Sora is a quiet girl who doesn’t talk much; instead, she prefers to communicate her feelings via the pictures in her sketchbook. When she isn’t out sketching or looking for the neighbourhood cats, Sora can usually be found with the other members of the art club, an eclectic and off-kilter bunch who are united by their love of drawing.
Slice-of-life may rank highly amongst my favourite series, but that doesn’t mean I’ll blindly jump at anything bearing that tag- as we learned from Binbou Shimai Monogatari, simply going through the motions isn’t enough. Would Sketchbook fall into the same pitfalls, or could it offer a worthy take on the everyday lives of high school students in an art club?
In fact, the answer lies somewhere in between- given the President Aria cameos and preponderance of cats, it is clear that Sketchbook wanted to model itself on the best, but unfortunately, therein lay its downfall. Where the likes of Aria and YKK can effortlessly show us beauty and then leave us to think about what we’ve seen, Sketchbook tries a little too hard to ram its message home. Instead of just showing us an entertaining and amusing segment of everyday life, all too often an episode will be rounded off with some narration by Sora that is little more than a blatant and unsuccessful attempt to tag on some poignancy and deeper meaning to the scene. If the message is there, it should shine out on its own strength- forcing it in at the end does no one any favours.
Series like this also tend to rely heavily on the appeal of their characters, and sadly Sketchbook proves to be a little lacking in this respect as well. As a painfully shy main character, Sora starts off being somewhat annoying, but I actually warmed to her over the course of the series, with her little increase in confidence at the end of the series proving to be a touching moment. Sadly, the rest of the cast is so forgettable that I can barely recall their names, with many of them proving to be overly eccentric yet one-dimensional personalities. Of particular annoyance is American transfer student Kate, whose accent and frequent lapses into Engrish will grate on even the most experienced pair of ears.
There is one area where Sketchbook never fails to deliver on, however, and that is with regards to that most important of factors- the feline content. This series goes beyond just providing glimpses of the neighbourhood’s furry faces here and there- instead, it has entire episodes devoted to telling a story from the perspective of the various cats, each of whom has a personality as (if not more) memorable than the human stars of the show. Admittedly, I’m biased where cats are concerned, but surely a whole spin-off show of five to ten minute episodes could be made from these amusing characters.
Visually, Sketchbook favours a soft palette, with a hint of watercolour in its technically sound (if rather large-eyed even by anime standards) character designs, backgrounds and cute felines; it’s a gentle look, and one that suits the series. Background music, however, is largely forgettable, as is often the case in series of this level.
Although it aimed for the heights of slice-of-life, Sketchbook ended up being the latest in a long line of series that fit into the “solid and mildly enjoyable” category. The presence of cats helped to make it that bit more memorable, but other than that, this is the sort of inoffensive middle of the road experience that you use to occupy yourself when nothing better is around.