The first few episodes of Hidamari Sketch don’t give a lot to go on as to why to keep watching, or where the series is going. Based on a four-panel strip manga by Ume Aoki, that same sparseness of animation and themes is present in the simplistically designed, almost creepy-looking rooms with the odd object from the 3D world thrown in, and the stiff subheaded feel of the characters’ actions and conversations. But, especially when you look at this as a pre-Monogatari SHAFT work, everything slots into place soon enough. The style the studio have since established, spaced out with silences and fractures of intentionally awkward weirdness, become as much part of this series’ singular charm.
The characters and how we get to know them over the course of these first twelve episodes, as ever in a great slice of life series, are the keys to drawing us into tuning in again. Even early on, when Yuno and her friends are defined by little more than their daily routines and unremarkable conversations, you’re endeared to them by their quirks, as you often would be in real life when meeting someone new. Yuno’s ditziness, Miya’s early-bird hyperactivity and Sae’s shyness all strike relatable chords in how they relate to each other, celebrate their successes and deal with their blunders.
Hiro, the serene presence who grounds the quartet, is the character who needs the most time to warm to, her obsessions over ways to lose weight a swathe over her gentle subtleties. But she herself is the central example of how we come to know the four of them in more meaningful ways with time, as we later discover that she hides her already slim frame with loose and oversized clothes. Sae and Hiro together, their depth of closeness foregoing embarrassment, often drop one another’s backstories into conversation and tease each other in their night-time conversations with Yuno and Miya. For all four friends, in fact, this series captures the enchantment of the evening that makes everything feel more relaxed, yet more significant. As Miya sings in her room before bed, then continues to sing in her sleep, Yuno’s habitual bath is her time for quiet reflection on the day, the ideal rounding-off for each episode.
To begin with, the show’s similarities with Lucky Star, both originally airing in 2007 just a season apart, are foremost in the mind, as in each one early conversations linger on food, homework and the unfortunate effects wet weather have on hair. But time, which seems a stirring keynote in Hidamari Sketch, brings it closer in comparison to Azumanga Daioh and its conveyance of three years of classes, culture festivals and holidays with good friends. Though at this point we’ve only spent one year with the girls at Hidamari Apartments, how we’ve shared in their hopes and achievements through twelve snapshots of that year inspires equally bittersweet moments of contemplation.