Transformatively amusing – Gugure! Kokkuri-san

65665Title: Gugure! Kokkuri-san
Format: TV series
Genre: comedy, supernatural
Series Creator: Midori Endo
Series Director: Yoshimasa Hiraike
Studio: TMS Entertainment
Series length: 12 episodes
Original Airing dates: October 5 – December 21, 2014
Reviewed format: high def with fan subs


Synopsis:

Kohina Ichimatsu is an expressionless elementary school girl who lives alone, proclaims herself to be a doll, and eats nothing but instant noodles. One day, she plays the Kokkuri game by herself and summons the fox spirit Kokkuri-san who, upon seeing her unhealthy lifestyle, takes it upon himself to become her guardian and raise her properly. Thus starts Kohina’s new life of being haunted by various unique spirits.


Critique:

Once again, this year has proven that the best anime have been 4koma adaptations, such as Gekkan Shōjo Nozaki-kun, & now Gugure! Kokkuri-san stands a top the list of the best anime series of 2014.

The premise is simple but clever but also tricks you into thinking that it’s going to be worse -in terms of hypersexualisation & fan service- than it really is. Whilst it does rely on a bit of both, it actually twists it around a fair bit into very humorous scenarios. This is seen especially when the titular Kokkuri first appears, panting & flushed when accidentally summoned by Kohina. This is meant to make that think that Kokkuri is a stalking pervert who’s been waiting for the lonely Kohina to summon him so he can devour her, body & soul. Where, in fact, he’s been following her around because of her odd behaviour & habit of referring to herself as a doll, which turns him into her over-protective, yet doting, guardian, who only wants to correct her strangeness so she can have a happy life.
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Unfortunately, due to Kokkuri’s neat-freak & overly controlling nature, this means that he basically becomes a housewife -cooking every meal so Kohina won’t eat nothing but Cup Ramen & cleaning because Kohina doesn’t concern herself with looking after her huge yet strangely empty house.

Like all great 4koma adaptations, the humour is mainly derived from the various characters & their interactions with & reactions to each other. Kokkuri & Kohina more up the core of the series, with much of the perspective being from their point of view, but the ensemble cast is also utterly brilliant -even if they do bring in many of them late in the series.

The other great strength of the 4kmoa format is quick fire & running gags, which Gugure! Kokkuri-san does exceptionally well by being able to hark back to a joke in an earlier episode without making it seem like it’s just telling the same joke again & again like other (mainly American series) tend to do.

The one problem in talking about the jokes themselves & what makes so them funny &/or clever is that it’s like a child dissecting a frog: you don’t really learn anything & the frog dies.

What does make the jokes work however is how they are tailored or based around the various personality quirks & habits of the various characters, with the narrator often adding a little stinging tail to it all at the end.

Such as with the titular Kokkuri, who as mentioned before acts like an overprotective guardian and housewife but he is also exceptionally vain, demanding & prone to hysterics when overwhelmed by various situations or other characters. This often means that other characters, such as the sadistic Inugami, go out of their way to torment Kokkuri over his appearance (such as looking older) or getting him so worked up that his temper explodes & or he goes into an emotional melt down.

The other strong running gag in the series is Kohina’s claims that she’s not human but rather a doll. She talks in a semi-staccato almost robotic tone (another running gag is her getting dolls & robots confused & Kokkuri having to point it out). She is also incapable of smiling; whenever she tries to force a smile her face collapses, terrifying everyone around her. Only when something genuinely makes her happy -such as Kokkuri assuring her that he’ll always be by her side- is she able to show genuine emotion & her depiction changes from a stripped down semi-chibi form to a beautifully animated character.
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Kohina’s other running gag is her utter addiction to Cup Ramen (the instant noodles that you cook in the bowl-like container by pouring hot water into it); doing anything in order to collect rare types or eat them without Kokkuri finding out. This usually means some mischievous on her part, such as goading one of the others in the house into distracting Kokkuri. Her desire to eat & obtain Cup Ramen shows a certain moral flexibility on her part but she’s a good girl deep down.

