The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

Terrible Anime Challenge: Sansha San’yō and The Making of Magic From The Ordinary

“Age appears to be best in four things; old wood best to burn, old wine to drink, old friends to trust, and old authors to read.” –Francis Bacon

Yōko Nishikawa hails from a once well-to-do family whose fortunes fell when her father’s businesses succumbed to bankruptcy, leading her to live a frugal lifestyle. While eating lunch on her own, she encounters Futaba Odagiri and Teru Hayama, two of her classmates: Futaba has become lost while trying a shortcut, and Teru was pursuing a cat. This happenstance meeting allow the three individuals, unrelated in all manners save their sharing the kanji for ‘leaf’ in their names, to become friends, and over the course of Sansha San’yō (Three Leaves, Three Colours, or Tripartide Trefoil), Yōko, Futaba and Teru share in many misadventures with one another. From the rivalry between Teru and Serina Nishiyama, to the various antics of Yōko’s former staff (such as Sonobe Shino and Mitsugu Yamaji), the main cast’s interactions with an array of secondary characters to give the Sansha San’yō world a more colourful, lively feel; as the seasons pass by, Yōko comes to deeply appreciate her friendship with Teru and Futaba, accepting their eccentricities as she shares with them everyday life at school, working at a confectionary shop that Sonobe owns, relaxing during the summer and taking in the festivities of the Christmas season. Conveying the notion that friendships transcend creed and socio-economic status, Sansha San’yō‘s unusual set of characters come together to create a surprisingly enjoyable and amusing story that entertains audiences by creating the ridiculous out of the ordinary.

When placed with the likes of Flying Witch, Hai-Furi and Kuromukuro, the Spring 2016 season proved to be a very busy one, compounded by the fact that I was gearing up to finish my graduate thesis and attend two conferences to present my research. Anime like Anne Happy and Sansha San’yō, which prima facie look to be shows that might capture my interest, were quickly placed on the backburner. While Anne Happy proved somewhat disappointing, Sansha San’yō ended up being unexpectedly fun to watch. What is more unexpected about Sansha San’yō is the fact that its original manga run began in February 2003 – while the anime adaptation modernises the look and feel for each of the characters, the fact that Sansha San’yō dates back some fifteen years means that its brand of humour and characterisation is different than what might be seen from more modern 4-koma series. Each of Yōko, Teru and Futaba have distinct attributes that make them memorable; none of the characters conform to the archetypes that anime such as K-On! have set the groundwork for, and consequently, watching highly unique characters bounce off one another creates comedy that is refreshing to watch. The age of Sansha San’yō‘s source material makes it stand out from other 4-koma series (especially Anne Happy, which it aired alongside), and more impressively, the conversations and jokes in Sansha San’yō have withstood the test of time. Whether it be Yōko’s fall from grace and yearning to return to her old life, Futaba’s insatiable love for food or Teru’s haraguroi personality, the elements seen in Sansha San’yō are quite timeless and remain entertaining even after fifteen years.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • As a Terrible Anime Challenge post, this talk on Sansha San’yō features twenty images, and will not go into some scenes or elements in the same detail as a conventional post. Sansha San’yō‘s opening episodes are largely set in the quiet and inviting grounds of the school that Yōko attends, where her budget forces her to subsist on bread crusts as a lunch. A happenstance meeting allows Yōko to meet Futaba and Teru. While the source manga far predates the likes of Locodol, I cannot help but notice that Futaba and Teru are similar to Locodol‘s Nanako and Yukari in terms of appearance. Their personalities, however, are anything but. Yōko herself seems to have formed the basis for Anne Happy‘s Ruri, as well as GochiUsa‘s Rize and Sharo.

  • The story behind my experience in Sansha San’yō is that I took a look at the first episode, was somewhat interested by the setup, and then proceeded to forget about the show because I had my hands tied with Hai-Furi‘s first episode: the unexpected turn of events, in conjunction with deliberate misinformation about this anime, made it difficult for viewers and readers to differentiate who was stating facts and who was fabricating information for brownie points. Hai-Furi‘s conclusion and two subsequent OVAs later, things have settled down considerably, leaving the way clear for me to return to Sansha San’yō.

  • A former maid of the Nishikawa family, Shino Sonobe is a bit of an amusing character whose matter-of-fact deliveries and penchance for doing outrageous things drive comedy, exasperating Yōko and her friends to no end. However, she does end up offering Yōko a part-time position at her bakery, and Yōko comes to enjoy both being able to have an income, as well as interact with others to better gain a sense of how ordinary people might live.

  • One aspect that Sansha San’yō nails in its delivery is the fact that the characters, while each with their own unique features, are never overshadowed by them. Yōko might be from a wealthy background and retains her mannerisms, but is approachable and friendly. Teru might have a heart blacker than coal, but she’s only really malevolent when pushed. Futaba enjoys eating challenges, but also has the cooking skills to back up her love for food: when she surprises Teru and Yōko with this revelation, she also explains that it’d be bad news bears if she only knew how to eat, and here, helps Yōko cook Kobe beef, creating with the others a fantastic memory.

