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Christmas approaches, bringing with it Sana and Hayama's long-awaited middle-birthday party. With such a momentous occasion on the horizon, Naozumi and Hayama's rivalry reaches boiling point, sparking what has to be the world's strangest martial-arts showdown. Afterwards, some sobering news sends the Kurata household onto an entirely new path in life, but not before the show whisks viewers off to a pair of alternate universes, where the cast must brave such dangers as moths with infectious wing-scales and giant pink pet dinosaurs. Pera-rinbo!
The unstoppable comedy freight train that is Kodocha continues its sweet-and-sour assault on American audiences in this tenth volume, bringing the episode count up to forty. That's forty episodes of Kodocha's seemingly precarious fusion of comedy and pathos without so much as a slip-up; without ever getting tedious or beginning to parrot (or parody) itself. While a turnaround is always possible, Kodocha may be one of a very few long-running shows that doesn't begin to fall apart somewhere along the line.
This volume is rather more focused on romantic entanglements than some volumes. Hayama is struggling to make his feelings known to the exceedingly dense Sana, as is Naozumi, and there's more kiss-panic than a junior-high game of spin-the-bottle. Of course, it's all awash in a sea of blink-and-you'll-miss-it amphetamine-juiced humor, but there are enough mildly introspective Sana/Hayama moments to break the comedy assault into digestible chunks. The mad rush of humor in turn gives the drama a boost by creating heart-flopping, whiplash-inducing shifts in tone that mysteriously ring true no matter how much it feels as if they shouldn't. The revelation at the end of episode two should come across as forced or random, but in the context of the show's mach-2 pace and warp-drive comic timing, it seems entirely natural.
The romantic focus of this volume does have its negative aspects. Kodocha has always been finest when addressing questions of family and familial bonds, and the romance sometimes just gets in the way. Puppy love is fun, but it is as a candle to a bonfire when compared to the emotional heavy lifting of volumes past. Even in this volume, the high points are the moments in which the Hayama family showcases its budding familial warmth, and the demonstrations of the strength of the bonds that bind the Kurata household.
A warning about episode 39: it's a jarring detour coming hard on the tail of a major cliffhanger. It may be more fun than a barrel of cavemen, but it also serves as a highly frustrating interruption in an otherwise continuous volume. You may want to skip it, treat it as an extra, and watch it later at your leisure.
Artistic panache has never been this show's forte. Animation is serviceable, if unimpressive (and often pointedly simplistic). Ditto for the background art. Characters are tall and thin (excepting the children), drawn in a fairly traditional shoujo style. Everything is kept fairly simple for ease of animating, with only the shimmering, watery lakes that serve as eyes demonstrating obvious extra care. The artistic merits of Kodocha aren't aimed at impressing, but rather at communicating the barely controlled chaos that is Sana's everyday life. An average composition is set up from a bizarre angle and crowded with the detritus of Sana's reality (man-sized dolls, musical instruments, costumes, or any number of Sana's hyperactive acquaintances). And any given scene usually begins, ends, or goes through some phase during which whatever is occurring is obscured or supplemented by a blizzard of flying desks, food, debris, and/or Sanas. It isn't always pretty, but it's never, ever boring.
For a show as over-caffeinated as this, the most remarkable thing about the music is how little of it there is. The music that is used tends to fall into two categories: restless, easygoing music, and slower, quieter compositions. As if channeling a screwball-era Howard Hawks, director Akitoroh Daichi regulates mood and pace via the rhythms of the dialogue rather than resorting to music. The manic opening remains unchanged since the first episode, and quite successfully prepares one for the contents of each episode (if you can take the opening, then the show proper should cause no problems). The closer has been around for some time and, as upbeat as it is, sounds positively melancholy in comparison to the opening. The final episode on this disc dons a new, compulsively danceable, closing theme, quite possibly the finest one to date (does dancing to the closing of a series over and over again make me some kind of deviant?).
Kodocha's dub remains a treat, retaining all of the deranged enthusiasm of the original with enough invention to make it feel new and fresh. It earns my undying respect for its catchy, hilarious, and surprisingly accurate renditions of Sana and her mother's musical interludes. Performances are all spot-on, and the obvious pleasure that the actors take in their performances translates directly into an equal amount of enjoyment for the audience. Opening and ending songs are left in their original Japanese.
There is one instance in which the Japanese cuts out (where the audio had to be removed for licensing reasons) during episode 40. Those for whom this is cause for uncontrollable rage may want to stick to the English version.
Extras: Funimation trailers. Woo hoo.
The same unknown (possibly extraterrestrial) and apparently inexhaustible resource that fuels Sana appears to be powering Kodocha itself. At forty episodes it shows no signs of winding down or wearing out. That the next fourteen volumes might retain this energy is a prospect that is both exhausting and exhilarating.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B-
Animation : C+
Art : C+
Music : B+
+ Insanely fun; neither the show nor Sana has slowed a whit in forty episodes.
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