There was an interesting bit of news this week with the announcement that the first volume of the Hoozuki no Reitetsu Blu-ray/DVD was delayed by four weeks. I have no idea why (presumably production delays), but I obviously hope there isn’t a negative impact on what was predicted to be some of the best disc sales of the season. It’s rare enough that a show this good ever succeeds commercially to begin with, much less one as eccentric and offbeat as this one.
This episode was another in a superb run of late, one that’s established Hoozuki as one of the best anime comedies of the last year. Some of the series’s greatest strengths were on obvious display – its rare ability to be smart and dumb in the same episode and often at the same moment, and its complete fearlessness. I don’t hold uniqueness up as a prerequisite for really liking an anime – it’s simply not a realistic bar to expect many shows to clear – but when a really good ones has that factor going for it, it’s certainly a nice bonus.
There were several striking components to the first chapter this week, where the Ten Kings of the Afterlife come to Mortal Hell for a group dinner. The first was the musical number – “Ten Little Kingies”, which was sung to the tune of “Ten Little Indians” and drawn in fuzzy 1970’s-style TV fashion. It was gloriously stupid and completely hilarious, and so incredibly lacking in political correctness that there are probably very few countries where a TV show (much less an animated one) could get away with it (this is the land of Buddy the Gorilla, all right). The original is an unsightly relic of a time that’s thankfully long past, and I won’t deny I felt pangs of guilt for laughing as hard as I did. But it was obviously done for comic effect here, and it most certainly worked. Chalk it up to cultural differences, I suppose.
As well, there was a certain emotional weight to the chapter that we haven’t often seen from Hoozuki. The depiction of the offerings to the dead was handled quite respectfully (well, mostly) and rather moving. And we had a pretty serious musing from Hoozuki himself on the nature of the system, which clearly favors the wealthy. And this is really where the “fearless” part of Hoozuki no Reitetsu’s appeal comes in, because this is a very edgy subject to satirize in Japan – respect for the dead is the holiest of the holy in Japanese culture and something the Japanese take very seriously, even as they generally live secular daily lives. I’ve never seen anything quite like this in anime, and that’s saying something. There’s also a very funny straight comedy element here where Enma-sama envies the other Kings for the subservience of their aides, even as Hoozuki badgers and harangues him for every slip-up.
As is often the case the second chapter is a direct offshoot of the first, with Enma – who’s just packed away an enormous amount of food at the gathering (which Hoozuki assembled entirely from offerings for the dead) bemoaning how fat he’s gotten. Hoozuki sees this is as the golden opportunity it is to torture his boss in the name of helping him, and we see that Momotarou’s animal friends have likewise gotten heavy (Shirou apparently from feasting on the damned). This prompts a trip to the gym, where Hoozuki plays the role of sadistic fitness trainer to the hilt, Shirou runs on the treadmill and does sit-ups, Karauri as always moons over O-Kou (even managing to ask her out, though he’s so nervous he mangles his syntax) and Nasubi plays the fool with a 100 kg dumbbell (a dumbbell lifting himself, indeed).
The payoff for this chapter is O-Koh’s fad diet, which takes off on the idea of heating yourself up and cooling yourself off (popular in many places, certainly Japan) by leading the troops on trips between the steaming Eight Greater Hells (where they work up a good sweat) and the Eight Cold Hells in order to speed up the metabolism. It all goes wrong when the snow covers their tracks and they become lost until a “yakisoba with an Akita accent” – sorry. Nasubi, that’s a Namahage – finds them in their snow cave and invites them back to the Namahage chalet for hot food and sake. Enma-sama’s rejoinder is the perfect cherry on top of this delicious sundae of alternating highbrow and lowbrow genius – “I feel alive again! Although I’m dead.”