The most interesting aspect of the series though the gender fluidity of the characters. That is: how some of the characters can switch their genders at will. This is one of Inugami’s primary traits, since he/she’s a dog spirit who can’t remember their own gender when they died, so even though he primary has a male form, he changes to a female one whenever the mood takes him. Kokkuri, also being a spirit, has this ability but refuses to use it because he’s a pretty woman who’s good at housework, everyone wants to marry him. Unfortunately, he’s transformed into a woman because of a spell he found in Kohina’s family store house (one basically designed to mess with people). The humour of this situation is that they keep asking him how it feels to be a woman but he still retains his vanity from his male form, so he sticks with is usual beautification routines, but it also explores some ideas of male-female interactions & emotions.

The fem-Kokkuri that laughed a million hentai comics
The fem-Kokkuri that laughed a million hentai comics

There are also random side characters that are constantly drawn to Kohina & Kokkuri’s life. Which include the aforementioned gender-swapping sadistic dog spirit Inugami -who is utterly devoted to Kohina after a single act of kindness during his original life as an abandoned puppy; yet he’ll destroy or torment all who aren’t Kohina, especially Kokkuri who thinks Inugami is a demented pervert trying to seduce a child. They are joined by the shiftless tanuki (racoon dog) spirit Shigaraki, a NEET who was Kokkuri’s former roommate who is after a free place to live -targeting Kohina because she owned a large house but was unaware that Kokkuri already was living there. Shigaraki has a habit of bringing bad luck to houses he dwells in but this is actually from his stealing money to go gambling with, yet he has a soft side, as he often uses his winning to support the orphanage where the children of the homes he destroyed ended up. More whacky characters enter the mix later in the show, such as the doll obsessed cat spirit Tama who keeps stalking & trying to steal Kohina because she believes her to be a possessed doll.

Whilst this show is incredibly funny there are a few let downs & annoyances. Aside from a bit of random fan service, which isn’t so bad compared to other shows, you don’t get any sense of Kohina’s personal history or backstory. Especially she’s living all alone in such a huge house & why she wants to believe that she’s a doll so she doesn’t have to engage in normal human interaction. This is vexing because even if you have Kokkuri’s reasons for wanting to look after Kohina, you don’t know how/why she’s abandoned in the 1st place, which means that you’re still at a distance with the character. The ending is also left open, so there is no resolution for the characters & backstories outside of a token effort to conclude things.

After those few negatives, I’d like to end with one other great positive & that’s how cute the entire series is. Each of the animal spirits has a chibi animal form, with Kokkuri turning into a fluffy golden fox & Inugami turning into a tiny wittle purple dog in a suit! So Kawaiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!!!!

cough

At any rate, even if I can’t really talk about the jokes, I can strongly recommend this series as something that is painfully funny to watch as well as being very clever in it’s visual gags. It’s a great series to watch if you are feeling low & just want to see something utterly silly to cheer you up.

fafuru fafuru!!!
fafuru fafuru!!!
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Idolistic – Anime Critique: Futsuu no Joshikousei ga [Locodol] Yatte Mita

Futsū_no_Joshikōsei_ga_Locodol_Yattemita,_Cover_Manga_vol.1Title: Futsuu no Joshikousei ga [Locodol] Yatte Mita. (Futsuu no Joshikousei ga Locodol Yatte Mita,  Locodol, Normal High School Girls Tried Being Locodols)
Format: TV anime
Genre: comedy, 4koma adaptation, shojo ai
Series Creator: Kotaro Kosugi
Series Director: Munenori Nawa
Studio: Feel
Series length: 12 episodes + OVA 13th episode
Original Airing dates: July 3 – September 18, 2014
Reviewed format: high def download with fan subs


Synopsis:

In the town of Nagarekawa (“Flowing River City”), Nanako Usami, an ordinary high school girl, is approached by her uncle to become a local idol or “Locodol”, partnering with upperclassman Yukari Kohinata to form the idol unit, Nagarekawa Girls (Nagarekawa Garuzu). As the girls use their talent to promote Nagarekawa and their businesses, they are joined by Yui Mikoze, who acts as the local mascot, and Mirai Nazukari, who serves are Yui’s substitute.


