There has rarely been a shortage of ecchi comedy series on the market and, on the surface, Tona-Gura! does not look like it has anything special to offer that would set it apart. I went into it assuming it’d be generic and not worth talking about, until the middle portion of the anime caught me by surprise. Was this show getting good?
The anime is about childhood friends Kazuki Arisaka and Yuuji Kagura, who have been separated ever since Yuuji’s parents decided to move away. Their house has been left vacant ever since and Kazuki still clings to her cherished memories of Yuuji. This presents a problem the Kaguras suddenly move back into their old house and the pair is reunited. Because Yuuji, remembered as an adorable, kindhearted boy, has grown up to become an excitable pervert.
Kazuki is distraught by his change and initially rejects Yuuji completely, but she is forced to cope with it when both their parents end up stranded overseas during a vacation. They’ll effectively be living together for the foreseeable future, alongside Kazuki’s older sister Hatsune, and Yuuji’s little sister Marie.
The first few episodes are about what you’d expect. Yuuji hatches perverted schemes, Kazuki gets angry a lot and punishes him, but a slimmer of romantic interest always remains that keep the two together. It’s fairly predictable, but made palatable by the fun side-characters. For example, Marie is a deadpan loli character with a fascination for airsoft guns, and who frequently uses her older brother as target practice whenever he acts too annoying. Other fun inclusions are the half-American goofball Neena, Hatsune the scheming elder sister, and the dynamic duo that act as class representatives.
For a while it was the side-plots and comedy that carried the show for me, with much of the storyline between Yuuji and Kazuki turning into white noise. Then the show started feeling like it was actually going somewhere. Around episode 5 we began to get some actual character development, as their friends start helping Kazuki and Yuuji mend their broken relationship. Yuuji’s poor behavior and thoughtlessness are addressed, while Kazuki begins to consider how it has been unfair of her to hold Yuuji to some imagined ideal she created based on their childhood memories.
Sadly, it doesn’t really hold. It’s difficult to take introspective character development seriously in a show this indulgent and male-oriented. The show panders to Yuuji way too hard, so none of his Eureka moments actually stick, but he still gets all the credit for them. The show turns into a harem-light where Kazuki is clearly the actual main girl, but several female side-characters still worship Yuuji and get to star in fanservice shots or even blatantly come unto him. It’s functional, but sabotages the anime whenever it attempts to reach higher.
The fanservice is also remarkably tame. The girls are often shown in their underwear or their panties are briefly visible, but anything more than that and the anime cuts away immediately. There is this one scene where the clasp on Kazuki’s bikini breaks and the instant it starts falling she covers up. 5 seconds later and she is already wearing a T-shirt and the scene is over.
Tona-Gura! also declines in the latter portion of the show, thanks to a tediously-prolonged story arc where a new rival enters the scene and Yuuji turns into an insufferable little shit as jealousy takes hold. It put me right back into “white noise” mode, but the increased focus on the main storyline meant there wasn’t much else to enjoy in the meantime.
Some anime are largely forgotten for good reason. Tona-Gura! briefly appears like it might turn out special, but it always gives in to its bad habits in the end. Easy fanservice, comedy routines, and basic plot lines; all the ingredients necessary for a completely unremarkable ecchi series. I can name a dozen shortcomings for the series, yet fail to come up with any compelling reasons for why such a bland show would be worth anyone’s time. Big boobies?