I admit that when I first sat down to episode one of Kuuchuu Buranko I hated it. I spent the entire twenty-four minutes with a look of utter bemusement upon my face that had previously been reserved for Big Brother launch nights. However, instead of watching the dregs of society grin and swagger their way through a sea of cheering freaks and booing idiots, I was staring at a bizarre lime green bear getting his rocks off by stalking his patients and giving them vitamin shots. Needless to say I was ready to give up, but then came episode two – the guy with a permanent erection. I won’t lie, the cock jokes tickled my funny bone, giving me a stiff desire to persevere – and having finished the series, I’m glad that I hardened my resolve.
Following the antics of psychiatrist Dr Ichirou Irabu, Kuuchuu Buranko is at its very foundation an episodic series. Each of the eleven instalments focuses on a different patient with their own dilemma, be it obsessive-compulsive disorder or yips (the sudden loss of skill for no apparent reason). Every story follows the same structure: some person has a mental problem that affects their daily life; they go to see Irabu who promptly gives them an injection as he salivates and makes vaguely orgasmic noises; the shape-changing physician then proceeds to follow the poor sap around until there’s an inevitable resolution at the end. If this formulaic approach were the only thing that the series had going for it, then I’d be recommending that you switch off right about now and go watch something else. Luckily underneath it’s vivid colour palette and deranged protagonist lies a much more intelligent anime than I had expected.
Kuuchuu Buranko closely examines the psyche and documents the various troubles that Irabu’s patients face in overcoming – or at the very least accepting – their conditions. The series manages to maintain a balance of being both informative and entertaining by mixing medical details provided by Fukuicchi (a helpful man who has no relevance to the plot whatsoever but frequently interrupts a scene to dispense useful factoids) with an abstract visual representation of each illness. The latter comes in the form of each person’s head transforming into that of an animal; some of these are more obvious such as the woodpecker representing the ‘tap tap tap’ of a teenager constantly mailing people on his mobile phone, whereas some, like the yips-suffering baseball player gaining the head of a horse, are a little more intangible. On top of the innovative and entertaining portrayal of mental instability, the series also links each of the patients together in some way, shape or form. While the more obvious connections allow for an alternative perspective on a previous case, others are so minute that it’s simply fun to spot them, such as one character’s best selling novel painfully falling onto erection man’s permanent hard-on.
This linking adds a fresh spin to the show by allowing an otherwise repetitive episodic series to become much deeper. However, while these connections provide the perfect opportunity to create something bigger and ultimately more memorable, Kuuchuu Buranko squanders this chance. The final episode starts off well enough by setting a fairly ominous tone and it even dares to deviate from the format of previous cases, but despite this, it still inevitably acts out a single subject’s case. Maybe I was foolish to anticipate that all the links were more than coincidence and that perhaps they would all come together in a dramatic, or exciting conclusion. Had it all turned out to be part of Irabu’s imagination and he was in fact the patient and not the doctor, this series would have instantly gone on my ‘must force people to watch’ list. As it is, the lack of concrete resolution and the wasted ties have done Kuuchuu Buranko a great disservice and relegated it to the merely ‘interesting watching’ pile.
If you hate sixties psychedelia then step away from the screen now! Kuuchuu Buranko is a veritable explosion of colours so vibrant that it’s guaranteed to make your eyes bleed, which is ideal since the whole series feels like one long acid trip. However, aside from the lime green polka dot buildings and fluorescent wallpaper, Kuuchuu Buranko utilises a variety of approaches to create its own unique visual style.
Demonstrating a mix of standard cel animation, live action footage and rotoscoping, the series has a very experimental feel to it. By switching between these different methods, Kuuchuu Buranko provides a somewhat uneasy ocular experience, which nicely mirrors the troubled state of mind in each of Irabu’s patients. The production team takes a risk with its visual presentation instead of falling back on more standard, tried-and-tested techniques, and such an innovative and unusual style earns this anime much kudos in my book.
Denki Groove provides both of Kuuchuu Buranko’s themes. With techno and dance beats dominating the opening and an equally bouncy track to close, both mirror the show’s more trippy and entertaining nature.
One rather nice thing about this series is that – through the use of rotoscoping – the seiyuu not only provide the voice of their characters, but also their faces, which actually helps the cast feel that bit more real. The actual vocals themselves are top notch, particularly when it comes to Mayumi’s deadpan timbre and Irabu’s high-pitched and unnerving inflections.
By it’s nature, Kuuchuu Buranko has some impressive characterisation. Each of Irabu’s various patients receives centre stage in their corresponding episodes and a detailed exploration of both their personality and lifestyle. Since the series places such strong focus on mental health, a solid and thorough depiction of the cast’s suffering, trials, and tribulations is key to holding the whole thing together, and Kuuchuu Buranko achieves this brilliantly.
