If you had told me at the beginning of the season that I would pick up this CG-heavy, cutesy battle girls show, I would’ve laughed you off of my screen. I’ve come a long way from my earlier disdain for CG, thanks in large part to gems like Sidonia no Kishi and Sanzoku no Musume Ronja, and the application to Etotama remains with the battle sequences, leaving most everything else to 2D. My true aversion to this show came mainly from the harem set up and bawdy interactions, which oddly enough have now faded into the background of my viewing experience. Etotama slowly but steadily charmed me with its zodiac members and Nya-tan’s well-meaning but usually chaotic actions, the self-aware comedy, and very prettily executed battles.
“The anime’s story revolves around Nyaa-tan, the cat of Chinese astrology who wants to become a member of the Chinese zodiac. Nyaa-tan is simple and suffers from memory loss, and she tries various foolish ways to become a member. She meets Takeru Amato, a high school student who lives alone in Akihabara, and becomes a freeloader at his house. Little by little, she gets closer to her goal.” – ANN
The only other show that I’ve watched with obvious connections to the Chinese Zodiac was Fruits Basket, which is a different animal altogether from Etotama. The two both featured a solid set of the twelve original members, as well as the outsider Cat who remains apart yet separate from family affairs. Nya-tan’s depiction of the cat isn’t a favorable one; she’s reckless and selfish, repeatedly causing havoc to herself and those around her. She wants in as an official member of the zodiac, but has no memories of her past lives or any other desires. Her wish for the title of Eto-shin is her sole remaining remembrance. For most of what we and Takeru have seen, Nya-tan has no place among the twelve. There’s a comical moment where Shima-tan asks her to recall why she clings to Takeru, and in her defensive retort, she realizes that she doesn’t actually have that many memories endearing the two to each other. Yet there’s something about who she was and maybe a bit of who she is now that keeps her supporters rallying to help her win a spot. Nya-tan straddles the lines of annoyance and affection, anger and humor, and Eto-musume and Eto-shin.
Very forced at the beginning, the comedy has steadily warmed up with the recent episodes. The jokes are slapstick and self-aware, frequently breaking the 4th wall. The Eto-musume regularly refer to us, the viewer, and to their roles as characters in a show. It’s not very often that I like this break between story and audience, but Etotama does it so regularly and naturally that I end up rolling with the punches and feeling closer to our Eto-musume. They invade the viewers’ homes as easily as they do Takeru’s house. The different zodiac animals also represent their signs in obvious ways, such as the Year of the Tiger (me, me, me!) being one of the strongest combatants, as well as a fighting instructor for Nya-tan. Then there are the two carefree, seemingly dumb monkey and dog representatives, who overlap in character archetype and don’t care a whit about it.
The series has two main settings: the human world, and the ETM12 arena of the Eto-musume. The two are distinct in a number of ways, the most apparent being visually, with the use of “Pretty Mode” via CG. Our normal-sized 2D girls are miniaturized into even cuter versions of themselves. Everything from their design to the background and the animation are shiny and smooth–this is one of the most appropriate uses I’ve seen recently with such full execution. The close-ups seem to be more shaded so not only the backgrounds, but also the up-close fights, look fantastic. A similar use can be found with this season’s Show by Rock!! The glitzier template also goes well with the notion that this is a televised event; the moment a match begins, personal screens pop up for all the other passive participants to view. Just as we are watching them, they are watching their peers.
I didn’t enter in on this series with any expectations, and wouldn’t laud it as the best of the season. But! It’s been a fun and moronic ride to date and I’m committed now to seeing Nya-tan’s memories re-surface in time for her face-off with Chu-tan. Let me know if you’re watching this show and what you’ve thought so far!