The Summer 2015 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
SHIMONETA: A Boring World Where the Concept of Dirty Jokes Doesn’t Exist ?
Over the years, Japan has become a dystopia where sexual language, dirty jokes, impure thoughts and impulses and, of course, pornography have all been outlawed. People wear collars to limit their speech, and the rule of law is carried out by a literal squad of morality police. Enter Okuma, a well-meaning kid indoctrinated into the system who's about to have his mind blown by Ayame, also known as the sex terrorist Blue Snow, who shows up with a panty mask, armed with the kind of escort trading cards you usually see littering the ground in Las Vegas. Ayame works undercover as part of the school's morality council, and only Okame knows her secret – and that's the reason he's been drafted into her crusade to bring perversion back to public life.
So this show is a natural reaction to Japan's overreaching effort to clean up its popular culture ahead of the 2020 Olympics, and the only thing I'm surprised is that it took this long for a satire this obvious to pop up. There's a big fat ugly speedbump right up front, where it's suggested that these draconian morality laws lead to an issue with opportunistic women accusing men of groping them on the train for financial gain. The show is directly satirizing a political movement in Japan that's happening right now – if it wasn't their intention to comment on current sexual assault laws, then this bit being in the show is an example of incredibly clumsy, wrongheaded writing. It doesn't belong in here if that isn't what they were trying to say. It's on the writing staff to get this right – if they don't want to be misinterpreted, then the writing can't be this sloppy.
That scene aside, I found myself pretty sympathetic to what SHIMONETA is ultimately articulating, which is an existential fear of the morality police currently cracking down on smutty manga and anime in Japan, making the world an unsafe place for dick jokes. I love dick jokes. I'm naturally inclined to empathize with a show that's begging for the freedom to make them. The problem with the comedy in SHIMONETA is that while Japan's current preoccupation with cleaning up the public image of their popular culture is certainly overreaching, it isn't in danger of going anywhere near as far as the premise of this show is insisting, and everyone on the side of “morality” in SHIMONETA is presented as a fascist strawman. Satire needs a little more than a kernel of truth in it to function, and this doesn't remind me of sharp, biting political satire so much as it reminds me of that Simpsons episode where Bart shows up to school in a lame ‘Down with Homework’ tee-shirt he got out of MAD Magazine and it triggers a riot in the student body, who are then forced to wear uniforms that discourage individualism and imagination. That sequence was a jab at lame “screw the man” slogans that pop up everywhere in culture – usually it's a commonly held belief about some banal rule nobody likes, like “speed limits are for suckers”, presented as some revolutionary idea where if you tell enough people “hey, I can park in the red zone all I want, screw your rules!” it's going to lead to car fires and Molotov cocktails being tossed at riot police.
It's like if someone had a serious problem with the crackdown on smoking in public and created a show where anyone who even thought about lighting up would be imprisoned or sent to work camps. Yeah, the smoking laws are tough, and plenty of people disagree with them, but you could draw up a satire of it that doesn't feel like it's rooted more in a paranoid fantasy than what's actually happening – it needs to be more grounded to have any impact.
As I said, I'm sympathetic to what SHIMONETA is arguing – we don't want to lose our right to make dick jokes. I think it's kind of brave that this show even got made in the first place, given that it is effectively a polemic against what the writers feel the government is doing – you don't really see a lot of direct political satire in anime like this, and certainly not this direct. I did appreciate that the show argues that a total moral crackdown on sexual imagery and speech leads to people being woefully misinformed about sex, which is a dangerous and stupid place for humanity to go. But the show isn't particularly funny – it's mostly just lame, and the argument it's making feels like the frothing rage of someone paranoid about the slippery slope into cultural fascism rather than a considered, sharp, funny and righteous mocking of the ridiculous attempts to make Japanese pop culture appear completely G-rated.
I'm not sure I'll watch more of this show, but I am curious what sort of statement it winds up making. If my hunch is correct, here's a spoiler from the final episode of SHIMONETA:
SHIMONETA is currently streaming on Funimation.com.
In the world of SHIMONETA, all sexual words have been banned, along with porn and anything else that might contribute to “unhealthy public morals.” As a result, Japan has become the country with the healthiest public morals in the world. Tanukichi Okuma is a new student at Tokioka Academy, the most prestigious public morals high school, a school he is attending in the hopes of getting closer to his beloved Anna Nishikinomiya, the student council president. But when he's conscripted by the student council to allegedly fight decency-terrorism, he learns the vice president Ayame Kajo is secretly Blue Snow, the terrorist tossing out pornos and double entendres to terrify the student body. Dragged by Ayame into her anti-decency campaign, Tanukichi's life is about to get a whole lot more interesting.
And, well, “interesting” is kind of the operative word there. Because for a show with such a serious and specific bone to pick, and an ostensible raunch-comedy frame, SHIMONETA sure is terribly, terribly boring. Most of the jokes here could have been transposed from any standard harem, like the gags where another student tries to get Tanukichi to demonstrate how babies are made. And Ayame's methods of perversion just aren't terribly clever - she mainly just throws a bunch of sex words into her speech and laughs a lot. There's no actual humor here beyond potty-words level perversion, and when you're trying to sell a piece of propaganda, you need a little more charisma and urgency than that.
