The Winter 2014 Anime Preview Guide Hozuki no Reitetsu
Review: Novelty is good, imagination is a plus, and a strong lead character certainly gives you an edge, but in comedy one thing rules supreme. And yes, it's the obvious one. If a comedy isn't funny, then it's not a comedy at all. Hozuki is amusing enough—if spottily so—that it avoids that fate, but just barely.
If originality is your primary criteria, Hozuki is top-rate. How many slice-of-life comedies about Hell are there? Plus the series is full of little flashes of inspiration: Hell as an overtaxed bureaucracy run by an all-powerful chucklehead? Hell's primary troubleshooter addicted to raising goldfish plants? (Goldfish plants are exactly what they sound like). Momotaro as spoiled troublemaker? Momotaro's animal sidekicks finding employment as torturers in Animal Abuser Hell?
If visuals are your thing, Hozuki also has you covered. Hiro Kaburaki is a visually adept helmsman, and he gives his hellish comedy an ironically classical look—as if his animated world leapt fully-formed from the inked scrolls used to illustrate the afterlife in ancient times. Likewise, if you like strong, well-defined characters, you'll be well served by Hozuki, who as chucklehead King Enma's strong right arm is cool-headed, cold-hearted, and demonically efficient, in addition to being comically committed to his hobbies and love of fluffy animals.
But if you want to laugh, and really, that's what we're here to do, Hozuki will mostly disappoint. Of its two half-episodes, the first probably fares best. The scene where Hozuki slays Momotaro's furry partners with his poison tongue is right decent (as are the animals’ hilariously mismatched voices), and the corporate blandness with which Hozuki treats the business of torturing is pretty funny. Still, a lot of it is a waste of comedic space. And the episode's second half… It's a dully meandering conversation about TV and travel. Think Lucky Star with demons. That is not a compliment.
Review: Hōzuki no Reitetsu is not only the funniest anime this season, but the most I've laughed at an anime comedy in a very long time. This only serves to illustrate the subjectivity of comedy however, as it's also hard to know who to recommend it to. On the plus side, the humor is perfectly paced, not as rapid-fire and ramshackle as something like Seitokai Yakuindomo where it's hard to know what will hit and what will miss, but not overindulgent with overreactions to its own stupid jokes like so many other shows, such as D-Frag! In fact, there's no "omgWHAAAAT?" reaction humor in Hōzuki no Reitetsu at all. It's droll and understated, shifting between incredibly clever jokes and purposely stupid ones. The closest relative it has in comic timing is Gintama, a cult favorite amongst otaku in the west. So why the just-above-average rating?
Well, almost all the humor is predicated on knowing a fair amount about Japanese folklore. Jokes about Momotaro and the bureaucracy of Japanese hell are juxtaposed with more modern references about SoftBank's "Otou-san" mascot and a host of minor puns. But none of the jokes are purely pun or reference punchlines, it's all weaved together to paint a picture of our main character Hozuki, a stoic prefect of hell, King Yama's 2nd-in-command, and lover of all animals great and small. His dream girl is a young lady who might show up in hell someday, having been strangled by an anaconda, and died saying "Aw, how neat! It's such a magnificent creature!" He's an instantly likable curmudgeon, and his fascination with fuzzy and scaly beasties is also a plus if you like animal jokes, of which this episode has plenty. There's a little absurdity mixed in as well, as Hozuki's primary hobby is the cultivation of goldfish flowers, off-putting hybrids that warble grotesque, disturbing cries. (Which is a good thing in hell, I suppose.) When King Yama asks if they are plants or animals, Hozuki shrugs "I have no idea. I just like them." King Yama himself seems like a really chill bro, and is likable as well.
It's a charming show with a self-assured and exceptional sense of humor, and I'm extremely eager to see more, but there's a definite bar of entry for those not familiar with its folkloric setting and characters. Give it a try, see if it tickles your funny bone. I went in expecting another dull culturally-steeped gag show for kids and oldsters, and found something ten times better.
Hōzuki no Reitetsu is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Rating: 4 (out of 5)
A workday in Hell is just like a workday anywhere else, it turns out. The Animal Torturer Hell is understaffed, Heaven needs help with the peaches, and some twit named Momotaro has shown up to cause trouble for everybody just because he can. Good thing that second-in-command super oni Hozuki is around to help resolve everyone's problems! And to fantasize about going to Australia to see cute animals, but that comes later.
Hōzuki no Reitetsu is, basically, an everyday work story that just happens to take place in Hell. There are 272 different divisions of it, all overseen by King Enma, and things don't always run as smoothly as he'd like. This is a lot more interesting than it sounds, largely helped by doses of humor and Hiroki Yasumoto's deadpan delivery as Hozuki, sounding unperturbed by just about everything. The show is divided into two distinct stories, one about Momotaro coming to Hell to kick oni butt and the other about Enma trying to figure out what makes Hozuki tick, which leads to some strange conversations about his type of girl, what he'd keep for a pet, and Mother Earth's bellybutton. Oh, and the goldfish fanciers' association – Hozuki is a goldfish fancier himself, even if he's not sure if they're plants or animals. (His quandary will make sense when you see them.) The first half is a little funnier, although you really do need to know the story of Momotaro to get all of it. (Also who the Soft Bank dog is.)
One of the most interesting features is the way the background is drawn. Everything is animated against a traditional Japanese art backdrop, done in primarily sepia and gray, as if the show were being enacted against a hell scroll. It doesn't make for dynamic artwork, but it is neat to look at and an interesting conceit for the show. The animation is really very static and Hozuki pretty much never changes facial expression, but it mostly works.
The concept of Hōzuki no Reitetsu alone sets it apart, and the laid back way it's carried out makes it one of the more unusual shows thus far this season. It is funny and different, and for the most part makes up for what it lacks in visuals in either strangeness or jokes. It may not be able to carry it off for an entire season (though I hope I'm wrong about that), but so far this is definitely one to keep an eye on.
Hōzuki no Reitetsu is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Rating: 3 (of 5)
Review: Looking for a series targeting more mature audiences this season? Then this one might be your ticket. It is also the series so far this season that it probably least friendly to non-Japanese audiences, as some of the references tossed around, on which certain jokes depend, will fly over the heads of even many seasoned non-Japanese otaku.
In this set-up Hozuki is a demon who is one of Great King Enma's chief subordinates. He is a troubleshooter for Enma, the one who goes around solving problems, whether it be with a few well-chosen words or his potent spiked club. Need to find more staff for the Animal Cruelty subsection of Hell or the maintenance of Shangri-La, the top tourist attraction in Heaven? He's your man. In his downtime he is obsessed with raising goldfish plants (yes, they are plants that sprout goldfish instead of flowers) and going to Australia on vacation. He will even occasionally sit down with his boss for some casual lunchtime chat.
In fact, to classify this are a workplace comedy would not necessarily be out of line; it just so happens that the workplace in this case is Hell. The first episode is divided into two distinct half-episode segments, each with its own theme, which will presumably be the norm. Rather than go for slapstick, zaniness, or extreme overreactions, the humor style instead favors a more droll approach, which means that it comes across more as mildly amusing than laugh-out-loud funny. Character animation is pretty good, and one has to keep an eye out for stuff going on in the background, but what really sticks out is background art styled much like the pictures of Hell from old Japanese scrolls. It is an interesting and certainly appropriate visual effect.
Funnier series than this have definitely come up so far this year, but it looks like it should easily carve out its own niche.
Hōzuki no Reitetsu is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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