It’s no secret that I like silly slice of life anime. Generally the less plot on display, the happier I am. So, when I fired up Shinryaku! Ika-musume, I knew there was a significant chance that I’d at least like the show. But this little anime’s potent mix of outlandish situations and well-placed narrative fake-outs surprised even me.
Shinryaku! Ika-musume starts with an absurd premise: a squid-girl rises from the ocean intent on enslaving humanity armed only with an imperious attitude and ten powerful tentacles. However, thanks to her relative naivete and short attention span, she finds herself railroaded into helping at a quaint beach-side restaurant. Once divorced from the potiential plotline of subjugation and rule, the show pleasantly morphs into a slice-of-life venture that uses Ika’s eagerness to learn about the human world and her air of superiority to manufacture laughs through three micro-stories every episode.
But Shinryaku! Ika-Musume burns brightest when its writers flex entirely unexpected plot muscles. While keeping its absurd tone, the show on occasion reaches out, dead-serious to pluck your heartstrings with alarming acuteness. “Wouldn’t having a pet be squidtastic?”, for example, tells a story of love and loss that seems incredibly poignant until its final twist delivers a load of narrative whiplash that will nearly put you in a neck brace. Similarly, watching Ika-musume bond with her first umbrella during "Squidn't you bring an umbrella", seems like silly, harmless fun until an accident sends things horribly awry and you find yourself feeling for the poor, bereft squid-girl. The juxtaposition of genuine emotion with outright strange situations and slapstick comedy must be some dark alchemy designed to deliver laughs from unexpected places.
Shinryaku! Ika-musume borrows heavily from the artistic sensibilities of both School Rumble and Lucky Star. The clean, attractive character designs exude moe, deform pleasantly for comedic effect, and can spring into motion when the show requires it. By keeping the everyone’s face uncomplicated at the start, the animators are free to paint any and all emotion onto each actor as dictated by the script, and this flexibility helps maintain the show’s healthy relationship with the absurd and transforms well into more embellished forms when the script calls for an overwrought still.
For those of you who love characters with adorable vocal tics, Ika-musume offers a treasure-trove of material to make you shiver with delight. Juri Aikawa’s shouts and yelps have a bizarre magnetism that makes Ika’s voice more adorable as she gets increasingly confused, desperate or excited. The seiyuu’s control of tempo means that the lead character remains fully in charge of every scene playing off both the equally zany Sanae (an overly-affectionate Kanae Itou) or Cindy (Hitomi Nabatame) and the numerous straight men like Eiko, Chizuru, or Goro.
It would be hard to come up with a more entertaining bunch of one-dimensional clowns. Since each short story focuses entirely on the quriky Ika-musume, everyone else serves as either sounding board or prop. Eiko and Takeru, for example, function primarily as straight men, introducing Ika to new experiences and allowing the naive protagonist to allow her preconceptions to run wild. Their benign responses of annoyance and useful enthusiasm form some of the best humor of the series as they allow Ika set up her own punchlines and lampoon herself (the places she goes whenever Takeru strokes her ego almost always result in a good laugh). In contrast, delusional characters like Sanae and Cindy offer the lead a chance to be the voice of reason, victimized as she is by the otaku leanings of the schoolgirl and the unwholesome experimental urges of the CIA agent. The combination of these two types of interaction give the show a playful ebb and flow that keeps its running gags from wearing out their welcome.
But in the end, Ika with her extremely short attention span and unflappable ego, serves as the series’ whimsical maypole. Unable to stay focused on her primary task of “squid-vasion”, she throws herself heartily into whatever activity presents itself with delightful results. Whether we watch her stare down an ace baseball pitcher while helping Kiyomi’s team win a pickup game, or giggle as she gives her first umbrella a series of increasingly epic names her gusto for life forms the backbone of the humor. She rests firmly in in the tradition of characters like Tenmna Tsukamato and Yui Hirasawa who react in a predictable manner to every situation but with a twist. This stark contrast between her hyper-able tentacles and her otherwise klutzy ways allows her to react both conciously and unconsciously to situations which in most cases delivers two punchlines at once--an interesting twist to the otherwise predictable 4-koma pacing.
Squids. They're actually very delicious, as I personally discovered recently. But after seeing Shinryaku! Ika Musume, I'll be thinking twice before sinking my teeth into that squishy goodness again. Why? Because I believe, with this series, one of the most lovable characters since Konata Izumi has emerged from the depths of the ocean, and I received it very well.
