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.
Shinryaku! Ika-Musume shoots for cute and quirky, nailing the target dead-center. By mixing its able production values with a chuckle-worthy cast and clever storytelling, this anime should worm its way into the heart of anyone with a dark sense of humor and a love for absurd slice of life.
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.
What I Liked: Consistent animation, bright simple visuals, good (but plain) character designs, great voice acting (especially from Hisako Kanemoto, the VA for Ika Musume / Squid Girl, and Rie Tanaka, the VA for Chizuru), unique characters (in terms of personalities, anyway). The squid puns.
What I Didn't: The pacing of the final episode was a bit off-putting (i.e. going from the Volleyball skit to the "Pinch Jyana-IKA" 2-parter seemed a little jarring to me), but it wasn't enough of a problem to warrant a mark against this series.
Final Verdict: Shinryaku! Ika Musume is one of those skit-based comedies that manages to surpass expectation and deliver a pleasing and entertaining arrangement of characters and situations.
I feel kind of bad for ranking this so high, almost like a consumer who feels cheated after "falling for" an effective marketing campaign, but I really thoroughly enjoyed this series.
Anime in 200 Words: Squid Girl
Premise: Squid Girl washes up onto the beach with plans to conquer the surface world and make them pay for the serious crime of polluting the seas... and then she gets suckered into working at a beach restaurant and everything goes awry.
Environment: There’s an environmental message here, but it’s not obnoxious. People have been throwing garbage into her home, and she’s angry about it! At least the studio realized that you need more than that to keep people from tuning out.
Characters: Squid Girl is naive and... well, tsundere, for lack of a better word. This isn’t a romance, but she has violence/friendship mood swings. My favorite, though, is probably Chizuru. She looks so sweet, but she’s so good at manipulation! ^_^
Humor: Most of it’s slapstick or a naive misunderstanding, so none of it’s terribly refreshing or memorable.
Ink, Squid, Etc.: These puns in the titles got old really fast for me, but I AM older than the target audience, so that’s understandable.
Overall: Squid Girl is a decent comedy that involves wackiness without soaring to the utmost heights of insanity. If you want a light, episodic comedy, try out this show.
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.