URAHARA is a show that I hate to hate. It was very evidently made with at least a modicum of passion, and doesn’t have a mean bone in its pastel-laden body. It looks like cotton candy and Smarties had a baby that proceeded to vomit glitter sparkles onto a tray of watercolors, which is an aesthetic I can 100% get behind. But it also makes three fashion-conscious friends fighting aliens in Harajuku with the help of a sentient fried shrimp boring, and no amount of unholy candy-spawn vomit can make that palatable.
The animation brings to mind early-Shinbou SHAFT, where characters were sparsely animated, yet still expressively posed in front of wallpaper samples and clipart. Though undeniably cheap-looking, this style was still endearing and effective, relying on conveying character almost exclusively through audio and facial expressions to make up for the fact that a character doing anything more kinetic would eat through the staff’s food money. While I don’t care for much of pre-budget Shinbou beyond Hidamari Sketch and Zetsubou-sensei, there was a down-home charm that, at the very least, made each show memorable—if not necessarily good. It may be clichéd, but there’s a difference between looking cheap and being cheap.
URAHARA apes the formula unsuccessfully, lacking the character and message to make up for clunky, sloppy visuals. Despite ostensibly being about saving Harajuku from culture-hungry aliens that represent the commoditization of what makes the neighborhood unique, there’s very little outside of the color scheme and (again, ostensible) fashion focus that makes URAHARA Harajuku (URAHarajuku?) feel like a distinct place worth saving. The happy visuals belie a lethargy that makes every conversation and every action meaningless and unengaging. The world feels empty, both in ways intended and unintended by the show. When our lead characters, their talking shrimp mascot, or the aliens aren’t in frame, the show has a weird obsession with panning over empty scenery that makes even the world outside of Harajuku feel devoid of life.
Though not exactly unexpressive, the highly conversational nature of the show isn’t benefited by overuse of tricks like characters talking over splitscreens, or performing actions at the same time over splitscreens, or staring at each other vacantly over splitscreens. It’s something that I’m sure was budgetary, but holy shit is it distracting to have the URAHARA universe exist almost entirely through vertical splitscreens, or quick, nausea-inducing camera pans that look like a drunk person reorienting their version.
“Sloppy” really is the operative term here, with nearly everything in the show feeling half-assed and rushed; the only things that it feels like URAHARA put work into, aside from the aesthetic, are a banging OP and an inoffensively pleasant ED, though neither come close to carrying the rest of the deadweight. The more that I write about URAHARA, the sadder it makes me feel, and the feeling has only compounded over the course of the four episodes that I viewed. Though colorful, it feels empty in every substantive way, and I can’t in good faith recommend it to anyone that doesn’t already have a crippling pastel fetish.