Nowadays you may be familiar with visual novel developer Frontwing thanks to Djibril – The Devil Angel or their Grisaia franchise, but in 2002 they were relatively obscure. Their debut novel Canary came out in 2000 to a modest reception, after which subsequent releases were considerably more mediocre. A follow-up to Canary ran into corporate drama and eventually became the competing series Green Green, which received an OVA, TV series, specials, and a sequel.
However, that Canary sequel did still happen in the form of an OVA. Nobody watched it and it’s little more than a sad footnote in anime history… but at least it got made. That counts for something, I am sure.
Admittedly I haven’t played the Canary visual novel, but judging by its VNDB description, the OVA acts as a sequel of sorts.
The story follows an amateur band that has run into a major predicament. They were scheduled to play at an upcoming festival, but their keyboard player has unexpectedly decided to quit the band mere days before the event. On top of that, the festival’s planning committee suddenly decides to cancel the band’s performance entirely, without any real reason for doing so. The band’s leader Mika Katagiri tries to get the decision overturned, but how can she possibly argue with the planners when she doesn’t even have a full band ready to play?!
Canary is part music anime, part comedy, and part romance, which is a lot to mix together for a 26-minute OVA. Much of the story hinges on the brazen assumption that the audience has played (and remembered) the original visual novel, so people who haven’t will be left without much context. Maybe these characters would be amazing if I’d previously gotten to romance them, but as a newcomer they just struck me as awfully plain.
Their designs feel too basic to be memorable and nobody gets enough screen-time to get their personality across. In fact, due to the plain-looking character designs it was difficult to keep track of who everybody even was.
In terms of production, Canary feels more like an ambitious (or overfunded) student film than a professional release. The visuals are generally underwhelming, with the most jarring “mistake” being how often characters are frozen in awkward poses. You get shots where one character is talking, then another character reacts, but the first character’s mouth stays open while the other is speaking; as if the mouth flap animation was cut on the wrong frame.
As a comedy, Canary struggles as well. Most of its jokes are pretty straightforward, yet stunningly manage to still fall entirely flat. The comedic timing is so terribly off that even the most basic gags become difficult to parse. I had to rewind a few times to even confirm if something was a joke or not.
Suffice it to say, Canary is not very good. I did end up enjoying its second half quite well, thanks to a few good jokes and the entertaining finale. That still doesn’t make it an OVA that I would recommend to people, but it does show a level of genuine effort that infamously bad releases like Mars of Destruction lack.
Outside of the 4 fans of the visual novel who are still out there, people probably won’t have a great time with Canary. However, anime fans like myself—who cherish the obscure regardless of quality—may find it a fascinating piece of anime history. I enjoyed discovering it more than I enjoyed watching it, if that makes any sense.