Review:

To be honest, half way through the 1st episode when the fan service bikinis appeared, I really wanted to hate this series. I thought it was going to be nothing but hyper sexualisation, fan service & telling young girls that they can’t be anything except pretty little idols if they want to do something to help those around them. Then it did something surprising: it got really funny, really sweet & really cute before toning down the fan service & offering a good heart into what it means to live outside a major metropolitan area in Japan -especially in the ongoing economic downturn in Asia.

I was genuinely prepared to go on my usual anti-sexualisation, anti-misogyny rants, willing to write it all off when I began to see how funny a show it was. & it kept getting better with each episode, as they build on the characters, their tasks & lots of little running gags.

At its core, Locodol is about the things that you do to help out others &, in turn, support your larger community. For this, ordinary yet energetic Nanako is recruited by her uncle, who works in the local government, to become a Local Idol (shortened to Locodol) with the beautiful & mature acting Yukari. This causes Nanako to question her talent & worth, because she feels that she’s not good enough, always screwing up & obsessed over the little things -such as her hourly wage (being a government employee & not a real idol) & the weird tasks that they have to do in order to help promote their local town, Nagarekawa (which is entirely fictional, mashing up the typical feel of a medium Japanese urban-rural city).
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Like many 4koma adaptation, relationships form the pivot of the comedy & narrative. But this time it’s not just the relationship between the characters but also their relationship with their hometown. The girl’s friendship grows as they work together more & Nanako is supported by the seemingly more experienced (in being an idol) Yukari. Although Yukari’s perception of their relationship goes a little deeper, as she seems to harbour a very open crush on Nanako. The backstory as to how this happened is exceptionally sweet & cute, adding a good bit of depth to Yukari’s overall background.

The idol unit also have to build a relationship with their odd mascot, Uogokoro-kun, both in & out of costume. In costume, Uogokoro-kun is a weird blue lump with a large fish strapped to its wide back. Out of costume, Uogokoro-kun is a diminutive yet busty 3rd year called Yui, who works many part time jobs & plays Uogokoro-kun in order to get over her own shyness, as well being one of the few people short enough to fit into the costume. Yet when clad in the bulky gear, Yui is still surprisingly nimble, which adds to the humour & on stage antics of the group.
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The group is overseen by Nishifukai Saori, who seems like the very model of a manager but in fact she is a secret idol otaku & cosplay costumer maker. She also takes photos on the sly to post onto a fan of the idol unit blog that she runs -which are usually of Nanako in embarrassing or slightly compromising positions. Even though the girls were first upset by this (not knowing it was Saori taking & posting the pictures), they soon came to accept that it’s part of trying to be famous (which is a little creepy) but Saori did say that she’s talk to the blog owner (herself) about not posting the pics anymore.

Even with all these swirling relationships, the story is still mainly focussed upon Nanako & her overcoming her insecurities to do better. She’s a natural signer who wanted to be a national idol when she was a little girl but is bothered by the fact that she was only chosen for the role because of her uncle. Yet her tenacity draws people to her, as she struggles to do her best. Not only for herself but for the unit & the town as a whole -even if it means putting herself in embarrassing situations. Such as stripping down to her bathing suit during their 1st performance to get a bit of audience attention. Her panicking & over-thinking situations leads to much of the comedy in the series; as does her general clumsiness & her obliviousness to Yukari constantly making passes at her.

Another poor attempt  to initiate lesbianism.
Another poor attempt to initiate lesbianism.

