Should You Watch 'Poco's Udon World'? Episode 1 Fall Anime 2016 Review

poco's udon world key art
Poco's Udon World key art. (c) Nodoka Shinomaru/Shinchosha, "Udon no kuni" Production Committee

Poco’s Udon World can’t avoid comparisons to Barakamon and sweetness and lightning, two other slice-of-life anime that involve insanely adorable children and variously troubled young dudes. Nor should it want to, as those two anime are the pinnacle of that satisfying genre. Great news for fans of the genre: Poco’s Udon World more than measures up, and if episode 1 is any judge of the rest of the season, this anime should be on your watch list.

The opening theme, “S.O.S.” is insanely catchy and cute, with the kid dressed up like a little raccoon baby, looking out over a sunny landscape, curling up with cats and hanging out on the beach. It turns out that’s very apropos, as the adorable kid of this series is actually a tanuki shapeshifter complete with fluffy tail and round ears. But the kid is also really a child, too, affectionate and good-natured and super adorable.

As for our main character Souta, he’s come back to the countryside “on vacation” (giant quotation marks appear to be in order) from his time in Tokyo. He’s totally uninterested in running his family’s udon restaurant, though the restaurant is locally beloved enough that one young woman from the neighborhood is disappointed to the point of tears when he says it’s no longer open, while a tourist couple finds the restaurant’s name in their local guidebook.

But Souta is back because his father’s funeral is out here, and the udon shop is run-down and desolate. A phone call from his sister makes it clear that they plan to sell the place, even as Souta finds treasures like his father’s secret udon recipe and mounds of letters from restaurant patrons gushing over the meals they enjoyed there.

He finds the child curled up inside one of the restaurant fixtures with a bag of wheat. When he tries to do the responsible thing and take the kid to the police, a monk warns him about the tanuki child stories that have circulated in the neighborhood. But the affectionate, energetic child needs food and clothing, so Souta provides. The child’s exuberance reminds him painfully of himself.

Souta’s character arc seems clear and relatable: will he return to his childhood dreams of following his father’s footsteps, rejecting the childhood traumas of being bullied for being an udon maker’s child, rebuilding the restaurant that has meant so much to so many people? He has to, and surely the child’s loving and positive energy will help him, but how will that path take shape?

It’s a little less clear what’s going on with Poco, the child, whose name we don’t even learn in this episode. Poco literally has a fluffy tail and round tanuki ears. Even his limbs and face transform, though his bright blue eyes stay the same. How will this touch of magic inform Souta’s life? What does Poco mean to this small town?

If Poco’s Udon World keeps up its sleepy magical feel and satisfyingly resolves Souta’s pain and Poco’s story, it will definitely earn its place in the library of bittersweet, yet feel-good slice-of-life anime. Those who find the cuteness forced, the pace too slow, or the realism to magic ratio skewed may not be interesting. But as far as I’m concerned, this is a must-watch for fall anime season 2016.

Poco’s Udon World is simulcast on Crunchyroll every Saturday at 3PM and can be found here.


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