I had some serious laughs in every segment this week, which brings the overall batting average for season two up almost to S1 levels. Every sketch worked, and as so often happened during the best episodes in season one, they were all quite different. One element of Ika Musume that I really like is that is possesses the ability to generate comedy from many different sources and in many different styles, which – while not a necessity for a great comedy series – is certainly a rare thing and much to be admired. Mitsudomoe is another recent example of a series that could do this, and there are similarities too in that keeping a crucial balance between dark humor and heart is a vital factor. This show is certainly the gentler of the two by temperament, but it can get pretty arch when it wants to.
For sheer laughs, “Isn’t it English” was the biggest payoff this week. It was interesting to see Cindy in “normal mode”, dressed in sensible casual wear and getting embarrassed when Takeru complimented her. This is a show that’s been pretty merciless at mocking Americans and this sketch was no exception, but as an American I’ve never taken offense. Most of the biggest laughs here were generated from Eiko’s hilariously inept attempts at learning English from Cindy-sensei, as Ika and even Takeru (he learned his English the way I learned my Japanese – from TV) were picking it up like that. Cindy’s English was dubbed we an American actress but the rest of the cast muddled through in their normal voices, and when Cindy convinced herself that Eiko was actually speaking broken English the results were uproarious – with Eiko calling her a bimbo and telling her “Eat a duck I must!” before saying “I’ll kill you!” to a lost tourist. There was unintentional comedy too, as Takeru mysteriously grew a pair of socks between 3:02 and 4:06.
Second up was “Ink You Stop It?” which touched on the peculiar human oddities of tickling (just why aren’t we ticklish when we tickle ourselves?) and hiccups. Not as many belly-laughs here, but a very agreeable tone and some smart situation comedy that worked well. Ika’s attempts at tickling were predictable, with Nagisa being terrified and the customers doing spit-takes with their beer, but Ika wouldn’t touch Sanae with a ten-foot tentacle. It was interesting to hear that Chizuru’s one weakness is tickling – but dammit, we still don’t know where she’s ticklish! Clearly it’s not under the arms, as Ika found out to her chagrin. Her declaration that thirty hiccups would cause her tentacles to grow grotesque (pixelated) mutations was utterly random, but Chizuru’s “cure” was perfectly in character.
Finally we had “Get My Drift?” We’ve tended to have one somewhat more sentimental story every episode, and this one might have been the best this season and was interesting in multiple ways. For one, it appears that not just Takeru but all the neighborhood elementary-school boys are crushing on Ika-neechan, as they’re delighted when she accompanies them on a jaunt to play by the river. After Takeru shows her how to make a bamboo boat, she naively puts a rock in hers to represent herself – but one of the lads saves her “Black Tiger GT” (or is it Black Tiger Ticonderoga?) from sinking by swapping in a pumice stone. Ika’s swept away in a fit of imagination as she becomes Ika-tan, floating away down the river and having adventures in a lovely bit of animation. When the leaf boat finally surrenders itself to the sea, Ika realizes she’s come quite a long way – and has a realization that the river and the sea are connected, in the circle of life. Hakuna Matata. Fortunately she sees a familiar yellow beach shack – but in the best payoff of the season, realizes that it’s actually Beach House Lennon and she’s hopelessly lost.
That last sequence really demonstrates just how clever Ika Musume can be. it gives you a heartwarming, tender moment and then totally pulls the rug out from under you with John & Yoko and gets a huge laugh. I also loved how Ika gave different names to her boat, which really reminded my of the classic umbrella chapter from S1. This series can be surprisingly affecting when it takes Ika’s POV and sees our world through her childlike eyes as it did in that last sketch. Some weeks it’s been too nice and some too merciless, but this week Ika Musume was just right.