OP: 「地獄の沙汰も君次第」 (Jigoku no Sata mo Kimi Shidai) by (Jigoku no Sata All Stars)
「地獄大一番／地獄不思議発見」 (Jigoku daiichiban/ jigoku fushigi hakken)
“The Biggest Hell/Strange Discovery in Hell”
Winter’s oddest series joins the fray.
I had very high hopes for this series going in, for a number of reasons. It’s a seinen, the director has a very solid track record (Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun is my personal favorite among his works), and the project seemed to have a generally literate air that struck me as highly unusual in today’s anime landscape. Also, to be frank, I’m still waiting for that first “wow” premiere that every new anime season since I’ve been a fan has provided at least one of (Noragami has been the best so far, but not a “wow”). This series and Inari Konkon were really the last two I saw as having a chance to deliver it.
Did it? In a word, no – though I did like Hoozuki no Reitetsu. To be blunt I can’t see this series possibly having anything close to a wide appeal, because not only is the humor bone-dry but much of it is derived from Japanese cultural references that only the truly obsessive English-language fans will get. It isn’t simply a matter of context – even setting that aside I’d call the premiere amusing rather than hilarious and say the comedy worked intermittently. There were a couple of pretty big laughs for me, but the episode as a whole didn’t stand out as spectacular or anything.
The basic story follows Hoozuki (Yasumoto Hiroki) the chief secretary of the Great Demon King Enma (Nagasako Takashi) as he tries to maintain order in a Buddhist afterlife that’s plagued by understaffing and overcrowding. Enma is a bit of an affable dunce, and it’s clear that it’s Hoozuki who keeps things running. He’s an odd sort, seemingly a bit of a sadist (he is an oni after all) but also a lover of cute things who has a special venom reserved for those who torture animals. He keeps giant “goldfish plants” as a hobby and watches “mundane” TV shows for relaxation, enjoying the cute presenters and the interesting travelogues.
We’ve seen variations on that theme before, but this one has its own unique charm – in terms of tone and comedic style this premiere actually reminded me a bit of Shirokuma Cafe. The series – like Shirokuma – looks as if it will be split into two weekly mini-episodes. The first this week was a rather biting satire of the Momotarou fairy tale, which is right up there with Kaguyahime as far as being beloved in Japan. Momotarou (Hirakawa Daisuke) is played as an egomaniacal incompetent (he carries a “Nihon #1” banner) whose animal entourage is at the point of looking for a new job. The best joke here is when the Akita dog Shiro (Kobayashi Yumiko) is K.O’d by Hoozuki’s “Your father is the Softbank dog!”. Very much insider humor there, but if you get the joke, it’s a good one. The problem is, there’s no reason anyone outside Japan would get it. In the end Momotarou and his animal friends end up getting job offers from the understaffed Hoozuki – the doubutsu in Animal-Torturer Hell, and Mamotarou as a woodcutter in Shangri-La (“Heaven’s #1 tourist trap”).
The second episode is basically Hoozuki and Enma-kun sitting in the cafeteria – the latter eating a “coelacanth-don” – watching a travel show about Australia and discussing Hoozuki’s personal peculiarities. It’s extremely weird, quite unlike any anime comedy I’ve seen in a good long time, and I suspect the sort of thing that’s going to be completely hit-and-miss with audiences. We get a Hunter X Hunter joke, a reference to how wallabies are huggable and kangaroos are boring, and the information that if Hoozuki took a living girl on a date, he’d take her to a cemetery. This was the part that felt most like Shirokuma Cafe to me – a mix of puns, intellectual dry wit, cute talking animals and general absurdity.
Who’s the target audience for this thing? Well, it is a seinen so I suppose that’s a part of it. There are certainly no cute girls here – the cutest characters are the furries and the boy-oni like Nasubi (Aoyama Touko) who seem to act as Hoozuki’s assistants, so perhaps this might attract a small sliver of the fujoshi audience that Shirokuma did. I did find it funny most of the time, but I don’t deny I have very skewed tastes. I can only say give it a try and decide for yourself, because you’re certainly not going to see anything else like it this season. It’s a Production I.G. (via Wit) show so it looks really good, with some humorous takes on Buddhist artwork, and both veterans Yasumoto and Nagasako are excellent and very funny (and perfectly cast). This series is going to fly so far under the radar that it might show up on a milk carton, but for the right sort of viewer it’s definitely worth searching out.
ED: 「大きな金魚の樹の下で」 (Under the Giant Goldfish Tree) by (Tokyo Philharmonic Chorus)