04 Oct 2017
Slice-of-life: Love it or loathe it, it’s become one of the defining genres in contemporary anime. Every season, at least one or two new shows make their presence known, all spinning off the same core premise - cute girls doing cute things. We’ve seen it so many times now that most amount to nothing more than an extended yawnfest. And yet, there are those rare gems within the genre that set the template on how to do it all ‘properly’. Sometimes, the secret ingredient behind that success is in sheer simplicity itself. Kinmoza - or Kin-Iro Mosaic to give it its full name - is one such show.
Kinmoza’s first episode plays like an absolute dream - we’d even go as far to say that it’s one of the best opening episodes we’ve seen in any anime recently, let alone slice-of-life shows. Told primarily as flashback, pretty much the entirety of the episode is set in a beautifully depicted England - which has clearly been reconstructed through meticulous on-site research. Through a wash of pastel tones that go above and beyond in recreating the bounty of rural England, we see a young Japanese girl - Shinobu - on a homestay with blonde-haired British lass Alice Cartelet. It’s an idyllic existence, and told with such a lyrical, childlike, sense of wonder that this first episode almost feels more like the opening act of a movie - something emphasised by the fact this entire flashback is presented in letterbox framing.
Following this, we fast-forward to the present day for the rest of the series. Where we join Shinobu - who has now returned to Japan - as a highschooler (despite the fact that both her, and all the other core girls in the show look about ten years younger than they’re actually supposed to be). Surprise, surprise - that old anime cliche of the foreign transfer student rears its head, and it turns out it’s none other than her old pal Alice. Who is swiftly followed by fellow blonde Brit Karen (the one dressed in the Union Jack sweater). Along with a host of other cute classmates, we follow these chirpy girls through a succession of everyday antics, which aim in every way to ‘nail’ the very essence of what it means to be a top-tier slice-of-life show.
Much like those other slice-of-life greats K-On and Hidamari Sketch, Kinmoza is based on a 4-koma manga, and as such rings with much the same sense of bite-size comedic timing. In many ways, it stands as a perfect balance between the two - never reaching the cloying, ‘friendship saves the day’ gooeyness of K-On, yet for all its visual similarities, never going to quite the same meditative, sleepy levels of Hidamari Sketch. There’s a brisk, optimistic energy to every episode that feels utterly representative of its school-kid characters, and the various situations feel refreshingly realistic; preferring to find humour in the simplicity of everyday occurrences, as opposed to bombastic character cliches.
A word on the audio - this release comes with Japanese audio only, and while at first it can feel jarring to hear characters that are clearly supposed to be British speaking English with what is obviously a Japanese accent, it has to be balanced against the fact that really, there wouldn’t have been any way to recreate the core premise of the show with an English dub. With this in mind, Karen and Alice’s English dialogue starts to take on a rather cute tone, and at times it almost manages a stab at Cockney-esque tones. For a show so in love with the idea of Englishness, Kinmoza obviously ends up having special resonance with British audiences and, much like the K-On movie and its London love-in, it is well worth checking out simply for these references.
An interesting side effect of all this is that Kinmoza also ends up being an excellent anime-of-choice for those looking to learn Japanese. The language used is joyously simple, sticking mainly to short, concise statements and easy vocabulary, with the inherent Anglo/Japanese flavour lent by the characters of Karen and Alice adding further impetus to this bilingual feel. It’s little silver-linings like this that help every episode of the show feel fresh - while they might essentially follow a similar formula, the repetitiveness (which might come across as dull in less capable hands) here only adds to the sense of comfort and warmth exhibited by the familiarity of the characters.
Inherent in the nature of all cute-girls-doing-cute-things shows is that they are very much an acquired taste. Your average blood-and-babes anime fan wouldn’t be caught dead watching Kinmoza. But for those partial to the more chilled, measured, things in life, Kinmoza is a masterclass in how to do slice-of-life properly. Confidently hitting its marks across the board - from production quality to voice acting to the quality of its various comedic skits - its twelve episode run remains an absolute pleasure to spend time in the company of.