“I need a credit card! Epps, where’s your wallet?”
“MY BACK POCKET!”
“You got, like, ten back pockets! ”
“LEFT CHEEK! LEFT CHEEK! LEFT CHEEK!”
—Captain Lennox and USAF Tech Sergeant Epps, Transformers
Raised in a remote mountainous region, Chiya arrives in the town of Meirocho with the aim of finding her mother. After a rough start in the town, she encounters Koume Yukimi and Kon Tatsumi, two aspiring Urara: they incur the wrath of Captain Saku Iroi of the Bloque 1 Patrol Unit and are banished, but Nina Natsume arrives and manages to defuse the situation, introducing herself as a Rank 5 Urara who runs the Natsumeya teahouse, as well as to her younger sister, Nono. When Chiya discovers that a rank-one Urara might be able to help her, she tries to sneak in to the portion of town restricted to higher ranking Urara, only for Saku to stop her; she encourages Chiya to strive for rank one herself, and later, following an exercise in fortune-telling by means of paper lanterns, Chiya and Kon resolve to reach the top of the ranking system. However, while on an errand to retrieve a package for Nina, Kon accidentally breaks a crystal ball at the Benten divination store to compensate Benten, the owner for costs. After learning that it would take a minimum of a year to offset the costs, Chiya agrees to a gamble with Benten: if they should win, Benten will overlook the damages. As it turns out, Benten rigged the bet after seeing Chiya’s resolve to become a Urara. Later, Chiya’s hair is caught in Koume’s buttons, and the two are stuck together until Koume realises that she knows nothing about Chiya, rips off her shirt buttons and openly declares that they’re friends, which entails learning more about one another.
While Urara Meirocho‘s premise and characters are a familiar sight to audiences who have been watching anime (or reading manga) of its genre, offering nothing novel by ways of dynamics and interactions, what makes Urara Meirocho interesting is the unique combination of its setting in a detailed, fictional town with its own organisational system and laws, in conjunction with the details surrounding how Urara work within the universe. The market is saturated with content falling under the moé category, and admittedly, my efforts to watch some of the adaptations from Manga Time Kirara and its subsets have been met with failure: I’ve previously made an attempt to watch Sansha San’yō, Anne Happy and Stella no Mahou and have found them to be quite unremarkable after three episodes. However, in setting Chiya et al.’s misadventures in a distinct town, and through explaining to audiences how divination works within their universe, Urara Meirocho offers something new by means of the location and attendant possibilities to create a different, distinct atmosphere: here, Urara Meirocho is similar to Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu Ka?, in counting on the combination of the setting and characters to create a slice-of-life comedy that is memorable from the others of its classification.
Screenshots and Commentary
- While it may prima facie seem that I would confuse Chiya of Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu Ka? and Urara Meirocho‘s Chiya, inspection of the Kanji shows that this won’t be the case: here, Chiya’s name is 千矢 (lit. “A thousand arrows”), against GochiUsa‘s Chiya Ujimatsu, whose given name is 千夜 (lit. “A thousand nights”). This is in reference to arrows flying true and striking their targets. While Chiya (of Urara Meirocho) seems far removed from humanity and can even be feral in nature, similar to Mowgli of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, she’s actually raised by a woman named Setsu, hence her basic knowledge of human traits.
- When she falls on top of Kon while trying to escape Saku, Chiya apologises by lifting her shirt up. It’s certainly a strange action, perhaps alluding to how some animals roll over onto their backs and expose their vulnerable undersides to indicate submissiveness. Being bipedal, it would be quite uncomfortable to lie down on the ground and roll over: humans exhibit submissiveness by lowering their heads and covering their chest to defend it (dominant postures amongst people include making oneself more visible, denoting confidence and a lack of fear towards possible confrontation.
- After the commotion is cleared up, Chiya introduces herself to Kon and Koume: the former is a proper girl who wears a ribbon in her hair, giving her the semblance of a fox, while the latter is an energetic girl who enjoys wearing intricate clothing. Chiya is voiced by Sayaka Harada, a newcomer in the voice acting scene who I know best as Tawawa on Monday‘s Ai-chan (it’s a small world, it seems). Yurika Kubo provides Koume’s voice (Hai-Furi‘s Rin Shiretoko, who was very fond of Mashiro), and Kon is voiced by Kaede Hondo, a voice actress whose roles I’m completely unfamiliar with.
