Off the top of my head, I can’t recall an anime season with as many good shows getting no attention as this one. I suppose I should be glad that they exist at all, but of course the implication is that it’s harder and harder for those good shows to gain an audience (and thus, turn a profit). Plus it’s not as if this season is so awash in good series that the law of averages is simply playing out – it’s more a matter of a higher percentage of the gems being “hidden” than ever. And Keppeki Danshi! Aoyama-kun certainly qualifies.
Genre parody is a tricky thing for anime, a strategy for comic success that’s riddled with potential pitfalls. A show has to both totally understand the material it’s parodying and be fully committed to the joke for it to really work – and it seems to work best when it’s a parody with affection at its core. Fortunately Aoyama-kun (once again) certainly qualifies, setting the tone from the get-go with the ED and never really looking back. And with this episode it may have reached its apotheosis as a pure genre comedy.
This arclet works both as a means of bringing together the threads the series has already spun, and giving some exposure to characters who’ve been mostly in the background. Miwa-chan is one of those characters, and she’s the driver of events here, declaring that the team needs a training camp to prepare for its upcoming tournament matches. This isn’t through any high-minded coaching responsibility, but because she hopes to recreate the training camp arc of her favorite soccer manga “Soccer Boyfriend” (and it turns out that Aoyama-kun reminds her more than a little of the protagonist).
The other figure who gets a spotlight turn here is Zaizen-kun, which is most welcome because Seki Tomokazu is truly one of the great comic seiyuu in anime history. We knew he was rich, but the degree to which he’s loaded only now comes into focus. The seiyuu talent pool for this show is pretty wealthy too, and it adds no less than Nakata Jouji as Kaoru’s industrialist father. Kaoru declares that if a training camp is to be held, it should take place at the Zaizen villa – and his father and younger sister Karin are only too happy to (literally) accommodate.
This whole premise is rife with comic potential, and the gags start with Aoyama-kun super-cleaning the team bus and go from there. He gets an ultra-luxurious modern suite (the only way he could be convinced to go), but the rest of the boys are stuck with a ramshackle old ryokan – because the pampered Kaoru-kun mentioned that he wanted to experience all the usual training camp rituals. Miwa has invited the other clubs along too (because that happened in “Soccer Boyfriend”) and hijinks ensue. Moka-chan even gets a chance to play soccer when Ishikawa-un takes a knock – but earns a scolding from Aoyama-kun for diving (he performs a slide tackle on her, so strong is his displeasure with dirty plays).
It turns out that all of this is taking place inside a massive dome built by the Zaizen Group (even the ocean is a fake). The culmination of all this is – of course – the test of courage, which is brought off by Karin-chan with the help of Hollywood effects gurus and might easily have been a timely tribute to Tobe Hooper. Aoyama-kun cleaning the abandoned hospital where its staged is a classic moment, but the ultimate horror for Kaoru-kun (more frightened of horror cliche than anyone else in the group) comes at the very end, courtesy of his father (and Nakata-san). And with that, the stage is set for what may be our first real look at Aoyama-kun’s mysterious past…