What They Say:
No matter where she goes, Sora takes her sketchbook along. The world is full of mysterious and beautiful things, after all, and Sora doesn’t want to miss a single one. The best way she knows to capture each moment is by drawing and sketching, watching and learning.
However, though Sora is full of wonder, she’s also incredibly shy. She doesn’t have many friends, except for her fellow classmates in the Art Club. But even though they all seem to be slightly crazy (the teacher included), each of them adds another bright color to Sora’s world.
The audio presentation for this release is fairly straightforward and simple as we get the original Japanese language in stereo encoded at 192kbps. The show is pretty much entirely dialogue driven with nothing in the way of action. That lets the music and some of the incidental sounds take the spotlight from time to time, which works well enough but isn’t anything that stands out. what we get here is a series that’s all about the mood and the characters hanging out together so it’s very much a center channel based work that doesn’t have to stretch itself. It’s handled well and the encoding brings it out in a clear and clean way without any problems, which is about all you can ask for at this point.
Originally airing in 2007, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The thirteen episodes are spread across three discs with a four/four/five format. Animated by Hal Maker, the show is one that plays to what you’d expect with nice but simple designs, a focus on backgrounds that gives it more detail and a color palette that’s soft and warm to make it inviting and almost a little sleepy in a sense. The transfer captures all of this well with no real problems to be had outside of some line noise during some of the panning sequences. it’s a good looking transfer that captures the look of the show and keeps it from breaking up or having any serious issues to it. Colors are definitely appealing and mostly solid throughout and it has a clean look about it.
The packaging for this release brings us a standard sized DVD keepcase that has a hinge inside for two of the discs while the third is against the back wall. The cover artwork for this is a familiar piece as we get the core trio together outside at a bench where they’re just enjoying the whole atmosphere, all while Mike nestles in amid the high grass. It’s an appealing cover for its lightness and color design with the blues and greens and just for doing such an overall decent medium range shot of the cast instead of plastering their faces up close for us. The back cover brings us a closer shot of Sora with her sketchbook along the right and we get a little more Mike as well. There’s a couple of nice shots from the show and a clean breakdown of the premise as well. The big win here is a good listing of the discs extras with all they entail, which makes it seem like a worthy purchase for those alone. The remainder works the familiar technical grid in a good way. There are no show related inserts nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for this release goes simple but nicely done as we get three static images that play more to the illustration side with the various characters getting their time. The right side of it provides the full color piece but it softens it around the edges with white which shifts to the navigation and logo, both of which work the orange and purple color scheme pretty well. Submenus are quick and easy to load and work with in both navigation and functionality. With it being a monolingual release it’s just basic chapter selection and working with the extras, both of which it does smoothly and problem free.
The extras for this release are definitely quite nice and add a lot of fun to it. With the original Japanese picture dramas included with full subtitles, it’s like getting a couple of extra episodes of silliness about the whole thing. I’ve enjoyed these kinds of works before in other shows and it works well here. Additionally, we get all the clean opening and closing sequences for all of the episodes and we get a decent if short round of promos and original Japanese commercials. There’s also a nice four minute instrumental music video that lets you just soak up the sound of the series with the quality of the animation itself.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga series written by Totan Kobako that’s still ongoing, Sketchbook ~full color’s~ is a thirteen episode series that adapts the slice of life show with its bits of mild comedy. The original manga is a slow moving one that’s only at ten volumes now, some eight years after the anime first came out. In a lot of ways the show feels like a four panel comic in its pacing and structure as it moves from area to area while still working with something of an overall idea. It works this idea well in the first episode to introduce the characters and some of the setting without overwhelming you with them. Art clubs tend to have quirky characters, and there are a few here, but it has a more mellow feeling than anything else.
The show revolves around freshman student Sora Kajiwara who provides the narration for most of the episodes when it’s warrantedl. She’s very aware that she’s a shy girl who is easily flustered when she meets new people, and even those she’s familiar with. Most things seem larger than life to her in some way, but she finds her peace in her sketchbook by drawing anything and everything that catches her eye. Her passion is drawing cats in their various forms, but like most living creatures they tend to not cooperate too well. But even with these animals she loves, she has something of a fear of them doing something. One scene shows her sketching a cat that’s posed wonderfully for her, but the second it starts walking in her general direction she starts panicking over it. And not like you see in most series with it being exaggerated but more of a realistic controlled panic.
Through her narration we get an understanding of her love of sketching and why she prefers it over a camera, though sketching isn’t always easy. The art club’s current project is their toughest yet, at least from the students perspectives, as their instructor has told them to do something that they find interesting for the latest assignment. In the already under attended classroom, the students aren’t sure what it is they should draw and there are some amusing internal discussions about it, such as how Hazuki’s main interest these days is why a particular brand of miso dropped a hundred yen in price. Should she draw the miso? The new price? The hundred yen coin? It’s an amusing insight into this character, as are the brief moments of sock puppet mastery by Natsumi who is trying to help her along in deciding.
Realistically, where the episode goes is almost exactly what to expect with the rest of the series as it progresses. The kids head out into the world to see what interests them so they can sketch their project. Through this we meet other students that will have more of an impact later on as well as getting to see a bit more of Fukuoka. There are some comedy moments along the way and the silliness that comes from slice of life situations, such as putting too much of something on your food and so forth. It’s very light and almost wispy, but it fits well with the characters and with the way Sora is. She drives the nature of the show and it’s good to see that even as we get quirky characters introduced, nobody is obnoxiously loud or overbearing. They all feel more real world than not when it comes to their personalities.