Being a series about idols, there is a fair bit of singing per episode but not a lot of different songs. The seiyu all have nice voices for the Pop style songs they’re singing & the voice acting over all iver very cute. Especially when Nanako is on stage & always stutters her name to Nanyako (which people keep calling her, to her eternal embarrassment).

In the end, this is a little series with a lot of heart. I genuinely laughed out loud at a lot of the jokes & reactions (especially the expressions). As I said in the opening paragraph, I honestly thought that I was going to hate this series because it would be like other idol based series that girls that their only worth is in entertaining others & wearing skimpy clothing. I was glad that it went beyond that & was a clever, amusing series that was not without its flaws but, in the end, showed the beauty of a small town (in terms of its people & the animation used). Whilst not everyone will like it, you should fine some enjoyment in the humour. & if not that, it still has underage tits at times, so it has that going for it I suppose.

Like these, you fucking sicko!
Like these, you fucking sicko!

Cute Girls & Caffeine – Anime Critique: Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu ka

61255Title: Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu ka (Is The Order A Rabbit?)
Format: TV anime
Genre: comedy, slice of life
Series Creator: Koi
Series Director: Hiroyuki Hashimoto
Studio: White Fox
Series length: 12 episodes
Original Airing dates: April 10, 2014 – June 26, 2014
Reviewed format: high def download with fan subs


Synopsis:

Cocoa Hoto moves into a new town to attend school. There, she begins living with Chino Kafuu at her family’s Rabbit House café, working as a waitress to pay for her accommodation.


Review:

One of my secret pleasures in anime is the genre nicknamed “cute girls/people doing cute things” 4koma adaptation. It pretty much started when I watched Azumanga Daioh a few years back & continues with Acchi Kocchi (my 1st review here), onto series like Yuyushiki & Seitokai Yakuindomo up to this current review. I think it’s the punchiness of the jokes when translated from the 4koma style, meaning that you pack a lot of humour into a short space. When combined with cuteness, it’s a winning formula in my book.

Unfortunately, Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu ka doesn’t pack an awful lot of jokes in when compared to other series & most of them are based upon the Japanese reaction style (straight man paired with joker, can’t remember the name for it right now) but it still is uber cute.

Mainly because of the bunnies running around but also because of the girls.

& by cute girls I mean the kawaii fashion than any form of sexual or romantic attraction. There is a big difference, even though some of the characters are sexualised (such as underwear & swimwear scenes as well as emphasising Rize’s chest at certain points).

The construction of the female characters is the real draw for the series, because the defy the clichéd roles set forth for them.

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All of their names are puns on coffee, tea or other hot drinks that you find at a café. Cocoa is the daydreaming ditz who is obsessed with being Chino’s (whom she is staying with for an education exchange) big sister (onee-san) role model yet is surprisingly clever at her studies & an excellent baker. Rize is the daughter of a high ranking military man & military-otaku but still loves to be a girly-girl, combining war-lust with modelling & other things. Chiya, whose family runs a rival Japanese tea & sweets café, like Cocoa, seems like a bit of an airhead but is clever with language & telling terrifying stories. Her neighbour & best friend is Sharo, whom everyone assumes is a rich girl because she goes to the privileged private girls’ school but is in fact a scholarship student who is terrified of her poverty being found out by the others. Leaving Chino, who is the day to day head barista at the Rabbit House café (which doesn’t have any rabbits in it aside from Tippy), who has tsundere-like tendencies but is actually just very shy & not well adjusted socially outside of a café environment.

Each episode is pretty much broken into two parts, with slightly interconnecting stories or running gags but mostly they are isolated. The humour isn’t as rapid fire as Seitokai Yakuindomo or as painfully cute as Acchi Kocchi, it’s still a sweet & very funny series brought together by the kawaii interactions of the cast.

