This is one now definitely in the keeper list for Winter, though I doubt it’s going to generate much of a following among the English-language anime fanbase. I loved the second episode and as I more or less expected find myself becoming entranced by the offbeat sensibility much as I did with Shirokuma Cafe. That said it’s going to be a tough show to blog, as so many comedies tend to be – especially those that aren’t plot-driven. Trying to explain what makes a show like this funny is like trying to explain why one wine tastes better than another – and some people aren’t going to have the same tastes anyway.
I enjoyed last week’s episode but found it a bit confounding. My sense was that this was the sort of show that would slowly suck you into its weird world and skewed sense of humor, and that was only enhanced after I read several chapters of the manga and found them to be pretty hilarious. It never stops being strange, no doubt, but comedies that thrive on the absurd like this tend to work better if they manage to make the characters likeable and don’t take the hard-edge of the humor too far. There’s a little bit of warmth here, just enough to prevent comic frostbite, and I think we saw signs of that this week.
One of my favorite manga chapters was the “Funiculi, Funicula” (I recommend the Mario Lanza version if you want to hear the original) bit “Oni and Panties and Crab”, which I fervently hoped I’d see animated as soon as I read it. And it was the first out of the gate this week. It’s a Neapolitan canzone (we see one of the train drivers depicted as Mario here) written about the first cable cab to Mount Vesuvius (the “funicular”) here reimagined as the theme to a demon underwear jingle with lyrics about tiger-skin panties, and sung by Nasubi as he’s working on cleaning up the shoreline of the River Styx with fellow oni Karauri (Kakihara Tetsuya).
Seriously, I don’t know how to go about selling someone on the merits of why that’s funny – but to me, it is. I did miss the way the manga depicted Nasubi and Karauri as Chip ‘n Dale and then the cherubs from “The Magic Flute” in this chapter, but the anime got the essence of the bit right. These two – especially Nasubi – go a long way towards humanizing the series, generally, and the bit itself is just so gloriously dumb. It really reaches apotheosis when the conversation gets taken into Enma’s hall, and the conversation about underwear theory is undertaken with solemnity and seriousness.
The second part finds Satan (Genda Tesshou), proprietor of “European Hell”, stopping by for an unannounced visit that literally catches Enma with his pants down. Satan has in mind to scout out Buddhist Hell for an eventual invasion, but he’s quickly put off his mettle when Enma innocently enough turns him over to Hoozuki for the grand tour. This is really classic flight-of-fancy territory, straight-up comic jazz riffing, as we see Satan get mistakenly called “Santa” by Shirou – who’s working for a pair of dogs played by Yokoyama Chisa (Biscuit Krueger) and Tsuda Kenjirou in Animal-Torturer Hell – and generally made to understand what a bizarre place this Hell is and what a formidable figure Hoozuki is. This wraps up with Hoozuki making a grand meal of the most recent goldfish-plant contest winner (“So healthy!”), and Satan bolting after he finds a scroll with a recipe calling for him to be broiled (this time it was supposed to say “Santa”) in Hoozuki’s study.
Again, you sort of have to be there – but this is a really clever and fun take on the misconceptions Europeans and Japanese have about each other. Plus we get to hear Satan say “Oh, My God!” and Hoozuki be mortified by that. We also get treated to one of the strangest ED sequences you’ll see this year – even topping last week’s “Under the Giant Goldfish Tree”, though that one was creepier. Hoozuki no Reitetsu is definitely an acquired taste that not everyone would ever acquire, but I’m pretty much converted already. My best advice to you? Go to Hell – once a week, on Thursdays.
ED2: “Parallax View (パララックス・ビュー)” by Sumire Uesaka