It’s perhaps purely because of his vague presence on Cartoon Network in somewhat bastardized form that Shin-chan isn’t seen as the national treasure he is in Japan. The success of Crayon Shin-chan is phenomenal, both as a manga and on televisions, the anime having run continuously since 1992. The end is in sight only because of the tragic passing of series creator Usui Yoshito in 2009, but such a fixture of television animation is little Shin-chan that his name ought to be uttered in the same breath as the likes of Doraemon and Sazae-san.
Like Sazae-san or Tonari no Yamada-kun, the appeal of Shin-chan is the presentation of a family unit, drawn in crude comic-strip style, having silly but charming small-scale adventures. While the free-wheeling and ugly aesthetic is hardly the peak of beauty on the screen, there is not such a big leap to, for example, the respected artistry of Yuasa Masaaki, whose first jobs as animation director were on the Shin-chan series. If I ever watch all 800+ episodes of the anime, it will not be for a very long time, so for now, these thoughts can be confined here, to my impressions of the ninth Shin-chan movie.
2001’s The Adult Empire Strikes Back begins with the usual Shin-chan fare: crudely-drawn, crazy, puerile, parody humour in the South Park vein. However, soon after, it becomes a strange, rather epic, almost didactic movie about what would happen if adults acted like children. Like South Park, the creators know exactly how far to take their ridiculous premise, building upon the inherent absurdity of the scenario with plenty of incidental gags until it all gets very strange, but stopping short of being unfunny – and I’ve seen few things stranger than John and Yoko (or, perhaps, their beatnik clones) taking over the world.
Of course, Shin-chan is still mostly suitable for small kids, which you can’t say for South Park, despite the similarly diminutive characters. That said, perhaps some American audiences would be appalled by the comic nudity and talk of retracting balls and big maternal bottoms. The film is also unafraid of genuine sentimentality. The movie was well worth viewing, and provides some fascinating insight into the mixed attitudes to modernisation prevailing in turn-of-the-century Japan, despite their global image as futuristic and ultra-progressive.
One final thing: no matter what you make of Shin-chan and his misadventures, it cannot be denied that one of the best examples of panicked Engrish ever exists in this film: ‘I’M-SORRY-MY-KID-IS-SORRY-I’M-BEAUTIFUL-JAPANESE-WIFE-PRETTY-SEXY-FINE-THANK-YOU!’
(expanded from impressions, 20.5.05)