By Andy Hanley.
Although the creation of Miku Hatsune has spawned a wealth of merchandise, figurines and video games, it’s easy to forget that her existence came about simply as one of a number of characters designed to promote Yamaha Corporation and Crypton Future Media’s Vocaloid software. Beyond the marketability of its well-known mascots, Vocaloid has created something of a bedroom revolution in the Japanese music industry, offering a powerful and easy-to-use way of adding vocals to your musical creations without having to worry about expensive recording studios or, perhaps more importantly, actually finding a talented vocalist capable of doing your renditions justice.
Since the popularity of Vocaloid (and of course Ms. Hatsune in particular) exploded in 2007, we’ve seen notable musical acts come to prominence, and the opening of an avenue of creativity that has been celebrated across the spectrum of anime, manga and beyond. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of this growth of budding individuals using Vocaloid as a creative tool has come in recent years, as notable works move beyond mere albums or places in the Project Diva series of video games and actually gain light novel and anime adaptations in their own right.
It’s a small-scale resurrection of music as a story-telling device – a welcome return to the halcyon days of “rock opera” like Tommy and Quadrophenia with great music while that also weaves a compelling narrative into their tunes.
Mikagura School Suite began as a series of songs produced by two-person team Last Note, later adapted into a series of light novels before making it to the small screen as an anime project produced by Doga Kobo. It is the story of Eruna Ichinomiya, a heroine who is more interested in fantasising about pretty girls than considering her future. This slightly perverted obsession with the female form even turns into the catalyst for her choosing which high school to attend – never mind its academic requirements, she applies to Mikagura Private Academy because of the way its students look in the brochure.
But this grandiose academy is no ordinary school – in fact, its entire outlook on education is completely topsy-turvy, as almost every aspect of school life is revolves around after-school clubs. These clubs in turn do super-powered battle with one another, not just for prestige but also for their members to receive better accommodation and provisions. In other words, imagine something akin to Kill la Kill meets Baka and Test: Summon the Beasts.
As a newcomer to the school, Eruna’s chances seem hopeless – she has no special powers to speak of, unless you count her ongoing lechery. However, she’s been selected to attend the school by a strange cat-like creature named Bimii (who only those eligible for the academy can actually see) and she also seems to have at least fleetingly captured the attention of Seisa Mikagura, the aloof grand-daughter of the school principal, whose picture persuaded Eruna to enrol in the first place. Indeed, it even seems as if fate itself is keen to push our protagonist in the right direction.
At times the serial’s focus is upon the often surreal action of its inter-club battles, with everything from sound and music through to giant calligraphy brushes being used as weapons. On other occasions (and much more in keeping with the songs which originally inspired it) the core of the series becomes far more personal, delving lightly into the backstories of various characters while allowing Eruna’s personable nature to shine through and deliver an age-old moral of the importance of friendship. Finally, there’s plenty of comic relief on show throughout, which works especially well early on while the cast and their foibles still feel fresh.
The overall result is an enjoyable and amusing series whose heart is in the right place, topped with dashes of good animation and, of course, some great music.