Binchou-tan shared a half-hour broadcast slot with the very different but oddly complimentary REC, but of the two, Binchou-tan was the more naturally suited to the short format, being a winsome and gentle story of several little children in a melancholy fantasy world. The tone is the perfect mix of sweetness and poignancy, and there’s a real ‘classic’ feel and sense of timelessness to the narrative. Binchou-tan, a pun on the Japanese word for ‘charcoal’, is a small child, living alone in the woods in a leaky old shack after her grandmother passed away, making do with what little she has. Like the other children of the town, she is drawn in super-deformed style, with a head rather larger than her body and eyes that would need dinner plate-sized contact lenses. On occasion she goes to the town using a surreal bus system that involves giving acorns to birds to persuade them to take you on as a passenger, and looks for work that largely references the uses of charcoal. Taking home what rice she can buy, she keeps up her traditional Japanese home life – with the bow of her obi sash constantly crooked because she doesn’t have anyone to tie it for her so does it herself over her shoulder. She goes about her humble business in such an adorably quiet way that it’s almost unbearably cute.
Other characters are more boisterous, or more privileged, but their own typical anime personalities are also a joy to watch. It’s written like a fairy tale, evokes the childish, and revolves around children. Over time, Bin-tan meets new friends, from the hyper Chiku-tan to the lonely super-rich girl Kunugi-tan, so that by the end of 12 half-episodes, she is not alone any more. You’ll notice that the characters all have the honorific –tan, partly to make the pun on ‘binchoutan’ work, but also because –tan is a cutesy mispronunciation of ‘-chan’, and its use for mascot characters has become more and more commonplace since this series – see, for example, the popular OS-tan characters.
The anime isn’t supposed to be realistic, or, really, do anything much but make you go ‘Cuuuute!’ It’s the most stylised cutesy show I’ve seen since Bottle Fairy, and similar in many ways – not to mention that Binchou is voiced by Hororo’s seiyuu, in a fairly similar manner. Binchou-tan started out as the mascot character of Alchemist, a games company noted for porting and partly developing visual novels like Higurashi and KimiNozo. After a few manga aimed at the seinen crowd who love cutesy things (ie Dengeki Daioh’s audience), there came this anime adaptation, from knowing peddlers of cute Studio Deen. Drama CDs and even a PS2 game followed, but thus far, the anime remains as short and sweet as its subject.
While 12 episodes with about 10 minutes of story in each off them is very short for an anime, though, it’s worth remembering that’s as much screen time as most feature films get, so there was plenty of time to get to know Bin-tan, her world and the adorable bittersweet misadventures she has. Purposely nothing grandiose or high-impact, it was nonetheless a very appealing and likeable diversion.
(collated and expanded from impressions, 14.3.06 and 17.6.06)