- After being arrested by Saku, Nina Natsume arrives to explain the situation. Voiced by Ai Kayano, Nina is reminiscent of GochiUsa‘s Mocha Hoto in manner and grace. Her younger sister, Nono, is voiced by Haruka Yoshimura (Koharu Shiihara of Sora no Method and Ema Yasuhara from Shirobako): incredibly shy, she carries a doll around with her that was a gift from her mother. Named Matsuko, Nono performs ventriloquism with her doll and is very attached to her doll, describing various scenarios that the others find unnerving.
- There’s a hilltop overlooking Meirocho (“Labyrinth City”) that the girls visit shortly after receiving their entry-level license papers. The scenery and art style in Urara Meirocho is very stylised, offering a very distinct feel to things; the light texturing in the background is reminiscent of the style used in Valkyria Chronicles. While I would have liked to provide more screenshots in this post of the scenery, Urara Meirocho is about its characters, hence my decision to make all twenty images featuring characters.
- After a failed lesson to do tea-leaf divination when Chiya drains all of the tea, the girls decide to step out. Even as early as the first episode, there’s a sweets shop that the girls are likely to make their primary hangout spot for the remainder of Urara Meirocho: they are fond of visiting it to unwind after a long day and enjoy the confectionaries that would not seem out of place in Ama Usa An.
- I’ve actually been looking for an excuse to use Epps’ “LEFT CHEEK! LEFT CHEEK! LEFT CHEEK” from Transformers for quite some time. Hence, when the girls are scuffling with one another by morning after Chiya makes off to explore the town and figure out where her mother is, I figured this would be it; both Koume and Kon end up tugging on Chiya’s face as punishment. Saku soon arrives to inform everyone that trying to make a divination with no a priori information is a challenge even for the town’s top Urara.
- Perhaps this is unique to me, but I’ve found that Nono and Nina respectively resemble Itsuki and Fū Inubozaki of Yūki Yūna is a Hero, while Kon is similar to Mimori Tōgō in appearance. While Yūki Yūna is a Hero was somewhat polarising, I personally enjoyed it, and there seems to be a continuation set for release in Fall 2017, alongside an adaptation of a light novel set in the same universe.
- Gentle, kind and a rank five Urara, Nina runs the Natsumeya teahouse and serves as a mentor to the other Uraras. I’ve heard discussions that the economic structure of Meirocho must be an interesting one, provided that the sheer number of Urara would result in market saturation. However, these individuals seem to making some rather large subjective leaps in their considerations: their first incorrect assumption would be that Meirocho is the only economic centre in their world, and the second is the notion that Urara are incapable of performing in other tasks, such as shopkeeping, law enforcement and so forth.
- As one who is totally aligned with the scientific method, I cannot say that I am particularly keen on divination, astrology or other forms of predicting the future — while practitioners purport to use supernatural methods that are effective, the fact is that predictions are so broad and general that they can hold true to almost anything, giving the impression that they are effective. Similarly, the exercise here, to predict a yes/no answer by determining if any holes in a paper lantern survive after burning it for 12 seconds, can be approximated by implementing a variation of Conway’s Game of Life (one that would be much less interesting). We create an n by m grid of cells and place twelve points (we call these “marked” grids here) at random on this grid. Then, we seed a set of cells for the fire to begin, and use the ruleset:
- Every cell on the grid has three states: “normal”, “on fire”, and “burnt out”
- Cells have a secondary property,”marked” and “unmarked”
- A cell on fire at time step t will have some probability P (where 0 ≤ P ≤ 1) of burning out at time t + 1
- In the Moore neighbourhood of a cell with fire at time t, each cell has some random probability P (where 0 ≤ P ≤ 1) of igniting at t + 1
- Only normal cells can burn, and cells on fire can only become burnt out. A burnt out cell cannot burn again, nor can they become normal again. Cells on fire cannot become normal again.
- If a fire overlaps with a marked cell point at time t, and at t + 1, if the fire still overlaps with said cell, the marked cell becomes destroyed, and the total number of marked cells is decremented
- The approach stipulated is much less fun, a bit more technical, and requires familiarity with a programming language, but also has the advantage of not setting one’s home or hair on fire when executed. Furthermore, this would represent a fun opportunity to implement a variation of Conway’s Game of Life. In the approach, if a single marked grid survives, then the answer is “yes”. Back in Urara Meirocho, Koume tucks in to a platter of sweets. While delicious-looking, it hardly seems worthy of Adam Richman’s Man v. Food challenges with respect to scale; of the desert challenges Richman has taken on, pancakes, milkshakes and ice cream are the ones that come to mind, and he only managed to win in the ice cream challenge.
