There is only one great thing about this anime, and the rest is very ordinary. But that one thing is so exceptional I must say I haven’t seen anything quite like it ever before.

If it weren’t for that exceptional part I would say this anime was poorly done. The characters are just okay. The story is the wrong kind of silly. The artwork is okay but is exceptional in one specific area. It’s very ordinary and even a little below average in every other way.

That being said, it’s not off-putting. That’s important because I wouldn’t want to recommend you watch a show if it’s tiresome. Because I do recommend you watch this show. Because that exceptional part is so good it will give you chills. Because you will come to realize that, in the end, Shikimori’s not just a cutie.

And so ends the spoiler-free introduction. Through that door is the usual spoiler minefield. Let us dive into this quick review for Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Characters

Rating: 5

Let the pathetic male MC bashing begin.

Yuu Izumi is supposed to be a bit of a weakling. I get it. That’s the whole setup here with Shikimori protecting him. But does he have to be so horrifyingly so? This child makes isekai truckings look tolerably rare among random accidents. He’s in ceaseless danger. Not from yakuza coming after his dad on the run from his former life. Not from enemies who want that one special thing he hasn’t yet discovered that only he has. From his shoelaces.

Shoelaces? Hawk? You’re right, it’s not his shoelaces. It’s his shoelaces and the cracks in the sidewalk. It’s his shoelaces and a flight of two little stairs. It’s his shoelaces and a random piece of trash blowing in the wind. And angry escapee pets. And balls errantly thrown, kicked, or otherwise projected by incautious aspiring sports players. Itty bitty tree branches. Books falling from shelves. Broken chair legs. Bird poop.

It is good to first look inward for what we seek. Or downward. I’ll give him this: at least he went to look for them. They say self awareness is the first step to solving your problems. How did this get so philosophical? It’s just bowling balls.

The premise is that misfortune follows him everywhere, so he’s always getting hurt. But the misfortune is always mundane stuff like that. And I get it, some of it’s not his fault (bird poop and errantly projected balls). But a lot of it is. The shoelaces thing isn’t an exaggeration. This guy is out to kill himself with clumsiness. It’s detestable.

It’s pitiful. We’d all totally understand the character type, and probably laugh along with it, if it just a supporting character, or even a main character in another context. Yet once again we have the pathetic dorkfish guy lucking up in life with the world’s most desirable female of the day. And we get tired of seeing that. Why would Shikimori pick him? I don’t know Hawk, how do people pick each other out? If you learn that answer let me know.

Shikimori is just about the most desirable female in the world. Or at least at this particular school. Here is the pink-haired female protagonist at its finest once again. Anime is full of them. Zero Two headlines an increasingly long list, but Shikimori certainly belongs on that list. She’s sweet, beautiful, strong, and cool as hell. Anybody would want her. And Izumi the Clown got her. I stray.

Most of Shikimori’s impact as a character comes from her artwork elements, which I will get to briefly. She’s not particularly exceptional outside of that. Saori Oonishi, best known as Horikita-san (Classroom of the Elite) and Ais Wallenstein (DanMachi) didn’t have her greatest performance here either. It just felt a little ordinary. She played pink-haired waifu types in close seasonal proximity with Shikimori in Spring 2022 and Akari Watanabe (More Than a Married Couple, But Not Lovers) in Fall 2022, and I preferred her performance in the latter despite feeling Shikimori the character had more potential. Her performance wasn’t bad by any means, it just was ordinary, like much in this anime.

The supporting characters weren’t too remarkable as a group or individually either. Yui Hachimitsu had some zingers in the dialogue, but in the dull-eyed, monotone character category she was unremarkable overall, though I did think of her first among the supporting characters. Or second. More on that in a moment. Same kind of thing for Nekozaki, another of Shikimori’s buddies. She’s overtly the sporty, tomboyish type girl, and as such I was more than ready to gush over her. She again had some interesting dialogue moments, but overall seemed very average for her character type.

The exception to this was Kamiya, the blue-haired girl who hangs around in the library. Yuri alert! Kamiya was another boyish type character, even more so than Nekozaki by far, and I’m pretty sure she had a thing for Shikimori. Those couple of episodes were the highlight of this series. Both characters got a lot of development and it was sad to watch her suffer at a distance. Especially when her competition was a child of a male that she could’ve beaten to a pulp with a waffle if she’d wanted to. I stray. Kamiya gave a lot of emotional impact to this show very briefly, and I loved it.

This some number one bullsh*t, but we still love Hachimitsu and Nekozaki.

