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.
Despite missing out on a perfect chance to become a ‘must-see’ anime about the human psyche, Kuuchuu Buranko still makes for worthwhile watching. The series’ inherently bizarre nature, bright visuals and intriguing subject matter definitely allow it to stand out from the crowd. Certainly, if I were to be carted off by the men in white coats, I’d want Irabu as my doctor since at least the experience would be more fun – or perhaps horrifying, I can’t quite decide.
Meet the bizarre and twisted psychiatric doctor Ichirou Irabu. Occasionally taking the form of a lime green bear, a young man or even a small child, this freaky physician and his seductively sadistic nurse Mayumi deal with all manner of patients. Though in order to satiate his rampant injection fetish, everyone receives the same treatment: a large vaccination, whether they need it or not! From a trapeze artist suffering from insomnia, to an office worker tormented by a permanent erection, to a romance novelist with OCD and stress-induced vomiting, no one is safe from Dr. Ichirou's unique and psychedelic medical practice.
While I like a variety of different genres, if you give me comedy or slice of life, I'm bound to be happy – and if it's dark humour, all the better! I'll review whatever takes my fancy at the time, and whether you agree or disagree with my opinions, feel free to drop me a line.