Intrinsically I understand that anime has to make money, and that collaborations and product placement are just one way of doing that. Even in its native Japan anime home video sales vary wildly between franchises and advertisements and sponsorships only go so far. One Off feels a little different though with its very prominent Honda partnership.
Of course there is the classic story of the original Gundam being produced solely to sell toys, while Pizza Hut has been in everything from Code Geass to Nanoha to Darker than Black; even critically loved shows like Kara no Kyoukai or Steins;Gate have Häagen-Dazs and Dr Pepper respectively. There’s something different about Honda being at the heart of One Off though that isn’t so much product placement as core marketing message.
You have to go all the way back to episode seven of 2004’s Girls Bravo to find the last instance of when Honda dabbled with anime, and that was little more than race queens and the testosterone thrill of ladies on motorbikes. Here, the Honda mantra that’s splashed across all of their glossy advertisements is at the heart of the four episode OVA.
It’s the story of Haruno who, despite her carefree and adventurous spirit as a toddler, has hardened and sees only obstacles in her adolescent old age. That is until Cynthia arrives on a sleek motorbike, rustling up the sleepy mountain town. Blonde, buxom and with a devil-may-care attitude, Cynthia has travelled the world on her motorbike and woos Haruno’s teenage girl squad friends, only highlighting just how closed off Haruno’s become.
It’s fairly standard fare in an all-girl, post K-On! series and has the familiar sense of personal discovery and heart swelling Sunday matinee ethos that glosses over the paucity of drama. It touts adventure taking and big dreaming in a way that’s philosophically hard to argue with but feels somewhat tainted by the corporate money involved in its production. So when Cynthia suggests that she and Haruno go on a nighttime scooter ride to the ocean, not only do Haruno’s very accommodating parents agree, but the pair do so on egregiously emblazoned scooters. Likewise the stalwart cafe meetups are done at a combination showroom/garage/restaurant dealership of, who else?
It’s a production that is supremely accomplished though with Junichi Sato directing, drawing on his back catalogue experience of similar iyashkei series like Aria and Tamayura, bringing well known voice actresses like Eri Kitamura and Saori Hayami on board, to say nothing of Yu Kobayashi as the firecracker Cynthia. Visually too, terminal inbetweener studio TYO Animations renders the mountain town brilliantly, with tree scattered mountains in the background and tiered dwellings in the foreground, all splashed with sunset oranges and morning mists.
It would be easy to summarise by saying “If you can ignore the panoply of Honda references then…” but you more or less can’t because of how ingrained that corporate culture is in One Off. Sure it’s dressed up with cute girls with wings in their hair, but all of whom ride scooters to school and coo at the latest crotch rocket lavishing the showroom. It’s difficult not to see the firm but gentle hand of a suit when the stargazing festival happens - look to the stars children!
That’s perhaps a little unfair when One Off is good fun, pleasing to look at and over more or less before you know it. It’s certainly not on the same level of commercial cynicism as say the Super Sonico series, there is at least a forthrightness about Honda’s involvement here. Innocuous enough then, but buyer beware. Now what did I do with that application for a motorcycle license?