If you’re not a fan of this kind of style, it could probably incite you to anger with the way it literally does almost nothing. This is simply what the show does as it’s more intent on creating a mood and the idyllic view of being a teenager with no worries, no stress and nothing bad in one’s life. And it’s a nice fantasy to have and live vicariously through with the show. The series works this easily enough with simple ideas, such as Sora starting her day off earlier than usual and decides to change from her normal routine as best as she can since she’s such a creature of habit. That means leaving early, starting off on her left foot instead of her right and even getting off the bus a stop early so she can see different things than usual. All of this gives her a new view on everything as she discovers that the normal routines of others are also off today. Of course, those others are all cats as she spends her time naming and documenting them with how they’ve changed and how Mike in particular is not in the empty lot she usually sees him.
The school side, where most of this takes place, has Sora feeling off throughout it as she looks at everything a little differently. Her friends are being odd and relaxed as usual as they deal with the warm summer day, deciding where to have lunch and the value of wearing sock puppets in the summer since they keep you warm in the winter. The main drama revolves around the art club itself as the instructor is set to do something big and new today but all she has is a chicken and nothing else since the rest of what she wanted to use hasn’t arrived. Add in the quirky angle about Daichi trying to turn his crayfish blue by feeding it salted mackerel and nothing else – while the girls feed it parts of their lunch – makes for a bit of overactive drama. Or at least as overactive as this show gets.
The show does break things up well in different ways as needed, such as smaller segments or breaking it in half. One early episode has a pretty good split to it with the first half dealing with Sora at home with her younger brother Ao. Unlike a lot of shows of this nature, Sketchbook isn’t afraid of including a few men into it. She’s waiting on Natsumi and Hazuki to arrive so they can get into their yukata’s for the festival and fireworks that they want to go and see. This is a good window into the home life of Sora as we see that she’s just as she is when at school and elsewhere. What I really liked is the way Ao wonders how she manages out in the world and what kind of friends she might have because of the way she moves to the beat of a very different drummer. The smallest things continue to fascinate Sora and she has this very strangely connected/disconnected way about her that’s almost off-putting. It’s like she hasn’t grown up at all and moved into the real world as she sees so many things as if through the eyes of a child.
The second half deals with the festival itself as the girls wander about and do some of the usual things, such as the goldfish scoop and the like. There are cute moments to be had as they interact with people or as Sora gets distracted by things, enough so that she separates from the others which cause some mild concern for Ao when he shows up with his friends. As expected, many other members of the art club show up though Sora is the only one with her sketchbook as she tries to find something just right to capture. There’s something both comical and sad in watching her trying to sketch the fireworks and while I get the point of it and how they portray her, it almost makes her look too out of sync with the world which is not a good thing.
The series works these small moments throughout and it does it well. The cast is mostly focused on the core group but we get others. The supporting level students tend to be ciphers for the most part with a few decent moments, but the one that kind of steals the show is the art teacher. Kasugano is the somewhat younger teacher, but not dangerously so type, who is very aware of the joys of being a teenager in this environment and kind of wants to relive them herself through the students. She’s almost a little meta at times in how she deals with them, but the big heart is there even if it is a bit selfish. She’s like a lot of teacher characters in a way where she’s goofy, not very mature in the way that you’d expect, but she’s also not like one of the kids either. The result is that we get something where she’s someone you can empathize with and enjoy without feeling pity for her or wishing she’d dial it down a notch. It’s one of the better played characters who has real character about her.
Where the show lost me with its characters though is the mid series introduction of Kate, a foreign exchange student who knows very little about anything Japanese. While such occurrences do happen in the real world, the young blonde is just not all that interesting and comes across as a bit of a space case for a lot of it. Sora does her best to help her when she can, and is actually assigned to get her up to speed to some degree, but there’s a number of playful moments with the other girls just messing with Kate. Which is admittedly silly, but it just goes back to the idea that she’s very much a one-note character. There are some decent bits of humor that come from her as it goes on, but she really feels like she’s sidelined not long after her introductory episode and that just makes future appearances really seem out of place more often than not.
Sketchbook is a series that wants to enjoy the simple charms and pleasures of life and not do anything big or amazing. And I love that we get series like that because they can be quite charming and fun to watch. This series does things mostly as you’d expect and there’s not a lot to really make it distinctive unfortunately. The art club setting is all too familiar at this point and the girls don’t come across as having much in the way of lives outside of it. There are nice moments and it does bring us full circle in the end as the real story here, touched lightly throughout it, is Sora’s move from shy girl to girl with friends. It achieves it well because it does it slowly and with plenty of nice moments and you can enjoy the characters even if they are mostly superficial. Long sought after for release, fans will definitely like what they get here with this collection, especially with all the extras. A very well put together property.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Picture Dramas 1-6, Clean Openings and Closings, Dandelion Waterwheel Music Video, Promotional Video, Commercials
Content Grade: B-
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B+
Released By: Nozomi Entertainment
Release Date: September 1st, 2015
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.