I don’t think I ever tried doing a review of an anime series in earnest before, so…here we are (i.e. this was done more for the knowledge I am actually capable of writing a review). For this chapter of the Spellbook, let’s go to where hell is fun and fun is hell…
(By the way, I only learnt of this a few days ago but there’s a 12 Days of Anime and I’m starting tomorrow. These posts will be on top of the regularly scheduled posts, but if there are two posts on one day they’ll be a few hours apart. As I’ve said before, I’m not doing anything Christmas-themed, but take it as an extended promo season.)
This anime’s second season was impending as I began my trip in earnest through the various mini-hells. However, Sentai Filmworks put a paywall on season 2 and I only watch free streaming stuff unless noted otherwise, so I was left with season 1.
Synopsis: Hozuki is the deputy to the King of Hell, Enma, and while he has to do a lot of paperwork and administrative work, he also finds time for simple pleasures, like tending to his goldfish plants or winning prizes from TV shows. With Hozuki’s love of animals and a recurring cast strung together by underworldly circumstances, there’s always bound to be lots of fun found in Hell.
Source material: Manga by Natsumi Eguchi (ongoing)
Main studio: Wit Studio
Anime season: Winter 2014
Characters: The only consistent character in this show is the title character, and even then, we don’t follow him every segment. The rest rotate in and out as necessary. Hozuki himself is calm, to the point of almost-constant poker face, and plays both straight man and reactor to jokes. A lot of whether you like the show will depend on whether you like him and his modus operandi, for obvious reasons. There’s also the fairly common appearance of his superior, the big man Enma. Enma’s kinda dimwitted and very much Hozuki’s opposite, but they make a strong comic rapport together.
As for side characters, they often serve as windows into other aspects of life in other parts of Hell life, like Nasubi and Karauri, two low-ranking minions, and Hakutaku, the flirt that butts heads with our title demon. The problem with this is that the plot is episodic and segmented, so the cast is quite expansive. By this virtue, unique character designs and Wit Studio’s work definitely help with this.
One thing that seems to be missing on the character front is backstory – aside from filling in the backstories of some of the characters with well-known backstories (Hakutaku, the characters from European Hell, Issun Boshi and Momotaro), there’s no explanation of, say, how Hozuki and King Enma met.
Animation: As this is a comedy, animation isn’t the biggest necessity but it certainly helps that Wit Studio makes things fluid and expressive when necessary, such as when cat reporter Koban gets on Hozuki’s case and the cat has to beg to get his way. There’s also CGI, but that’s only applied to the goldfish plants and it’s very unintrusive.
Background art – and sometimes foreground art, too – often takes on the appearance of a traditional Japanese painting, tying together the idea that this was a place that was portrayed more in the olden days in paintings rather than in the modern day.
Of note is the ED’s animation, which is for most episodes a story about 2 goldfish (plants?) using a pushcart (in one episode, it’s a music video of Peach Maki’s single). This is actually surprisingly touching when you realise these fish are a couple and the ED Parallax View is about love.
Comedy: There is a level of sadistic comedy involved because these are demons we’re talking about, but on the occasions we deal with other sections of Hozuki’s world, like Shangri-La, we get some great culture clash jokes. Importing Japanese fairy tale characters like Momotaro into the show and playing with them in a comedic manner brings to the fore the idea that reality does not always match fiction in the ways we expect it to. There’s even a semi- educational segment on Australia early on, which was probably my highlight of the entire series. Beware the occasional toilet humour and violence-as-comedy, though.
Audio: The voice acting is generally very competent, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen Hiroki Yasumoto carry a show single-handedly since deep voices like his are normally the realm of side characters. Some voices are fairly par for the course, like Sumire Uesaka as Peach Maki, but Shiro’s voice in particular may get a bit grating to some as it is fairly high-pitched.
The soundtrack is what you’d expect from a production like this – a bit of shamisen here, some taiko drumming there…but the OP is strangely catchy. Peach Maki’s plot-relevant insert song, Caramel Heaven 100%,and the ED have some particularly strange lyrics, but Maki does poke fun at how her songs’ lyrics are of this nature.
- There was definitely some attention paid to portrayal according to religion vs. a more modern portrayal. The Johari Mirror segment in the 7th episode brings this to the viewer’s attention.
- Due to the episodic nature of the show, the 13th episode ends on a fairly open-ended note, but the show doesn’t suffer from it too much. This episodic nature is also why I skipped on a “Story” segment.
- Judging from the fact I was watching at the Sentai Filmworks version to do this review and not the Crunchyroll one, there appears to be a slight discrepancy between the two (because episode 6’s title on Crunchyroll is a bit different to the one found elsewhere, including what appears to be a typo). Just giving a brief look to all three, they are all based off the same script (which appears to belong to Sentai).
- This is not very appropriate viewing for kids, although the furthest it goes into adult territory is the animated violence.
Final verdict: It’s generally a good piece of work, but personal reception will vary depending on how you take the show and its main character.
Watch it if you like:
- sitcoms with quirky humour
- reading lots of text and captions
- recurring gags
Pass on it if you:
- don’t like exploring the idea of demons or hell
- don’t like violent comedy
- don’t like shows with references that can only be understood by a Japanese audience (like “Balse!”, Japanese company mascots and so on)
Watch links/Information sources:
- Crunchyroll (various territories as listed here)
- AnimeLab (AU/NZ)
- HiDive (English-speaking territories)