In hindsight I’m not completely certain Kamiya had feelings for Shikimori, but rather for Izumi. This would make more sense given the time they spent together. I fault the writing here a little bit, as not only was it not clear to me which person Kamiya was heartbroken over, but I felt pretty sure it was over Shikimori when, storywise, it seemed to make more sense that she’d be sad over losing Izumi.

The moms were fun characters. Moms in anime are always fun. They had some good lines here.

In general I felt the writers behind the anime (and perhaps even the manga) relied too heavily on character types themselves for characters rather than making the characters individually interesting. I say this because the character types are so overtly so. Hachimitsu is so dull. Nekozaki is so energetic and boyish. Izumi is so very pathetic. Only Shikimori really has a lot of humanity to her somehow. She is the focus of the show, but I would like to see more than just character frameworks in other characters.

But the characters aren’t the driving force of this series. I doubt they even were supposed to be. Because the artwork was such a massive focus in this series everything else seemed to pale in comparison.

Artwork

Rating: 10

Hawk, I thought you said the artwork was just okay? You have a good memory—except for the part I added at the end of that. There is one exceptional part about this artwork that’s so good I can’t easily think of a show that rivals it.

Impact frames.

You’ll hear me talk about this a lot. I love it when an anime has impact frames. What are impact frames? Single frames from anime that jar or shock your senses with their power. In other words, they have impact. This show focuses its impact frames almost entirely on Shikimori, and they are beyond magnificent.

I’ll let the images scattered through this review speak for themselves. These frames are glorious. I must give some credit to the manga itself, whose artist(s) made a big point of highlighting Shikimori with these drawings even there. But even though I haven’t read the manga—I don’t read manga—I can tell that the anime took these images and made them even more exceptional. They will make your heart skip a beat, maybe two. Shikimori goes from the pink-haired MC girl type who (for whatever anime reason) has picked out the ultimate dorkfish as a boyfriend to this monster on our screens that makes are minds reel and our hearts burst. She goes from Saitama “Ok” to Eren Jaeger bursting out as the Attack Titan in a single frame. 

It is almost as impactful as those AoT frames. When I say I haven’t seen impact frames quite this good before that’s what I’m talking about. Of course there’s a lot more to the impact frames in AoT than just the drawings themselves, and I’m sure the same can be said about other great impact frames in other anime. But even that shows you how good these Shikimori frames are. That I should even mention them in the same context, when Shikimori does haven’t anything really going for it except these frames, says a lot about those drawings.

Another good artwork decision was made by the producers of this anime to go along with this. Rom-com almost always is bright and shiny as a rule, but this show is almost extreme in this regard. Not colorful, mind you. It’s colorful, but not startlingly so. Not like the lighting and the sheen on everything. There are scenes that are so intensely lit that the light is the dominating feature in the scene, like when you go outside from a dim room and everything is wildly bright for a moment. This pairs well with the sheen of the artwork as well, and between these two features the impact frames are very well enhanced.

Continuing the theme, another reason the extreme lighting is effective for the impact frames is because many of those frames rely on shadowing. You’ll notice this quickly in the selected images scattered around this review. Shadowing will mostly be absent from normal scenery until you get to these important frames, then suddenly there’s a lot of it. It contrasts strongly with the powerful lighting we see almost everywhere else in this show.

It contrasts so much with the lighting everywhere else that I almost would liken it to a horror effect. Most of us have seen some fiction media in the horror genre. A lot of it is dark but uses light to create shadows to effect. This show is kind of the opposite but with a similar intention. It has a ton of light but then suddenly uses that light to create shadows at key moments. If you think about the impact frames I mentioned in this show, some of them have that same kind of shock you might expect from horror media. I found this fascinating. I wonder how intentional or accidental, or what mix of both, all that was.

Hair and eyes benefit a lot from shininess and light. I don’t know that I’ve ever written the word “shininess” until this moment actually. You’re witness to a first. I stray. Hair benefits in this show for sure. Shikimori is once again the highlight, no pun intended. That pink fineness is everywhere. We’re pretty accustomed to the pink hair on main characters and how good it looks. It’s oddly unique in that regard in anime. I’ll easily put Shikimori’s pink hair in the top ten all time against her fellow female pink-haired protagonists. She even has a bit of a blue undertone thing going on in her hair every now and then, and it’s really nice. I like the trend in anime to feature the off-color undertone on hair. “Fineness,” hm….

But eyes benefit from the strong lighting even more than hair. Shikimori’s blue eyes are powerful. Scary almost, hearkening again to the horror thing. She really does transform in those frames, even though nothing about her appearance really changes. Her blue eyes are a big part of that. They match that undertone in her hair too, which makes my brain do happy dances. 

