Supernatural, Slice-of-life, Comedy Anime

This blog entry is about what I’ve been watching lately: Supernatural, Slice-of-life, Comedy Anime. They have been my escape from the stress of the world, my home life, and my MFA program (anime is not my focus). So, I am going to share these gems with you, because I’ve really enjoyed them. They are comedy, so they are light-hearted; slice-of-life, so there’s no big conflicts; supernatural, so they’re more interesting (to me at least)

The Disastrous Life of Saiki K (Netflix)

All three seasons are available subbed, but season 1 is also dubbed with solid voice casting. Netflix produced Reawakened, a six-episode follow up that covers the remainder of the manga, which is available subbed and dubbed. Seasons 1 and 2 are 24 episodes each, while season 3 is only 2 episodes (I believe it was aired as a holiday special).

Kusuo Saiki is a teenage psychic with near limitless power, whose greatest desire is for an anonymous normal life. This is challenged not only by his insane powers (that he strives to keep secret) but by the people in his life. While his family is full of dramatic and immature individuals, his friends are just odd– at the beginning this includes a self-proclaimed best friend who is literally too dumb for telepathy and a teenager with a hero complex and a rich fantasy life. Kusuo just attracts these odd people, despite his monotone demeanor. Over time it becomes clear that his sarcastic attitude and dry sense of humor hide a person capable of true kindness and of being fond of others.

Episodes are set up as segments, 4-5 per episode, that may or may not connect to each other. All but a couple of episodes take place during Kusuo’s second year of high school, and this is something that gets addressed as they seem to celebrate the same holiday or vacation period multiple times per season. Kusuo often speaks directly to the audience, offering explanations for his world, a lot of which is his fault.

The first season is the best place to start and the dub can make for solid background noise (although you may miss some key details or visual gags). If you like season 1, you’ll like seasons 2-3, but they will require more attention since there is no dub available. Reawakened is dubbed (by a different voice cast) but some things may be confusing without seasons 2-3 as reference– particularly the last episode, which is a direct follow up to season 3.

Gugure! Kokkuri-san (Crunchyroll; previously on Hulu)

The single-season anime is made up of 12 episodes and only available subbed. It is available on Crunchyroll and was on Hulu for a little while before rotating out.

Kohina Ichimatsu is an elementary school girl living alone in a big house. One night she plays “the Kokkuri game”, which is reminiscent of a ouji board, but played with a ¥10 coin and a piece of paper, acting as the pointer and board respectively. There is a warning not to play this game alone because otherwise a spirit will come and haunt/possess you (depending on the translation). Kohina summons Kokkuri, a fox spirit and former deity. To his surprise, Kohina is not afraid because she is a doll and therefore incapable of emotion. Upon discovering this poor girl living all alone and pretending to be a doll, Kokkuri takes on the role of a responsible adult and decides to move in and take care of her. This opens the door for other supernatural creatures to come into Kohina’s life. 

This show is absolute shenanigans. Although it is clear that Kohina’s determination to be a doll is a result of trauma, it is used to comedic effect as Kokkuri tries to help her become a real girl again. Additionally, Kohina’s greatest love is cup noodles. They are perhaps the only thing she will openly admit to having an attachment to and refers to them as “fuel for dolls” in the first episode. Later, we learn that Kohina is being bullied with a vase of flowers on her desk (a vase of flowers is typically placed on the desk of a student who has died) in part because her mind is almost always focused on cup noodles and begins the show caring little for anything else.

There is one element I am not so fond of. Eventually a dog spirit and a tanuki spirit move in as well. The tanuki is a trickster and a layabout, mostly interested in girls and gambling, but proves to be secretly kind and becomes a protective uncle to Kohina. The dog spirit has a much more complicated role. The manga explains it a little better: dog spirits are curses created by torturing a dog to death. This dog spirit is said to have died cold and alone, resulting in a curse. The only person kind to this dog when they were alive was Kohina and as a result this dog spirit is obsessed with her. Claiming that Kohina is the only thing they like (including themself), this dog spirit wants to marry Kohina and desires nothing but her love, but it’s in a very sexual way. The dog spirit is recognized by the cast as a pervert, but still lives with Kohina. It is so much ick, no matter how much justification is given. The situation is meant to be comedic, but it is just uncomfortable. I feel, however, that the rest of the show makes up for this comic misstep.

Like Saiki K, Gugure! is set up in segments, though they are more interrelated and follow some kind of chronology. Kokkuri proves to be an admirable stay-at-home father and a father-daughter bond definitely forms between himself and Kohina. Aside from some truly problematic instances of sexual humor, the focus is really more on how this little girl’s life improves with these supernatural creatures. There is no explanation for why Kohina decided to be a doll, but it is clear that their presence is healing some serious trauma. 

Special Mention: Ghost Stories (Crunchyroll)

Not exactly slice-of-life, but shenanigans galore. Available subbed and dubbed on Crunchyroll, but you’re going to want to watch the dub.

