Futaro Uesugi is an academically brilliant but friendless student whose family are living in poverty. When his little sister tells him that a tutoring job has been lined up for him that will pay good money, he is delighted that he might be able to pay off his family’s debts. There’s just one problem. His pupils turn out to be a family of rich quintuplet girls who have transferred to his school, and he has just spent the day accidentally insulting and annoying them and generally behaving in a creepy manner. What’s more, they have transferred from their previous school because they are failing academically and have no interest in studying, certainly not with Futaro.
The start of the series is very predictable for this kind of harem anime, with the only gimmick being that the harem are all sisters. Most of the usual tricks are in place, with some clumsy fanservice, girls who are colour coded by their hair and accessories, and a grumpy protagonist without much going for him, with the obligatory cute little sister. The girls are stereotypes: the one who hates him, the one who fancies him, the sporty one, etc, etc. All the usual stuff. The art style is also nothing to write home about, although the character designs for the quins and the different mannerisms they are animated with do help them to become individual and distinctive pretty quickly.
That’s just the start of the series though, and things improve massively very quickly. As everyone gains confidence in what they are doing with this series the fanservice fades away, and the writer starts tackling some teenage issues with great thoughtfulness. There is of course the obvious romantic angst, and a love triangle that eventually moves towards being a love hexagon, but more importantly the girls’ individual issues and personalities start to emerge. Although she is far from being my favourite character, Ichika (shorthand: the short haired one) has the most interesting storyline, with a big secret that she is hiding from the other girls and an ambition that goes far beyond thoughts of anything academic. As is typical for a harem anime series, Futaro becomes a fixer: the one who sees problems in the girls’ lives and is there to help them. That might be a cliché, but it does actually turn him from an apparently emotionless academic loner into somebody who you can understand just might be attractive to the girls. His brusque manner and lack of interest in romance is actually a reflection of a deeper personality than the average teen, and is far from an indication of a lack of empathy. The way that gradually becomes apparent to the girls is what really makes this series shine.
This is a 12 episode series, with the final third of those taking place on a school trip. The series really takes off for those last four episodes. Superficially it centres around a legend that couples who hold hands around the campfire at the annual dance will end up getting married (and we know from the very start of the series that Futaro is going to marry one of the quins, but we don’t know which one), but more importantly the nature of the relationship between Futaro and each of the girls is examined in turn, and what he means to each of them. At times it is almost like the writer knows where he wants to place his characters but doesn’t have a good way to get there. Most problematical is the test of courage, which has Futaro and Yotsuba (shorthand: the sporty one) inexplicably frightening everyone on a section of path right before a dangerous bit that forks off in two directions, one way signposted to safety and the other leading to a cliff edge. Not a good place to make people jump out of their skin and get them running off without thinking about what they are doing. Moments of clumsiness like this do make the series feel like it needed one final polish to the scripts. Also, each episode ends with a brief chatter from the sisters about “Quintuplet trivia”. It focuses on nonsense like their bra sizes and makes them all sound completely air-headed when in fact one of the main points of the series is to show how academic intelligence is not the only thing that matters, and these five girls are clever and thoughtful in different ways. It’s not uncommon for an anime series to have a light-hearted bit like this at the end (Lucky Star perfected the approach), but it’s a handwave attempt at a comedy tradition that tries too hard to be funny and fails.
The series is bookended by Futaro’s future wedding, but if you are hoping to find out the identity of the bride then just bear in mind there’s a second series on the way. There are plenty of anime series that deserved a second season much more than the Quin Quins and never got one, but it’s a happy little series with much more depth and much less lazy fanservice than the premise would have suggested, so I’ll be happy to tune in for Futaro’s next attempt to keep these five girls from flunking out of school. RP
Read next in the Junkyard… The Quintessential Quintuplets (Season Two Review)