After falling so in love with the first Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou OVA (1998), it’s hard not to be disappointed by Quiet Country Café (2002-2003), another two episode OVA that isn’t so much a follow up to the first as another adaptation of a later part of Hitoshi Ashinano’s manga. Tomomi Mochizuki—known for the Studio Ghibli outlier Ocean Waves—has a very different visual interpretation, instead of very detailed backgrounds with a focus on little movements and little flickers of light, creating these dense mixtures of nature and human wreckage, he chooses something more simply idyllic: still watercolours that centre much more on nature. Rather than the sound of a tram quietly rattling at sunset, the sound of wind blowing through the grass on an autumnal morning.
These background often have a vignette effect, fading into white around the edges, creating a more insular storybook world. They’re very pretty but when we’re asked to feel awe—in these set pieces of beauty that ended both episodes of the first OVA—they feel deeply insufficient. Surely not helped by opening on one of these scenes, having no dramatic arc leaning into it, as small as those arcs tend to be.
Despite such a misjudged opening, the storytelling is consistently strong. After Alpha spent a night sheltered from one of the storms that seem to have been responsible for bringing the world to its peacefully post-apocalyptic state, she walks back home to see if it survived. She looks down and sees her wind vane on the ground and then we cut to night, Alpha quietly playing her lute. It’s a devastating edit in a way that’s so unique to the Iyashikei genre, both overwhelming and small; a melodramatic event played with a quiet melancholy.
This OVA might have an even great sense of healing—the stated suppose of Iyashikei—the smaller scale and the modest beauty create not an overwhelming experience but a gentle one; like falling asleep on the grass on a summers day. Dramatic things happen, obviously Alpha’s house is destroyed, but really it’s just an excuse for her to go out and explore for a while. She doesn’t find much of anything and the second episode ends with her ready to go home. It has a comfortable and conservative world view, it’s not about some strange emptiness looking to be filled, it’s about wanting to go home.
In some ways it seems like Quiet Country Café fails largely in contrast, next to something so uniquely moving it look unsophisticated and parochial, but next to most anime it’s something else all together. In fact, it feels much closer to what is comfortably recognisable as anime, from the use of close-ups to fill in limited or simple animation to the fan service, though done with a uniquely tasteful lightness, within these sixty minutes we see one character touching another’s breast and one character being totally naked.
1 — Read my full piece on the OVA here.
2 — A TV movie produced to give the studio’s younger staff a place to shine, but was a failure both in that it went over budget and that no new generation of Ghibli has ever come. The studio seems like it will for all intents and purposes die with Hayao Miyazaki.