  • Serina Nishimiya is Futaba and Teru’s classmates, and engages in fierce competition for supremacy in all things academic with Teru. In spite of her efforts, she ends up on the losing side.Despite the feelings of animosity between Serina and Teru being mutual, the two share a love of small animals. Her dislike for Teru is exploited by Shino, who coerces her into working at her bakery, and in time, she and her friend, Asako Kondō, spend more time with Yōko and the others, even if they do not necessarily count one another as friends.

  • Without the additional premise of “misfortune” or “bad luck” driving things, Sansha San’yō is the more enjoyable of the two Manga Time Kirara Adaptations of the Spring 2016 season. Produced and animated by Doga Kobo, which worked on Yuru Yuri‘s first two seasons, both seasons of New Game! and Himōto! Umaru-chan, it is not particularly surprising that Sansha San’yō has high quality with its art and animation: the summer beach here is inviting, and the vivid blue colours do much to capture a mid-summer feel, when the days are long and suited for doing things of one’s choosing.

  • Sakura (Futaba’s cousin) and Yū Takezono square off here: the latter is from a family close to the Nishikawas, while the former has a remarkably detailed plan for life and openly makes her feelings for Yū known. They appear occasionally, but the point of this screenshot is not to highlight their interactions, which are infrequent. Instead, the point of this screenshot is so I don’t have to spend a thousand words explaining why Yōko is my favourite of the characters in Sansha San’yō.

  • Because Sansha San’yō is an older manga, elements of yuri are non-existent – it’s one more element that made the anime considerably more enjoyable. Bill Watterson elaborated in an interview that Calvin and Susie were written to have mutual crushes on one another in Calvin and Hobbes, but found that this was difficult to work in, so he eventually wrote the characters to bounce off one another instead, leading to stories that were more dynamic and entertaining. Sansha San’yō benefited from this approach, illustrating that yuri is not an end-all for slice-of-life anime.

  • The straightforwards approach of Sansha San’yō meant that this anime would’ve been quite difficult to write for had I chosen to blog about it back while it was still airing. Most period discussion on the anime dealt primarily with the interactions – character drive anime are typically quite rudimentary in their thematic elements, and the main enjoyment in watching them stems from watching stuff happen. This is why things like why Mitsugu’s providing only yogurt and puddings to Yōko is skated over in my discussions: as as systems-level kind of guy, I don’t have much patience for folks who dreg up minutiae because they feel the constant need to validate their intellect (or possibly, lack thereof).

  • In answering the above, a perfectly rational individual would surmise that either Yōko is fond of those particular products, or they’re what Mitsugu has the easiest time accessing. I remark that I’ve a disproportionate number of screenshots from the beach episode, and this is a consequence of not doing a full on review of the series. Here, Yōko speaks with Sasame Tsuji, sister of  Hajime Tsuji; she’s dissatisfied that Futaba keeps kicking her brother’s ass in food challenges, and is conflicted when she learns that Yōko happens to be friends with Futaba. Her desire for friendship wins out, and she will later spend more time with Yōko and the others as Sansha San’yō continues.

  • Time makes fools of everyone – while Teru and Serina might not admit it any more than Sasame, Yōko, Futaba and Teru’s increasing presence in their lives, and their corresponding increase in time spent together means that for all intents and purposes, a friendship of sorts begins to form. Here, Futaba gives Serina a ticket to a pet zoo so she may attend with Teru, and despite their hostilities, the two manage to run into one another at every turn, reflecting on the fact their love for kittens is mutual. Were it not for Serina’s attempts in goading Teru past the point of endurance, things might’ve gone smoothly; both characters exhibit flaws that preclude a cordial relationship with one another.

  • It’s rare to see Adam Richman’s equal in anime: Futaba’s appetite and enjoyment of food challenges is second to none, and she’s never seen suffering from the food walls that Adam Richman hits in Man v. Food where quantity challenges are involved. However, excessively spicy food will best her, whereas Richman is actually quite strong in all of his showings against spicy foods: save one challenge in Saratosa against the “Fire-in-your-Hole” wings, Richman has conquered every other challenge. After Futaba gets burned by ultra-hot curry, she realises that dialed back, the curry would be perfect for a culture festival event.

  • As Sansha San’yō wears on, I became acclimatized to the antics of Teru and Futaba. Initially, it was a bit unusual to see Yukari and Nanako look-alikes in this anime, but in time, I grew to greatly enjoy Sansha San’yō – this is the motivation for the page quote. I was motivated to pick up the anime again on a recommendation from one of my readers, and I’m happy to say that the further I got into the anime, the more I liked what I was seeing. I’m all smiles when watching Sansha San’yō, so a warm thank you to DerekL of Apprentice Mages for getting me back into this one is on order.

