Yusuke Fujisaki (AKA "Bossun"), Hime Onizuka ("Himeko" to friends, "Onihime" to enemies), and Kazuyoshi Usui (AKA "Switch") are the members of the "SKET-Dan" (officially, the "Academy Activity Support Club") at Kaimei Academy. As a service-type club, they try to fulfill some unusual requests- from some VERY unusual students and staff members- while dealing with occasional challenges from their chief rivals, the Student Council.
I once swore I'd never tackle another long series again, but after seeing Episode #18 of this one, I resolved to stick this out to the end. It IS a bit too long, and I wasn't satisfied with the direction the show was taking toward the end, but I've got to give it credit for its efforts to hold an audience's interest, in two ways. The first is by essaying a variety of story styles, from outright farce (its default mode); through sentimental- though sometimes ridiculously improbable- school drama (there's NO WAY that one kid could have gotten such a light punishment for what he did- you'll recognize who I'm referring to when you see the episode I'm referring to); all the way to genuine tragedy (all three of our SKET principals have some personal trauma in their pasts.) Besides occasionally throwing drama in with the comedy, we're also introduced to a wide variety of weird and/or charming characters, some of whom become recurring cast members. For "charming", my favorite is Chiaki Takahashi (AKA "Captain"), a sweet girl who becomes one of Himeko's first genuine friends: she's a superb athlete who can catch on quickly to the rules of any game (and excels at a truly bizarre one, at one point); she also has the interesting ability to literally inhale her food. (This ability is even given a name, "Cap'n Munch".)
Among the MANY weird cast members we have Reiko Yuuki, an occult fanatic who LOOKS like (and MOVES like) the girl who comes out of the well in The Ring, and who has a longstanding supernatural-versus-science feud with a more rationalist cast member. (I seem to remember a similar pairing of two cast members in the Nuku Nuku TV series.) We have a guy who calls himself Enigman, who likes to stump our cast with brain teasers. We have Saotome Roman, a would-be shoujo manga artist who literally perceives herself and all around her through an "otome filter", as if she were the real-life heroine in an ongoing shoujo scenario. (As for her art, remember Nagi's in Hayate The Combat Butler? Roman's is pretty similar. The remark is made that her characters look like they were drawn by Picasso.) And to remind us of the distinction between a violent girl (as Himeko is; we'll get there shortly) and a true tsundere, we have a lampoon of the latter stereotype in a girl named Saaya, complete with the tagline "It's not like I MEANT to (insert considerate or affectionate act of your choice here)".
I did mention the Student Council,, who are, at least in the beginning, pretty much the SKET's rivals in various contests- though they often prove themselves about as comically inept as the SKET trio. The most troublesome is Tsubaki Sasuke, a martinet whose rigid adherence to the rules is sometimes too much even for the Student Council President.
The show's comic styles are about as diverse as its characters- you'll find slapstick, fourth-wall-breaking, and much more. The humor sometimes reminded me of that attempted in shows like Chronicles of the Going Home Club, except that this show made most of that work, where Chronicles simply (in my opinion) failed. I'm not sure what the difference is. Maybe it's the timing. Certainly the fact that SKET tries to flesh out its characters and make them sympathetic, rather than just use them as comic devices, helps. The one kind of humor in both Chronicles and SKET that doesn't work (for a Western, English-speaking audience) is the Japanese "in-joke". When Bossun does humorous impressions of actual Japanese entertainers, it does nothing for me, since I don't know these guys. When it engages in puns and other wordplay in Japanese (this show LOVES puns), we're given onscreen notes to explain the gag, but having to pause the show to get the explanation ruins the continuity, and a joke that has to be explained to you just loses all its impact. At one point, we're given a crossover from Gin Tama, which SKET manga creator Kenta Shinohara worked on as an assistant, so I guess it's kind of fun to have these guys come onto THIS show and diss Shinohara's OWN creations- especially since the shows apparently shared a timeslot on Japanese TV, AND some of the same voice actors as well- but it would obviously be MORE fun for someone familiar with Gin Tama (as I'm not.) All of this would undoubtedly be a lot more fun to its original audience in Japan than it is to a poor Western boy like myself.
To give you the flavor of this show at its most absurd (and in my opinion most delightful), consider the episode I mentioned at the beginning, #18: a teacher named Yamanobe brings in another one of his weird games, which he claims are traditional games dating back thousands of years, but which certainly seem to be literally cobbled together from bits and pieces of contemporary sports and games. (They reminded me of something that might have been created during one of Calvin and Hobbes' Calvinball sessions.) This time it's a board game called Hyperion. Himeko wants to play (along with Bossun and Switch), but Yamanobe warns her that only "boys" enjoy the game, and we find out why- it's MUCH too stupid to appeal to females. Himeko spends much of the episode shouting about how ridiculous the game is (and out of exasperation with her two SKET compatriots, who've joined Yamanobe in La-La Land), which reminded me, again, a little bit of Natsuki in Chronicles of the Going Home Club- except that Himeko is here trying to defend sanity, all by herself, in a room where everyone else, including her two closest friends, has suddenly gone insane. (Himeko, besides having a short fuse, also has a reputation for outright violence- a hockey stick is her weapon of choice- though it's an adaptation originally forced on her by her particular tragic past. She's also notable for her dyed hair, her Kansai dialect, and for an affection for disgustingly-flavored lollipops; the flavors are not necessarily disgusting THEMSELVES, mind, but as lollipop flavors- yuck.) Episode 18, in any case, is gloriously off the wall, and even includes vignettes about the private lives of the Hyperion game pieces. (!)
Our two male SKET members mesmerized by Hyperion surely deserve some more description. Bossun is the nominal leader (though he sometimes has to struggle to be respected.) He's emotionally very passionate, and almost always upbeat. When he puts on a pair of goggles, he's got almost magical powers of concentration, which enable him to make powerful inferences from subtle bits of information. Our other member is Switch (Kazuyoshi), a nerd (though an unusually handsome one) who never uses his own voice, communicating exclusively with a computer synthesized one. He often comes across as a semi-detached (and therefore more objective) observer of his two fellow clubmates, and I liked him the best of all the SKET crew; and I was VERY disappointed that he largely disappears toward the end of the show, in favor of a plot emphasis on Bossun/Himeko and Bosun/(another character); I won't spoil by saying who that "another" character is here. Also, while we get detail on all three "SKET Dancer's" backstories, and find out how Bossun and Himeko met, unless I missed something I never DID see how Switch got added to the club.
Just a couple more things. First, "SKET", according to a poster in their clubroom, stands for "Support, Kindness, Encouragement, Troubleshoot."
And most of all, if a chemistry teacher named Chuma offers you a box of what he himself describes as "suspicious medicines", with a skull and crossbones on the lid, it's probably better NOT to take one.
Inventive, diverting, and often hilarious, with a huge cast of eccentric characters, but the language/culture-specific jokes mostly whizzed right past me. The later episodes of the show turn more scatological, and sideline Switch- both unwelcome developments from my perspective- and there's one character who's "fat-shamed" to the point of it being kind of offensive. And 77 episodes is STILL just a bit too long. — Allen Moody
Recommended Audience: Violence (mostly from Himeko), scatological humor, some light fanservice. We'll go 15+.
Version(s) Viewed: Streaming on Crunchyroll
Review Status: Full (77/77)
SKET Dance © 2012 Tatsunoko Production
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