Smile and the world smiles with you… Unless you are in the middle of a war.
There is something about average anime that make them very hard to review. They aren’t necessarily bad, but the potential they had to be better actually makes them taste a bit more sour particularly after they’ve just ended. The Price of Smiles is an average anime, even for a mecha anime. Almost painfully average in every respect. Yet at times there were glimpses of a far more epic and amazing story simmering just beneath the mediocre execution and some of what was delivered managed to shine just bright enough to keep up hope of improvement.
However, if you aren’t drawn in within the first few episodes, you will probably be better off thanking The Price of Smiles for its time and moving on. Without trying to be too facetious, the pay-off at the end of the Price of Smiles is not really worth the price of time commitment to get there.
Which is a real shame because there was a lot of potential in the ideas here.
For those unfamiliar with The Price of Smiles it covers two different girls, Yuki and Stella. Some episodes exclusively focus on Yuki and her Kingdom, yes she is a Princess, and other episodes focus on Stella, who is just an expendable soldier on the other side of the war. It isn’t until the second last episode that we see both perspectives in the same episode and it is an interesting way of delivering what might be a fairly predictable narrative.
While the war itself, two sides fighting over resources, is pretty standard, through Yuki’s position we see those at the decision making level of the war on both sides as well as Yuki’s childish and naive perspective. It gives one view of the story and realistically, that could have been the only view and we still would have ended up with an okay anime.
But, by cutting Yuki’s story by introducing episodes from Stella’s perspective, on the front lines of fighting and on the side of the invading forces, it kind of gives the story more depth and keeps it feeling fresh.
Neither story is particularly amazing, though Stella’s story and the cast surrounding her are perhaps the more interesting, but together they manage to create a wide view of the world and the different responses to the war. If there had been a few more episodes and a bit longer to really flesh out a few world building points, this choice in splitting the narrative between two characters would have worked really well.
That said, it isn’t exactly an original idea with plenty of other mecha anime that split their narrative between representatives of different factions to give that particular insight into what each side is doing and how it is affecting different groups of people. But original or not, it is a fairly solid choice particularly with the anti-conflict message that is heavily stamped on almost every episode.
Again, this isn’t exactly new for the genre, but here the lack of subtlety is probably one of the things that hurts this anime the most. Yuki, the white and pink clad Princess wringing her hands and hoping for peace and wanting to bring smiles to everyone is just too much. And while the excuse that her advisers kept her in the dark about the true state of things, or even that they were at war, can explain some of her reluctance to face the reality they are dealing with when it is force upon her, honestly some of her decisions are a little hard to swallow.
Though while we are on messages, this anime also managed to bring in a heavy handed environmental allegory about humans over using resources and destroying eco-systems and while this seems to be at the centre of the conflict and is tied heavily in the final solution of the series, it is almost as though The Price of Smiles knew it didn’t have time for everything and so while it wanted to wear an environmental slogan it ultimately discarded it in favour of the anti-conflict stance.
Which is why I said the anime needed more episodes to really develop its world. The setting here is fantastic (or at least could have been). They are on a colonised world that was terraformed using technology no one on the world still really understands but the Kingdom has developed the chrars, a fairly substantial power source and one which allows their technological superiority (not that it really helps them all that much in the war).
As the story progresses we learn a bit more about this seemingly amazing power source and how its use is tied in to the failing crops and eco-systems that are at the core of the conflict between the two groups as resources are becoming scarce. If this idea had been put front and centre and given time to be really discussed and dealt with, it could have really given this anime a bit more of an edge. However, while the idea is there, and is interesting, ultimately Yuki’s decision comes down to her immediate need to not see any more death in the war. The long term implications, despite the ground work already being laid, are more or less glossed over leaving this all feeling a little bit less than satisfying.
Visually, The Price of Smiles also suffers as its run continues. While action sequences always look relatively polished and are great fun to watch, and the character designs are quite lovely even if the majority of their clothing looks insanely impractical, the animation falters in later episodes in non-action scenes and characters appear off-model more often or with barely sketched in faces when seen from a distance. It isn’t enough to really mar the viewing but it is definitely noticeable in the later episodes.
The other major complaint I will level at this series is its inability to create drama through any means other than killing off its cast. While the first important death comes early and is something of a shock, in the second half they essentially kill one major character per episode with increasingly diminished emotional returns to the point that the final death in the last episode can barely even register because you were expecting it long before it happened.
Despite its faults, I don’t really mind that I watched The Price of Smiles this season. There was always plenty to talk about and while I wanted more from it, I actually relatively enjoyed what I watched. The characters weren’t amazing but were interesting enough and the fights were spaced out nicely to keep the talking moments and the fighting moments relatively balanced.
This isn’t an anime to avoid, nor is it one to rush out and watch. Still, if you are in the mood for a mecha anime, and you have a bit of spare time, you could certainly do worse than The Price of Smiles.
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100 Word Anime:
- Episode 1: Smile and the World Smiles With You – Maybe Not
- Episode 2: The Will To Keep a Smile Shining
- Episode 3: You Mean There’s People on the Other Side of a War?
- Episode 4: Rare Case When Naive Heroism Doesn’t Win The Day
- Episode 5: The Desperation of Both Sides in a War
- Episode 6: Where Will Yuuki Find Her Smile Now?
- Episodes 7 – 9: You Can Only Smile For So Long
- Episodes 10 – 11: Not About Who is Right, Only Who Is Left
- Episode 12: Bringing Back Smiles Through Over-Simplification
- Images from: Egao no Daika. Dir. T Suzuki. Tatsunoko Production. 2019.