“boring .dropped after i saw that huge penis monster in the OP.” (how jaded do you have to be to be bored by penis monsters? Huge ones at that.)
“I was kinda turned off by the art since it looks like a kids show” (says the guy with the Gintama avatar…)
“Why are remakes always as crappy as the old ones ? The art is like, wannabe new but it still has this gay old feeling to it. And the story is pure shit and the ” comedy ” fails hard. True faGGotry show for you guys to sub.”
Set in the past, and based on a 38 year old comic, Enma-kun clearly rubs some people up the wrong way.
It seems that it is the very evocation of the past that tends to upset people so. Why does a reminder of the past elicit this reaction? Is it because it is an unremembered past?
Or if you believe that the now is most civilised we have ever been – is the past a wild and untamed land of barbarians? Something that needs to be fought in order to maintain our civilisation?
It’s certainly not uncommon to find anime fans complaining about character designs or animation looking “old” and chalking it up as a negative. Particularly when it is used in modern material. Is it a reaction against a nostalgia that a younger viewer cannot participate in or that they feel actively excluded from?
Certainly I’ve been anti-nostalgia myself when younger, but I am more ambivalent to it now. And even then I had indulged in what LCD Soundsystem called a borrowed nostalgia for an unremembered eighties – a lot of my love of Urusei Yatsura is for how it invokes an 80s Japanese suburbia I’ll never experience.
And for all the criticism Enma-kun might get for being “old” it’s also received criticism for being too modern in some of the animation choices. The truth is it’s a very modern show, and if it tried to be anything but it would be a far less interesting show.
The reason it works so well is that tension between the past and the present that drives some viewers away.
The least obvious way is in how the show the goes out of its way to evoke the 70s time period. It drops in songs from the era, visual references, even current affairs references in a way that is far in excess of anything from the actual era would have done. It’s excessively 70s, more 70s than any show genuinely from that era and in doing so it is resoundingly modern. It’s what the 70s look like from 2011. It’s an affectionate view but a definitely a modern view. Something like an animated Heartbeat with demons and dick jokes.
The second way is in the changes made to the material. Ostensibly adapting the manga, rather than remaking the TV series, there are a number of key differences. Most obviously is Tsutomu, the human lead of the manga, is reduced to a near background character and Harumi, a school girl the same age, slotted into his role. Not only is this a nod to the marketing demands of the modern era, but she fulfils another role that is absent from the original material.
Harumi acts as a sardonic narrator and commentator on the material. She’s the viewer surrogate who points out the absurdity of not just the anime, but the original manga. When two characters show up, unintroduced, in one episode, for a completly throwaway scene, her reaction was exactly the same as when I saw that scene in the manga. It’s a complete non-sequiteur, and she calls it out in way that is very much the modern eye looking at the past excesses of Go Nagai. It’s also a reminder that this is a cartoon, something that happens a lot with both the cameos of Go Nagai himself (something he never shyed from in his own work) and many jokes that break the fourth wall.
Other changes to the material that reflect the modern nature of the show are in the censorship. As far as it might go in it’s vulgarity, and it goes pretty far, it stops shy of presenting actual nuditiy. At first you might think it’s saving itself for the BD/DVD release, but the censorship turns into visual gags of its own in later episodes as it becomes clear the characters themselves are also seeing the censorship.
Another notable visual change is in Enma-kun’s final attack, itself a seperate piece of nostalgia within the general nostalgia of the show. Enma-kun now vanquishes his foes with a giant mallet in a manner that is deliberately set up to call to mind show director Yoshitomo Yonetani‘s Gaogaigar (1997) and the Goldion Hammer attack. It’s another reminder that this is a cartoon given life by real people. It’s not something unique to cartoons but cartoons do it really well and it is part of their core popularity (see Winsor McCay’s Gertie the Dinosaur or Out of the Inkwell). There’s an element of the theatre and music hall in the artifice of animation, and it’s a good creator who doesn’t forget that.
Finally, the other big change, or rather addition, is the presence of Enbi-chan. Enbi-chan comes from a 2000 self-parody comic, that reversed the genders of Enma-kun’s leads and amped up the sexual humour to obscence levels. Here she’s likewise toned down, but certainly a modern presence in this show that appears old on the surface. Despite being the more modern creation than Enma-kun she is not spared the barbs of Harumi’s commentary.
So why is it, despite all these modern elements, it elicits reactions from people complaining that it’s old?
I recorded an Anime 3000 podcast recently, and Daryl Surat talked about the realism of Osamu Dezaki’s work after I brought it up discussing one of his gag shows. After the podcast I think the word I was really looking for was something like earthiness or worldliness. That’s something that I feel is at the core of what rubs a section of anime fandom the wrong way, particularly about older material.
Well, Go Nagai has earthiness by the truckload.
Despite the modern polish of the animation, these are character designs from a 1973 manga, an analogue age that is likely beyond the memories of fans raised on the slick, clean look of 2000s anime. And Nagai was earthy THEN, so imagine what his work looks like to younger eyes now? It’s going to challenge their sensibilities and if their sensibilities are found wanting then you’re going to to get the sort of reactions I quoted at the start of this post. It’s kind of like how some people instinctively hate the countryside or certain cities. It’s unfamiliar territory for some people, some will get a thrill out of exploring it, others will be scared or not want to deal with it.
The ribald, near the knuckle nature of the humour will be too earthy for some too, but there are those who hated this show yet loved the show I will be talking about next, so I think the aesthetics are more important than the actual material.
It’s fitting that there is this tension between old and new within the material, because that’s is essentially what the plot of the show is about too. You’ve these monsters and demons from mankind’s history (Go Nagai is an equal opportunity myth mangler, all of history’s monsters seem to share a common origin here), that are thrust into what was, in the original material, modern Japan. We now have a Japan of 40 years ago presented through (and to) modern eyes.
NEXT… Yondesmasu yo, Azazel-san.