The story behind the production of Ghost Stories is shenanigans. So, Ghost Stories was a show that aired in Japan before making its way to the US. With less than stellar success, the team behind the dub was given very little direction on the translation (no one had high hopes for the property and no one cared), so the dub deviates in a number of areas from the original, with much of the dialogue ad-libbed by the voice actors. If you are familiar with “abridged” series on YouTube, you’ll get an idea, but basically include American cultural references and mature humor not originally found in this Japanese Childrens’ Program. (And all the political incorrectness. Do not take anything seriously.

This show does follow a plot. An elementary school girl named Satsuki, her younger brother, and her father move back to the town where her late mother grew up. As a youngster, the mother sealed away a number of spirits that are now being released. Satsuki now has to seal them away again. She is helped by her neighbor, their classmate, a girl from the grade above, and a previously sealed away ghost. 

Like Saiki K and Gugure!, Ghost Stories are half-hour episodes (so anywhere between 22-25 minutes). Unlike these other shows, each episode follows one ghost and sealing it away again. Some of the episodes are truly spooky, but balanced well with the juvenile humor. Overall, it’s shenanigans all around, but a little more plot and a little less slice-of-life. One important note: the opening song is cute and sweet, but you want to stay for the closing song, which, surprisingly, is original to the version originally aired in Japan.

Other light anime:

Fruits Basket (a 2019 remake based on a manga, available on Hulu and Crunchyroll)
A family is cursed to turn into animals based around the Chinese zodiac (plus the cat) when hugged by a non-family member of the opposite sex. A high school girl comes to live with them after the death of her mother and romantic comedy ensues. Believe it or not, more of a realistic show than a supernatural one, aside from the ever-present curse. The main focus is on the relationships between the characters.

My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom! (available on Crunchyroll)
A teenage girl gets reincarnated as the villain of an otome game (a romance video game where the lead follows a path to end up with one of a number of suitors). She realizes this as a child and does her best to avoid “doom endings”, which are those in which the villainess gets exiled or killed.

Ouran High School Host Club (available on Netflix)
A teenager is attending an over-the-top wealthy private school on scholarship when they accidently break a multi-million dollar vase belonging to the school’s host club (a club where people go to be romanced or kept company– not sexually) and therefore has to become a member of the club– one of the hosts– in order to pay off their debt. However, this student turns out to be biologically female, leading to shenanigans surrounding keeping her secret as well as romance between herself and the other members.


Note: Crunchyroll is an anime streaming service similar to Hulu. A lot of what is on Hulu is on Crunchyroll, plus a LOT more– including a few Japanese dramas.

Other News…

Right now, a lot of what I’m doing is trying to relax. I’m currently on an anime kick, and have been watching other things, but it is the sort of light-hearted silliness I talk about above that I’ve really been drawn to and enjoying. I’ll note some of the other light programs I’ve been watching at the end of this post– heavier stuff can wait for another time. Although next week, I begin working with the same Superheroes in Film class I took two years ago. I’ve spent so much of this blog discussing the Marvel Cinematic Universe… so… that might come back.

The One Named Sailor Moon!

Sailor Moon was/is a cultural phenomenon. The original manga ran from 1991 to 1997 and was written by Naoko Takeuchi. It’s noted in the United States for its spot in Cartoon Network’s Toonami block, which originally aired weekday afternoons in the late 90s/early 00s. The story, based on one of Takeuchi’s other mangas, tells the story of Usagi Tsukino, a middle school student in Tokyo. One day, after rescuing a strange cat, she receives magical powers and must fight the forces of evil. Over time, she gains allies and additional powers, eventually uncovering a number of secrets. 

Although Sailor Moon stopped airing on Cartoon Network ages ago, it still retains popularity. In 2012, Kodansha and Toei Animation revived the anime, this time sticking much more closely to the plot of the manga (read: no filler). Its continued popularity has it, and the remake, Sailor Moon Crystal, as a staple on Hulu, and there are additional plans for movies to continue where Crystal leaves off.

So, the popularity is undeniable. Sailor Moon in many ways helped to bring and popularize anime in America. It also helped define the Magical Girl genre. Now, with its resurgence, new dubs have been commissioned that stick closer to the original Japanese and include the content American broadcasters chose to leave out (i.e. Death and Lesbians). It’s become a worldwide phenomenon once again, thanks to the internet, nostalgia culture, and its 20th Anniversary back in 2012.  Just this year, Japan’s Miss Universe contestant wore a Sailor Moon costume for her country’s national attire, and most US-raised millennials have at least heard of the show. 

Recently, I finally sat down and finished watching Sailor Moon Crystal‘s season 3, which I had been meaning to do for some time. I watched it dubbed, and watched the same arc (and additional episodes) of the new dub of the original show. (Both use the same voice actors, which is the best!) They both do great things, promoting girl power, love, and friendship but which is better? Let’s look at the pros and cons.

