I give this lovely anime about a young woman painter in 16th century Italy...a 79/100!
Often times, barring fantasy settings, it's rare for an anime to take place anywhere outside Japan in some capacity. When they do, many of them take place somewhere in Europe, like in France or Germany...or some fictitious version of them at least. So I ask you: How many anime can you name that took place in Italy? Honestly, the only ones I can think of off the top of my head are this, Romeo's Blue Skies, and Gunslinger Girl. In terms of manga, I know Cantarella takes place during the Renaissance as well, but I haven't read that in years, so my memory may be inaccurate there. So yeah, having an anime take place in Italy is fairly rare. It's also rare for such anime to take place as far back as the Renaissance period. The manga by Kei Okubo is still ongoing, and earlier this spring, Arte was one of the very few anime to finish its production amidst the terrible coronavirus pandemic that's still wreaking havoc on the world right now, and didn't get delayed by several months. That, and being one of the very few anime that ISN'T a dumb isekai made it stand out from the thinned out spring 2020. After seeing it myself, I like it well enough, but it does have a lot that holds it back.
In the bustling city of Florence, art is all the rage right now thanks to the Renaissance period being in full swing. Arte, a young noblewoman, loves drawing and painting, and wants more than anything to become a professional artisan. Unfortunately for her, Arte's family forbids her artistic pursuits and want her to marry a rich man. But Arte refuses to be deterred and decides to abandon her old life to find work. However, during the Renaissance, female painters were extremely rare, and Arte is routinely turned away from every workshop solely because of her gender. Thankfully, a reclusive painter named Leo takes her in as an apprentice when she passes a test he gives her, and Arte finds herself doing all sorts of jobs and learning all she can to become the best painter she can be.
Now, as much as I don't want to be a killjoy in this review, as I really do like this show, I'm going to get the negatives out of the way first to just air them out, as if I don't point these out, somebody else will. I'm no expert on feminism, sexism, or systemic gender oppression, especially the kind that took place during the Renaissance period, but as other people I know have commented and I echo, Arte kind of plays its sexism is bad message too heavy-handedly and in a relatively one-sided manner. The first half of the series shows Arte continually being told she can't or isn't allowed to do something because she's a girl, and the formula goes as follows: She's told she can't do something because of her gender, Arte protests it and is given a test to see if she can do a man's work, she manages to do it, and she immediately wins her enemies over because of her strength and determination. The fact that her adversaries are immediately swayed when seeing Arte doing what they tell her to do just seems too idealistic to me. I mean, I'm no history buff, but women had little to no agency or rights back in that time period for a variety of reasons (Although from what I've read, there are some famous women Renaissance painters), so having Arte just prove she can do what the men can and winning them over just like that feels too rosy and pat, making its messages and entire purpose come off as shallow and really oversimplified.
Thankfully, later episodes start to gradually move away from this and make more of an effort to really explore the implications of Arte's journey beyond the ham-fisted, surface level "You go girl! Women can do anything!" But how does Arte fare aside from its core moral? Well, for one, I think the animation is quite good. People have complained that the color palette is too bright, but I personally disagree (If you want to see obnoxiously bright animation/colors, watch Sansha Sanyou). The shoujo look of the show does make some of the characters look a little too moe-ish, but the animation does make up for that by making the working men actually look rugged and hardened from years of work, along with having relatively smooth movement and beautiful backgrounds, especially when Arte travels to Venice. I also really appreciated the smaller details they added in, like showing a person's hands being cracked and blistered from using tools all day every day, and showing the different drawing styles between Arte and her fellow apprentices.
I don't have much to say on the soundtrack, as both the opening and ending songs are nice and well sung (Though I think some of the rock instrumentation in the opening didn't fit the show, as it seemed too overly modern), and the actual background music makes great use of violins and flutes, giving it a very distinctly Italian feel. As far as the characters go...I like them okay, but other than Leo, Arte, and later Katarina (No, not THAT Catarina!), the entirety of the cast is rather bland and one-note. Arte herself is a fun, dynamic, refreshing lead character who is determined, passionate, angry (Early in the show, due to everyone trying to put her in a box and dictate how her life should go when she'd rather live the life how she wants to on her own terms), ambitious, and willing to do anything to get what she wants, but is still compassionate and friendly. But I will say, one other criticism I have for the show is that it seems to just randomly introduce characters out of nowhere and expects us to just know who they are and accept them right away. For example, at one point, Arte befriends a commoner girl, Darcia, a seamstress, and decides to teach her how to read and write. Not having read the manga, the way the anime goes about introducing her...is just jarring. I mean, Darcia just appears in an episode without even a proper introduction or a brief scene on how she and Arte first met. The anime's just "Here's this character. Arte knows her. Just go with it" and to me, that just feels lazy to me. You can't just throw a character into a show, not give them any form of introduction or set-up, and just expect the audience to care about them. I honestly felt like I missed an episode, that's how jarring Darcia's appearance and complete lack of build-up was to me. The characters by themselves aren't bad or anything, but I just feel like they should have gotten more fleshed out. I can probably attribute that to the show's short episode length (12 episodes).
Shoujo anime/manga that are genuinely good are rather rare these days, but if you made me choose between this and, say, all of the really bad ecchi or isekai that have come out over the past few years, such as How Not To Summon a Demon Lord or the upcoming Redo of a Healer (Which I hear is really really bad), I'd still go with Arte any day of the week. I've also heard that Arte is supposedly based on the life of a real Renaissance painter named Artemisia Gentileschi, but I've found nothing that confirms this. Anyway, to close off: Not one of the better shoujo manga adaptations, but still fairly nice and serviceable if you want something sweet to kill your time.