Really not much more that I can say about other then if you like your kawaii anime, you’ll love to add this to your list (but only after you’ve watched Acchi Kocchi. Go on! Do it now! NOW!).

gochuumon wa usagi desu ka episode 2 subtitle indonesia

So Cute It Hurts – Anime Critique: Acchi Kocchi

Title: Acchi Kocchi (Atchi Kotchi, Here & There, All Over the Place, Place To Place)
Format: Anime
Genre: Slice of Life Comedy, 4koma, romantic comedy
Series Creator: Ishiki
Series Director: Oizaki Fumitoshi
Studio: AIC (licenced by Sentai Filmworks)
Original Airing dates: April 5 – June 28, 2012
Reviewed format: blu-ray with fansubs

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Synopsis:

    “The serious-minded Io & the pure-hearted Tsumiki feel they never want to be parted, but haven’t become a couple yet. More than friends but less than lovers, they develop an awkward quasi-romance.

Review:

To begin, I must plead utter bias because this is one of my all time favourite anime series ever made. I’ve seen it four times since it first screened & cannot sing its praises enough to people. It was a series that instantly appealed to me because of my love for other similar series, such as 2002’s Azumanga Daioh & the K-On! Franchise. Both of which also started from the 4koma manga format (4 panel strip style comics).

The series focuses on a group of five friends -Tsumiki, Io, Mayoi, Sakaki & Hime- & their strange daily lives but this isn’t a show present in a realistic way. The art style is very much exaggerated, to emphasis the cuteness (moe & kawaii) of the characters & situations, with Tsumiki being presented with cat-like features -sprouting ears & a tail- to show her hidden emotions or Hime’s suddenly nosebleeds. The comedy is based a lot upon quick puns & the interactions of the characters, focussing especially on Tsumiki & Io.

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    Tsumiki is classified as a tsundere style of character -outwardly cold to hide her loving feelings- & the object of her affections is the kindly but often dense Io, who treats her in a friendly manner even though she wants more from him. Her inability to communicate her desires combined with Io’s failings to read deeper into situations leads to teasing down by the manic genius Mayoi & the mischievous Sakaki, who often receive physical retribution from Tsumiki for their efforts. She often gets into awkward situations trying to get Io’s attention or accidentally playing out something that she imagines but her feelings are genuine, as she just tries to be close to him, even if it causes their friends to tease them in a friendly way.

The other source of humour comes from well timed & placed running gags -such as Hime suffering from nosebleeds whenever she sees the psuedo-romantic interactions of Tsumiki & Io or whenever she sees something cute (such as Tsumiki in a costume or Io’s playing with a cat). Other running gags come from Io accidentally charming the female cast, often resulting in wide spread nosebleeds & fainting, or acts of (comically done) superhuman violence, often performed on Mayoi. The humour is designed to be fast paced but seldom going over the audience’s head (issues with translation & subtitle speeds not withstanding).

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    Other than the animation/art style, what truly makes this anime sweet & well done is how excellently all the characters are rendered. You know who they are quickly without them falling into tropes & cliches. Tsumiki is a loli-like tsundere without being rendered in such forms as other, more stereotyped characters like Louise from The Familiar of Zero or Aria from Aria the Scarlet Ammo. She often has cat-like features sprout on her & is rendered in a chibi fashion but is superhumanly strong & fast.
Io initially appears as your typical studious type, with his neat appearance & glasses, but shows many hidden physical skills & other talents -such as being an excellent pastry & sweets chef, skilful gamer & (unknowingly) charming to people whom he meets.
His best friend, Sakaki, is laid back but still sharp, able to pinpoint when Io is at his most dense in regards to Tsumiki’s affections. Whilst Mayoi, who is always seen in her trademark labcoat, is depicted as a trouble making airhead but is, in fact, a mechanic genius, able to create elaborate devices in short periods of time. Leaving Hime as a super average girl, who has trouble with technology & cannot perform the same superhuman feats as her friends, but has a sweet, caring soul which can be easily distracted by anything cute, causing a jet of blood to burst from her nose.
They are surrounded by an equally well depicted supporting cast, which includes Sakaki’s older sister, Miiko, who has floppy dog-like ears drawn in her hair & runs the cakeshop Hachi Pochi, where Hime & Io work party time, & carries dog themes through it.

