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.

Holiday 2018

I’m a little late to this party, but wanted to talk about some of this year’s holiday specials. Two of the three I’m going to talk about were released this year, while the third (I only just discovered) was released in 2016. Typically, I make a point of spending all of December watching Holiday Specials, but this year, I just didn’t have the motivation. So, it was these three and a couple of others, but no Rudolph or Frosty.

Item 1: A Cinderella Christmas

I watched this Christmas fairytale on Hulu. It’s a cute take on the classic fairytale and does not hesitate to be heavy handed on the Christmas theme. The plot was fairly predictable but made its characters surprisingly relatable and sympathetic.

Here, Cinderella is Angie (Emma Rigby, Once Upon A Time in Wonderland), a girl who was orphaned as a toddler and brought up with her uncle and cousin. Her uncle runs a catering business, which, thanks to Angie’s hard work, has become THE event planning business. Her cousin, Candace (Sarah Stouffer, Switched at Birth) takes credit for these achievements while scoping out these high-class functions for a rich husband. It looks like her ship has come in when wealthy Nikolaus invites her to his Christmas party, which the girls are working on. However, due to an unlikely turn of events, Angie goes instead and a Cinderella story ensues.

It’s a cute story, a little cliché, of course, a little predictable, but cute and enjoyable. In hindsight, it’s not entirely surprising that the film was released in 2016. In the last two years, attitudes towards women and minorities have changed, as have casting choices. In our next film, this is much better reflected.

Item 2: Life-Size 2

This long-awaited sequel premiered on Freeform and was then available on Hulu, Amazon, and in the Apple store. In the 2000 original, Lindsay Lohan stars as Casey, a girl who’s mother has recently died. In trying to resurrect her, she accidently brings her Eve doll (a Barbie-esque fashion doll) to life. This now life-sized doll, played by Tyra Banks, helps Casey and her father move on from her mother’s death and grow close once more.

The sequel connects back to the original and picks up on similar themes and problems. During the first film, the Eve doll was on its way to being discontinued for being out of date. Eighteen years later, it’s a similar problem. This time, the doll who comes to life belongs to the grown-up daughter of the doll’s creator. Grace, played by Francia Raisa (Bring It On: All or Nothing, The Secret Life of the American Teenager, Grown-ish) is encouraged by her neighbor, Lex (Alison Fernandez, Once Upon A Time, Logan, Orange is the New Black), to use Casey’s spell-book, in hopes of changing her luck.

What follows is very much an ode to the millennial fanbase. Grace is the same age as the viewers who made the first Life-Size such a success. She is navigating adulting and running a company in her mother’s absence. She is easy to connect with, even if her vast wealth is not the most relatable. It’s mostly a rehashing of the original with the key difference being that the key adults are in on Eve’s secret. The film follows a fairly predictable arc, which was no great surprise to me, so I wasn’t bothered. What did bother me was the gratuitous rap music.

The original TV movie featured Eve’s theme song, “Be A Star”, a catchy, jazzy tune you can dance to. The 2018 update seemed to double down on trying to be cool or less white— I wasn’t entirely sure which. I openly admit to being a white woman, one who does not listen to rap music, so I don’t know if fans of rap music or minorities would agree with me, but it felt a lot like those early 2000s attempts at being cool and trying to relate to ‘today’s youth’. I could see how the Eve doll in many ways reflects a white woman’s sensibilities, but I just don’t feel qualified enough to determine if this movie simply dropped that or failed in its attempts to appeal to a wider/different audience.

Item 3: Nailed It! Holiday!

This is a Netflix original program in which amateurs try to recreate baked masterpieces and this holiday set is the show’s third season. Let me begin by saying that this was the first season I watched and from episode 1, I was hooked and now I just want to be on it! Seriously, this show makes me so excited! I love baking and crafting and I love watching people try their best, even if they don’t… quite… get… it…

This Holiday Special is the third season of Nailed It! and the third to be released this year. It’s seven episodes, just like the previous season, and covers Christmas, Chanukah, and New Year’s Eve, plus finishes with a DIY special in which contestants craft ornaments and ugly Christmas sweaters.

I honestly, don’t have enough good things to say. The show is light-hearted and cheery, and doesn’t take itself all that seriously. The judges consist of comedian Nicole Byer and master chocolatier Jacques Torres plus a guest judge. The rapport between the judges and contestants (which change from episode to episode) is always entertaining and fun. It’s an encouraging environment in which contestants try their best with the knowledge that it is unlikely that they will get close.

Contestants bake a variety of goodies, from cakes and cookies to cake pops and donuts. Torres always details how best to go about creating these gorgeous delicacies. It makes you feel inspired, like you could do it to. (And if I hadn’t spent Christmas break so sick, I would have!)