Friday, 29 January 2016

干物妹!うまるちゃん / Himouto! Umaru-chan

There’s a simple way of appealing to late-night anime fans – get a pretty girl to act in ways that are just like a male otaku. “Look – she’s so cute! And she’s doing all the things I do!” Well, it worked for Lucky Star.

Umaru-chan neatly filled my ‘brainless fun with a bit too much fanservice’ void. There’s very little substance here, but there’s not really mean to be.

A young salaryman called Taihei lives in his small Tokyo apartment with his schoolgirl sister. Outwardly, she is the perfect student – model-pretty, academically top of the class, and highly skilled at any sport she turns her hand to. At home, however, she is a terrible slob who loves anime, games and surfing the net – while eating sugary snacks and chugging cola. She seems callous to her brother sometimes, but is actually devoted to him, and of course has a variety of pretty friends with extreme character quirks that always involve blushing, who all also become very interested in Taihei.

The usual boxes get ticked – beach trips, Valentine’s chocolate dilemmas, sweet Christmas eve fuzziness. Umaru-chan also takes part in video game tournaments, goes to nostalgic old stores and pontificates on the best way to snack.

It’s brainless, formulaic and lazy, but that’s not to say it isn’t fun and likeable. I just miss the times when anime comedies could make me actually laugh out loud multiple times an episode, like Azumanga Daioh. I suppose Nichijou was the closest thing recently…

The key is not to follow the formula too closely, or like Umaru-san, you get a show that’s pleasant and enjoyable but leaves very little lasting impression.  

Friday, 1 January 2016

The Simpsons: Season 3

By season 3, The Simpsons had gotten over the wobbles of establishing a new show with a broad cast – which, it should be noted, were remarkably minor wobbles – and settled into the best period of its production history, which it will sustain for long enough to become the critically-lauded definer of a generation’s pop culture that it still is. No matter how far it has fallen.

Season three doesn’t need to establish characters or setting any more, but the ideas it puts forward are still fresh and interesting. It is also still possible for the celebrity cameos to be a surprise. Season opener ‘Stark Raving Dad’, with an inspired bit of meta humour in its casting of Michael Jackson as an asylum internee who only believes he is Michael Jackson, perfectly encapsulates this.

There are plenty more celebrity cameos, including a long list of baseball stars all at once, as well as great little appearances by Aerosmith and Spinal Tap, but it is of course the deepening of the characters’ personalities and relationships that make this season work well. Flanders already begins to really get fleshed out with his venture into left-handed entrepreneurship – also giving Homer some much-needed humanity in the days before he’s simply put forward as some kind of psychopath. Moe has his defining episode in the highlight episode ‘Flaming Moe’s’. Krusty and Sideshow Bob both get episodes that build upon what we’ve already seen of their personalities beyond the surface, and flashback episodes of Homer and Marge show that no matter how dysfunctional they can be and how nightmarish they were at that work party way back at the beginning of season 1, they have a lot in their lives that is in fact enviable and adorable.

There are some episodes that stretch the characters. Bart sometimes goes too far in torturing others, to the extent that he becomes hard to forgive, like when he toys with Mrs. Krabappel. Homer being tempted into another affair in Colonel Homer both seems over-familiar from earlier episodes and shows him being a little too oblivious and insensitive, even if he ends up making the right decisions. 

But this season more than any other makes the Simpson family seem relatable and likeable even to watchers who in all honesty are very little like these people. And that, I guess, is the most impressive thing that The Simpsons manages to pull off.