Let me see... we have four cute high school girls: the tall, busty, girly Yuko; the level-headed, diet obsessed Nagi; the ditzy, blank-faced Run and Tohru, one of the tightest little bundles of non-mutually exclusive fetishes I've seen in an animé, and not a plot wide or broad enough to use as a coaster throughout its run time. Yes, we have been here before... many a time. Even if you're not an old warhorse of animé and relatively new to the genre you have probably got a good grasp of the fundamentals when it comes to the Cute-Girls-Doing-Cute-Things genre of animé. You have probably at least seen parts of Lucky Star, K-On!, Azumanga Daioh or other such series where all we really have is a school/club/etc, young girls and cute things for them to do and you understand the premise and the purpose of these shows.
Okay? Let's go for it.
A Channel is nothing new. It isn't trying to be. From the opening animation this show is unashamedly commercial (even advertising the single for the OP during the animation and not forgetting the generic J-Pop each episode to sell the forthcoming character CD...) and it is undoubtedly for mass appeal with barely a whiff of niche marketing throughout. Cosmopolitism is the name of the game and even its liberal application of fetish and otaku bait is so scatter-shot and thinly spread that there is an attraction for a whole broad spectrum of geeks and/or perverts that borders on mainstream. 'Safe' must have been the buzzword in the studio because that seems to be the most congruent factor throughout... other than cuteness; that was pretty constant too.
I judge shows like this on three factors: the tone, the humour and the characters.
Tone can do a lot to differentiate these shows. Aria's overwhelming positivity, Hidamari Sketch's warm camaraderie, AzuDai's fired-up oddness... A Channel chooses to be less stark. It is definitely a warm show; filled with gentle, pleasantly and simply drawn scenes and the odd tender moment (sometimes played for laughs like when Run is picking leaves out of Tohru's hair or perfectly straight as with some of the Tohru/Run flashbacks), while still upbeat and energetic despite how laidback it can be. The music is nice, often playful but nothing spectacular or noteworthy. Overall it is successful. I found myself getting caught up in its pace and style each episode and, while not offering a strong feeling like some of the aforementioned shows, it was a pleasing experience that remained congruent through all twelve episodes. It became more reflective some episodes (specifically when it focused on the Run/Tohru relationship) but it never felt out of place and only added to the enjoyment.
The humour can make or break these shows. Not just the quality but also the style and the delivery. Lucky Star relied heavily on cultural and otaku references, K-On! on character based comedy and I would say A Channel leans towards the latter. The main criticism I have heard levied towards A Channel is its similarity to K-On! and in terms of humour I am tempted to agree. Those unfamiliar with Japanese culture need not worry when it comes to this show; all you will need to understand is the character archetypes and you'll be fine. We have jokes centred on Nagi's diet obsession, Yuko's breast size and supermodel looks, Run's awe-inspiring lack of common sense (she almost falls out an upper storey window waving to someone. Seriously.), Tohru's miniscule proportions and many other aspects of their personalities and forms that soon become very apparent early on (you won't be getting lost in the depths of these characters any time soon). That said it is not nearly as tiresome as you might imagine or expect. Some of the jokes are genuinely quite good such as when Nagi is trying to figure out what animal Run has just drawn for Tohru and what animal the stuffed toy Run has made is meant to be and overall, perhaps with a lot of thanks going to the brevity of the series as a whole, the jokes don't overstay their welcome. Something that also helps is the character dynamic not being too rigid amongst the main girls. It is especially obnoxious when one character is always the butt of everyone's jokes and the jokes are always delivered in the same way in a show (such as in Lucky Star) and happily A Channel doesn't fall into that. A lot of the jokes are dependent on the characters present and their relationship with one another; the awkwardness between Tohru and Yuko, the more down-to-earth girly talk between Yuko and Nagi, Nagi's desperate attempts to understand Run's thought processes (frankly impossible), the sweet miss-matched affection between Run and Tohru and the many other relationships involving the moderate group of side characters; and the vast majority of these were quite well done and enjoyable.
As I mentioned before, the cast are definitely plucked from the shallow end of the character pool. Apart from reasonably well defined relationships most of them are nothing more than a list of adjectives scratched down on a piece of paper (with Nagi's simply reading 'Yomi') that have been brought to life through pleasant artwork and competent writing. The side characters are worse. The three teachers' personalities can be described in brief phrases (completely irresponsible, neurotically diligent and plain weird, respectively) and Tohru's classmates are creepily odd, if worryingly unique. Funnily enough, I didn't feel too put out by this. Taking A Channel's commercialism for granted, I found taking the characters for what they were to be quite agreeable and while they will never be as memorable or loveable as the cast of Aria or Hidamari Sketch, they delivered the entertainment quite effectively and I got what exactly I had expected to get from the series.
So is A Channel good? Sure; not bad in any case. A whole lot of cuteness, a little bit of funny and a healthy dose of the warm fuzzies. What else could you ask for? A bit more substance would have been nice, but what can you do? This was never an ambitious show to begin with.
A pleasant enough show but it never rises above the clichés it so avidly holds to. Certainly entertaining and not a waste of the time I spent on it but there are definitely better shows of its type out there.
Recommended Audience: This show is definitely not above sexualising its characters a little but for the most part it's suitable for any teenage audience.