Winter 2014 is shaping up as the worst season in the Blu-ray era for anime sales (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though that’s a topic for a full post). But not for all of them – 3 of the top 7 spots in the Winter 2014 stalker rankings are held by various BD/DVD packagings of Hoozuki no Reitetsu’s first volume (and the fourth holds down the 14th spot). It placed first in a recent magazine poll for best series of the season, beating the second-place series (Noragami) by almost 3-1 – with 82% of the female respondents choosing Hoozuki.
So why is that, anyway? If any series ever seemed like an unlikely commercial success – even a modest one – this is it. The first clue would have been the strong manga sales, but as is so often the case with comedies it’s very hard to capture the appeal of this series in writing. I love it, but it’s not easy to say just why. There is an element of the same appeal that Shirokuma Cafe had here, but it’s certainly not the same – Hoozuki is far more overtly subversive, for starters.
While it’s nowhere near as outright dark as last week’s ep, this one does a nice job of showcasing many of the facets of Hoozuki no Reitetsu’s appeal. It’s simultaneously cute and twisted. It’s fearless, aiming its satirical missiles inwards at the Japanese and outwards at Europeans. It’s literate while still being approachable and even gleefully stupid at times. It’s lovely to look at, with the most interesting color palette of the season layered on top of its very traditional-looking Buddhist character designs and backgrounds. But none of that really captures why it’s so funny, though – you just have to be there, I guess.
There were some very strong moments in both chapters this week – in fact I’d rank them about even. The first introduces us to Peach Maki (Uesaka Sumire, who also sings the ED), one of the hottest idols in Hell, who features a peach motif in all her wardrobe. It also introduces the hilarious Koban (Sugiyama Noriaki), a trashy gossip reporter for the “River Styx Weekly” who also happens to be a cat that acts very much like a cat. Having been shot down by Maki he “hounds” Hoozuki to do a feature, which leads to a very funny run-in with Shirou (who asks to be interviewed himself, to which Koban replies “I don’t do dogs!”). You can’t really get across why Koban is funny without watching Koban – and even then, I suppose it’s subject to personal tastes.
Later, Beelzebub (Konishi Katsuyuki) stops by for a visit. He’s Satan’s right-hand demon, but unlike Hoozuki he’s a “career demon” – an elite who’s terrified of Hoozuki as a street rat who clawed his way up from the bottom. As with Satan’s visit, Beelzebub’s trip to Buddhist Hell is mostly Hoozuki unintentionally terrifying him. The highlight here is definitely the exchange that occurs when Beelzebub is being held up at security because his gastric juices are poisonous. He blusters that he’s going to leave and Hoozuki takes him seriously (or does he?), and then feigns shock with the priceless “Oh, I see – that was a Western joke. Pardon me – in the true national character of the Japanese I detest sudden visitors, so I apologize for thinking ‘Good-bye, good riddance!'”.
Now, that’s a pretty damn droll – and wordy – joke right there. I was beside myself with laughter – having lived here for a while know the sheer truth of it just got to me, and it captures something in both the Japanese nature and the way Westerners perceive it. Anime humor just doesn’t get much more dry than that – but it’s followed up mere minutes later by an equally brilliant exchange between Hoozuki and Maki when Hoozuki is taking the train to European Hell to sign an agreement. Hoozuki remarks in a stage whisper that Peach’s hat “Looks like a behind.” At her dismay he adds, “Everyone in the carriage probably thinks it pooped out your face” – to which the other passengers wordlessly give a thumb-up or “V” sign. And thus, the Yang to your Yin.
That’s the best I can do, really – it only really works if you see it happen. There’s a nice little bonus at the end where Beelzebub and Hoozuki finally get past their hostility and see eye-to-eye – because they discover that they both have a thing for maids (all of this Beelzebub dutifully records in his weblog). We also get a peek at Peach Maki on a TV quiz show (she’d mentioned it to Hoozuki earlier on the train) which is taking place in “Hellsinki“. Yeah, the comedy here is all over the map – and that’s how I like it. When a show can make you laugh as many ways as this one can, it’s pretty much impossible to get tired of it. Which is a good thing, because if this series does indeed do pretty well on disc, it certainly wouldn’t be a surprise to see another season sometime pretty soon.