I confess all of the squiddle puns in the subtitles are starting to wear down my resistance a little bit. I hated them at first, but some of them a pretty damn funny. And Ika in a sun hat – I almost passed out from the kawaii…
On balance, I would say we’re a little behind last year’s pace in terms of quality so far. By my reckoning after three eps of the first season the series was a perfect 9-for-9, whereas this year things have been a little more hit and miss. Easily the biggest winner this week was the second sketch, “Time to Squidercize?” The hilarity ensues when Ika stumbles upon Takeru’s bleary-eyed third-grade class exercising on the beach early in the morning. This one clicks on all levels, really capturing the off-kilter sense of humor that makes this show great, and it’s ability to be extremely funny without seeming to try hard.
This one is a riot even before the joke kicks in, because it’s priceless watching – along with Ika – as the kids do calisthenics to a tinkly piano soundtrack as their teacher gives hilariously stupid directions. If you’ve ever seen Japanese exercise in public, especially children, this rings so true – but the fun really starts when Ika is enraptured by the mystical power of these moves that can turn sleepy eight year-olds into smiling, energetic cherubs. Things start to go wrong with she begins practicing twisted versions of the moves at Lemon, with catastrophic results, and earns the wrath of Chizuru by spilling a bowl of ramen over her and seeming to mock her in the process. The real payoff comes when Ika joins the children for their class the next morning and lays them out with bowling pins with her tentacles. So wrong, yet so right.
The first and third skits are fine, though lacking the hilarity of the second. The ep leads off with a sketch dedicated to Alex (Seki Takaki), Sanae’s dog. Naturally he’s jealous of Ika stealing his mistress’s affections, taking it out on Ika’s leg as a chew toy. Eiko’s suggestion that Ika and Alex bond over a walk doesn’t go too well. The third worked better for me, though in a somewhat more serious vein. Goro decides Ika would make a perfect lifeguard, convincing her to give it a go by bribing her with one of Chizuru’s homemade bento. Goro and Ika don’t exactly see eye to eye about the job, though, but the salient point here is that for all her quite correct anger over polluting the oceans, by this point Ika really does care for the humans in her circle, even relative strangers on the beach.
The difference between this year and last for me is consistency – the squidercize skit was as good as any last season, and all three last week ranged from good to great, but last year every sketch was at that level for most of the series. But when it gets the mix right, as it did with the middle segment this week, Shinryaku Ika Musume is a pretty unique sort of comedy. Not many series can start off funny and build and build upon that in layers like this one can – another example of this is the umbrella sketch from the first season. If anything, things have been a bit nicer and a bit less high-spirited for some of this season, but hopefully that’s just a question of the chapters adapted and we’ll get back to the consistency we saw last year.