The Spring 2015 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Community score: 2.7
Some shows are composed of such well-worn parts it feels like they wouldn't even displace water. Etotama is exactly such a show - part vague early 2000s harem, part self-aware light novel-style comedy, part modern CG animation showcase, it is constructed of such tired ideas that it barely feels like it exists at all. The protagonist here is Amato Takeru, whose personality seems to mainly center on the fact that he's aware and glumly accepting of the fact that he's a protagonist in a low-quality harem-thing. Upon moving into a new apartment, he finds out that he has an unexpected housemate - Nya-tan, the Cat God who wishes to become part of the Chinese zodiac.
The first half of this episode involves Takeru and Nya-tan acting out a series of stale anime gags that both of them seem to know are stale anime gags. There's an “I made you food, just like a new wife” gag, a “you walked in on me changing, kyaaaa” gag, etcetera. Meanwhile, the rest of the zodiac (who are all cute girls with various animal ears, of course) attempt to get random pedestrians to recite the full zodiac, and get sad whenever people fail to remember their names. This gag has about as much mileage as you'd expect. At around the halfway point, the boar-girl appears and starts complaining that Nya-tan has wasted too much time goofing around and needs to get to the plot (gotta love that meaninglessly self-aware anime humor), and then the dragon girl Dora-tan appears and blows up Takeru's house.
The episode's second half actually gives us a bit of the plot. In order for Nya-tan to make her way into the zodiac, she must engage in battles with other gods using the power of “Sol/Lull,” which are basically gratitude orbs she earns by doing nice things for Takeru. These orbs transform the girls into chibi CG versions of themselves that then battle in various videogame-style arenas. The Nya-Dora battle comprises the big setpiece for this episode, and it's… well, it's alright. The choreography is decent, but there's no weight to any of the motions of the characters, and thus not really any tension. Additionally, the chibi CG designs just aren't very attractive, and don't lend themselves to visually satisfying exchanges. The traditional animation isn't really much better, meaning that overall, there's just nothing to recommend in this show - the characters are cliches that comment on themselves being cliches, the plot is as basic as can be, and the aesthetics basically just get the job done. Etotama is a show that just sort of exists.
This series is available streaming at Crunchyroll.com.
I'll give any anime a shot, but slogging through the first episode of ETOTAMA took more willpower and determination than refusing a donut. From its premise, to its cast of characters, to its recycle bin of dumb jokes, ETOTAMA is lazy garbage that feels like it was just as exhausting to make as it is to watch. It tries so desperately to make viewers laugh that the gags and puns are never-ending, but none of it hits. Perhaps it's because everything's been regurgitated from the past, from a bargain bin of used jokes that hasn't seen the sunlight of a smile in a thousand years.
Most of the chuckles are supposed to come from the zzzzany cast of zodiac ladies, who all look like their representative animals. From what I gather, they have two forms. A "normal" form, and then a slightly different, cuter "battle" form, which is what they transform into when they're duking it in the spirit world. To the show's credit, these character designs are about the only thing going for it, although some fared better than others. Some of the designs seem as half-assed as the show itself, like the sexy nurse sheep, the cow girl with the giant tits, and the handful of girls who didn't have a shtick, so they were just shoved into bustiers and stockings. I was a little disappointed that my zodiac animal, the rat, is an oversexed bat, but even with a different design, nothing in the world could convince me to come back for more episodes.
The wackiness largely unfolds in normal, everyday, completely ordinary high schooler Takeru's new house, which has a mysterious and fuzzy hole in the living room. It's a portal to the spirit world!!!!! Out pops Nya-tan, a cat girl who really wants to be part of the zodiac. We learn much of these details from Uri-tan, the boar girl, who provides a lot of the wink-nod exposition in the first episode. The joke is that the characters acknowledge that they're in an anime, which is supposed to cover up how hackneyed the writing is. That self-awareness unfortunately stops at the quality of the anime.
Expectedly, Nya-tan is very eager for Takeru's approval, for no other reason than that's how these types of shows work. At some point, she even hides inside a large box, and jumps out wearing only ribbons and bows. (Her age doesn't matter, she explains, because she's a divine messenger, not a human. In case you were wondering.) That's just but one of the many tiresome "jokes" that riddle this episode, which also include a dragon girl accidentally destroying his house, Nya-tan serving up her sentient hair clip as food, Takeru hilaaaaaaaariously turning down all of Nya-tan's sexual advances, a million hole jokes, and zodiac girls getting so caught up in a chant that they explode into a frenzy of genki-poo nonsense.
Sometimes, in lieu of actual humor, shows can get away with simply being quirky and energetic, but with ETOTAMA, the entire production just feels flat. No amount of cat noises and snake girls can hide this uninspired attempt to cash out in the character goods department. At the very least, maybe we'll get some decent pixiv fanart out of it.
