Uncanny Gully: character animation in Himote House

HIMOTE HOUSE, animated series, 12 min/per episode.
Studio Bouncy, October 2018 – ongoing

https://www.crunchyroll.com/himote-house-a-share-house-of-super-psychic-girls/

“In aesthetics, the uncanny valley is a hypothesized relationship between the degree of an object’s resemblance to a human being and the emotional response to such an object. The concept of the uncanny valley suggests humanoid objects which appear almost, but not exactly, like real human beings elicit uncanny, or strangely familiar, feelings of eeriness and revulsion in observers. Valley denotes a dip in the human observer’s affinity for the replica, a relation that otherwise increases with the replica’s human likeness.”
— https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uncanny_valley

A diversion first to Hugtto! Precure. Whatever else you can you care to say about it, you must admit that the first time you saw the ending sequences you were a bit thrown. The CG animated, somewhat flat versions of the characters doing virtual Idol style dances were jarring – much in the manner of net video Miku Miku Dance animations but more so. Closer examination shows a somewhat different style than the usual open source stuff found on Nico Nico but the idea remains the same. Or worse.

It looks as if whoever did these Precure ED sequences got a contract to create Himote House’s 12-minute Cute Girls Doing Whatever episodes. Or lent out the software packages. Lets get all the story stuff out-of-the-way first, with a quick wrap up of the show:

The three Himote (lit: unpopular, especially with the opposite sex) sisters have taken in roommates in their family home while their world-travelling anthropologist parents are away. Two highschool friends have moved in to make a five woman share-house, ages 19 through mid-twenties. After discussing household chores, laundry and underwear, one of the sisters casually mentions that they have useless super powers. The already-there lodger has one too and when the new lodger does a constipated grunting try, it turns out that she has a useless super power as well. The household cat, which resembles a walking maneki-neko can talk. For some reason, the English streaming service has chosen to highlight the super-power hook rather than the ‘himote” hook. The next episode is devoted to demonstrating how useless these super-powers are and showing us that early-20’s Japanese women who will not act like bar hostesses or deer stunned by headlights face dating challenges.

Informed discussion on the show notes that some of the key creative talent and the voice actors (save one) are veterans of two earlier 1.6- 1.8D CG animes: gdgd fairies and Tesagure! Bukatsumono. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gdgd_Fairies
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tesagure!_Bukatsu-mono

Also noted was that there had been a notion to use voice actor improv sessions to develop the dialogue that would then be animated. Though the idea was shelved in favor of conventionally scripted dialogue, the show retains a strong improv feel.

It also, perhaps because of the flat character design, is mercifully short on fanservice (they go on about pantsu but we get no reveal) or improbably curved, cleavage displaying young Japanese women. Each character’s signature clothing “style” might be individualistic but none of them, except perhaps oldest daughter Tokiyo is weird and none are too revealing. I have read some shade at this show, mostly from guy-sounding sources. I wonder how women viewers gauge it.

Presumably, the next 10 episodes will go on more or less the same as the first two and broadcast time will be innocuously filled with content at a reasonable price point. Himote House is not objectionable and given even a modest reception, could well go on to a few more cours/ seasons.

The animation will take some getting used to.

gdgd fairies was animated using Microsoft Windows 3.11’s PAINT, or at least looked as if it was. The scenes were even cruder than South Park. Tesagure! Bukatsumono used (a presumably tweaked version of) Miku Miku Dance. Although Tesagure! suffered from claustrophobic room settings and look-down camera angles, the actual character designs rendered out faces and bodies in a way that seemed to naturally match the “look” of the rest of the animation. This is hard to put into words but the animated characters “fit” the overall quality, resolution and detail of their backgrounds.

With Himote, you can posit Tesagure! Bukatsumono on one side of a trough and PAWorks or KyoAni up a gentle rise on the other side. Near the edge on this side is last year’s Kado; The Wrong Answer with the space between filled by a horde of work-a-day anime. Down in the gully, Himote is a few inches up one side, staring across the bottom at a high school video circle’s attempt at a CG My Little Pony parody doujin, the kind where the dancing ponies all look like they were computer simulations of extruded modelling clay. Something about Himote’s chara animation just LOOKS WRONG.

Neither too bad – and therefore passable as a hip ironic artifact, nor close enough to 2D drawn animation to invite comparison – just wonky enough to be unnerving. And just when your subconscious gets used to the “style”, the producers have the habit of dropping conventionally drawn static 2D panels into the flow, as if to knock the viewer back into a perpetual feeling of unease.

I would not put it past the producers to play some more with this and start distorting bodies with too big heads, variable heights, skewed perspectives, etc. They all have unexplainable super powers, so temporarily turning them into bobble-heads or worse shouldn’t be a problem. Just a pomo nod towards body-image/ body-horror issues that can be girl-talked over for 6 minutes. Why should androgyne Gems have all the fun? If the animation is going to be jarring, best to fold that characteristic into the narrative and push it to extremes for effect. Flip your liabilities and deploy them as unique selling points!

Could Himote House be some kind of subversive Japanese women’s narrative? I don’t have the credentials to make the call but so far the dialogue has been relentlessly mundane in its girl-talk-ish-ness. Sure they might start talking about bras and pantsu, but only in the context of how to properly launder them (in mesh bags) and not get them mixed up. Not much guy-voyeurism juice there. (Or has this kind of girl-talk already been commodified as product to  niche guy-otaku audiences? ) They spend 5 minutes opening a jar of rice seasoning. They go to a goukon and grumble about the pickings after, all without indulging in any of the usual trope-talk about societal pressure to find a guy and get married. The first two episodes come damn close to being fully Bechdel–Wallace test compliant.

As well, there have been no hints of yuri-trolling yet. Just five gals living in a house while they work in the big city. Dialogue is more likely to center around whether bath-towels get washed after one use than about “romance”. They haven’t even thrown a good weekend piss-up yet, so I doubt that they will be doing any product placement for speciality beers or fruity sochus – as with another recent women’s share-house anime.

Maybe one of them is at University or a NEET? Does it matter much? There is a Zen-like be-here-now-ness to Himote’s conversations.A ‘radio show’ adjunct to the show is rumoured to expand on the meandering dialogue and reportedly often slips into originally planned improv. Could the anime be considered as an economically animated adjunct to the radio show? Normally the cost of animation would preclude so much content-less content but technology has once again reduced costs and expanded accessibility, so why not? Himote House is analogous to a monthly 2 hour fan podcast on not much of anything. Leave it on in the background, replay if you care that you missed something. Considering that Japanese daytime TV either has women being lectured at by guy experts or has a posse of women go out to expensive restaurants and hot springs, sample the wares and then pronounce “Sugoi” and “Sy-co” to the camera (rinse, repeat) Himote’s dialogue might well be revolutionary in its mundane realism.

Just because you can maybe you should. Why gate-keep?

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