In his essay Toward an Aesthetic of Reception, the prominent literary theorist Hans Robert Jauss used the metaphor of « culinary » art, in order to designate and criticize a certain type of art that contents itself with using commonplaces, conforming to the public’s taste and refraining from making bold or demanding artistic choices.
SukaSuka, in my opinion, matches perfectly with this definition: its writing and execution lazily follow hackneyed recipes, which prevents the anime from being anything else than a juxtaposition of trite tropes and plot devices.
This review will delve into the main reasons why I found it very difficult to get immersed in SukaSuka’s story, or even to simply take it seriously.
The most evident one, which I mentioned a bit already, pervades every level of the anime; it is the fact that the plot, worldbuilding and characters of the show all correspond to commonplaces of light novel adaptations. For instance, all the members of the main cast strictly follow archetypes like the tragic tsundere, the outgoing neko girl, or the overpowered protagonist most women are in love with. The characters’ personalities are justified by the plot, though not always very convincingly, but they cruelly lack something that would humanize them. Their actions, designs, and above all the voice acting, which is especially trite, are so clichéd that they make it nearly impossible to suspend one’s disbelief and see those characters as anything else than mere plot devices. The often out of place otaku-bait that are the couple of borderline hentai scenes and Ithea’s metatextual jokes undermine any suspension of disbelief even more, and are representative of another one of SukaSuka’s writing issues: it’s lack of coherence.
Indeed, the anime’s plot is both full of holes and extremely unequally distributed between the episodes. It generally is developed through some unclear and heavy exposition scenes, and most of it is only explained in the penultimate episode. Consequently, during most of the anime, it is impossible for the viewers to really grasp what is happening to the characters, as they don’t yet know the rules that govern their world. Therefore, each new plot point fells like it comes out of left field and lacks a logical explanation, which damages the sense of continuity and the coherence of the narrative. The main female character, Chtolly, also acts and thinks very inconsistently; her personality changes from scene to scene in a way that is jarring and hard to believe.
A lot of these inconsistencies can be attributed to a wish from the writer to create dramatic tension at all costs. As a matter of fact, none of the anime’s ideas and themes are properly explored, as it limits itself to scenes that aim at causing an emotional reaction in the viewers. In truth, even when one looks at it in hindsight, SukaSuka’s story doesn’t make much sense: its historical context and its magic system seem like they exist only to justify the fact that children are used as weapons, that the main characters are special and that they find themselves in tear-jerking situations despite being overpowered. The romance between the two protagonists is as banal and mawkish as it is unrealistic, and only adds to the impression that the writing of the show is deplorably superficial.
On top of having a weak plot, SukaSuka suffers from inept execution. In particular, the arrangement of its different scenes doesn’t allow for the building of a harmonious atmosphere. In addition to the fact that the scenes that contain essential information for the story are often given less attention than insignificant ones, they follow one another extremely abruptly without there being a sense of cohesion between them. The exposition, whose role is crucial in any story to establish a sort of author-reader contract, is by far the worse part of the series: it haphazardly mixes tones and juxtaposes different commonplaces and techniques, which for the majority of them never reappear again. This tendency to clumsily blend different kinds of atmosphere is a recurring feature of the anime, which is at its worst at the end of episode two, when a scene which is supposed to be sad and emotional is immediately followed by an especially distasteful fan service moment. The presence of fillers even though the series is only twelve episodes long goes to show how badly its screen time was allocated.
From a technical standpoint, SukaSuka is not the worst of series, but it doesn’t really shine either. Its cinematography varies from generic mediocrity to incompetence, its average OST is used in a cheesy manner that participates in its poor handling of ambiance, and most of the designs are uninspired. Those of the animal-people, of the evil beasts and of the flying boats are awful, but those of the main characters, as well as the setting, are about passable.
As for the dialogues, they are of the lowest quality: not only are they stereotyped and devoid of any aesthetic concern, but they also waste an incredible amount of time making references to things both the characters and the viewers already know, without elaborating on them. Sometimes, they also do the opposite by hinting at things or mentioning subjects so vaguely that one only ends up equally if not more confused after the dialogue than before.
To put it in a nutshell, SukaSuka is a bad anime. It doesn’t seem to truly understand the codes and tropes it is made of and handles them in an amateurish manner, to such an extent that it sometimes feel insulting. It has no soul, no depth, no originality, there is no reason to watch it.