This week, Binbou-gami ga! doubled down on everything that made the first episode great. The gags were more plentiful and more carefully-designed, the pacing less distracted by a need to introduce the setting. In particular, this episode increased the focus on quick sight gags.
In my post about the first episode of the series, I made comparisons to classic chase cartoons, and that influence is very much alive in this episode. The first major set piece of the episode is a quick-fire montage of absurd slapstick bits as Momiji attempts to maim Ichiko. This includes a clever blend of two clichéd gags: the chalk eraser stuck in the sliding door is a well-worn Japanese prank, but the eraser’s absurd weight makes it more reminiscent of classic anvil humor.
The progression of this sequence is brilliantly crafted: each of the four jokes builds off of the one before it, keeping a careful rein on the viewer’s expectations. This is enforced by the score, which gives atmospheric cues to the pacing of each joke. The delicate, upbeat piano and brash orchestral backing raise images of classic silent film slapstick; and, indeed, the humor in these scenes is all visual. Dialogue is present, but largely superfluous, and dedicated to enforcing and clarifying the visuals. Notably, one particular musical phrase punctuates the setup of each gag, subtly establishing a sense of routine which is vital to the eventual anti-climactic payoff.
Another interesting element of Binbou-gami ga!‘s technical design is the extreme faithfulness to the original manga in its storyboarding. Most scenes are essentially identical between the two, shot for shot. Given the strength of the original work’s comedic timing, this ensures that the nuance in its delivery is maintained. Famed director Akitaroh Daichi has advocated an even stricter dedication to the original in animated adaptation, but I don’t think this is a one-size-fits-all philosophy. Particularly in a longer, more structured work than a yonkoma strip, there are ways the original content can be improved upon or fleshed out in the move to a new medium.
The shot on the left, for example, is adapted from a single still panel. The humor of this sequence is much harder to communicate in comic form, as it requires multiple visual cues in a row to take the viewer by surprise. The original comic accomplishes this by straddling the gag across two pages, but still lacks the visceral impact of a moving punch. There’s a certain nuance that only animation can provide.
Sunrise have also taken some more noticeable liberties with the source material, such as fine-tuning and fleshing out some sequences, and supplying a number of quick visual gags of their own. There is also a fair amount of fully-original content supplied in the eye-catches and post-credits; notably, this content tends to be less physical and slapstick than the content drawn from the original.
That said, the highlight of the episode is a minute-long climax which is indeed adapted beat for beat from the source material. Ichiko summons twelve familiars representing the animals of the Chinese zodiac, all of whom proceed to give chase to Momiji. The storyboards hardly depart at all from the original action, but animation breathes life, depth, and a sense of space into the scene.
Particularly, near the end of the sequence there is a very fun shot as Momiji is attacked by the dragon. The hallway and dragon are both drawn in extreme perspective, giving the moment a lively and dynamic quality.
The drawings in this scene are loose and expressive, striking a pleasant balance between the physical weight of an action scene and the lighthearted tone of the series as a whole. Each shot flows smoothly into the next, building a tension which the manga is less successful in maintaining.
The next episode appears to be an adaptation of the second chapter (this episode adapted the third). It’s more of a touchy-feely story, and it’s not too remarkable, but there are a handful of clever sight gags and it’ll be fun to see what Sunrise does with them.