Summer looks to be a good season for comedy: the darkly cynical Humanity Has Declined and the culture-steeped Joshiraku have both been making waves. Both are quite good – but for my part, Binbou-gami ga! is the season’s jewel. It’s a cartoon of the highest order, with an admirably old-school gag mentality and the technical chops to back it up.
Binbou-gami ga! revolves on a classic antagonistic conflict: Momiji the bumbling coyote, Ichiko the fortune-blessed road runner. In fact, their contrast in luck is built into the very premise: Momiji is literally an embodiment of misfortune, and Ichiko’s luck is physically quantifiable. This conflict serves as the foundation on which Binbou-gami ga! builds its gags.
The classic structure is all there: the misfortune god/too-fortunate human dynamic alludes to the same struggle that fuels any Tom & Jerry or Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd. Part nature, part pride, this is the lifeblood of the premise, what propels it from one gag to the next. This is established from the first scene: an offhand breast size joke makes the central conflict personal before they’ve even met.
On one hand this is often read as “repetitive”, as the jokes do follow a relatively consistent pattern of setup and payoff. However, as in the western tradition, this is very much beside the point. Binbou-gami ga!‘s goal is not to forward some grander idea, but to create a framework for fun and clever iterations of its central concepts.
And as luck would have it, Binbou-gami ga! has been blessed with enough talent that it could well deliver on its promise. It’s being produced by Sunrise’s studio #9, whose most recent work otherwise was the well-recieved Daily Lives Of High School Boys; the animation team is full of alumni from that show. The director, Yoichi Fujita, served as director for the second hundred episodes of Gintama. The first two episodes were storyboarded by the director and chief director, respectively. This is a team with a fair handle on gag comedy, and it shows.
Less obviously, the casting of Hanazawa Kana as Ichiko is a master stroke. Hanazawa’s typecast as a soft-spoken flower is brilliantly paired with Ichiko’s false sweetheart front. The contrast between Hanazawa’s standard lilt and her capacity for expressive overacting bolsters some of Binbou-gami ga!‘s strongest laughs.
Binbou-gami ga!‘s aesthetic is old-school in other ways, as well. The animation is remarkably loose and expressive for a modern anime, making heavy use of multiples, distortion and exaggeration to give visceral impact to its very physical humor. Momiji’s divinity gives ample opportunity for strange transformations and body horror, while Ichiko makes regular use of hammerspace and other convenient props. Sunrise is delving into a whole box of gag-construction tools that mainstream television anime seemed ready to throw out.
This freedom to ignore the bounds of real-life physics is one of animation’s most unique strengths as a medium, but the style in anime as of late is very rigid and realistic. Bastions of wild, free, technical animation like Imaishi and Yuasa are still around, and still make stunning and impressive anime. But outside of those boutique animators whose names have acquired the prestige to carry such a project, it’s rare these days to find a show this comfortable and frank in its immaturity. Binbou-gami ga! is no stunningly avant-garde project, but in a landscape dominated by bored angst and uninspired action, a proper cartoon is a great change of pace.
11 responses to “Binbou-gami ga! Episode 1”
I wasn’t really expecting too much out of this show, but it has definitely impressed me so far. “So far” is the key though. Shows like this tend to start out well, but if they can’t keep their energy level up, they’re bound to fail. As long as this show doesn’t fall into that trap, I’m think I’m going to enjoy it up until the very end.
That’s true, but I’m encouraged by the pedigree, as well as the fact that it got more crazy, not less, in the second episode. The somber stuff at the end seemed mostly requisite to establishing the setting and emotional stakes, and they managed to wring a few jokes out of it anyway. That problem with momentum is important, but I’m optimistic.
I really like how you connect this show with Tom and Jerry, because to me they both have a very similar feel. I think what’s interesting is that Tom and Jerry captivated a western audience with its repetition; after all, it was about a cat chasing a mouse for countless episodes. The trick then, was the way that repetition was exercised, and I think Binbougami Ga! excels in the same way. It has the same sort of enthusiasm, charm and light heartedness to it, but it has that tweak of emotion added so that it’s not just fun and games. The chases are done in slightly different ways, enough that you appreciate the game itself and the characters, and I think that’s what matters the most. Hopefully it’ll have enough tricks up its sleeve to stay consistent and last like this for the entire run!
Entirely, yeah. Especially in the second episode, with the premise having been set up and introduced, it starts to really focus on the gag design, which it does really well! It seems to be pushing toward a sort of friendly rivalry (cf. the shots of them goofing off in the opening sequence), which is consistent with where Tom & Jerry ended up, too.
I’m also a fan of how those gags tie back to characterization in the end? I mean on one end you could argue that the show is just ‘humor for humor’s sake’ but to me the gags are specifically created and executed to also give emotional depth. While Joshiraku seems to be slightly out of my comfort zone when it comes to comedy because it lacks that touch, here in Binbougami ga, I feel like it’s a central part of making the show work so well.
I’d rather have a strong comedy without “emotional depth.” I’m sure that some shows can pull it off properly, but they’re few and far between. I just don’t want a half-baked plot ruining what good this show has to offer. So far, I haven’t seen a lot of the characterization that you’re pointing out, but that might just be because I’m watching it for mindless entertainment.
Ah, I personally prefer the latter (a strong comedy with emotional depth, but that’s just me!) As for characterization, I don’t think it’s strong enough to be called characterization yet (my mistake) but I do think that Binbougami ga! is paving the way for that sort of route? Where the characters are slightly emotionally accesible to the audience so that they’re more than just random characters chasing each other around. In some aspect, I think the main characters have shown progress (at least, there’s some attempt to understand one another) so that’s also what I’m looking forward to in the show. But for the most part, I too, am watching it for mindless entertainment, and on that level, it really does satisfy.
One thing I like about the show is that it’s pretty self-aware with its parodies, but doesn’t overdo it. Gintama had that problem of overloading referential humor, so I hope the staff continues this tight balance.
The use of referential humor is pretty clever at times, yeah. The Medaka joke in the first episode felt a little on the nose, but there’s a reference-laden sight gag in the second episode I thought was fantastically done.
Reference humor gets a bad rap, but that’s only because it’s easy to do badly, not that it’s impossible to do well.
I wasn’t sure about watching this series when I first saw the cover art, but oh man after watching episode one I was instantly sold. These are the best types of comedy themed anime and I loved every random gag in both Daily lives of High School boys and Gintama and the reference heavy shows like this and last season with Haiyore Nyaruko-san! They are funny if you know what they are making a joke about like every Gundam parody or DBZ? YES! Those were great!
Hanazawa kana is doing a fantastic job in this I was not expecting to hear her in this, but daamnnn she screams like a pro and now I want a Gintama x Binbougami ga crossover…oh…wow…I mean if Gintama can cross over into Sket Dance why not this series!? MAKE IT HAPPEN sunrise.
ps I miss you Gintama T____T I need you my life.
I still need to get around to Gintama, haha.
Yeah, I’m not usually a huge fan of Hanazawa, but she’s doing an amazing job here.