Oddly enough, even the guys have pretty eyes in this show. This is becoming a thing more and more in rom-com these days (January 2023). Yuu Izumi is particularly infected with it. How many guys in anime have the coveted purple eyes usually reserved for top-tier female characters? If I’m noticing male character eyes as “pretty,” that obviously is intentional by the artists. I’m not sure how I feel about his eyes in this show, or others like him in other shows with such eyes. How do all of you feel about this?

Izumi’s eyes are almost as glassy and pretty as Kamiya’s, but not quite. Or maybe it’s just me seeing through a prejudiced lens, because I really like Kamiya’s look. Her blue hair and bluish-purple eyes are magnificent. When she and Shikimori have their couple of episodes—episodes—together, the contrast between their two styles is very nice. It was a pleasure to watch visually, all other content and context aside.

Above all, I just like this artwork. I can pick out parts and examine each of them like I just did and that’s all fine and good, but ultimately I just like the way this series looks. It’s by far the best part of this series, and certainly the biggest (perhaps the only) reason I recommend watching it. I’ll go so far as to say I might rewatch this series at some point simply to experience the visuals again, which is saying a lot. It’s a fine exposition of modern (2023) anime artwork and a magnificent piece in the growing history of anime artwork as well.

Story

Rating: 3

Lots of problems.

There isn’t much of a story overall. That’s not one of the problems; we’ll get to those. The whole story is just about Shikimori and Izumi and their relationship, which only kinda-sorta deepens as the show goes on, but that doesn’t really seem to be the point of the story. More so the show just follows the two of them around in their lives. So it’s kind of a vignette show, but not as much as some such shows. 

Which brings me to my ichiban problem with this show: the situations set up for each of these episodes are ridiculous. They’re unbelievable, unrealistic, too wildly convenient and wonderful. Shikimori bowls a perfect game after Izumi cheers for her? That’s a big deal even in a bowling anime, yet Shikimori does it at a prompt from her dorkfish boyfriend? Then the same thing happens again with a volleyball match. I’m pretty sure it happened again at a school athletic event too.

First, while some fun exchanges were set up during these idiotic developments, they’re too extreme. Looking back, I realize a lot of things in this show were extreme like this. Izumi’s dorkiness is extreme. Shikimori’s transformation is extreme. It makes sense that the situations they find themselves in are extreme. Other than Shikimori’s transformations, I don’t like this. I get it that it’s different and the “who cares?” element, but it bugged me. 

Hawk, we are talking about anime right? Where fighters jump a hundred feet in the air and ninjas essentially teleport they move so fast? Where kemononingen and isekai are a thing? Mecha? Harem? Ok, I’ll put it this way. On a microscopic scale, what happens in this show is akin to Luffy swatting away Kaido with his little finger. That’s what I mean by it bugging me. But that kind of thing happens in One Punch Man right? You’re chatty today. Yes but shows like that have to do exceptional work to manage story elements like that. If they do that exceptional work then they are acceptable to audiences. If they do not, they are “unbelievable” or “ridiculous.” It’s a small thing but it makes a lot of difference. Even in a slice-of-life show this kind of difference is apparent to me and bothers me.

Lastly, this theme repeats itself too many times. Twelve episodes of anime and Shikimori becomes the world’s greatest athlete/student/whatever whenever her diminutive boyfriend utters a word of encouragement to her. Once might be—acceptable. Twice or more gets old. Yes it enables the crazy-good frames I so highly praised earlier, but I don’t know that it needed to be so repetitive. We did have other moments like this where Shikimori’s impact frames could shine that didn’t all have to do with Izumi praising her. It’s like the author ran out of ideas or something. I won’t presume to say what the reason was for this, but it was repetitive.

One of those other types of setups where we got a really nice impact frame of Shikimori was at the movie theater when Izumi and Shikimori saw a horror film. Izumi (of course) got scared to death after hoping to show off his manliness (ahem, excuse me while I get up off the floor), but instead Shikimori showed off a striking face full of power despite her fearfulness. So we have a gender role reversal thing going on here. Say what you will about that, it’s clear that was the author’s intent here. I personally have no problem with that. The only issue with it here is that Izumi is so extremely pathetic that it’s more than a little frustrating to watch. I mentioned Izumi fitting in the undeserving male MC category, but it’s so bad here it hurts. Somebody needed to check that boy’s…never mind. 

Moms know best. Also ara ara.

My point is, again, this reversal of “roles” was so extreme that it was bothersome to watch. I loved seeing Shikimori grow and show forth her power. I hated seeing her hitched to the world’s wimpiest boy. It didn’t have to be that way. If Shikimori had been matched up against a more normal person or even a strong male character I think her power would have been even more apparent. I understand that it’s part of the story that Izumi’s weakness is what’s helping to bring this out in her, but I still didn’t enjoy watching it.

