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.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Finale

Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt recently released its final episodes, the second half of season 4. Created by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, the show follows Kimmy Schmidt (Ellie Kemper), a woman who was kidnapped as a teenager and has spent the last 15 years living in an underground bunker, under the impression that the world had ended. Now free, Kimmy decides to move to New York City where she finds a cheap apartment with a quirky roommate and and even quirkier landlady (Tituss Burgess and Carol Cane) and employment as an assistant to a wealthy upper east side woman with too much time and money on her hands (Jane Krakowski). Jon Hamm makes recurring appearances as her charismatic kidnapper.

New York is very different from her small town in Indiana and Kimmy’s naiveté is demonstrated not only as a small town girl in the big city, but as an adult woman who missed growing up– her last experience in the outside world was as a teenager in the midwest. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt uses outrageous and surreal situations and characters to make its point. There are references and parodies throughout to other works, such as The Nanny Diaries (2007), Mary Tyler Moore, Sliding Doors (1998), and others. While it approaches being a millennial realistically (ie no money and poor job prospects), the show does not hesitate to create outrageous and seemingly impossible situations (ie sentient robots in the workplace). Still, Kimmy remains ever the optimist even as she learns more and more about the world she missed.

When I rewatched the snow in preparation for this post, I realized that I was half expecting it all to be a dream. While it doesn’t end that way, surrealism seems to win out in the end, giving everyone a happily ever after. Some plot threads are left unresolved, while others are tied up too quickly, but it’s not an entirely unsatisfying way to end the story. 

At its core, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a story about social politics. While it often employs hyperbole and surrealism to get its point across, some of the situations are unfortunately not that far from reality. In another show, The Good Place, there’s a line in season 1 where a male character claims to have slept with a female, who denies it. His response: “Yeah, but who are they going to believe. Me or a woman?” This show similarly isn’t afraid to go there. Kimmy’s kidnapper almost goes free during trial because he is a charismatic white man.

Over and over, the show examines the effect race, gender, and sexuality have on your life. Jokes are constantly made about all three, with throwaway lines that treat horrible behavior like it’s normal, referring to behaviors or treatment that is accepted as fact based on stereotypes. There are also impossible situations presented as normal to make a point. For example, in the first season,  Kimmy’s roommate, Titus, finds himself treated better as a werewolf than he did as a black man. Later, Kimmy’s employer– and later friend– Jacqueline is revealed to secretly be a Native American, rather than a white woman. As a wealthy white woman she is still shucked aside for a younger model by her husband, but as a Native American woman she is used later used for PR for her boyfriend’s family, the owners of the Washington Redskins. 

The overall message has to do with Kimmy not wanting to accept things for how they are. Having missed 15 years of societal evolution, and lacking the cynicism of an adult, she brings to light things that everyone else takes for granted. Ever the optimist, Kimmy just wants to help people and change the world, eventually realizing that she can’t change the adults, but she can have an impact on the adults children will become. Much like the show does, Kimmy creates a fictional work (a novel) designed to hold up a mirror to society. 

Interestingly, while Titus and Jacqueline find satisfying romantic relationships as the series close, Kimmy does not. (Nor does landlady Lilian, an older woman who continues to defy and meet expectation.) While she has a few romances through the series, for Kimmy, a happily ever after isn’t about finding a man. I actually found this jarring, which is disappointing that this is what we’ve come to expect instinctually. Meanwhile, gay serial dater Titus ends the series with a husband and children. There’s a message about happiness not necessarily being what you expect, but in the end I think each character met a satisfying end to their arc.