Agent Aika

aika post

Agent Aika begins with a leisurely boat tour along the flood waters now covering Saitama, Japan. Twenty years after a worldwide disaster submerged 95% of the world’s land, salvaging work to recover valuable goods and data from the abandoned cities below has become a booming profession.

An attractive fighter and submarine pilot, Aika Sumeragi, and her spunky megane partner, Rion Aida, pursue salvaging work at the K2 Corporation headed by Rion’s father, Gozo Aida. Rion is frustrated with her father’s overly generous business practices that have lost profits for the company. Aika intervenes and convinces them to agree to a shady business proposition to collect data on a new energy source called Lagu. Unbeknownst to them, Rudolf and Neena Hagen, siblings who were contracted by the military, also have a vested interest in this energy source, and they’re willing to kill to obtain it for themselves.

The fanservice, which—let’s be honest—is the whole point of this series, is brash by the more socially considerate standards of modern anime. I often see people today complaining about small bits of service that pale in comparison to what Agent Aika defiantly shovels into your face. Excess aside, I couldn’t help but appreciate the inventiveness of the choreography and shot compositions. The fight scenes are practically balletic in their staging, and consistently filled with service shots that aren’t confined to comedic or sexual situations. The camera itself turns the viewer into a dirty voyeur, giving you a sleazy first-person view of the “action.”

The non-service cinematography is noteworthy as well. By episode five, there’s an impressive play on perspective and depth of field akin to a live action crime thriller. For a series that likely started as an excuse to fill the screen with panty shots, the visuals are surprisingly detailed and thought out. With the support of superb artwork and an eccentric array of characters, my interest was sustained outside of the service.

Agent Aika was clearly a labor of love, something that the creators believed in, and likely wanted to see for themselves. This kind of passion is rare. Typically, studios play it safe, and paint by the numbers laid forth by focus groups, steering clear of anything that could be considered too weird, offensive, or unprofitable. Agent Aika on the other hand didn’t give any fucks. It did what it wanted to do, how it wanted to do it, and it did it with style.

Koi wa Ameagari no You ni

Adapted from the seinen manga by Jun Mayuzuki, After the Rain (Koi wa Ameagari no You ni) is a tender-hearted romance about a bold high school sophomore, Akira Tachibana, who develops strong feelings for the charming middle-aged manager, Masami Kondou, at the restaurant where she works.

A story that should’ve induced endless cringe was somehow realized into an uplifting slice of life. It certainly helps that Kondou, colorfully performed by the resonant Hiroaki Hirata, isn’t the one doing the pursuing. When Tachibana’s feelings for him become evident, he reacts responsibly. He’s fully aware of the ramifications of dating a teenager at his age, and is understandably resistant to the idea.

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Tachibana, voiced with a quiet sharpness by Sayumi Watabe, is surprisingly insistent when it comes to what she wants, though guarded enough to not share everything about herself. Her apparent coldness frustrates Haruka Kyan, an old track partner who longs to rekindle the close camaraderie that they once had. Tachibana, who was—and still is—an exceptional runner, opts out of competition due to an injury, and seems quite content with spending the bulk of her social time pursuing Kondou. She distances herself from Kyan, perhaps because they’ve grown apart, or because Kyan brings back memories that she wants to forget.

Initially, I didn’t quite understand why Tachibana would be attracted to someone as old as Kondou. It wasn’t until around the fifth episode, when we get a glimpse of Kondou’s personal life, that it started to make sense to me. Outside of work, Kondou lives a modest life as a bibliophile and single father. He’s a caring parent to his young son, Yuuto, and maintains a comfortable home when the two of them are together. Tachibana likely sensed this kindness from her time with him, and thus sought him as a refuge after losing motivation for most everything else.

Director Ayumu Watanabe, who also helmed the anime classic Space Brothers, brings an understated sophistication to the performances and atmosphere. After the Rain doesn’t fear placidity. Scenes often break from the commotion to dwell with the surroundings, which are typically dressed with a relaxing ambience and rain covered petals.

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The biggest negative for me was Ryousuke Kase, a character who appears in the fourth episode. In total contrast with Kondou, Kase has a lustful and self-serving interest in teenage girls. With near supernatural ability, he finds a way to interject himself into Tachibana’s life, and even gain leverage over her. Thankfully, the adapters realized that this character was about to break everything with contrived drama, and they quickly pushed him to the side; we don’t see much of him thereafter.

There was a moderate amount of what some academics have snidely deemed as “male gaze”, where the imagery is seemingly framed from a straight-male perspective. In the case of this anime, the camera occasionally gives the viewer an alluring close-up of Tachibana’s modelesque demeanor. Seeing as this is a seinen targeted to teen and adult males—or anyone who appreciates a nice story—some light fanservice should be expected. Personally, I felt that these visuals aptly supplemented the sexual undertones of the material.

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Animated with dazzling finesse by Wit Studio, After the Rain is a portrait of two people, initially separated by a generation, who are drawn together by intersecting circumstances. The overall emphasis, for better or worse, is more on the everyday character situations than on the romance. Ultimately, the story is an exploration of the efforts that we take to reconcile the loss of the things that we cherish—whether it’s an old friend, or the dreams that we strive for. If you’re looking for something sweet and innocuous with a dash of poetry, you may find satisfaction with After the Rain.