Last thing about the extremes in this show: it’s all intermixed into predictable setups. Swimsuits and beaches (although they didn’t actually visit a beach because Izumi can’t take it, so they went to some river instead). School athletic festivals. Scary movies or tests of courage or haunted houses that make one of the characters scared while the other shows courage. Vehicles that stop working at convenient places, in this case a boat out on a pond. I have zero issue with those classic setups. Only here they stood in stark contrast to the extremity of the other aforementioned elements, and made those extreme elements even more irritating to me.

Perhaps this is all just a personal thing. I understand the premise of a weak dude and a girl trying to support him, but to me this didn’t work well in this show. Whether it’s the extremity of the situations or of Izumi’s weakness or whatever it is, these story elements left a strong feeling of frustration in my mind, which competed with my exhilaration over the artwork elements. Much like the characters, the story paled in comparison to the artwork and brought down the overall quality of the anime.

Overall: 6

I think there was great vision behind this anime but poor execution in the end. The vision is clearly on display with the power of those impact frames I discussed. The poor execution is evident in almost everything else. It’s unfortunate because there was a lot of potential here, so much so that it was hard to suppress. The impact frames are one sign of this, but even the snappy dialogue is indicative of good vision in the writing. For whatever reason, the end product wasn’t very impressive outside of the artwork.

One thing I wondered about while watching this anime: was this show the victim of a rush to produce it? The manga began running in 2019 and the anime adaptation aired early 2022, meaning production began late 2021. Given the state that the population of planet Earth found itself in during those couple of years, I wonder if the combination of things not working smoothly and a rush to adapt the popular manga caused the quality of this adaptation to suffer. It’s a thought, one I take into account when I judge this show.

My judgement is that it could have been better, but I will not blame anybody in particular. For whatever reason, the story and characters lacked a lot, but the artwork was magnificent. Between all that I think this show is both exceptional and unremarkable at the same time. It’s hard to even say those two average each other out. It really is just both very good and very underwhelming at the same time. 

Hachimitsu told it like it was several times.

However, I will say once again that the artwork is so extremely good in this show that, if I did average everything out, this show is a positive overall. In fact I recommend watching this show just for the artwork. In fact I recommend you not miss this show if you’re a fan of anime on any level. If you’re a serious fan, this is a must-see simply because of the artwork. That’s a big deal. Sure I wish the characters and story were a match for the exemplary artwork, but it’s not a stretch to say that you should watch this simply for the artwork regardless of anything else. It is that good.

It’s so good that it makes this anime. As I thought over this show for this review, I realized what was encompassed in the title “Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie.” I had been looking for character traits or some strange supernatural element. There never was any supernatural thing (I was thinking something like Tsukasa in Tonikawa) which was a little disappointing but okay. And I’m sure there were parts about Shikimori’s development that fit with this title. But more than any of that I think these powerful visual moments were the real reason we could see Shikimori as more than just a cute girl. Because when she became like that she definitely turned into something, something other than what she was ordinarily. A sub-premise of this show is that Shikimori has been trying to shape herself into this cute-girl type which we see a lot of during the show, and this stands nicely in contrast with the transformation we see of her.

I wish the author and the anime writers had focused in more on this element. I think it’s a big deal. Shikimori is trying to make herself into something specific that may or may not fit who she really is, but only when she falls in love (despite whoever it might be with) does this powerful creature emerge who probably is her true self. A powerful creature I say, but, if you stop and think about it, it really just is Shikimori. The two versions of her are clearly different but yet they also seem undoubtably like the same person. 

This one was from the opening. Definitely not just a cutie. Look at her fingers.

Maybe that’s a little deeper than the author wanted to dig for in a rom-com, but I like all that’s going on there. It’s pretty powerful. It uses themes of coming-of-age, staying true to or discovering your true self, and the power of that true self and its discovery. Most of us have seen these themes before, and usually we see them in really good or really memorable anime. Was this a missed opportunity here? 

I don’t want to say “it’s okay because it’s just rom-com,” because I don’t want to delineate between genres in that manner. There’s no reason rom-com can’t be deep. But rom-com is supposed to be fun and light, and depth like this isn’t necessarily what audiences of this genre would want or look for. So it is okay because it’s rom-com if the author missed this chance, but I still consider it a negative that it was missed.

No matter. Watch this show for the visuals and discover why Shikimori’s not just a cutie and see what you think. I definitely enjoyed it overall and the true anime fan will as well. It’s rare that a show is exceptional simply for frames, not even frame sequences, just individual frames. Unique is good and I will always applaud it, and I certainly do here for Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie.

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