I give thus cute anime about girls in a pottery club...an 85/100!
Not gonna lie, the only reason I even learned that Yakunara Mug Cup mo, or Let's Make a Mug Too, is that I lurk on the website Anime News Network like a madwoman. This is yet another "cute girls doing cute things" anime which surprisingly flew under the radar this past season. There is one thing that made me decide to watch it though: The fact that Nippon Animation animated the series. Nippon is primarily responsible for producing all the anime for the World Masterpiece Theater back in the day, along with shows like Future Boy Conan, Fantastic Children, the 1999 Hunter X Hunter anime, and the Haikara-san ga Tooru remake movies. But they hadn't done much in the way of TV series since 2008, coming back with...this. Yeah. It's easy to think that Nippon Animation has fallen from grace from their glory days, but...after having watched this, I don't think they've lost their touch. For the sake of convenience, I'm shortening the title to Yakumo.
So what's this anime about, anyway? The story centers on Himeno Toyokawa, a young girl who just moved to the town of Tajimi with her father and grandmother. She transfers to a new school and makes new friends. One of them, Mika Kukuri (the blonde girl), tries to recruit her into her school's pottery club. At first, Himeno isn't too sure about joining, but when she learns that her late mother, Himena Tokigawa, previously made a lot of famous ceramic pieces for Tajimi, Himeno decides to join the club and try her hand at it. Gradually, she learns more about the ins and outs of pottery, the impact her mother made on the city of Tajimi, and more about herself in the process.
For a show that's just about girls in a pottery club, Yakumo is surprisingly well animated. Character movement is smooth but not overly so, the backgrounds are detailed and full of life, and from what I can tell, the animators really tried their hardest to replicate the city of Tajimi in animated form. But I do have one quip with it: Why does Himeno have pink hair but purple bangs and shading? Other than her mother, none of the other characters have this, and I find it kind of jarring because it looks like she dyed parts of it. I've seen weirder, so normally I'm not put off by this design choice, and it is in the manga as well, but it feels jarring because none of the other characters have dual-colored hair and they look more realistic. The music is definitely one of the stand outs, as it makes use of a lot of unconventional instruments like ukuleles and acoustic guitars that give it a sort of country music feel to it at times. It's especially prevalent in the opening theme song, though the soundtrack is much more varied and versatile than other CGDCT shows similar to Yakumo.
One thing you'll notice about Yakumo is that all the episodes are 12-15 minutes long, including the opening and ending themes. This is because for some reason, the creators decided to shoehorn in live-action parts showing the voice actresses for the characters going to Tajimi, practicing pottery, and other shenanigans. I skip those, as I don't think they add anything to the story. That being said, I think the shorter episodes were to the show's benefit, as even though Yakumo is rather slow paced and low key, it never drags on longer than it needs to, and gets whatever it needs to get done without meandering or trying to bite off more than it can chew. This also forces the creators to really flesh out the characters in that short time frame, and I think it works here. All four of the main leads are fairly interesting and nice, even if they may seem like archetypal moe characters at first, and they do get fleshed out over the course of the series. A lot of the series focuses on Himeno learning more about her mother's legacy and trying to make something that her father will genuinely like on its own merits, and not simply like it out of superficial obligation as a father. I can definitely see Kukuri getting on people's nerves though, as she's the hyperactive genki girl with a screechy voice that you've seen in pretty much every moe anime at least once. I wish more had been done with Himeno's friend Nao, though. All we know about her is that she's Himeno's friend and that she likes Godzilla/Sentai movies, that's it. That'll probably change when the second season comes around.
In all honesty, the only real critique I have for this show is that episode 8 was kind of a weird episode. It's basically a dumb filler episode where Kukuri falls asleep in a restaurant and has a weird dream based on things people next to her are talking about. It did nothing to advance the story and seemed mostly just there to shoehorn in some pointless comedy. It wasn't a bad episode by any means, but it did feel very out of place in an otherwise grounded show. Plus, the title is rather misleading, because even though it implies the girls will make mugs, they never actually do so in the show. Again, this'll probably be rectified when the second season comes out, and yes, as of this writing, a second season has indeed been confirmed. And I'm super stoked, because I really like this show and I wish more people gave it a chance! The story, conflict, and characters may not seem like much on the surface, but there's just enough nuance, subtlety, and little details that make it stand out from all the other CGDCT anime out there. It's not ambitious like, say, A Place Further Than the Universe, nor overly sugary and saccharine like Kiniro Mosaic. It strikes a fun, heartwarming balance, and I think after this, I can say that Nippon Animation is still as good as it's always been.
Not something that's going to bring the house down, but Yakunara Mug Cup Mo is a nice, laid-back, heartwarming anime that deserves way more love and recognition than it gets.