Story - 8/10
Okay, so get this! A girl that is actually a squid (or a squid that's actually a girl?) appears from the depths of the seas, bearing a grudge against humanity for polluting the ocean (don't worry, this is not some kind of environmentalist morale kinda thing about how we should recycle). Let's stop here already. She's a squid that looks, talks and walks like a human girl. My brain is already liquified! And if you're expecting some kind of explanation for this, guess again (at least, not yet). Okay, so leaving that aside; her goal? World Domination! OF COURSE!
Unfortunately for our little squid girl, Ika Musume, she slightly underestimated her mission, thinking that there were only about 1000 humans instead of 6.5 billion. That, and she's just not cut out for this kinda thing, at all! Ika Musume stumbles upon a beach house and self-claims it as her foothold for her world domination. But the manager, Eiko Aizawa, thinks differently. After going Rambo on a mosquito, Ika smashes a hole through the wall of the beach house, and has to work there as a waitress to pay for the damages. It seems Ika Musume's plan for global domination has been thwarted for now, but that doesn't stop her from plotting. However, no matter what she tries, she just can't seem to succeed. But then again, what did you expect?
That's basically the story. Shinryaku! Ika Musume is a lighthearted comedy with some obvious supernatural elements thrown in. Every episode is divided into three seperate sketches that have little or nothing to do with one another plotwise. So what you get is 36 short, delightfully humorous scenarios. This is a good thing, because if one of the sketches should bore you, it won't be long before a completely different one comes up. However, in my case, I watched through the entire season without ever getting bored, and that is not a tiny feat.
What makes this anime fun to watch is the way Ika Musume resonates with everything this strange, human world has to offer. Being totally astounded by an umbrella and thinking it's some kind of weapon is just one example. I feel that I can best compare this concept with Yotsuba&!, but with a squid girl instead of a young child.
Animation - 9.5/10
Bright and vivid colors, excellent character design and art, smooth animation and facial expressions that speak for themselves. What more could you want from a good comedy anime? Nothing, absolutely nothing!
Sound - 8/10
BGM does what it has to do. It's nowhere near as memorable as, say, Azumanga Daioh, and it usually just plays in the background, escaping your attention. Voice acting, however, is excellent. After all, it's the right voice that makes the character truly shine, and Hisako Kanemoto delivered just that when voicing Ika Musume (I swear, de geso~ is the new desu). Same thing for the rest of the cast.
As a non-Japanese person, perhaps it's a little hard for me to judge wether the voice acting is good or not, but I do know when a seiyuu is overacting or underacting. In this case, everything fits just fine to me.
And then there's the opening. Wow. No doubt about it, this is the Ika Musume anthem de geso~!
Characters - 10/10
A perfect score for characters? Damn right. A good comedy needs great characters for its foundation, otherwise it just doesn't work. Shinryaki! Ika Musume passes with flying colors and left me laughing like a hyena on marihuana as a result. Of course, the star of the show is Ika-chan. Her hair consists of flexible, extendable tentacles that can regenerate, she can vomit squid ink which is apparently delicious, and she has the ability to glow. She's bossy, arrogant, naive, is deathly afraid of sharks and killer whales and has a severe God-complex. However, she's actually pretty harmless, and definitely not the most dangerous of the cast. That would be Chizuru Aizawa, a blue haired girl with Yangire issues. She normally has her eyes closed and seems like a sweet girl, but when her eyes go open, BE AFRAID! Even Chuck Norris would p*ss himself. The only person that Ika truly fears.
On the other side of the spectrum, we have Nagisa Saito, a paranoid surfer girl who is certain that Ika is up to something evil and has brainwashed the rest of the Lemon beach house employees. She is the only one who is really scared of her, just what Ika wants. Thus, she's Ika's favorite, and she sees Nagisa as an angel. Eiko Aizawa, the manager of the beach house, has very small tolerance for Ika's shenanigans, thus usually ends up hitting her in the head. Sanae Nagatsuki is a masochistic and obsessive girl who is infatuated with Ika's cuteness, so much that it's creepy. Getting beaten up by her squid girl brings her bliss. She's messed up, but it's funny.
There's more characters, but the cast isn't rediculously big, and most of them are memorable and bring something unique. It's this collection of radical characters that makes this show a riot to watch.
Overall - 9/10
I cannot recommend Shinryaku! Ika Musume enough if you're looking for a good comedy. No, hang on. If you're looking for an anime in general, you have to check this one out! If there were 500 episodes, I would watch them all just like that, that's how much I love it. Sadly, there's only 12, but it's short and sweet. One of those anime that I will probably rewatch several times in the future. Might just be the best title of 2010 de geso~!
