I already have a series review of Mitsudomoe season 1, of course, and it would be easy enough to repeat everything I said there in this one – the two seasons were consistent enough as to have felt almost contiguous. There were differences, however, and I loved Zouryouchou! enough that I want to give it the justice it deserves.
For starters, as we all know, this season ended up being cut down to 8 episodes. Presumably this was because the second season was green-lit before the first aired – this was to be a “split-cour” series – and before the ratings and DVD sales proved disappointing. That’s a shame, because the show was every bit as smart and hilarious as ever. Bringing back the creative team, led by comedic mastermind Masahiko Ohta as director, was the key. If he’d returned to helm the follow-up seasons of Minami-ke I have no doubt they’d have been as creatively accomplished as Zouryouchou! was.
What the short season undoubtedly did was put great pressure on Ohta and team to race through as much material as possible. This ended up in a pretty frenetic pace – it seemed like we were zipping through a major holiday every week – but he made it work. The final product was definitely even more episodic than the first season was – most of the skits were shorter and snappier than in the first season, which tended to be a consistent three sketches per episode format. This allowed Ohta to give the best chapters from the manga an airing, and it gave the show a different but no less enjoyable feel than the first season had. This also resulted in a wider range of comedic styles than the first season, which relied heavily on situation comedy involving misunderstandings. We had that, but lots more parody, satire and physical comedy on top of it.
Another very interesting move was to dedicate the entire first episode to a “Gachi Rangers” parody. I suppose this was likely decided long before the season was known to be only 8 episodes, and it was a huge gamble to dedicate an entire episode to this when so little time was available – but I’m very glad they did it. The entire Gachi Rangers track has been a winner since it was first introduced, and the viciously on-target parody of the episode was an absolute bulls-eye.
What were the highlights of the season for me? Well, no doubt the absolute pinnacle – the moment that rivaled the “Mozart/barrel/onsen” sketch from S1 – was the water park episode. The entire sequence was great, but from the moment the strains of “Nearer My God to Thee” could be heard and Hitoha looked up to see the string quartet on the deck, it was absolutely inspired. The “first” Christmas part at Sugisaki’s in episode 2 was a winner, highlighted by Chiba’s “Point to my nipples!” It would be hard to imagine that scene in any other series. The sketch with the physical exams (“Mitsuba’s a yokozuna!”) was also pretty inspired. I loved seeing Shin-chan and Soujirou commiserate on Valentine’s Day. That was from episode 6, which also featured the brilliant parent-teacher conference featuring faces old and new – new apart from the S1 ED, that is. That was a clever take on how parents resemble their children, and vice-versa. The other great Chiba moment of the season was a classic, too – at the “second” Sugisaki Christmas party. The way he dove into the role – and copped a feel of Sugisaki’s panties and humiliated her at the same stroke – was hilarious. That ep (#7) also featured maybe the line of the season, (“Oh it’s ON, Leftovers!”). And in the finale, we had the sweet potato vendor, The class relay, Yabe-chi and Hit-chan finally clearing up their Gachi misunderstanding, and the lovely ending featuring Soujirou and the triplets.
If you get the idea that Ohta did a remarkable job of cramming massive amounts of hilarity into 8 episodes, you’re absolutely right – it was downright miraculous. Each member of the cast managed to get a few moments at least to shine, and in a way it was as if the entire season were a “best of” episode. Were there issues? Sure – I could have done without quite so much “Mitsuba is a *** pig” humor, and when you fire as many bullets as this season did a few of them will naturally be blanks. But the hits outnumbered the misses by a wide margin, and Mitsudomoe Zouryouchou! delivered an astonishing amount of humor per minute.
It’s amazing how much I like all these characters, even as obnoxious as they can be. Futaba will always be my favorite – her clueless sincerity is like nothing else, and disaster follows her everywhere. But Hitoha is a very close second – she’s so damn cute, for starters, and her dismissive attitude (classic overcompensation) lends humor to every situation. Mitsuba is still my third choice, but she’s still a great character – she digs herself into mess after mess and her luck is terrible, but it never deflates her pride. This is also one of the great supporting casts ever – Soujirou, one of the great fathers ever. Yabe-chi, about as pathetic as a human can be but still a good guy (and I say, a Hitoha crush) at heart. All of the classmates, but especially ero-boy Chiba and luckless “good boy” (and future Futaba husband) Shin-chan are distinctly weird and wonderful. Even the parents are given lives of their own and each stands out in limited time. I’m going to miss them all.
I suppose one could speculate all day on why this show was never the monster hit it deserves to be. Maybe it was the fact that weakest two eps were unfortunately the first two. Maybe the fact that there’s not a teenaged girl in sight, and the character designs and art – though they totally won me over – are a little odd. But I prefer to dwell on how great Mitsudomoe is – how many big laughs it delivered, how it manged to blend nastiness and heart perfectly, and always managed to stop just before crossing the point of no return. It was brilliantly written, brilliantly directed and featured an absolutely great voice cast. If for whatever reason you’re reading this review and haven’t watched the show, do yourself a favor and give it a chance. Just shelve your preconceptions, show a little patience and be prepared to laugh longer and louder than you have for any anime in a long time. The best shows aren’t always the most popular, that’s for damn sure – and Mitsudomoe is one of the best comedies anime has ever seen.