Ironically, the least-developed character in the series is actually its central protagonist, Dr. Irabu. Though he appears in every episode and is one of the two constants throughout the entire show, he is a complete enigma. After eleven episodes I still have no idea why he has three distinct visages, or why he interchanges between them; I know nothing of his likes and dislikes, since with each case he seems to build up a sudden and excessive enthusiasm for whatever his patient does for a living. In fact all I have managed to grasp about him is that he’s probably about as nuts as those who seek him out for help. Even the mostly-silent nurse Mayumi – who, by the by, really needs to learn how to give an injection so that her ‘victims’ don’t constantly howl in pain – has more depth as a character. Though she doesn’t have all that much presence apart from obvious titillation, she gains more personality with each passing episode, developing from a simple sexy sadist to someone who actually has quite a kind heart.
Trapeze (2009) - Kenji Nakamura, Toei Animation
This anime is weird.
I have called many anime weird in the past, but this one is WEIRD. Satoshi Kon movies? Can’t hold a candle to the weirdness of a single episode of Trapeze. Evangelion? Child’s play! Even Cat Soup’s weirdness at least seems to have a sort of artsy quality to it. Trapeze is just weird period. Presumably for the hell of it.
Therefore, it disturbs me how much I adored this show.
The first episode disturbed me in an entirely different way, to the point that I doubted I could handle Trapeze’s unique brand of bizarre for ten more installments. But when I went on to the second episode, I found that I had been so desensitized to creepy LSD-tripping pedobear antics that it barely phased me any more. Not only that, but that second episode was funny. Hilarious even. I had to press pause during one scene so I could laugh out loud for three straight minutes. The show officially had me hooked.
As Trapeze progressed, it grew more and more intelligible. Although episodic at first, the plot becomes surprisingly uniform, with characters from previous and future episodes weaving into the present and adding their blocks to the oddly sturdy Jenga tower of the story. Dr. Irabu is our weirdo protagonist, a psychologist who randomly changes from a bright green bear to a vaguely flamboyant bishie to a kid and back again while assisting his patients. Each episode brings a new patient to the table, but also takes place during the same time period as previous and future episodes so that they all eventually conglomerate into one unit. The series pieces itself together nicely, and each episode tells its story skillfully. There are plenty of laughs and wtf moments to be had, and yet each episode manages to incorporate endearingly human and even touching aspects as well. The depth of the series really surprised me. I mean, look at some screenshots of this series and tell me you’d think it was smart. Really.
The animation is downright psychedelic. In the world of Dr. Irabu, Technicolor has attacked Tokyo and people with psychological disorders grow colorful animal heads after receiving injections. The characters frequently switch between somewhat crude animation and a bizarre live action/animation hybrid, a combination unlike anything I‘ve seen before in anime. Although not quite aesthetically pleasing, the effect works fantastically well with the show’s general craziness. Add in some excellent surreal scenes thrown in here and there, and these ugly trippy visuals somehow become a strong point.
The soundtrack is unspectacular but does its job. I loved the opening and ending themes, but I’ll admit they weren’t especially original. More than music, the show relies on humorous sound effects to coax out the laughs (and succeeds).
In short, I have oodles of unexpected praise for this series. But I suppose I should also mention its faults.
Although the characters’ psychological ailments are charmingly realistic (albeit presented in an off-the-wall fashion), each of Irabu’s patients is more of a plot device than a character. Looking back, it’s hard to tell one character from another as far as personality goes. They’re defined more by their problems and Irabu’s offbeat solutions than by actual characterization. Irabu grew on me like a cooky and hilarious fungus, but I would have liked to know more about him as well. Even Irabu, the main character, was a plot device. A lovable plot device, but a plot device nonetheless.
Also, have I mentioned that this show is weird?
In the end I thought the weirdness worked entirely in Trapeze’s favor, but the show definitely isn’t for everyone. Some of the weird dives remorselessly into creepy (Irabu has a fetish for injections and somehow seems to have a constant skeevy five o’clock shadow in his bear form) which could be a turn-off, and people with no tolerance for abstractness will be curled up under their sofa in seconds. But if you think you can handle it, I’d definitely say this show is worth a shot. At least watch further than the first episode and see how you fare. If you can adapt to its unique flavor, Trapeze is a funny and surprisingly thought-provoking ride.
Animated by Toei, who are known for the quality work they do in children’s shows. This is actually quite unorthodox for their style, since it aims at an adult audience. Directed by Nakamura Kenji who makes nothing bizarre shows full of interesting themes and presentation (Mononoke, C, Tsuritama). The show was also scheduled to air on the NoitanimA timeslot, which was a sign for great aesthetics and (usually) great emotional rail coasters. The expectations for this show were quite high and I guess they managed to make something unorthodox out of it. There are still many details I didn’t like in it and they are mostly of aesthetic nature.
This show is definitely a hard watch, as it deals with a rather hard topic to tolerate: Mentally unstable patients who go to a shrink. Oh sure, having crazy characters in anime is fun, but these particular dudes are not having fun at all. They need help! Because they are crazy! So basically you need to tolerate a series where everybody has a very bad opinion about themselves and turn to a coocoo doctor to give them advises. This is not something most viewers would gladly sit down to watch.
Before I move on, I must mention a western comedy movie, starring Robert De Niro. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0122933/
The premise of Analyze This is quite similar; a mafia boss has psychological problems and his familia rush to fetch him a psychiatrist to help him deal with his issues before his rivals off him for the seat. It was an ok film, making fun of stereotypes in a light way.