- While Chiya tries out a dish of curry rice, Ōshima and Shiozawa look on, hopeful that Saku will feed them, as well. Her subordinates, these two patrol officiers are totally devoted to their service and hold a crush on Saku that the latter seems unaware of. While outwardly serious and focused, audiences gain insight into their minds and hear that they are rather enamoured with Saku to a very high degree, although ironically, while Saku is totally committed towards maintaining a wholesome and safe environment around town, her own mind drifts immediately towards the impure at slightest provocation, causing her to blow her stack.
- Because the others have displayed a tendency to go off mission quite frequently, Kon ropes everyone together so that they may visit Benten’s shop and acquire a special bowl for divination upon Nina’s request without becoming distracted by the sights and sounds in Meirocho. Ironically, Kon herself becomes enthralled when she sees the diversity of equipment for divination at Benten’s shop, picking up a crystal ball, only to drop it when Benten, the shop’s owner, materialises out of nowhere.
- So far, the idea of a currency unit has not been provided in Urara Meirocho. Benten requires that the four work at her shop for a year to cover the damages, and while providing no solid figure on what the crystal ball is worth, something that has the price of a year’s salary would be of a high value. Kon introduces stones for creating sparks to customers here, after being singled out to wear a maid’s outfit: with her long, dark hair and serious personality, she looks quite similar to K-On!‘s Mio Akiyama here.
- I’m actually not too sure what a diviner would do with a high-end sword, but in RPG games, different weapons and apparel can be enchanted to boost a user’s stats. While a very natural-seeming mechanic in a video game, it would come across as being quite strange in real life; consider the notion of wearing a necklace or wristwatch that bolstered your intellect during an exam, or a t-shirt that enhances one’s strength only when worn.
- To the far right is Benten herself: the owner of the shop in question, she’s old-fashioned and strict, but also is understanding, deliberately losing a gambling game to allow Chiya and the others to walk free. While a gambler probably on par with James Bond or Han Solo, she sees the resolve in Chiya and her friends, allowing their debt to slide on the basis that they might make fine Urara in the future, even if they are as careless as C (Spectre).
- When Chiya and Koume are literally stuck together because Chiya’s long hair gets caught in her buttons, the two realise that being bound to one another might not be so effective at bonding. The concept of being tethered together is not new, and has been utilised liberally in many works before Urara Meirocho, usually with the intent of depicting the comedy surrounding the scenario. I note that my usage of “literally” and its variants are only used in the correct manner: the word is intended to describe something word per word rather than as a hyperbole. For instance, “stuck together” usually means “bound to one another by a circumstance” rather than “held together by a constraint”, but in this case, since Chiya and Koume are being held together by a physical bond, it is a literal usage of the phrase.
- I hear the word “literally” thrown around so frequently in common conversation that I will literally become physically ill if I hear it again. Jokes aside, back in Urara Meirocho, the impasse is broken when Koume realises that she knows next to nothing about Chiya, and makes it known that she’s become friends with her. She pulls her shirt apart, freeing the pair, but also exposes herself. I remark that Urara Meirocho has a great deal of indecent exposure and the like relative to something like GochiUsa, but rather than having the effect of exciting viewers in that manner, it merely serves to be a part of the comedy within the anime.
- What exactly does Urara mean? A cursory search yields “麗” (“beautiful” in both Chinese and Japanese), but in the context of Urara Meirocho, it’s the name for the occupation of being a fortune teller, rather similar to how gondoliers of the real world are known as undine in ARIA, named after the water elementals from Paracelsus’ texts.
- Chiya’s fear of getting her hair cut stems back to her childhood, which led her to believe that getting her hair cut would result in copious amounts of blood spraying out. Biologically impossible, it results in Chiya becoming animal-like whenever she fears her hair is about to be cut, and this results in hilarity. One of the reasons I will continue watching Urara Meirocho will be just how squeaky things get whenever chaos prevails: the aural characteristics of the girls’ screams begin approaching those of ultrasound, exceeding what we can hear.
Insofar, I am finding Urara Meirocho to be quite enjoyable, despite my initial reservations; this is because the setting of Meirocho allows for familiar jokes to be presented in a new manner. I will continue following Urara Meirocho for this season, and look forwards to seeing what misadventures await Chiya, Koume, Kon and Nono as they study the way of the Urara with the aim of reaching the top tiers and fulfilling the different dreams that each of the characters have; such series usually aim to depict how everyone’s experiences with one another can induce change in the characters, so one element I will be looking out for is seeing how Chiya and the others mature as the series progresses. While moé anime are oft-criticised for having static characters who learn little from their comings and goings, there have been fantastic examples where friendships and time have given characters new depths (GochiUsa is an excellent example, for instance). As such, it will be interesting to see if Urara Meirocho can do something similar — I look forwards to taking a gander at what this series will have done by the time its conclusion has arrived.