Nagarekawa: a quiet, peaceful country town in Japan. Not famous for anything in particular, the town struggles to attract tourists… this is where Kohinata Yukari and Usami Nanya, sorry, Nanako come in. You see, they have been chosen by Oota Mitsugu, Nanako’s uncle who is on the city council, to become Nagarekawa’s local idols – or locodols – the Nagarekawa Girls.
Nagarekawa is exactly what it is supposed to be. It’s a quaint, happy little town… and that’s what makes it such a perfect setting for this show. Sure it’s pretty, but there’s not much going on… so what is there for an idol to do? The Nagarekawa Girls turn more into public servants than idols for most of the series because there simply isn’t much need for an idol in Nagarekawa, but they still want one to help offer a public face to drive tourism. This dichotomy creates many of the show’s best moments, as Nanako and Yukari are forced to do things both silly and strange, and end up in some weird situations as a result.
They love their hometown, and over the course of the show you’ll grow to love it too. You’ll see it through their eyes, and it helps to give perspective to the simple town and its quiet charms. It’s actually quite interesting to see Nanako begin to realize how much she loves the town over the course of the show – being forced to act as its idol really seems to force her to recognize what is special about it. It’s a good lesson overall, too, because so often people take for granted the good in their hometown simply because they grew up there.
This show, like most slice of life shows, stands and falls on the strength of its cast. Locodol has a fairly strong cast. It’s no HaNaYaMaTa, but the girls do a good job of keeping the show engaging. Nanako is a pretty standard ‘earnest shy character’, somewhat reminiscent of HaNaYaMaTa’s Naru, but somehow she never quite feels like a complete stereotype. They manage to, through her interactions with the other characters, give her her own identity. Each of the characters is kind of like that. They border on tropes, but have their own strange twists to them – shockingly, they all work relatively well. Yukari’s obsession with Nanako (which comes close on stalker behaviour in a few places) does get a bit… awkward though, however understandable it may be given the events in the show.
These two girls have to learn how to be idols on their own, with no coaching or training really. And, given that, I think they do it a bit too well – it just doesn’t quite feel right. Their sincerity and Nanako’s awkwardness on stage are fine, but their singing and choreography comes together far too quickly. It’s not a big issue, and there is a silver lining. If things didn’t come together so quickly… we wouldn’t get the fantastic songs we get. The show features three songs sung by the voice actresses themselves, and they’re all infectiously catchy – as are the show’s opening and ending themes.
The more pressing issue is a real lack of direction within the show. This is a slice of life show, so I don’t expect there to be a major conflict driving things… but the show doesn’t really seem to go anywhere. As the show approaches the end it improves on this a bit nearing the festival storyline, but this is only in the last few episodes. Prior to those, it doesn’t seem to have anything pushing it forward, which leaves some of the episodes feeling kind of hollow.
The two main characters who I haven’t named yet are the young ladies responsible for Nagarekawa’s mascot: Uogokoro-kun. He’s a sort of shapeless blue creature with a fish on his back, and he’s kind of adorable. Mikoze Yui, who plays Uogokoro-kun predominately, is the oldest member of the group… while Nazukari Mirai is her backup. Both of these girls are painfully shy – Yui actually nearly passes out the first time she meets Nanako out-of-character – but they both show tremendous growth over their time with the Nagarekaway Girls.
The show’s side characters, for the most part, are left undeveloped. It’s a pity, ’cause there are a few of them I’d have liked to see more of… but there are two exceptions. Nanako’s uncle and the Nagarekawa Girls’ manager are both given enough air-time to get a handle for them. And they are fantastic characters. Saori, their manager, also happens to be the secret webmistress of a fansite for them. Unfortunately, once they’d revealed the fansite’s existence and Saori’s involvement in it, they kind of forgot about it. It’s a plot device that was underused. Nanako’s uncle was the one responsible for her getting involved as a Locodol, and he continues to be a key player in the events – since he’s effectively their employer. He looks like the typical city councillor, but occasionally you get hints of his true personality, and it’s entertaining.
Locodol is a very well designed anime. The plot lacks a bit of direction – which isn’t the most damning thing for a slice of life show but is still regrettable – and fumbles a bit around some of the side characters, but all in all it’s a very nice feel-good show. Everything resolves itself happily, it has likeable characters, and it has catchy music. Locodol is not going to leave you in tears or desperately craving another episode, but it will certainly cheer you up and that alone makes it a success in my eyes.