The Original: 

+Emphasizes friendship over all: many of the battles are solved thanks to Usagi’s faith in her friends and vice versa. This promotes friendship as being a more important relationship than whether or not you have a man. There’s already so much pressure from popular culture to find a significant other, that this was rather progressive, especially in the 90s.

-Male romantic lead Mamoru Chiba is depicted as being in college, whereas in the original he was a high school student. Usagi is fourteen. Culturally, there are some aspects to relationships in Japan that are different from the US, but… ick. Also, considering how little Usagi matures during the course of the series, I’m confused about what they could have in common.

+/- Filler. Filler is the term used to describe episodes that do not serve to move the plot forward. This could be episodes that feature an adventure that has nothing to do with the current conflict (Inuyasha), drag out an action (Dragon Ball Z), or create more villains and more space between events (Sailor Moon). It’s often done so that the manga can catch up to the anime (which was the case for all three examples above).

Now, whether or not filler is a good thing is really very subjective. In Sailor Moon the filler allows us to see Usagi work independently for longer before gaining teammates and has the fun of the ‘villain of the week’. Without this filler, as is the case with Crystal, the story moves much more quickly. While this felt a little rushed to me, it is consistent with the manga and I feel like American TV is only just starting to move away from villain of the week, to something more concise and (often) of higher quality. So, that’s simply what I’m used to. There are other examples of filler where we get glimpses into the character’s life outside of the conflict, which I find fun and interesting, but there’s also filler that has you hitting your head against the wall.

Crystal:

+/- As I said above, the remake sticks much more closely to the original, with only 13 episodes per season. It moves the story much more closely and is able to go into great depth on the more significant plot lines and character relationships that might fall by the wayside when the hero continues to have incredibly repetitious battles. It also forces creators to use the time more wisely so choices are more significant. 

– Greater emphasis on romance. While love and friendship solve many of the problems in the original anime, in this adaptation it’s often the eternal love between Usagi and Mamoru that saves the day. While this is closer to the manga, I feel like it perpetuates the idea the romantic relationships are the most important thing and that you cannot be happy/complete without one. In the manga, this is counterbalanced by some Usagi’s teammates, who make it clear that a romantic relationship is not what they want or need. In Crystal, however, even her teammates experience the pain of love lost in a way that parallels some of what Usagi goes through. 

+ Mamoru Chiba begins the series in high school. Although he moves on to college eventually, it’s around the same time Usagi starts high school. Again, I know there are cultural difficulties and age of consent, but beyond the ick factor, this just seems more believable. It’s difficult to imagine a middle schooler (especially how Usagi is portrayed in the original) as having the kind of maturity that would entice a college student. Here, they relate to each other better.

+/- Usagi changes more. I called this a pro and a con because while it was nice to see her mature and witness her journey, with fewer episodes, the emotional growth of the character felt more rushed and less believable. Again, it forced creators to make other choices for both comedic and dramatic moments.

+ Better addresses queer audiences. In the original anime, the relationship between Michiru Kaioh and Haruka Tenoh is much more subtle. In the original dub, they tried to explain it as them being cousins, but now, having watched something closer to the original, I can safely say that this lesbian relationship is something they don’t talk about explicitly. In Crystal, the relationship is made clear. Now, this is 20 or so years later, so the culture has changed, but it was nice to see them not dancing around it. 

Also, in the original there is a key aspect of Haruka that is not explicitly expressed. In the manga, she is described as being trans or non-binary. This is not mentioned at all in the original anime, while in Crystal it is stated outright, explained to Usagi and co. It’s a really lovely moment that examines the duality of her nature more closely and a realization that is met with acceptance above all else.

Okay, so which is better? Am I blinded by nostalgia goggles… No. I will argue that it really depends on what you are looking to watch!

Crystal is the truest adaptation of Naoko Takeuchi’s vision. If you want to get the story quickly, you should watch Crystal. If you want something more serious with greater character growth, Crystal. If you want to see a romance that makes more sense, then Crystal is the way to go. It is important to note, however, that the current season ends on a cliffhanger to the next arc. While the next arc has been announced as movies, a release date is not available at this time. But, all three seasons are available both subbed and dubbed. 

The original Sailor Moon anime has the nostalgia factor, yes, but there’s more than that. Animators created story aspects that simply don’t exist outside the anime. It moves much more slowly than the remake, with its monster-of-the-week format, but has a lot more episodes as a result. So if you’re looking for something to last you a while and not require a lot of focus, this is the adaptation for you. If you are curious about why this show appealed to so many, then absolutely watch it, but be prepared for some repetitiveness. But you’ll also see friendships and the power of friendship at the forefront. The last arc, Stars has never been dubbed into English, and also deviates more from the manga as they were being released at the same time. All of the original Sailor Moon anime is available subbed, and seasons 1-4 are available dubbed dubbed. (If you look around, you can find the original American-ized version, too!)