Utawarerumono is a series I'd been looking forward to, just because it's from Aquaplus and I really liked Comic Party/Comic Party Revolution. The erogame-to-anime road is a crowded and well-worn path, but the premise of Utawarerumono sounded like it might be able to rise above some of the competition--the male lead wakes up in a small village having lost his memories, and ends up getting pulled into fighting for that village. It's definitely different from the typical school setting these games tend to be in, and with a full 26 episodes to work with, this looks like it should have the potential to rise above your average "girl of the week" game-to-anime series. So far, it's done a great job--I'd rank this as my second favorite series this season, behind Haruhi and narrowly ahead of Sukuran.
Utaware (I'll abbreviate it, since it's hard to say/type/read the full title anyway) opens with a fire, then the male lead wakes up to find himself recovering from a serious injury in the care of Eruruu, a girl who lives in a small country village with her little sister and her grandmother. He can't remember anything about his past, but Eruruu and the others treat him like one of them, and when a giant, pissed-off tiger attacks the village, he comes up with a plan to fight it and save his new friends. Through the end of episode 2 he hasn't remembered anything about his past, but he's accepted as a member of the village, and happy to be living with Eruruu, Aruruu, and the others.
I'd hoped this would excel beyond your standard harem anime traditions, and it does--just a few things Utaware does really well:
- The main character isn't a total loser. On the contrary, in just the first two episodes, he proves he's smart, brave, strong, and determined. Just picture any other game lead in his place and you'll see the difference--would Junichi risk his life to be bait for a thousand-pound maneating tiger trap? Would Rin-kun come up with a plan to kill it? Hell, no. They'd probably hide behind their harems and soil themselves in fear. An-chan, however, fights off a tiger--with a FOLDING FAN. Two words: Bad. Ass.
- The character designs are great. No, this isn't Haruhi-level animation or anything, but the series looks a lot like the first four episodes of Comic Party Revolution (the OVAs), and that's a lot better than I expected. I hope the character designer gets a LOT more work on other series.
- Eruruu. She's a great character, you see how determined she is and how much she cares about the people around her early on, and it's impossible not to like her for that. She's also really kawaii--the ears and the tail didn't seem odd at all, but then again, Tsukuyomi's Hazuki wore nekomimi almost the whole series so maybe I'm just too used to fill-in-the-blank-mimi for that to be distracting.
- Actually having more relationships in the series than "girls going rabu-rabu for protagonist". Yes, it's pretty clear Eruruu likes An-chan, but beyond that there's no harem in sight. Her little sister Aruruu sees him as a father figure (thank God, given her age), and the second episode is more about teamwork and friendship than anything rabu-rabu. Compare this to your average harem girls offering the protagonist their bentou, a hand-knitted scarf, casual sex, et cetera, and Utaware is on a different level. I'm sure more girls will appear based on the OP, but I can't see this turning into Eruruu and some other girl arguing on the rooftop about who gets to make An-chan lunch, and that's just as well.
Overall, it's looking good--this gets bonus points from me for having momiji appear in the opening credits, and the OP is surprisingly catchy and fits the mood of the series well. I was half-expecting this to be a harem series crossed with Dances With Wolves, but it has turned out to be better than that so far. I'm definitely looking forward to another six months of this series.