. And it is beautiful. The mottled intense shades of blue fill almost the entire eye space on the girls, making for amazing closeups. And on top of this styling, this is the one thing that’s the same in each girl. All of their eyes are exactly alike. So not only do we get to see this beautiful style, we get to see it in five different characters! Just as their individualism is highlighted in other aspects of their appearance, their similarity is highlighted in this most important aspect of their appearance, their eyes. It’s a perfect decision by the original manga author and is executed perfectly by the anime artists. It’s a reason to watch this anime all by itself.

This is an artwork-driven series, beyond any doubt. In an anime about identical siblings, you’d expect this to be the case, and this show pulls it off perfectly. So much color and life and beauty to go along with those artistic points I mentioned above, the whole thing is a visual spectacle that will delight the eyes. If this show had nothing else going for it, I would call it a success just on the artwork alone. It takes one of great parts about anime and does something spectacular with it. I give it an A+!

Story

Rating: 3

This show is all about the quintuplets and their slow descent into romance with one guy. Basing a story on a single premise, no matter how unusual, leaves very little room to maneuver. One thing I liked about S1 was that it didn’t succumb to this fault particularly. You had a decent set of plotlines revolving around this single premise without devolving into a hyper focus on their status as quintuplets. S2, however, marked the end of that road.

While there were a handful of evolving plotlines in S2, none of them became interesting, and in fact mostly died out blandly. The thing with Rena had me most interested, and then it ends up goofy, initially leaving us believing Rena is actually Yotsuba (oh please, really?), then finally leaving us thinking Futaro’s encounter occurred with multiple sisters, perhaps all of them, during that short time. That was a very dull ending to that mystery. Then you had the thing with the sisters imitating each other. That had potential, as it gave Futaro quite a number of scares and kept him on his toes. But it amounts to no more than another iteration of that aforementioned contrasting of differences versus similarities among the quintuplets, and it was getting old by that point. Not to mention it goes on right to the end, overtly highlighting the girls’ explicit statements about them being a family and all that. It just gets a little boring after a while.

Then there’s this reoccurring thing at the end of both seasons with a flashforward to a wedding. In the scene, Futaro is obviously marrying one of the girls, and she has the pink hair they share mutually. So we don’t know who it is. When it appeared at the end of S1, it caused me to look forward to S2 with extreme interest. I couldn’t wait for S2. Rena’s appearance and arrival on the scene in S2 stirred this excitement in me even more, as Futaro was obviously interested in this girl, whereas you have to deduce his interest in the five sisters. Then nothing comes of it. Until of course we see this wedding scene AGAIN at the end of S2. The magic is lost at that point. I’m left with the rather unhappy possibility of this bride being some representation of all five of them, and the poly- word that comes to mind doesn’t have anything to do with geometry. I know this was a fan theory for this show after S1 ended, and before S2 I totally rejected it, as it was just too weird. Now I’m left feeling like that’s the most likely possibility, and it’s dumb.

Which brings me to the elephant in the room. That elephant is Futaro. The room is full of adoring girls. This is a harem anime.

People like to play with this concept. And I will not attempt to evaluate the merits of this concept in this review. I will simply say there’s ass-clown-dumb harem (Monster Musume, Peter Grill and the Philosopher’s Stone) and there’s not-quite-so-dumb harem (Sword Art Online, My Next Life as a Villainess, High School DxD). Everything in this genre falls between those two endpoints. During S1 of The Quintessential Quintuplets, you kind of knew this was headed in the direction of all the girls falling in love with Futaro. And you more or less could figure out that Futaro loves all of them (though we were anxious to determine the individual degree for each sister from S2). But it was never in your face. If anything, they fought like cats and dogs all the time in S1. And while this cleverly pointed to their growing romance(s), thus leading you to that realization, it wasn’t overt and didn’t push this show toward the dumber end of the harem spectrum.

Then S2 rolls around. And while the cat-and-dog show continues a little bit, this is where the ideas really began to run out, and the danger of that single premise really started to show. By the middle of S2, it’s clear that not only are each of the girls wildly in love with Futaro (yes even Yotsuba), but they’re crawling over each other like ants to win him for themselves. This is the outskirts of Monster Musume territory. It was a very disappointing turn of events. But how could you avoid it? That’s the premise. And they can’t act like they hate him forever. The story runs out of road, and this pileup results.

So I fault this series for that. The quintuplet idea is unique enough, but the authors should’ve had the foresight to know where this was headed. Maybe they didn’t even mind that, but it undoes the work of the first season. S1 tried not to be dumb like this. Then S2 happens and we’re looking into Monster Musume Forest. And besides that, they knew this was going to happen. Of course each of the individual sisters was going to fall for Futaro. It is a harem series after all. So the inevitable conflicts and dramas and little side stories would emerge. So why handle it so carefully in S1? We might as well have done this right away, instead of it feeling like a devolution in S2.

Maybe some of you thought S1 was already that way. Perhaps the overt displays of S2 just make S1 feel less so relatively speaking. Either way, that’s where we find ourselves in the present day, and the story feels vanilla and uninteresting.

Overall: 6

Pretty artwork can overcome a lot of faults. I mentioned High School DxD above. Everyone knows what that show is, and everybody knows it’s a certain kind of a certain kind of harem anime. Yes I said that twice. What it does effectively is create beautiful character designs that are instantly memorable visually, even when separated from the ecchi aspects. Hence artwork can make up for a lot of deficiencies in an anime, if not entirely. Such is the case with The Quintessential Quintuplets. I will always remember this anime for astounding artwork. I’d expect great art in drama or the most expensive action and/or fantasy works. You don’t always expect it in anything in the comedy realm. And this show does a great job with that.

Other than that, and I say this with the caveat that S3 is probably already planned as of this writing (March 2021) and could change my opinion, this show is not super interesting. It tries to be and then flops, which is arguably as bad as being uninteresting from the beginning. Maybe my disappointment is just bleeding over, as I wrapped up S2 not long before writing this. But I’m less than impressed, and dissatisfied with being led on and then not rewarded.

Plus characters, dumb story, and top-tier artwork. It’s an odd combination. Probably as odd a combination as five flashy identical twins working with a humanly average, academically successful student tutor. We’ll see what happens in S3.

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