Kuuchu Buranko though is not that easy to watch. In fact, it is very hard as the problems all the patients have are of deviant nature that makes them look pitiful and repulsive. You can of course like them for the problematic people they are (perfect people are extremely boring in fiction) but still they don’t escape the fact they are one-episode characters (aside from the doctor and his aids that is). That means, all the time you are given to get attached to them is approximately 20 minutes, thus once again it is very hard to get to understand and sympathize with their problems. And even if you do, you won’t be seeing them again so WHAT’S THE POINT? As for the doctor and his aids, a super sexy nurse and a weird narrator who pops up to explain disorders, you get ZERO exposition around their lives. They end up being static overseers so not even them manage to win you, apart from their quirky antiques.
Being episodic in plot, means that there barely is any story to go around. Each case is a stand-alone, and despite some tiny bits of each one affecting later characters, or each case being considered closed by the end of the episode, it is still a show where nothing interweaving and long-termed ever happens. Which was also the reason I wasn’t thrilled with the otherwise interesting premise. Psychological problems are topics that can last more episodes than a perpetual on-going shounen because of their perplexity and slow recovery, and instead I get 20 minutes? How can I possibly find the time to like it? Especially when some jokes are recurring and each case is handled with an almost identical storyboard. It is so easy to get bored.
What are definitely not boring though are the production values. Animation and artwork are extremely artistic and bizarre, and make the series to be standing out from any other anime ever made. That is not an easy thing to accomplish. Just like the patients, everything else in the show is also made to look weird. REALLY WEIRD. The characters transform to animals that is a depiction of their mentality, while live action scenes blend in with the 2D animation to make everything look trippy. The weirdest of them all is the doctor himself, who depending on the situation has no more than three different appearances. All that contribute into making you feel the madness each character has in his head, a thing which I liked a lot. Something similar can be said about the soundtrack and the voice acting, which are again very uplifting and quirky, fitting with the rest of the show perfectly.
Unfortunately, the show tends to bet too much on just its looks and sounds to win the audience, a thing which as I said earlier is a very hard thing to work for most. Most people tend to care about the characters being sympathetic and as much as this show tries, being episodic kinda ruins it. This is what makes the much older FLCL to feel superior; equally crazy visuals and weird psychological stuff all over the place but the main characters were the same all the way and by the end of the show you really felt a connection to them (good or bad) exactly because they didn’t switch every 20 minutes.
There is of course another audience who will definitely like it a lot. That would be the ones who love a show as long as they like its premise and presentation, and completely disregarding other elements, such as character presence, smooth pacing, or even directing. To the far more emotionally sensitive people, this will be a rail coaster of laughs, gasps, and nods; so sure it can work if it is shown to the proper audience. And since this is a NoitanimA title, it automatically means it has older teens and above women as its prime target audience. Since all us males know very well what a tsunami of emotions a woman’s psyche is, I am sure Trapeze is pressing all the proper buttons to be likable to them. As for me? Well, I am a cynical male bastard.
… and I have already watched Analyze This and FLCL.
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 10/10
General Artwork 2/2 (artsy)
Character Figures 2/2 (bizarre)
Backgrounds 2/2 (fitting with the feeling of the series)
Animation 2/2 (smooth)
Visual Effects 2/2 (artsy)
SOUND SECTION: 10/10
Voice Acting 3/3 (trippy)
Music Themes 4/4 (great)
Sound Effects 3/3 (fitting)
STORY SECTION: 4/10
Premise 2/2 (interesting)
Pacing 0/2 (episodic)
Complexity 1/2 (not much)
Plausibility 0/2 (none)
Conclusion 1/2 (simple)
CHARACTER SECTION: 5/10
Presence 2/2 (crazy)
Personality 2/2 (well founded)
Backdrop 1/2 (generic and simplistic but it’s there)
Development 0/2 (rushed)
Catharsis 0/2 (rushed)
VALUE SECTION: 6/10
Historical Value 1/3 (still remembered by some as an interesting retro title)
Rewatchability 1/3 (low because of too little plot)
Memorability 4/4 (extremely artsy to the point of forever remembering it)
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 6/10
Art 1/1 (looks artsy)
Sound 2/2 (sounds trippy)
Story 1/3 (good ideas, episodic structure)
Characters 2/4 (funny but nothing else than cardboards)
This title first off will probably not be for everyone. The art style may turn off some people, it's a mixture of animation and live action. Being episodic there is little continuity and lack of character development. It's about mental disorders which some people will probably not get. The first episode was one of my least favorites so it didn't leave me with a great initial impression. But the second episode was great. I'd say most are very good. From a guy that always has an erection to a boy that can't stop texting, you will encounter some interesting situations. Doctor Irabu, the main character is wacky. He has 3 pesonas which contantly interchange. He's aroused by pain (injections). His assistant Mayumi is a sadistic scantily dressed nurse. Fukuitchi is a doctor that pops up to explain mental disorders and treatments. The music was great in this series 10/10. The beginning and ending themes are very catchy. The music in this show is very well done. It's a fun show. If you like psychology it should interest you. The show is wacky yet serious.