Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
10-year-old Haré lives with his young mother Weda in a jungle village where the elder sports an impressive patch of chest hair and his school teacher Lazy suffers from narcolepsy. It's a pleasant life until Guu, a very cute pale-skinned girl, shows up and comes to live with him and his mother. Haré soon discovers that Guu is anything but the sweet innocent orphan she appears to be at first; she's actually a pan-dimensional monster with a sardonic wit, one quite capable of swallowing anyone or anything whole and transporting them to a very strange world in her stomach. And worst of all, no one else seems to have noticed. . .
Though its serious-looking prologue might lead you to think otherwise, this 2001 series resides in the same zone of comedic weirdness inhabited by titles like FLCL, Puni Puni Poemy, and Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo. It's a world where plants which look vaguely like bulbous people can be eaten like jelly-filled rolls and one of the main food sources is a little critter called a pokute, which sort of looks like a glove with only two elongated fingers and a face in the palm. It's also a world where a jungle hut has both TV and the latest video games and village announcements are blared over loudspeakers set up much as they are at tropical resorts. Despite being in a jungle, the local school is also set up exactly like any traditional Japanese school. (Except that students don't need to use the available shoe racks, of course.) Stranger still is the world of Guu's stomach, where people live and a cat with dozens of legs runs around. And these four episodes give the impression that the series is just getting warmed up.
The one significant flaw so far is that Haré's full-bore Panic Mode, which he's in about half the time, wears thin after a while, and his role seems to be more to narrate and react to what others are doing than to initiate action himself. His behavior is more than balanced out by Guu's delightfully dry wit when she kicks into Sarcasm Mode, though, and the extreme contrast between her Cutesy Innocent Mode and Sarcasm Mode is always amusing. Haré and Guu are also surrounded by a bevy of lively characters, including Haré's party-girl mother, the village elder who is pathologically obsessed with his bushy chest hair, a teacher who can fall asleep while walking between rooms and randomly calls for nap breaks in the middle of the day, and a young village couple whose relationship troubles have their sappiness and melodrama meters cranked up to ridiculous levels. Other characters featured prominently in the opener have yet to appear, so doubtless there are more oddballs still to come.
Although sprinkled with some (occasionally very obscure) parodies, the series relies much more on its bizarre situations and general oddity for its entertainment value; a particularly twisted take on the “three second rule,” which comes up early in episode 3, is a great example of this. Sometimes the oddness works extremely well, sometimes it doesn't, but the series never lacks for effort. The artistry is an integral part of that effort, as Guu's expression in Sarcasm Mode is so refreshingly contrary to what is normally seen in anime that it's likely to hook the viewer the first time it appears. While the series doesn't exactly offer fan service, it placates fans of such content by offering up a trio of buxom adult female characters who dress somewhat skimpily. Other character designs beyond the hirsute village elder are simpler and more generic, and background art is the kind of basic fare one would expect to see in a kid's series. The artistry is good enough to serve its purpose, as is the animation, but neither is a strong selling point. Stronger is the eclectic musical scoring, with its lively Caribbean dance opener and more ordinary closer sandwiching a mix of recycled musical themes and distinctive new ones.
Also critical to the success of the series is its voice acting, as some of the characters are defined much more by their verbal styling than by what they say, especially in the case of Guu. Thankfully Bang Zoom! delivers one of their best dubbing efforts to date, producing voice acting which at least equals, and in a couple of cases exceeds, the original Japanese vocals. Newcomer Alex Simon sets the tone with a dead-on take on the neurotic Haré, while veteran Jennifer Sekiguchi offers a slightly different take on the many moods of Guu which arguably works even better. Wendee Lee turns in some of her best work in a while as Haré's mother Weda, while Yuri Lowenthal (Leo from Scrapped Princess) manages an even more annoying laugh as fellow student Wadi than the original seiyuu. Other supporting performances range from good to excellent. The English script also fares well. Although a bit interpretive at times, the only place it significantly strays from the subtitles is in replacing a reference to a “slave pit” in a Life-like board game with “poor house.” Is this being overly culturally sensitive? Perhaps. As the news repeatedly proves, though, it's best to err on the side of caution in cases like this.
AN Entertainment's production of the volume serves up plenty of Goodies, including clean opener and closer, a production gallery, an original Japanese preview for episode 1, and English VA outtakes (mostly true mistakes rather than alternate dialogue). Also present are Translation and Cultural notes, which are also reprinted in the liner notes. The first volume does suffer from some production oddities in its English dub, though, such as rough chapter transitions and the subtitled song lyrics for the opener not being translated at all when the subtitles are on during the English dub.
Watching and appreciating Haré+Guu involves taking a walk on the weird side. Its comedic weirdness works more often than not, however, and may grow on you.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B
Animation : C+
Art : B-
Music : B
+ Oddball humor, great English voice work.
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