Dororon Enma-kun Meeramera
It's the swinging seventies in Japan. Strange demons threaten local schools, but with the courage and power of the demon prince Enma-kun and his Demon Patrol, humanity has nothing to fear! That is, if the Demon Patrol would just get off their lazy asses first...
Sex comedies are an unspoken staple of anime. And not "unspoken" in the sense that anime fans are too prudish to talk about them publicly. No, they're just a source of embarrassment. No-budget, salacious titles like Kiss x Sis and Sora no Otoshimono are so transparently pandering, fetishistic and unfunny that they're a source of public disgust for fans, bloggers and reviewers, best discussed quickly during new season previews and then never again. Fans like to think of anime as a mature medium that grapples with tough issues, but with as many as five to a dozen of these new "ecchi" titles every season, we have another reason to know that that perception is very rarely true. Comedy is hard to do properly, and sex comedies doubly so, but these titles hardly try to do either and simply sell animated soft-core pornography. Their entire business model is built on that appeal- the final edit most of these studios send TV stations have the fanservice buried under a flash of light or a convenient puff of steam, in order to sell more DVDs with the promise of all the fleshy details.
It might be fair to say that there's one man that you can thank for ecchi comedies being such a large part of Japanese anime and manga: Go Nagai. Though he's largely known for the very popular anime adaptations of his super robot manga, including such Boomer generation staples as Mazinger Z and Getter Robo, he first gained notoriety with a late Sixties shounen comic called Shameless School. Some of the tropes we often see in ecchi titles originate from that manga, and at the time, it was a breath of fresh air. It was also a satire of Japan's "culture of shame," and to get an idea of how successful it was, the series so infuriated parents and teachers that it started a well-publicized feud between Nagai and the PTA that culminated in Nagai ending the manga with a story arc about the school's all out war... with a parody of the PTA.
Read today, the manga doesn't seem worth the fuss. The nudity is cute, not lascivious, and a sense of mischief makes even the most perverse pranks seem casual and harmless. But at the time, it redefined where the boundaries were for manga, and made room for new stories. Nagai would later go on to draw defining works in other genres, but he always loved wacky, perverse mischief, and used it often in his comics. Shortly after Shameless School's successful run, he wrote another comedy, one that combined perverse satire with the heroism of his super robot comics: Enma-kun. And now, some forty years later, here comes studio Brains Base with an adaptation of Enma-kun. It's not a faithful adaptation- it's clearly an update on the source material that doubles as an homage to Nagai and Japanese children's entertainment in the Seventies. Which sounds dull and insular, but Brains Base goes one step further in flattering the Nagai legacy by imitating not just its battiness, but its edginess. And in 2011, that makes it a libertine comedy that's starkly different and a damned sight funnier and fresher than B Gata H Kei or MM. And perhaps that's the key thing that sets Dororon Enma-kun Meerameera apart from any other anime comedy released in the last few years, ecchi or otherwise: it knows its history.
But I risk putting Enma-kun in a very small box that it doesn't deserve by just talking about its ecchi aspect. It runs the gamut of comedy- Japanese puns that are indecipherable to an English speaking audience, satire, snark, meta-humor, well-timed sarcasm, and the occasional toilet joke all mix together in a roiling melting pot that also includes some romance, action and hot-blooded heroism. The humor isn't particularly sophisticated or clever- it's not so much a sharp sword as a broad hammar, and if one thing doesn't getch ya, something else will- but it works through a combination of creativity, and a good use of escalation. The latter is something Enma-kun is particularly good at: it isn't very funny when a goblin makes a pun on his nose, for example, but when he keeps doing it and doing it in increasingly absurd ways for an entire episode, it gets there. In fact, the entire plot of Enma-kun is a great example of escalation, starting with small-time demons threatening a school and ending with the world's greatest orgasm threatening mankind's existence.
And did I tell you about the demons? The demons are fabulous, their design all inspired by Japan's rich yokai mythology but primarily comedic. The series relies on the classic "Monster of the Week" formula- which it enjoys messing with sometimes- and for that to succeed, you need good villains. Most of the monsters are silly takes on some staples from Japanese mythology, though some of them seem to be entirely the product of Nagai's fertile creative mind. In keeping with the series' spirit of silliness, the demons rely on some pretty silly curses, like a "rolling" demon who makes people so fat that they can only move by rolling like an oversized basketball, or a "slippery" demon who makes our heroes take constant, humiliating pratfalls by cursing their feet to find no friction on the ground.
The heroes will seem familiar to any Go Nagai fan- they're like mirror house versions of characters from other properties, especially his super robot series. Enma-kun is a hot-blooded, noble hero like the pilots of Mazinger Z or Getter Robo, but he's also a bit dim and perverted. Most of his perverted attention goes to Princess Yuki, the cute ice demon who usually plays "damsel in distress" by the end of episode, though the series plays with that particular trope enough that it doesn't really get old. The Idiot Demon Hunting Squad is rounded out by a useless kappa assistant and Enma's talking hat, who is a source of second hand knowledge for everything yokai-related. There's not really a "straight man" in the squad- that dubious honor goes to Harumi, human middle school student and hapless tag-along. A relatable human boy accompanying superheroes or giant robot squads was a staple of children's entertainment. The original manga had a boy named Tsutomu fill this role, but now he's been forced to the side in favor of the only female classmate from the manga. Even though this was obviously a concession to modern anime audiences, it works out. She's less annoying than the 1970's roles that inspired her existence (remember the little kids in Mobile Suit Gundam?), since she's normally the only sane character in an increasingly insane series. The cast is largely likeable and appropriately cartoonish, and mesh well with the monsters and comedic tone.
Go Nagai anime seem to be a yearly staple that exist, like a lot of anime properties, because the good folks who make anime today loved those properties when they were kids. Sometimes the resulting project feels insular to those of us who never knew these series existed until they popped up on an upcoming anime season chart. We normally lack the context to fully "get" a darker or more mature take on Casshern or GeGeGe no Kitaro. It might be "new" anime, but that won't stop fans from saying "it looks old" and snubbing it. That I started this review with a history lesson may put off a lot of you. Don't be. Enma-kun is proudly vintage, and that's a plus for any viewer, even if the context is obscured. You don't need to know 1970's anime to get that there's a great sense of fun in Dororon Enma-kun that really ties the whole thing together, recreating the joy of a Saturday morning cartoon for a more adult audience.
Gloriously over-the-top, crazed comedy. — Bradley Meek
Recommended Audience: Nudity! Toilet jokes! Bad puns! Rape jokes! Homoerotic jokes! Penis jokes! Butt jokes! Absolutely not for kids, prudes, or anyone whose idea of edgy humor is David Letterman.
Version(s) Viewed: Prerelease fansub
Review Status: Full (12/12)
Dororon Enma-kun Meeramera © 2011 Brains Base / NIS America
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