First Impressions – Hoozuki no Reitetsu

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The oddest series of the season enters the fray…

OP: “Jigoku no Sata mo Kimi Shidai (地獄の沙汰も君次第)” by Jigoku no Sata All Stars

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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” (possibly a new special at Yoshinoya) – 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.

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ED: “Under the Giant Goldfish Tree (大きな金魚の樹の下で)” by Tokyo Philharmonic Chorus

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  1. F

    Well said. It really is… weird. And even harder to get than Joshiraku (which is the series I was thinking of while watching this in terms of super vague and Jaoanese culturally thick puns and in-jokes), partly because the setting is odd, wierd and unfamiliar for many, I'd bet, and the deadpan, dry humor flies over people's heads.

    That being said, I also prefered the second half to the first.

    I found with Joshiraku that I had to watch it literally 2 or 3 times before I would get the jokes of an ep, and I would not be surprised if I had to do the same here. But when I did kinda get the joke it (at least I think I got it sorta kinda) it definitely made me guffaw out loud.

    Something tells me that the tatget audience for the series are about 200-300 people who were reduced to helpless tears and side-aching laughter every 20 or 30 seconds by this…. 😀

  2. Joshiraku also is a fair comparison, although to be honest I never found any one episode as funny as I found this one.

  3. v

    I actually laughed pretty hard specially at ep 2 -5 because of the insanity of it all but i felt something was missing in the part where shiro woke up hozuki. They said he was a hard sleeper so a soft tap on the face shouldn't wake him up at all. Loud noise should work perfectly. SO I read the manga and found out what the hell happened and laughed soooo hard!

  4. C

    Since there are so many anime series coming in this season (plus last year's carry-overs) your first impressions have been helping me narrow down my list. Ain't got enough time to watch everything. So thank you!

  5. Well, you're very welcome – the truth is I really don't either. I just wish more of these first impressions this season had been really favorable.

  6. t

    a friend of mine who tried the manga warned me that this to japan-only-readers(and possible viewers). and indeed I had hard to time to understand WTF they want from me.

    I wanted to love it so much because it involves fantasy-world and comedy (BTW same genres of blood-lad which is also Seinen). but I couldn't.
    the world itself is nice and so do the characters of Enma and Hoozuki. and the fact that the ep was divided into 2 ease me. but I had difficulty to laugh and enjoy it.

    although it's studio WIT something was weird…like a mix of animation style. the goldfish were a bit weird and contrasting too much the rest which rolled between regular WIT style and the old-school drawing meant to demonstrate the idea.

    I'll try 1-2 eps more but on the current perspective, I just don't see myself enjoying this show. it'll be too forced unless they can bring non-japanese a little closer to love this show.

  7. M

    Not too bad for the first 'slice of death' anime. Although like others I could see the jokes, but couldn't always relate. Lost in Translation indeed. I like the animal characters and Hoozuki, as well as the art and setting. My main concern is whether Wit is substituting gaps in humour with more oddity – the goldfish and Enma didn't really work for me but I'm inclined to warm to the place.

  8. e

    Oooh. Bizarre and lovely art, blending ink scroll drawings with a relatively standard style (the CG goldfish was very CG but I liked the design otherwise. And they cry! Plus they are in-between vergetal and animal. A mandragora/mandrake moment XD) .
    It was also a nice reminder of frozen hell sections in world beliefs. I mean in Western medieval+ and mainstream Christian literature that's pretty rare outside of Dante's Inferno.
    I was afraid I would miss most of the humour but it didnt turned out like that and this had me smiling quite a lot. First real keeper candidate of the season for me :D.
    The MC is pretty likable too plus he's a nature docs addict. I'm soooooo on board. And yay for huggable koalas.

  9. I was browsing the manga a few chapters ahead to see if it continues to be so culture-specific, and I found a chapter where Nerubi and Karauri are shown as Chip & Dale and the cherubs from "The Magic Flute" without two pages of each other, and the next page manages to work in "Funiculi, Funicula" with lyrics about panties. Let's just say I"m sold.

  10. e

    Jamme jamme jà 'ncoppa a' nuts* to pantsu land ! 8D

    *Make them Salzburg Mozartkugeln onegai.

  11. S

    This one isn’t for me. I probably need a manual to watch this show since most jokes flew over my head. For example, I had no idea what the clue was with the “Softbank dog” joke. So I looked it up and found out that Softbank is a Japanese corporation operating in telecommunications and Internet and the dog resembles their company mascot. Seems like a lot of work to understand a single joke, so I don’t think it’s worth it.

  12. m

    Yeah this one is completely beyond me as well. Not only do I not know the obscure Japanese references well enough, but I have a strong feeling that even if I did I wouldn't find it remotely funny anyway. I gave it a look only b/c of ur blog Enzo, but gotta say this one isn't for me. "you look like the Softbank dog" isn't my type of dry humor. Give me British sarcasm or some Seinfeld (which is really NE USA) snarky observations over the "abbott and Costello wordplay" and slapstick Japanese style humor.

  13. z

    The joke with the dog is more meta than that. The mascot's name is Otosan (Father).

  14. m

    Yeah I guess I just don't share the same comedic sensibilities as this show. Not that that makes the show bad, but just not for me.

  15. C

    As a researcher of religion in anime, I'm keeping an eye on this one. I hope it doesn't turn out to be too 'Azazel-san' (which I liked, but only sorta).

  16. b

    Enzo, this episode didn't have Uesaka Sumire's ending song.
    This ending is Ookina Kingyou no Kinoshitade (大きな金魚の樹の下で) by Tokyo Philharmonic Chorus (東京混声合唱団)

  17. In one of the strangest announcements ever, this was licensed by Sentai today. I can't even imagine what they're thinking.

    This is definitely funnier the second watching, with some knowledge of what's coming. I picked up several more jokes, including the one where Kaguyu is berating the "animators" (student monks) of the Choju-giga at Kozanji. That's about as close as I've ever seen an anime get to openly satirizing the deplorable working conditions at many TV anime studios.

  18. Z

    I rike it. At least it had some goddamn spark, which is more than I can say for all the other premieres, save Nobunagun.

    "This is hell, so please let's solve this with violence!"

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