Thursday, December 23, 2010

Shinryaku Ika Musume - Series Review ~ Degeso


I think we're pretty fortunate to have two pure comedies as good as Shinryaku Ika Musume and Soredemo in one season. Straight-ahead comedy is really difficult to pull off consistently, and this show was brilliant. It delivered a terrific batting average over the course of roughly 35 mini-episodes, and even managed to interject some real heart and warmth into the series.

This was a comedy for everyone - even non-anime people, I think. Not ecchi, but not at all afraid to present edgy humor that made you squirm a little. Straightforward and direct, but also extremely smart and full of sly, subtle parody. Physical comedy was a strength - the Ika masks and the "Masked Noe Rider" come to mind but the examples are endless. But this was also a character comedy - much of the humor came from knowing the characters like family. Everyone on the show behaved predictably but in this example it's a strength, not a weakness - it adds to the feeling of knowing them like real people.


If one thing grabbed me about this series right from the beginning, it was this: Shinryaku Ika Musume is a show that embraces the absurd. From the start I was hooked by the fact that it wasted no time in introducing its utterly preposterous premise - and made no real attempt to explain it. The Ika masks are another great example - the writers not afraid to put something out there and just let the madness wash over you. We didn't need dialogue about how bizarre those masks were - the situation and the visuals spoke for themselves.

Of course, series comedy fails utterly without good characters, and in that area this series was almost embarrassingly blessed. Kanemoto Hisako totally won me over with her performance as Ika - she was spot-on perfect. Ika is a marvel - an utterly irresistible combination of innocence, ego, curiosity and megalomania. Seeing the world through her eyes is a wonderful ride - the umbrella sketch comes to mind. When I travel to Japan I feel something like what Ika feels when confronted with some new marvel - all the things the Japanese take for granted are new and exciting for a gaijin like me. That's an intoxicating feeling for a jaded adult like me, but for Ika it's even more of a rush. She's just so damn cute - a great physical character design, all of her mannerisms and her way of speech. "Degeso" is one of the highlights of anime for 2010.


It's not just Ika though. Each week seemingly brought us new and more bizarre supporting characters - Sanae, with her masochistic-moecon combo provided some of the darkest humor in the series. Nagisa, Gorou the lifeguard, Cindy and the Three Idiots (who provided the best mangled Japanese since Kate from "Sketch Book". At the heart of all of it the Aizawa siblings. Eiko in many ways the co-lead and Ika's foil, a genuinely nice and normal teenager with a sense of humor. Chizuru, alien DNA or not the most terrifying being in Japan, yet there to give Takeru a hug when his despair over Ika's loss of self becomes too much to bear. Takeru is a sort of classic "All-Japanese Boy" character - kind and energetic and curious and always eager to play with Ika (childhood friend scenario, anyone?). I loved these characters, all of them - I looked forward to seeing them every week and missed them as soon as the episode was over.


While the show was never pretentious about what it is - a hilarious and absurd comedy - it packed a real wallop when it went serious. The Mini-Ika episode is now legend, and the finale brought real sadness and drama to the story. Again, this works because we really love the characters and empathize with them - otherwise, that sort of development would fail miserably. And and it's comedic height, the series had few equals - the makeup skit, the three idiots with their invisible ray, the umbrella sketch - these were big, big laughs delivered over and over.

Finally, a word about the music and finishing touches. The OP and ED are both terrific pieces of music that fit the show perfectly. While the ED animation is simple, I always looked forward to seeing what surprises the animators would throw in - as they did every week.
Bye-bye, Ika-chan!  Really, really hope we see you soon, ~degeso.

So now what? Well, this little late night series is #3 among all fall shows in DVD pre-orders. "Degeso" is one of the most tweeted words in Japan and Ika Musume is showing up on magazine "Top 10" lists for favorite female characters of the year. Clearly this show has been a success - connecting with fans both in Japan and abroad. Diomedea is pretty new to Animation Production, so we really don't have a track record to go by when it comes to sequels. All the stars seem to be in alignment - the DVD sales, the pop cultural icon status, and we have a good amount of source material already in existence. Adding Kozue as a teaser in the finale may be a good sign - or it may simply be a nod to the source material. Right now we just don't know - all we can do is wait and hope. For now, I say thanks to Diomedea for a really fantastic effort here. This may not be as deep and profound as Moribito or Cross Game, but I truly loved it - Shinryaku Ika Musume made me feel good every time I watched it. Ika, congrats - it really looks like your invasion was a success, ~degeso!

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