Story: A squid girl attempts to invade the world but ends up working at a beach store. That should already tell you that there really isn't any deep plot. The episodes consist of about two to three segments of the various antics surrounding squid girl. There is little deapth but I wasn't expecting anything too profound. The segments never feel too long and are full of cuteness and sillyness. It's just a bundle of fun. There is some attempt of seriousness at the end but it becomes resolved quickly with a cute message about being yourself. It kept me laughing from the first episode to the last. If you're looking for moe or cuteness or both, then this is perfect.
Animation: Bright bold colors and backgrounds. Squid girl is the about the cutest thing I have seen in a while. The minor characters are distinguishable but have a cookie cutter look to them. The MIT doctors look interesting though. The facial expressions are hilarious and convey whatever emotion they're displaying. The opening and ending is cute and they do pay attention to details.
Sound: Cute and catchy openings and endings. However, the real contender are the seiyuus. The voices are fitting and just add so much. The voices never get annoying which is refreshing. They do the emotions and little quirks perfectly.
Characters: Squid girl is obviously the star of this show. She's hilarious and adorable. Her inability to invade but her ability to do random things amazingily never gets tired. Her innoncence and naivity is still amusing from the first episode to the last. She is the very definition of the this show and she is squiding amazing. She's definitely hard to forget. The other characters don't shine as much but they again it would be hard with such a bright personality. Chizure still shines with her dual personality. The MIT doctors are definitely a surprise as well.
Overall: Resistance to the squid invasion is futile. Just don't expect any actual plot. Just humor and moeness which squid girl delivers plenty of each.
The problem with the anime industry is the continuous failure to capitalise on titles that are actually good, and instead redirect time and resources to producing shows that leave you as empty as a tectonic bowel movement. Every genre has suffered this iniquity, but while most bounce back with other, much better offerings (comparatively speaking), comedy continues to prove the medium's "Achilles heel". Those of you who are fans of Gintama may disagree with that perception, but consider for a moment the number of anime released during the last year that have borne the "comedy" label.
Now have a think about whether they made you laugh, or simply made you smile (or in the worst case scenario, made you want to punch the people who made it in alphabetical order).
Based on the manga by Anbe Masahiro, Shinryaku! Ika Musume (Invasion! Squid Girl), tells the story of Ika Musume, who has come from the sea to exact revenge on humanity for polluting the waters of Earth, and she plans to do this by conquering the world.
Unfortunately her first foray onto land doesn't go as planned ...
The series is presented in the style of a sketch show rather than as a continuous narrative, with each episode split into three independent stories. Normally this approach would present several problems where plot and character development are concerned, but thankfully that isn't the case here as each tale is well crafted and paced, with little time wasted on pointless trivialities (which is ironic as there are people who would consider the whole show to be trivial). In addition to this, there is an autonomy to each chapter that allows for a variety of themes over the course of one episode, and this makes for some decent storytelling and visual gags.
As an aside, one thing that should be pointed out is the rather obvious homage to the first ten minutes or so of Up! that occurs in episode five. The nice thing about this particular chapter is that there has been a conscious effort to follow Pixar's example and simply use music, sound effects and imagery to tell the story, and the result is something ... rare, especially in terms of audio/visual choreography.
Which brings up an interesting point.
On the surface Shinryaku! Ika Musume looks a lot like the common or garden moe based "comedies" that abound these days, but as everyone knows, one should never judge a book by it's cover. The design principle verges on the generic at times, and this rather simplistic approach to the characters is reflected in the backgrounds and settings as well. The animation is generally decent, with nice movements and some interesting ways to use tentacles (I never thought I would ever use that sentence in an anime review), but the initial perception may be that Diomedea simply didn't try hard enough to make the series look great.
There is something that should be taken in to account though, and that's the fact that Ika Musume wasn't only made to make you smile. The main purpose of the series is to make you laugh, and that it does. The "generic" look of the show allows for a number of well executed visual gags and parodies, as well as some creative moments like the Mini Ika Musume chapter. In addition to that, the style of humour actually works better when the viewer is comfortable with the imagery, which may be the reason why Diomedea opted for a look that many people will already be familiar with.
After all, it's reasonable to assume that the majority of viewers would find the slapstick comedy aspect out of place in a series series featured stunning scenery and beautiful characters, no matter how funny the show was.
