October 17, 2014

To non-Japanese and especially those who are not familiar in the world of traditional Japanese arts, the term geisha may bring to mind the misconception that they are prostitutes. Oh, if there was some sort of material that would just dispel this mistaken belief. No, I don’t want to read a thick textbook of history or even look up Wikipedia for reference. Aha! Do an anime about it! Oh yeah. How else can you tell the world about geisha who are skilled women performing various Japanese arts, music, dance and games? So that is why there is Mitsuwano albeit it is only a single OVA episode. However this isn’t going to be some documentary about geishas. In fact, it is about maiko. Mai what? Geisha apprentices to put it simply. This OVA chronicles the 3 friends whose dream are to become the best maiko and their trial and tribulations.

Every journey begins with…
Mai Ichinose, Midori Aikawa and Riko Kikudzuki are best friends and dream to become maiko one day. They look up to their seniors, Kazuha and Shino. Being apprentices, they sleep on wooden pillows and make breakfast every day for their ‘grandma’ who is also the landlady of the place they are staying. After that they head to the maiko school to learn and practice more dance by a maiko instructor. There is a school excursion in Kyoto and several girls request the trio to take photos of them. They become excited to learn they are maiko. Mai remembers she was here before on her own school excursion. She got lost and separated in the rain. While taking shelter, she met Kazuha. Had it not been for her, she would not have gotten into the world of maiko. After that, the trio stop by a draper store whereby the owner is an old friend of grandma. She has the best kimonos in town. She mentions that this year’s Gion Festival will feature a dance recital organized by the tourism association. It is a good chance for aspiring maiko to take the stage. Speaking to Kazuha about it, she confirms about it and they are participating. However she notes there can only be two. This sends the trio worrying because this means only 2 of them will be chosen. Midori thinks she will be the one left out as her dance isn’t as good. Don’t give up yet. Regardless of whether who gets pick, they vow to work hard. But testing times are here when Midori gets scolded harshly by the maiko teacher since her movements are so stiff. She sinks into depression and does things by herself instead of hanging out with her friends. She even practises late into the night alone. Of course this worries her friends and this is also affecting their morale. Especially Mai who feels that they have become distant when they were always together.

Before they know it, Gion Festival is already around the corner. Instead of moping, Midori suggests Riko to ask grandma since she is her niece. When grandma realizes that they already know about this, she figures it is time to make a decision. This only worries the trio even more. As usual, Midori believes her inferior dance means she will be taken off. Stress levels are getting higher. Riko feels guilty that if she knew this would happen, she wouldn’t want to perform at the recital. Midori scolds her for even thinking of passing up such a chance. Mai starts thinking and then it hit her. Why must only 2 perform? Why can’t they all perform together? She goes to ask grandma directly to let 3 of them perform but grandma doesn’t understand what they’re talking about. Aren’t only 2 of them will get to perform? Grandma clarifies that the recital is for all Okiyas (lodging house a maiko lives during the length of her career as one) so everyone must participate. The restriction is for 2 performances. When she said it was time to decide, it was so that their programme won’t clash with other Okiyas. This means the trio can perform together. What a big relief. See? Had they ask in the first place and not jump to silly conclusions. So the trio confront Kazuha about the way she put her manner of speech that caused much stress among them. She apologizes and hopes they give it their best. On the day of festival, we get a glimpse of the trio’s dance on stage.

Lead The Way…
Despite the slow drama that may not amount to anything much to some, at least the use of maiko as the setting of theme is something refreshing and eye opening. It is one of those lesser known tropes of the Japanese culture and it is a bold step to make this as some sort of ‘experiment’ perhaps to gauge the audience’s interest in this subject. It’s a good try although I doubt it will get many interested. Since this is only 1 episode, it isn’t fair to judge them entirely as it won’t be such a good idea to spam knowledge bits about maiko. You won’t get to learn much about their world from this single OVA but it is safe to say that their profession in general DOES NOT OFFER sex services! Even if you still think that geishas are prostitutes, blame some whatever rule that states if something exists, there is porn to it.

One of the good points of this OVA is that the art and drawing are well done. Especially the background sceneries and the buildings that are quite pleasing to the eye. I am not sure if the streets are modelled after the real ones in Kyoto, though. The character designs are also okay but I can’t still get over the fact that putting too much makeup makes them look less pretty. Actually this is my personal point of view. Even in other traditional Japanese arts like Kabuki, Noh or even Chinese Opera, personally I feel putting too much makeup on the face despite it is all part and parcel of it feels like overkill. But of course, without those makeup, it wouldn’t really be maiko or geisha in the first place.

Also attracting me to have a look at this OVA is some of the seiyuus. It is surprisingly pleasant to hear Yui Horie (as Mai), Rina Satou (Midori) and Sayaka Ohara (Shino) in this little anime. Riko is voiced by Nozomi Sasaki (Nanami in Bokura Ga Ita) and Yumi Hara as Kazuha (Marielle in Log Horizon). The ending theme by Yui Horie, Kono Basho De isn’t too bad either since it has that calming and soothing feel. While this OVA may be passed off by many who would prefer to watch flashier and popular series, there is still no harm to watch something that will make you understand a little bit of Japanese culture and heritage. However even though the calming pace and drama of this single OVA, I feel that I am really not quite interested in this world of maiko and geisha so even if they turn this into a full fledge anime series, chances are that I might not want to catch this one. Better stick to the overused and familiar tropes, huh? And if they use the cheap way out by flooding it with fanservice… Then just maybe. Just maybe. But that would be doing a big disservice to the industry.

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