  • Futaba is often referred to as the Human Black Hole, and it is her suggestion that her class does a curry café. On the topic of black holes, renowned theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking passed away at the age of seventy six, coinciding with the birth date of Albert Einstein. His work on black holes was revolutionary, and he was one of the first to suppose that general relativity and quantum theory were connected in some way. I have Hawking’s A Briefer History of Time and The Universe in a Nutshell; both are fantastic and informative works that explain immensely complex topics in an approachable manner.

  • Christmas in Japan is quite different than what folks from North America and Europe would be accustomed to. Rather than emphasis on family and generosity, Christmas in Japan emphasises couples. Anime typically depicts it as a time of year when friends gather to share a meal together: the bucket of fried chicken on the table, and Futaba’s insistence on having fried chicken at Christmas is a callout to the fact that fried chicken, especially Kentucky Fried Chicken, is an immensely popular Christmas dinner in Japan. With its origins in a 1974 marketing campaign, it codified a Christmas tradition for everyone that has endured into the present.

  • In the eternal struggle between Serina and Teru, Teru always comes out on top. Their friends can only watch in amusement as things go down, and here, Serina is blown away by the fact that Teru’s birthday is on Christmas, feeling offended that celebrating Christmas is to implicitly celebrate Teru’s birthday, as well. As icing on the cake, Locodol‘s Yukari, whom I noted to share some similarities with Teru in appearance, also has a Christmas birthday, as well. I am positive that this bit of information did not cross my mind during my initial watching of Sansha San’yō.

  • While the snowfall is used purely for comedy’s sake in Sansha San’yō, there is nothing remotely amusing about the snow that has fallen in my area: with 43.3 cm of snow falling in the past month, we’ve broken a record of sorts, and after shovelling the snow, we’ve got piles of snow on the lawn deep enough for me to pull off what Shino’s got going here. One aspect of Sansha San’yō that I’ve got no screenshots of, but loved seeing, was Teru exploding in anger after Futaba visits her house and shouts out, inviting Teru out to chill, rather than using the doorbell.

  • A lot of sources translate the title 三者三葉 literally as “Three-person trefoil”, after the L. corniculatus, a flowering plant with a distinct three-leafed flower, but looking at the title more closely, “Three people, three leaves” is the better direct translation. In English, Sansha San’yō is known as “Three Leaves, Three Colours”, evidently after the fact that there are three main characters with the kanji 葉 in their name and that each of the girls has distinct personalities and traits, hence the colours. This is the best translation possible.

  • Discussions of Sansha San’yō have remained quite limited and concise: this is unsurprising, considering that from a big-picture perspective, the anime follows a tried and true convention presenting a story about friendship. Most of the anime’s joys come from, as Bill Watterson put it, watching the characters bounce off one another, and I personally find that it’s more than okay to enjoy shows such as these, even when not much conversation can be had about events within the aforementioned shows. To put things in perspective, discussions on Sansha San’yō at Tango-Victor-Tango, a place known for folks that count episode summaries as analysis and where people attempt to turn minor details into something of academic significance, stopped at episode eight.

  • The finale of Sansha San’yō has Shino recounting a vivid dream to Yōko and the others, before Yōko learns that her father has found new employment. While things begin turning around, Yōko laments that she has not changed too dramatically since meeting Teru and Futaba, but her friends disagree, feeling that the Yōko now is more sociable and connected with those around her, no longer encountering difficulties in conversing with people of a different background than herself. Because my upcoming posts for the second half of March should be well-known (or at least, easy to infer), I’ll wrap up this talk by noting that Sansha San’yō exceeded my expectations and earns a well-deserved A (9.0 of 10).

Unlike Anne Happy, which I would not recommend to viewers, my verdict on Sansha San’yō is quite different: this one is worth watching for the fact that the characters are distinct both within the context of Sansha San’yō, as well as when compared against newer 4-koma adaptations. While being quite conventional as far as thematic elements go, the main draw in Sansha San’yō are the characters and each of their unique personalities – unlike any modern archetypes, they are quite novel, setting Sansha San’yō apart from similar anime. From a technical perspective, Sansha San’yō is also respectable; with satisfactory animation, artwork and sound, it is nice to see an older manga given a modernised adaptation. While enjoyable for what it is, one lingering question is whether or not we could see more Sansha San’yō in the future: there is plenty of material to adapt, as the manga is still running, so a continuation’s viability will depend on sales of home releases and the studio’s interest. While nothing official has been announced yet, it appears that general interest in the series (Japanese viewers warmly received Sansha San’yō) and the animator’s response to this reception means that a sequel should not be ruled out. If such a continuation, either in the form of a second season or OVA, is to be reality, I would likely watch it, so in conjunction with everything else I’ve mentioned in this Terrible Anime Challenge, I would conclude that Sansha San’yō most certainly is not a terrible anime by any definition, only being granted this misnomer on account of the fact that I had a bit of difficulty getting into things when it first began airing back in the spring of 2016.

2 responses to “Terrible Anime Challenge: Sansha San’yō and The Making of Magic From The Ordinary

  1. DerekL March 16, 2018 at 10:56

    I don’t remember what I said, but I’m glad it worked out! Sansha San’yō is a very underrated show.


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