I often find that, when it comes to comedy, I have a love-hate relationship with anime. Typically, I enjoy the sense of humor, but the delivery is lost in translation. Enter, the exception, Squid Girl, a show that somehow makes me nostalgic even though I’d never heard of before last week. Today on The Anime Harvest, season 1 of Squid Girl.
In terms of narrative, the story is a little short. Taking out all the fluff, it’s basically: Squid Girl attempts to invade- err, excuse me, ‘inkvade’ the surface; she quickly learns that, even with the great powers of tentacle-hair, a five foot stature and matching IQ are not enough to concur humanity; she meets some people and realizes humanity isn’t all evil; some final episode emotional build; and the end.” It’s the Kaworu episode of Evangelion, but with less tentacle hentai fan-art.
Squid Girl’s attempt to invade fails spectacularly, and she ends up having to work part time at a beachside restaurant, run by two sisters, to pay for putting a hole in their wall. Hilarity ensues, and the humor is Squid Girl’s best trait. It’s mostly slapstick, but its timing sets it apart. Most anime, I find, lose something in translation, and unless you can understand Japanese and know the culture, simply switching subs doesn’t fix it. Squid Girl is the first anime I’ve seen where this isn’t a problem. The humor, which is sometimes fast-paced to hit you before you see it coming, and sometimes slow to let a moment sink in, is always timed perfectly and loses nothing in translation. There was never a joke where I felt like I should have laughed, but didn’t because the presentation was a little off. Every joke comes across perfectly.
The show is presented in three pseudo-isolated comedy shorts per twenty-one minute episode. I say pseudo-isolated because, while these could work as stand-alones, there are connecting threads between them, which I’m quite fond of. Within each set of three, there is thematic and character build-up, allowing new or developing characters to be fleshed out sufficiently.
On a broader scale, there is enough linearity across episodes that it feels like the show is progressing, rather than just running in circles until it’s time for the finale. While this structure doesn’t amount to anything substantive, it does make the process of watching feel a lot less time-waste-y than it otherwise would. Other, similar shows that have a highschool setting (Lucky Star and Azumanga Daioh) try to achieve this same affect by having the characters progress through years/grades and holidays (and even when characters change from their summer uniforms to their winter uniforms; seriously, all highschool slice-of-life anime make a point of this change), but for a western audience this isn’t very effective because of the cultural disconnect.
Changing the way this progression is communicated may have been forced onto the show because of its setting. It can’t have an annual structure because, being set mostly on a beach, any season other than summer would require a completely different approach, and while it could (and actually does) work for a few episodes, making a large, chronologically consecutive block of episodes off the beach would at least present challenges.
That’s not to say the beach is the only setting though. Once in a while, an episode will take place in the city, or even just in the main characters’ home. Because these come in small doses, they keep things fresh without disconnecting from the show’s core, and some of these episodes manage to be noteworthy thematic highpoints.
The characters are great. I love them, but I couldn’t name a single one (other than Squid Girl) off the top of my head. Most of the cast is simple and one-note, except for the main characters, which are important enough to be two-note or even two-and-a-half-note sometimes. But they don’t feel like tired tropes, and really contribute to the sense of humor.
First, there’s Squid Girl herself. As you would expect, she’s stupid, hotheaded, easily manipulated and generally childish. But she’s also extremely talented, which is something we don’t often see from roles like this. Her talents manage to the hotheadedness very well, making is feel at least partly justified and making her much more likeable.
Eiko and Chizuru Aizawa are the two sisters who run the breach café. Aizawa acts as little more than a plot and comedy point, as her unexplained combat skill and general scariness keep Squid Girl in line. Eiko on the other hand is the moral center of the show, being a likeable everyman whose perspective the viewer can understand and often share.
Goro is life guard with incredible abs. That is all.
Talking about most of the rest of the characters kinda gives away the joke, so I have to restrain myself. But I must praise Sanae, a character you walks right on the edge of full blown yandere-ism, yet is able to hold back just enough that I actually found her far more sympathetic than Yuno Gasai. And I love Yuno, and yandere in general. This makes for some slapstick jokes that actually leave some emotional impact.
Let’s get the big on out of the way. Squid Girl does not look fantastic. It’s one of those shows where the artists never seem to challenge themselves; they stick to the safe, simple style. Character designs are minimalistic, and the pallet is very dull and dried out. Meanwhile, the animation is surprisingly fluid.
Partly it was because of the low standards set by the style and similar shows, but the movement of the characters is actually surprisingly good. It doesn’t exactly impress at all, but it is consistent. There was never a moment where I thought something was just being down to cut costs, and for a viewer, that’s a big deal. It means emersion isn’t constantly in flux as you think about the real world production work.
Also, two asides that I have to mention. Firstly, there are these moments where Higurashi style shadows are used to make Chizuru look scary, and though there’s only a couple of them throughout the season, they are great. Second, somehow, despite being set on a beach and having a mostly female cast, Squid Girl has absolutely no fanservice. Can we just have a moment of proud silence for the anime industry?
Squid Girl’s animation is restrained, but effective.
The English voice acting is the usual middle-of-the-road for this kind of project, but with a great performance by Christine Marie Cabanos as Squid Girl. She gets into the character right from the first episode, and manages to make her silliness believable and charming. Towards the ending the role calls for more subtlety, but the performance just sounds emotionless, making Squid Girl seem like a whole different character with a lot less personality.
The music is the worst part of the Squid Girl, and actively worsens it at times. For the most part the sound track is bland, and only fills in the silence between characters speaking. In the worst instances it completely ruins jokes by being tonally dissonant and not changing when it should.
Squid Girl is one of the best comedy anime I’ve ever seen. The characters all feel fresh despite their simplicity, the animation works, and the jokes are all really funny and translate perfectly. The only downside is an uninspired soundtrack, that doesn’t keep up with the rest of the show. There is currently a second season, however as far as I know it’s not even licensed, let alone dubbed. I’ve watched a bit of the subbed version, and it looks, but given how much I enjoyed this dub, I’m probably going to hold off on season two for now. In the future I hope to revisit this series. Until then
Don’t Lose Your Way