THINGS ANCIENT AND MODERN – Dororon Enma-kun Meerameera

“The animation I dislike immensely, even though it is kinda good, it’s good animation, it’s just good for the 1980s, not now.”

“I could not sit through 1 episode very well because of how retarded and perverted it was. I have never hated perverted anime but this was something out of its league it was that bad.”

Truly if you call yourself an anime fan , do not , i repeat do not watch this anime show.

Average and an ugly main character, He really looks horrible

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.

5 thoughts on “THINGS ANCIENT AND MODERN – Dororon Enma-kun Meerameera”

  1. Your posts are so uncommonly perceptive, they’re always really interesting to read. You make me aspire to be a better writer and analyst.

    I actually really hate alot of modern anime character designs. They seem bland and soulless to me (I’m trying to watch “Anohana” at the moment, but it has exactly that look to my eyes). In that regard I like the look of Enma-kun. That said, it’s not the sort of series I feel compelled to follow: I watched one episode, and enjoyed it, and felt that it was something I approved of, but didn’t really want to watch any more. That may have more to do with the target audience than anything else.

  2. I personally believe that above all else, it’s not the inclusion of 70s culture that drives people away from shows of this type… at least not mainly. I notice that a lot of people instantly label Tezuka-inspired, cartoony 70s manga art as “dated” in a bad way, yet are fine with uniquely 80s shows like Gunbuster, Legend of the Galactic Heroes or Macross: Do You Remember Love, or even stuff from the 70s like Rose of Versailles. There’s a reason why the latter show has been subbed years ago and has a considerable cult fanbase while a show like Gamba no Boken, from the same director, is pretty much not watched by anyone except for a really, really small minority of fans and has not been subbed past episode 1 (with no plans of subbing more). There is also a clear reason why Crayon Shin-Chan, a more recent show, had to be dubbed “ironically” and have a ton of homophobic and racist jokes added to its script for its Western release and why it couldn’t just be marketed to anime fans as it stood: *anime fans tend to hate “cartoony” things.*

    “Truly if you call yourself an anime fan , do not, i repeat do not watch this anime show.” is blatantly the most revealing quote out of the bunch and in my opinion the one that you can talk the most about. I’ve seen you make various comments about how “if you can’t see anything at all to praise about this show, maybe cartoons aren’t for you”. That’s just the thing – most anime fans are not really cartoon fans, and if they are they view “cartoons” and “anime” as two entirely different entities that should be criticized separately using entirely different standards. The reason Panty & Stocking became popular with people beyond the “anime is just Japanese cartoons” demographic (a demographic that actually seems to be mainly composed of very young people who only started watching anime recently… a lot of Deviantart kids are this way, as I’ve come to find out, which is funny considering how maligned and loathed those kids are) is that a lot of people convinced themselves that the show was animated the way it was because it was a PARODY of American cartoons as opposed to a TRIBUTE to them. A very common opinion among anime fans is that they started watching anime not as an extension of Western cartoon fandom, but as a way to get AWAY from American cartoons. This is why few popular anime critics talk on length about animation, and why people who normally pretend to not care about animation quality were up in arms over Naruto 167 “looking like fucking Looney Tunes”; just being “wacky”, “shallow” and “flashy” is something commonly associated by these groups with American cartoons, while anime is generally praised for its supposed brilliant storytelling and finer artistic qualities. The entire idea behind anime’s Western marketing in the 80s and early 90s was “it’s like cartoons but MATURE AS HELL”, and their fanbase of sci-fi fans who couldn’t care less about cartoons were what planted the seed for the current anime fanbase, a fanbase that doesn’t even view anime as cartoons. This sometimes leads to absolutely ridiculous things like a Romanian channel having a “late night adults only anime block” yet not affording shows that can pass off as “adult only”, so you had stuff like the Parappa the Rapper anime and Kyoro-chan (two of the only shows I watched on that channel funnily enough) airing at 3 AM right next to stuff like Hellsing.

    The truth is that the anime fandom is one that to this day is desperately fishing for legitimacy, and to many people, forcing the idea that anime is on a whole new level of its own beyond the average “cartoon” is still very important even if they’re too self aware to actively voice this like they once did. There’s a reason why in anime communities mostly composed of older people who have an almost fully developed sense of self-awareness and are, according to most of society, “too old to be into this stuff”, claiming that Gurren Lagann is your favorite show and that Legend of the Galactic Heroes doesn’t appeal much to you is bound to be viewed as an awful opinion or at least get a “lol” response and yet the opposite is viewed as “actually having standards”. (just for the record I’m only half-projecting here – I do feel that LOGH is not my thing and I made people angry over this opinion in the past but Gurren is not my favorite anime).

    And really, Enma-kun is as “cartoony” and childish as you can get – the character designs are colorful and silly, it’s full of slapstick and ridiculous gags and its humor is only “mature” in that a lot of parents would be worried about their children watching this stuff – not only does it not have the tiniest pretense of intelligence, it’s also got a lot of traits that instantly make the average modern anime fan (and hell, even a lot of the older crowd who got into anime through “Star Blazers”) think of American cartoons.