Clearly Tohru Honda wasn't the only person who felt bad for the cat. Years ago, as the legend goes, the cat was tricked out of her rightful place in the Chinese zodiac, which is why to this day she has an antagonistic relationship with the mouse. In Etotama, however, she's a daffy, happy-go-lucky kind of spirit who is supposed to be working hard to join the other anthropomorphic ladies of the Zodiac, the Eto-shi, and while the rat/mouse hasn't come in yet, she seems to get along with the rest of the gang just fine, with some implication that maybe in this particular iteration of the myth, she managed to miss joining the Zodiac all on her own.
As might be expected, each member of the Chinese Zodiac here is an eto-musume, which of course translates to “hot or cute girl.” When the story begins they're trooping around town seeing if anyone can list the whole bunch of them in order, but no one appears to be able to. Meanwhile hapless male lead Takeru is about to move into his new house, which is great except for a mysterious section of the living room. That (naturally) turns out to be a portal to the land of the gods, and when Takeru moves in, Nya-tan, the mythological cat, pops out of the floor. Later she's joined by Uri-tan, the boar, and Dora-tan, the dragon as they try very hard to explain what the hell is going on in this show. There are some nice metafictional moments there, and Takeru's dry, laid-back personality really helps them to work; while it's clear that they are a gimmick to get the story semi-explained, they don't feel as gimmicky because of his matter-of-fact attitude.
Despite that, this is such a fast-paced and convoluted episode that you could be forgiven for not quite catching everything that's happening. I was okay with it until Dora challenged Nya to some sort of spirit battle and all of a sudden the show turned into a fighting game with CG chibis of the girls, not quite avatars because they are them, and a voice over that sounds a bit like the BlazBlue lady. If there had been slightly less randomness in the rest of the episode, I daresay this would have gone over a bit better, but between this, the guy dressed like a king, and the fact that the monkey looks like Purin from Tokyo Mew Mew, it was all just a bit much.
That feels like my most accurate assessment of this episode – it's all just a bit too much. There's a lot of fun to be had here, with the animal-based character designs of the ladies (I love how the snake looks) and the rapid pace of the humor, but it can also get very overwhelming, with the only real explanation coming as text during the eyecatches. If Etotama can slow it down just a tiny bit in its next couple of episodes, this may turn out to provide a lot of goofy enjoyment, unless Nya-tan gets too irritating, which could also definitely happen. This one will need another episode or two to really get a grasp on – whether it turns out to be fun or annoying remains to be seen.
Rating: 2 (of 5)
Review: Etotama is one of those series where you can get to the end of the first episode and exclaim, “what the hell did I just watch?” It is a bouncy, flighty, almost nonsensical production from the same directing/writing team that brought us Astarotte's Toy, one which uses a weird mix of sexy and cute and then throws two of its characters into an intense, chibified battle sequence, all while delivering various word puns that will fly over the heads of most non-Japanese-speaking viewers, inserting oddly random characters, and throwing out “meta” references like how part A of the episode will soon be over.
The premise (as explained better by the eye catches than the episode content ever does) is that certain animals possess Etotama, which are the spirits of the Chinese Zodiac, which can allow them to take on animal girl form; these are Eto-musume. Such individuals are fueled by gaining Sol/Lull (aka Moe Power) from humans, which is a kind of energy generated in the form of a glowing ball with an animal icon inside. Takeru Amato encounters one Eto-musume, the flaky catgirl Nya-tan, when he moves into a new house which just happens to have an extradimensional portal in one corner. Nya-tan uses everything she can think of, including changing her personality multiple times, to come on to Takeru, but she only ultimately earns Sol/Lull from him when he shows genuine caring or gratitude towards her. She is apparently actively seeking to join the Chinese Zodiac, albeit for reasons she cannot remember, and the animal girls of the others do pop up, too; most hand around in a gaggle trying to figure out how to get people to remember them all, but the boar Uri-tan stops in to check up on Nya-tan's progress and the dragon one attacks her, leading to an extradimensional battle. The Next Episode preview suggests that they will all eventually end up at Takeru's house, too.
Most of the episode jumps around in a fashion as scatterbrained as Nya-tan is, with scenes variously focusing on Nya-tan, Takeru, or the Zodiac girls. (A king with a moustache also randomly pops up in one street scene.) It looks like it will just stay at the level of a dippy comedy until the battle scene kicks in with surprisingly brisk and detailed animation, although why exactly the battle is taking place is not entirely clear. (It is implied to be part of one of Nya-tan's “assume an archetype” ploys.) In fact, very little about what the series is doing or where it's going is at all clear by the end of the episode. It seems to want to be just random fun, with its Cute Factor augmented by a certain level of sex appeal, but it just does not make enough sense or do anything save the battle scene particularly well.
This series is available streaming at Crunchyroll.com.
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