The problem with the anime industry is the continuous failure to capitalise on titles that are actually good, and instead redirect time and resources to producing shows that leave you as empty as a tectonic bowel movement. Every genre has suffered this iniquity, but while most bounce back with other, much better offerings (comparatively speaking), comedy continues to prove the medium’s “Achilles heel”. Those of you who are fans of Gintama may disagree with that perception, but consider for a moment the number of anime released during the last year that have borne the “comedy” label.
Now have a think about whether they made you laugh, or simply made you smile (or in the worst case scenario, made you want to punch the people who made it in alphabetical order).
Based on the manga by Anbe Masahiro, Shinryaku! Ika Musume (Invasion! Squid Girl), tells the story of Ika Musume, who has come from the sea to exact revenge on humanity for polluting the waters of Earth, and she plans to do this by conquering the world.
Unfortunately her first foray onto land doesn’t go as planned …
The series is presented in the style of a sketch show rather than as a continuous narrative, with each episode split into three independent stories. Normally this approach would present several problems where plot and character development are concerned, but thankfully that isn’t the case here as each tale is well crafted and paced, with little time wasted on pointless trivialities (which is ironic as there are people who would consider the whole show to be trivial). In addition to this, there is an autonomy to each chapter that allows for a variety of themes over the course of one episode, and this makes for some decent storytelling and visual gags.
As an aside, one thing that should be pointed out is the rather obvious homage to the first ten minutes or so of Up! that occurs in episode five. The nice thing about this particular chapter is that there has been a conscious effort to follow Pixar’s example and simply use music, sound effects and imagery to tell the story, and the result is something … rare, especially in terms of audio/visual choreography.
Which brings up an interesting point.
On the surface Shinryaku! Ika Musume looks a lot like the common or garden moe based “comedies” that abound these days, but as everyone knows, one should never judge a book by it’s cover. The design principle verges on the generic at times, and this rather simplistic approach to the characters is reflected in the backgrounds and settings as well. The animation is generally decent, with nice movements and some interesting ways to use tentacles (I never thought I would ever use that sentence in an anime review), but the initial perception may be that Diomedea simply didn’t try hard enough to make the series look great.
There is something that should be taken in to account though, and that’s the fact that Ika Musume wasn’t only made to make you smile. The main purpose of the series is to make you laugh, and that it does. The “generic” look of the show allows for a number of well executed visual gags and parodies, as well as some creative moments like the Mini Ika Musume chapter. In addition to that, the style of humour actually works better when the viewer is comfortable with the imagery, which may be the reason why Diomedea opted for a look that many people will already be familiar with.
After all, it’s reasonable to assume that the majority of viewers would find the slapstick comedy aspect out of place in a series series featured stunning scenery and beautiful characters, no matter how funny the show was.
One thing that is slightly annoying about Ika Musume is the devilishly catchy opening theme (Let’s Invade by ULTRA PRISM featuring Kanemoto Hisako), which may have been designed to loiter in the viewers head, waiting for the opportune moment to strike. That doesn’t mean it’s a great song though, as it’s a very typical example of the “cute” J-Pop anime introduction – with everything that entails.
On the other hand the ending theme, Metamerism by Ito Kanae, is a melodic ballad that’s rather pleasant on the ears (even if it is a tad generic), but seems a little out of place in a comedy show. As for the incidental pieces, they range from slightly ditzy jazz styled jingles to the slow piano piece of the Mini Ika Musume chapter. Unlike many other shows though, the music is only pushed to the fore when the occasion demands, and one will generally hear it as a very subtle accompaniment to the on screen action (it should be pointed out though, that a good portion of the series features no music whatsoever).
As with any comedy, delivery is everything, and it’s here where the seiyuu really shine. While the voice acting may sometimes be a little on the bland side, the characters really come alive when there’s something quirky or funny going on. Kanemoto Hisako’s performance as the precocious invader from the sea is actually pretty good, especially as her only other main roles are in Sora no Woto and Kore wa Zombie Desu ka. Her coordination with the other voice actors, especially Fujimura Ayumi and Tanaka Rie (the Aizawa sisters, Eiko and Chizuru), allows for some nice comedy set pieces.
Which brings up another point.
By its very nature, comedy isn’t the greatest tool for characterisation or development, especially as the usual methods can seem out of place amongst all the slapstick. Ika Musume neatly sidesteps the issue by inserting a few choice tales that highlight a particular bond or personality trait, but it does this by creating a metaphor which can sometimes change the whole tone of the series. That said, any growth is sporadic, and there are occasions where viewers may find themselves wondering what the point of a particular chapter was.
There is a plus though, as the series creates comedy pairings between disparate, and sometimes unlikely, characters, which adds to the whimsical nature of the show. Eiko and Ika-Musume represent the primary straight and funny “men”, but in truth there are multiple parings, trios and groups that form over the course of the series, all of which is only achievable because the characterisation is actually pretty decent for a comedy anime.
Now I will be honest here, as I didn’t expect to like this series as much as I did. That’s not to say it’s a classic, as there are definitely better purebred comedies out there, but when compared to many of the more recent offerings in that genre, the charm, quirkiness and feelgood atmosphere of Shinryaku! Ika Musume is definitely a step in the right direction. The series bears a few similarities in terms of style, content and layout to such comedy worthies as Potemayo and Jungle wa Itsumo Hale Nochi Guu (but without as much insanity), whilst Mini Ika-Musume didn’t simply remind me of Pixar’s Up!, but also of Binchou-tan.
There is something to bear in mind if you decide to give this show a try though. Comedy is probably the most subjective genre in any medium as it requires far more investment from the viewer in order for it to work, and one of the things that we in the West often forget is that the vast majority of anime are made for the Japanese markets. Because of that it becomes difficult for Westerners to relate to certain aspects of the humour, but that doesn’t automatically mean a series is bad just because we don’t understand it.
Besides, after some of the debacles that have been produced over the last few years by an industry that’s trying a bit too hard, it’s a welcome change to watch something a little bit silly.