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AKA: Trapeze, 空中ブランコ (Japanese)
Genre: Psychological comedy
Length: Television series, 11 episodes, 24 minutes each
Distributor: Currently unlicensed in North America
Content Rating: 17+ (innuendo, adult content, mild violence)
Related Series: None
Also Recommended: The Tatami Galaxy, Mononoke, Ghost Hound
Notes: Based on a the Ichirō Irabu book series by Hideo Okuda, published from August 2000 through January 2006 in Bungeishunjū's Bunshun Bunko imprint, originally running in the magazine All Yomimono. Only the first book, In The Pool, is currently in English. There is also a live-action film, a TV drama, and stage play based on Okuda's works.

This series ran on Fuji TV's noitaminA block from October through December 2009.
Rating:
 

Kuuchuu Buranko

Synopsis

Many patients with different problems visit the psychiatric ward of Irabu General Hospital; a trapeze artist suffering from insomnia after suddenly failing his jumps, a gangster afraid of knives and sharp objects and a business man who has an erection 24 hours a day. They undergo counselling by Dr. Ichiro Irabu, who is the child-like son of the hospital director. His assistant is the sullen faced sexy nurse Mayumi. With his mysterious injections, and advice that does not make sense, Dr. Irabu confuses his patients. But at the end of his unique treatments, the patients are lead to digging further into their souls to find peace of mind.

(Source: fujicreative.co.jp)

Review

I love psychology and that's why I love people - even made-up people. Pretty much everything in my life centres on people, how they interact with one another and with me. I like to observe, I like to see what people laugh at, cry at, why they laugh or why they cry. Thus, my love affair with the silver screen and all things pertaining to it must come as no surprise. From day one, I stare entranced by the portrayal of human beings by their fellow beings, as much an observation of the maker as the thing made. Sure, I love beautiful scenery, animals and nature in general - I happily watch countryside roll by through train windows all the time - but characters will always rule my entertainment world.

What does this have to do with a strange little show called Kuuchuu Buranko you might wonder? That's simple. For all its wonderfully weird animation and bright, sparkly visuals or even its quirky yet seamless narrative, they mean very little to me if a show does not deliver where it counts. No, I'll be looking at the meat beneath the garnish, the show's heart before its aesthetics.

This is mainly because the show's visual flair is incredible and for me to dwell at length on this would only draw away from what lies at the heart of Kuuchuu Buranko as its true strengths. Made by the team who brought us Mononoke, the outlandish colours are bright and pleasing enough to shock a goth to their deathbed, the partial rotoscoping of some characters fits pretty snugly with the 2D animation (I'll admit my first thoughts towards this were skeptical but I was proven wrong) and the acid trip presentation just works. Based solely on eye-candy, I would slap this with five stars and be done with it. It is a complete visual victory.

But as I said before, characters are what are important to me. Dr Irabu is an eccentric (read crazy) psychiatrist with a fetish for injections and a love for Gundam models and trains. He has no friends other than his patients and works in the basement with his sultry nurse (whose sole job is to administer large injections to patients for no other reason than Irabu's pleasure) and flock of canaries. I give him an introduction because each new patient is a new episode and while they do reoccur - only he and his seductive nurse are permanent features. Dr Irabu is something else, though. He haunts his patients like the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come all rolled into one, coming in a child, adult and masked form to boot - advising them and guiding them like a shoulder devil or angel as the moment requires. He is brash, tantrum prone, playfully cruel, flippant and egotistical but incorrigibly likeable in his sincerity - taking keen interest (and often interfering in) his patients' lives and loves.

The patients themselves are great characters. Far beyond being walking neurosis, they are reasonable people with reasonable problems (admittedly episode 2 is a little out there) and they are remarkably well fleshed out for the time limit imposed. Many things play out for comic effect and this series is surreal but there is an underlying reality to it that makes each case quite satisfying - while Irabu is a great psychologist, he is no magician and, while he does manage to help his patients, this show isn't about miracle cures. Quite a few of his patients remain uncured of their ailments by the time the credits roll.

Some negatives for this show would be that the music is, in my opinion, pretty poor. The opening is little more than 'muzak' and the music throughout holds as much interest as the music of the metaphorical elevator, perhaps (oddly) showing how unimportant a show's audio can be in certain circumstances. Also, depending on your school of psychology, you might find this show to be horrendous in its simplicity and overall lack of drug use. This might sound like a strange comment but little things like that can spoil immersion especially in a show like this one and leave you isolated from the great characters and interesting stories. Admittedly, this is less a criticism and more a point of warning, in truth.

In any case, this show, casting aside all its glitz and glam, is the probably most mature show ever to come out of Japan about psychology and particularly psychiatric medicine and mental health. This breaks the mold at so many levels that I can't help but consider it to be simply brilliant. This is going to be a divisive one, though. You could either love its grassroots psychology and mind-blowing sense of aesthetics or you could despise it as glib and garish, but I, for one, am in the former camp. It is victory for adventure.

A double recommendation for anyone interested in a fun show about psychiatrics and psychology but take one star away for those who cannot reconcile their psychological paradigms and take another away if you do not enjoy its adventurous visual style.Aiden Foote

Recommended Audience: The general feel and content of the show is more for an adult audience. Not for people who are afraid of the sight of needles though you never have to see any penetration, thankfully.



Version(s) Viewed: Pre-license fansub
Review Status: Full (11/11)
Kuuchuu Buranko © 2009 Trapeze Production Committee