The series ran for twelve episodes with an OVA released with the blu-ray collection & each episode is divided into two parts, A & B, with a special omake, called Acchi Kindergarten, at the end of each episode that also doubles as the next episode trailer (which is scrolling script along the bottom of the screen). Each scene or segment has special animations based around circles & arrows linking each other, which also serves to enhance the jokes or the running gags. The series, as a whole, covers the course of a year, starting & ending in winter & covering events such as Valentine’s Day & White Day (featured twice in the series), summer holidays as well as Christmas & New Years celebrations, with each episode being self-contained in each half but still continuing with gags & references from episodes that came before.

When comparing the anime series with the original manga, it is one of the few series that becomes superior to its original printed form. In Ishiki’s original 4-koma manga, the illustrations of the characters are exceptionally well rendered, often looking odd & amateurish, where as the anime gives them better forms & far more details -especially in Tsumiki’s cat-like actions. The manga has far more developed jokes & running gags, from which the anime only tends to use from the 1st volume (there 5 volumes published & the series is still ongoing), so I find it surprising that there still has not been a 2nd series with the amount of unused material that they have available.

Another exceptional part of the series is the incidental music by Yokoyama Masaru. It’s subtle and minimalist, using electronic (almost 16 bit) keys & instruments such as clarinets & acoustic guitars yet has its high energy moments when the scene calls for it. They are the kind of tunes that you can easily find yourself humming & they don’t overpower any scenes. Both the Opening & Ending themes are sung by the main cast saiyu.

There are only a few negatives that I can give this series & they are almost all to do with the subtitling & translations. I originally watched the TV broadcasts with the subs done by the Commie group but their lack of honourifics & explanations is exceptionally grating to me. The blu-ray was subbed by a different group but they had issues in regards to panels covering the between scene animations as well as the on screen text. The lack of closure on character relationship was also a vexing issue but excusable because of the ongoing manga. It is also my fervent wish that they make a 2nd series or movie but that is unfortunately unlikely at this point in time -despite its apparent popularity within Japan.

In quick regards to issues of Soft Power, this series is a god example of its possible positive uses because it doesn’t render the series as ‘culturally odourless’ & does retain many tropes, habits & visuals that can be called very Japanese. It does go through many of the cliched forms with the holidays & traditions but calls many of them to question, such as White Day, where men return the favour of receiving a gift from a woman on Valentine’s Day. Over all it plays to trope & cultural expectations within the media but doesn’t let itself be dominated by them. It also, surprisingly, lacks many other typical elements of the genre, such as references to the supernatural (such as ghost stories, even though it talks about fortune telling) or pandering to fan service. The female characters are cute but not sexualised, playing more upon the original form of moe. Most of the sexualisation is actually played upon Io’s character, with the female characters performing the traditional male reaction of bleeding noses & overheating from their desires.

Again, this is a series that I cannot recommend enough. It is so sweet & cute that it cannot help but make me smile whilst watching it. The rapid fire gags & strong visual jokes literally brought tears to my eyes but the undercurrent of the bourgeoning sense of a mature romance between Tsumiki & Io is portrayed in such a fashion that you can’t help but feel for them both. Especially as the dense Io begins to understand his own feelings. Unfortunately due to the manga still continuing, that part of the story was never drawn to a proper conclusion but it is forgivable due to the sweetness of the characters & the series as a whole. Acchi Kocchi is guaranteed to leave a painfully sweet smile on face & have you giggling ages later as you randomly recall a joke or visual gag. This is a series that I cannot get enough off & constantly find myself looking to rewatch when I want to take a break from other viewing. It may be too saccharine for some but it is perfect for me & that, in the end, is what counts.