One thing that is slightly annoying about Ika Musume is the devilishly catchy opening theme (Let's Invade by ULTRA PRISM featuring Kanemoto Hisako), which may have been designed to loiter in the viewers head, waiting for the opportune moment to strike. That doesn't mean it's a great song though, as it's a very typical example of the "cute" J-Pop anime introduction - with everything that entails.
On the other hand the ending theme, Metamerism by Ito Kanae, is a melodic ballad that's rather pleasant on the ears (even if it is a tad generic), but seems a little out of place in a comedy show. As for the incidental pieces, they range from slightly ditzy jazz styled jingles to the slow piano piece of the Mini Ika Musume chapter. Unlike many other shows though, the music is only pushed to the fore when the occasion demands, and one will generally hear it as a very subtle accompaniment to the on screen action (it should be pointed out though, that a good portion of the series features no music whatsoever).
As with any comedy, delivery is everything, and it's here where the seiyuu really shine. While the voice acting may sometimes be a little on the bland side, the characters really come alive when there's something quirky or funny going on. Kanemoto Hisako's performance as the precocious invader from the sea is actually pretty good, especially as her only other main roles are in Sora no Woto and Kore wa Zombie Desu ka. Her coordination with the other voice actors, especially Fujimura Ayumi and Tanaka Rie (the Aizawa sisters, Eiko and Chizuru), allows for some nice comedy set pieces.
Which brings up another point.
By its very nature, comedy isn't the greatest tool for characterisation or development, especially as the usual methods can seem out of place amongst all the slapstick. Ika Musume neatly sidesteps the issue by inserting a few choice tales that highlight a particular bond or personality trait, but it does this by creating a metaphor which can sometimes change the whole tone of the series. That said, any growth is sporadic, and there are occasions where viewers may find themselves wondering what the point of a particular chapter was.
There is a plus though, as the series creates comedy pairings between disparate, and sometimes unlikely, characters, which adds to the whimsical nature of the show. Eiko and Ika-Musume represent the primary straight and funny "men", but in truth there are multiple parings, trios and groups that form over the course of the series, all of which is only achievable because the characterisation is actually pretty decent for a comedy anime.
Now I will be honest here, as I didn't expect to like this series as much as I did. That's not to say it's a classic, as there are definitely better purebred comedies out there, but when compared to many of the more recent offerings in that genre, the charm, quirkiness and feelgood atmosphere of Shinryaku! Ika Musume is definitely a step in the right direction. The series bears a few similarities in terms of style, content and layout to such comedy worthies as Potemayo and Jungle wa Itsumo Hale Nochi Guu (but without as much insanity), whilst Mini Ika-Musume didn't simply remind me of Pixar's Up!, but also of Binchou-tan.
There is something to bear in mind if you decide to give this show a try though. Comedy is probably the most subjective genre in any medium as it requires far more investment from the viewer in order for it to work, and one of the things that we in the West often forget is that the vast majority of anime are made for the Japanese markets. Because of that it becomes difficult for Westerners to relate to certain aspects of the humour, but that doesn't automatically mean a series is bad just because we don't understand it.
Besides, after some of the debacles that have been produced over the last few years by an industry that's trying a bit too hard, it's a welcome change to watch something a little bit silly.
Through a mixture of magic and squid-based technology comes an annoyingly catchy OP, straight to your brain. No need for words or thanks, or both; it's taking residence in your brain as you begin Shinryaku! Ika Musume. But don't worry, it's a taste for what's to come; slice-of-life comedy on the beach with an infectous cheer about it that produces smiles, wheather you want to smile or not. It's like the third ingredient is charm, right behind hijinks and sand. If you ain't laughing, you're smiling. Unless it's one of the "detour" moments. Regardless, it's feet are firmly planted in comedy and it delivers loads of it.
Before I forget, that synopsis is the story. It's not really important but it's there to set the pieces down on the board and let them do their thing. It's episodic in nature, so don't look too deep into it.
Essentially, everything revolves around the sun of charm; the animation is bright and vibrant, cheery and delightful. The music sets the mood for the scenes and once again, the OP. And the characters only go to further enhance it; They make it more fun than it already is. From the innocent and adorably arrogant (Self-righteous?) title character to her co-workers in The Lemon and everybody else who roams the beach. The best part is how they interact with each other and mainly with Ika Musume.
There's no way I could marathon this and not die from some kind of cuteness overdose or something of the like. But if taken daily in doses of one or two episodes per day, then I can handle it. And you know what? I wouldn't change it. It aims to be a charming and adorable slice-of-life comedy and it accomplishes just that.