Ahhh, Ika Musume. Another sign, along with the likes of Nichijou, that moé anime is once again swinging towards the surreal, silly and more original after K-On burst the bubble. Not that this sort of cuteness ever went away, but now it’s back in pole position, and I’m perfectly happy with that situation – I like ordinary slice-of-life, but the spice of surrealism makes things tastier.
The premise of a strange but very cute young girl invading the normal life of someone quite ordinary underpins a lot of anime, sometimes in drama (like Kurenai), but more often in a sitcom. Often the strange girl will want to initiate a romance with a dull but identifiable boy (like in Sumomomo-mo Momo-mo), but sometimes the comedy just comes from a very weird girl interacting with someone more down-to-earth in what is essentially a manzai comedy routine - for example, in 2x2 ga Shinobuden. But for all we're on familiar ground here, and for all the characters are very familiar archetypes, Ika Musume - 'Squid Girl' - is something very distinct and is probably the very best example of its kind. It perfectly blends comedy, cuteness, character development and variety, and though it's in parts predictable, it's also quite smart and always, always highly enjoyable. Though part of me wishes I started watching this when it aired in 2010, I’m also happy I didn’t because now I don’t have to wait for new episodes to be released and can zip through it.
It’s a great, silly little premise: a cute anthropomorphised squid girl in the tradition of the various personified –tans comes out of the sea with the intention of conquering mankind to put a stop to their polluting ways, but gets no further than a beach hut café: a demonstration of the power of her tentacle-hair means she is forced into working to repay debts for damages. Around her gathers a colourful cast – there are the siblings who run the café, middle child and identifiable comedic foil Eiko, polite and feminine elder sister Chizuru and sweet-natured younger brother Takeru. Then come Eiko’s friend Sanae, who gets a rather masochistic lesbian crush on Ika Musume, and tomboyish coworker Nagisa, who is the only one who finds Ika Musume fearsome. A team of silly American scientists come to study Ika Musume, believing her to be an alien, led by the buxom blonde Cindy – she speaks fluent Japanese but her three daft co-workers have that exAAgeraTED wAY of emPHAsisSIING random syllables that the Japanese identify as an American accent. Then there are others to colour life on the beach – a genuine friend for Ika Musume met when she failed at pani-poni dash, a fairly sensible lifeguard with a crush on Chizuru and a shy girl coerced by her father into wearing ridiculous false heads of Ika Musume.
It’s character-based comedy and it works brilliantly. Yes, very similar things have done before: overall, it strongly resembles Rizelmine, which is now an astonishing ten years old - I also observed that of C³, but this show has much more of Rizelmine’s genuine cuteness. Chizuru’s hilarious dark, arguably Yandere side recalls Miya-Miya from Bamboo Blade and Tanaka Rie’s performance has elements of her Suigintou. The antics of the American scientists resemble the Black Gema Gang from Di Gi Charat, mixed with that show’s American. Takeru’s ‘no defining characteristics’ echos Chi-chan from Ichigo Mashimaro, and his looks recall main character of the TV version of Kyou no Go no Ni, especially with his classmates. Nagisa reminds me of Makoto from The iDOLM@STER (and in season 2 gets dressed up as a boy to similar effect), while Sanae’s crush is like that of Kaorin in Azumanga Daioh on steroids – and it was already pretty extreme. Azumanga Daioh’s huge shadow is everywhere here – it’s hard not to think of Chiyo when Ika Musume thinks of flying with her little squiddy hat-flaps, and Tanaka Rie’s performance as Yomi is recalled in the episode of season 2 where she’s concerned with her weight.
But I don’t think it at all negative that Ika Musume has a lot in it that has been done before. It brings all that together, it works so well and it makes it all so damn cute. Ika Musume herself is incredibly adorable, and while there are moments of lolicon fanservice, perhaps inevitably for a show where so many characters spend so much time on the beach and where humour is derived from one character having erotic fantasies about another young girl, it’s all very light and certainly ought not to get on anyone’s nerves or detract from the humour – which was a relief, as this is from Kodomo no Jikan’s studio Diomedea (previous known as Barcelona) . I also loved the little shorts with a mini Ika Musume (also in one episode) – while the idea is similar to Shakugan no Shana’s Shana-Tan episodes, the feel was pleasantly like Binchou-tan.
Where next, then? I expect more of the same from season 2, and beyond if more is made. Will the (presumably) jellyfish girl return? Perhaps more fanservice? (I'd be willing to bet it'll fall into that trap.) Perhaps summer will end and the plot will move away from the beach – but somehow I doubt it. Either way, I anticipate loving every episode, as I loved every one here.
Oh, and one last note – the anime is full of simple puns: Ika Musume replaces ‘desu’ with ‘de geso’, a reference to edible tentacles that really wouldn’t sound cute directly translated, and most episode titles have some variation of ‘-ja nai ka?’ (loosely, ‘why don’t we…?’ or ‘Isn’t that…?’), which is a pun because the final ‘ika’ means ‘squid’. The official subs attempted to come up with different puns for each of these, with differing levels of success, but unlike some who hated it, I rather liked all the ‘squiddly’s and ‘squidding’s – and it was all worth it for one stroke of genius, being ‘Squid pro quo’. Brilliant!