    Not to say that the “fuck old anime” stance doesn’t also contribute to it – I’ll be the first to readily admit that I used to have a huge amount of negative prejudice towards old stuff. A lot of older anime fans are the type of people who say things like “will you watch all 500 episodes of this amazingly well written sci-fi political drama from the 80s that is made for REAL ADULTS, or will you keep watching your kiddy modern style over substance garbage?” and this gave me a very negative view of old anime as a whole. You’ll often see people praise hyper-detailed SHADING AND DETAIL OVAs but you’ll rarely see someone pimp Toei children’s films from the 60s and early 70s with half as much enthusiasm and rarely as more than just a “yeah things were different back then” or “it’s nice to see where it all started” novelty.

    As a result, for the longest time I was like “yeah I guess I like Lupin and a handful of other series but aside from that I don’t really like old anime” and missed out on some really enjoyable stuff from that era – the main reason why I started going out of my way to dig for old stuff is reading up on Hiroyuki Imaishi’s influences. I googled up Dokonjo Gaeru, saw a few clips of foreign dubs and a full raw Japanese episode that I thought was hilarious fun as hell. I thought, “what the hell, how come a lot of shows from the 70s are subbed, but not this one?”. That’s when it finally hit me: it’s not that these shows are old – it’s that they’re so ridiculous and cartoony and supposedly “western”, something that puts off a lot of people who consider themselves “anime fans”.

    And funnily enough, I linked that episode of Dokonjo Gaeru to one of my friends. He’s the type of person who watches and enjoys American cartoons and anime equally… and yet he rarely bothers with old stuff at all unless I make him watch it (we saw Animal Treasure Island together recently and he thought it was “silly but fun”). You know what his first reaction to Dokonjo Gaeru was? “I wish more modern anime stopped trying to be as pretty, shiny and detailed as possible and went for fast cartoony stuff like this”. Note that this is a guy who is absolutely NOT the type of person who reads Cartoon Brew and Anipages Daily and writes that stuff down as his personal bible or cares about his “power level” and hierarchy in the fandom, but someone who just watches whatever instantly appeals to him.

  3. Is funny how most of us are, in some level, very self-conscious when it comes to defending our tastes. Some old dude’s opinion on the internet is not really important, so if you don’t like LOTGH, well… great! I’ve never been able to watch more than 15 minutes of any Yamato incarnation, and that doesn’t make me less of an anime fan.

    I agree though that there’s a lot of preconceptions (specially in north american fandom) about what anime is supossed to be, and here’s my theory about it: anime was marketed in the US as a genre in itself. That’s true for most of the world post-“Akira”, but in many other countries anime was broadcast before the “japan pop culture explosion” on TV as child programming, along with “G.I. Joe” or “Transformers”.

    I watched Dokonjo Gaeru on TV as a kid, along with Lady Oscar, Cobra, old magical girl shows, sports anime, and many other genres. So, “anime” to me means “japanese cartoons”, and honestly, I think that’s all there is. It’s the japanese word for animation.

    Finally, it’s funny that you mention Anipages. That dude is simply interested in the animation itself, independently of the characteristics of the show he’s analyzing. He’ll review both Naruto or Mindgame, as long as the animation is interesting, and in that specific niche, I think it speaks of open-mindedness.

  4. @terebi-kun Actually Ben does give his opinions on story more than people give him credit… and that’s where I tend to disagree with him. See the way he absolutely loathed Sword of the Stranger’s story (I thought the story itself was nothing special but I found the execution extremely enjoyable) and his complaints about Tatami Galaxy (which were worded well, but I can’t relate to that at all and I can’t help but think he had it against the show from the get-go)

    And that’s the thing, the friend I showed Dokonjo Gaeru to is Portuguese and grew up on stuff like Doraemon, so he doesn’t have the painted “mature animation” image of Japanese cartoons that a lot of Americans have. I can’t really hate Manga Entertainment for existing considering they’re responsible for helping produce a bunch of good Production IG shows in the 2000s, but they’re also responsible to a considerable extent for a lot of the strange views on anime that English-speakers have to day. Then they passed the torch on to Adult Swim which airs fighting shonens as “adult only animation”.

    1. Well, to be honest, I never really paid too much attention about Ben’s opinions on story: I’m too busy being entertained with what he does best, analyzing pure animation and dissecting it.

      I agree with you, I can’t really hate Manga Entertainment either. When all this “hard-boiled” attitude came up, I was 16-17, and really made it easy for me to go on watching japanese animation without being too embarassed. It was adolescent, and so was I, but it sure wasn´t “kiddie stuff”.

      If it wasn’t for that marketing angle, most old anime broadcast in Europe or South America would have remained a foggy childhood memory for many contemporary adult fans. It served its purpose, I guess. But for the average north american fan, that edgy image is all he ever knew.

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