A complete 180 from serious tennis shows such as Ace wo Nerae! and The Prince of Tennis, Softenni is a bare-bones approach to tennis comedy, based off of the manga from Ryô Azuchi in Monthly Comic Blade. Situated in the rural countryside of Hokkaidô, Sofuteni covers the daily practices of the Hakuô Middle School soft-tennis club as they learn the ropes and aim for the top.
Naturally, the members of the club have their quirks, leading to minute-long vignettes as they interact. Asuna's the clumsy ditz, her mind wandering towards sexual innuendoes while her feet manage to trip over tennis-court lines. Her friend Kotone is a gung-ho, fire-eyed competitor who takes her aggression out on her home dojo's students afterwards. You've also got Chitose, a flighty girl with bottomless pit for a stomach, and Kurusu, an abnormal tennis prodigy who has a thing for mascot heads. All of them are taught by Mishimagi-sensei, a lazy former high-school pro who looks to be eternally fighting off a hangover.
And...that's it. Comedy ought to come from the characters just being themselves while they try to learn the game, but for some reason Softenni seems to think that the viewers want to see panty shots and Asuna's sexual thoughts at the same time. Need we remind people, these are middle-school students. Funny shouldn't come at the expense of looking like a dirty old man in the process.
Well, the animation's at least vibrant like cotton candy, which is probably the best direction to go for a show about club activities. Realistically, after-school sports aren't meant to be this fun, so at least that approach is worth the ink. It's about on par of your average Xebec show, and you're thankfully not getting a harem show in the process. Still, it would be miles better without all the attention on underwear.
A glutton, an emotionless weirdo, a tomboy, a ditz, and from the looks of things a foreigner. This isn't exactly the most original of line-ups, but at least Azuchi had the right mind to include an uninterested semi-pro to educate them all. While the members of the club fit solidly into tropes and even look the part—Asuna's ahoge hairstyle turns into punctuation when necessary—Mishimagi luckily doesn't fit into one, obviously knowing his place and role as instructor.
Peppy for the opening and ending themes, Softenni deflates into your typical slice-of-life soundtrack. The only thing missing would probably be the recorder noises from Azumanga Daioh. The acting fits the characters appropriately and is nothing to really get excited about.
There really wasn't much talk about Softenni at all, outside of the suspicion that we'd be getting your average Xebec cheesecake show. Director Ryôki Kamitsubo has been involved in production for about a decade, but his only major work was the Hen Zemi OVA from last year. (Not exactly a resume builder...)
I suppose we shouldn't be too critical of Softenni; there are plenty of nonsense sports manga that wish they had reached animation stages (Mr. Fullswing comes to mind). Unfortunately, the moe has been dialed up to critical levels, and the female characters become difficult to identify with. Considering that the show would probably get many more male viewers with gravure idols doing the same thing, the point of Softenni just doesn't seem to be there.
Softenni is funny. I just wish I could laugh without feeling so awkward.