Message-wise, SHIMONETA also really doesn't make much of a case for “free speech above all else.” I can understand the climate that would lead to a work like this - there have been rumblings about banning various kinds of porn lately, Japan has pretty much always had specific laws regarding portrayals of sex acts, and with the 2020 Olympics coming up, there are fears of even more crackdowns designed to fight negative elements of Japan's public image. But not only is SHIMONETA positing a specific ghost that doesn't really exist (and which makes it kind of impossible to sympathize with its characters, since their situation is so ludicrous), it also just doesn't sell its own case very well.
The takeaway of one of the first major scenes is “in this world, women prey on men by pretending they're being molested on trains in order to extort them.” When you position your show's politics at “maybe train molesters are the real victims,” you're going to find it hard to reach that many sympathetic ears. And Ayame's concerns are less about the public need for truth and serious intellectual chilling effect of banning specific kinds of discourse (something this episode demonstrates offhandedly in its best moments, when the students do their best to talk about sex in the absence of any actual knowledge), and more about her plain annoying desire to yell “boobs and penis” loudly in public. There's elements of this show's message that are straight vile (the train stuff), elements that apply to an argument that has never been made, and elements that just aren't well-argued or compelling.
But debating this show's politics is already giving it too much credit. It's a sex comedy, and as a sex comedy, it fails - it's really simplistic and juvenile and just not funny. The visual execution is solid enough, but execution matters more in some genres than others, and in a comedy, if you can't bring the jokes, you're not offering much. This first episode unfortunately comes off as more tedious than subversive.
I'm very torn about this. In some future time, Japan has cleaned up its language and purified the minds of its children by making talking about sex or using sexual language a crime, sort of like a porn-based Farenheit 451. (We actually see magazines being burned at the start of the episode.) Some people do not agree with these strictures and become “dirty joke terrorists,” the most infamous of which is Blue Snow, a girl with panties on her face who tells bad (dirty) jokes and tosses out ecchi photos. Basically the story is trying to make a point about how silly it is to ban all sexual knowledge in children, and there's a lot that can be done with that, comedy or otherwise. This show, however, didn't hit the mark, instead throwing out scenes of housefly sex that get everyone in the school assembly all hot and bothered, talk about tanuki testicles, and one hapless hero who somehow gets bamboozled into joining SOX, a two-person sexual terrorist organization.
There's nothing wrong with the idea behind the show, or even the prurient content. This just isn't especially funny or poignant in how it's done, and it does have at least one problematic moment where one of the laws involves harsh punishment for train gropers. That in itself sounds pretty good to me, but in the context of the show it implies that it is one of the ridiculous draconian anti-sex laws, which is very uncomfortable. Story-wise, there just isn't quite enough in this episode to pull off comedy. A lot of it comes off as awkward, like the characters trying to avoid saying “penis” or the most sexually curious student creeping on the hero, Tanukichi, because she's trying to figure out how babies are made. Presumably it is meant to be funny that high school students don't know where babies come from (the test answer basically says “marriage”); really it's just a awkward and a little off-putting.
SHIMONETA does have its good points, like the casual reveal of who Blue Snow is, and a very catchy theme song (the ending for this episode but it will become the opening starting next week), and all of the characters are very distinct-looking. Likewise some real attention has been paid to the dirty pictures, which are surprisingly well designed and varied, presumably because the show is otherwise devoid of fanservice. These do fill that need well, and actually the brief glimpses of partially unclad women work well because of their brevity. Unfortunately the flow of the plot isn't quite right (honestly, a sex comedy shouldn't be dull) and most of the jokes just didn't work for me. The idea that Tanukichi really does have an appreciation of what Blue Snow is doing, which we get at the end of the episode, is good, because the way the world runs feels like a throwback to the Shakers, and since there's only one active Shaker community left (in my state!), that's probably not a great sign for this incarnation of future Japan.
At the end of the day, this had potential in terms of its concept, but instead of being funny, it becomes ponderous, clunky, and uncomfortable. Mitsukazu Mihara has a short story on a similar idea in her book I C In a Sunflower, and I'd read that before watching this. It may not be funny, but at least it's well done.
Review: The setting for this new light novel-based series is exactly what its full title – A Boring World Where the Concept of 'Dirty Jokes' Doesn't Exist – describes: an alternate near-future Japan where crusades for public morality have been taken to such an ultimate extreme that citizens wear collars or bracelets which can detect when certain unacceptable words are being said. (The American movie Demolition Man used a somewhat similar concept.) In this setting the Decency Squad is ruthless in enforcing moral codes, as Tanukichi Okuma gets to witness first-hand when he encounters Blue Snow, a female terrorist who wears panties for a mask and is determined to disrupt public morality. He soon learns that Blue Snow is actually Ayame, a fellow student council member at Tokioka Academy, the sheltered, elite public morals enforcement-oriented school he has strove to join in pursuit of Anna, a girl he idolizes, who is the student council president. Ayame, who has a passion for dirty jokes, soon ropes Tanukichi (rather literally!) into her schemes to expose students raised without knowledge of sexual content to it.
This would be an entirely stupid exercise if it wasn't for the fact that at least some of it isn't far off from real-world truth; after all, Morality Police or the equivalent do actually exist in some Islamic-dominated countries and even in the U.S. we aren't so very far removed from an era when the word “pregnant” couldn't be said in a family sitcom. Hence the notion of a society which has become so morally repressive that high school-aged students are ignorant of how babies are made is actually more disturbing than dumb, and the bad misunderstandings spread by students in that environment (if a guy wears panties long enough, his penis can fall off?) are probably based on actual misconceptions from older times. References to Healthy Child-Rearing undoubtedly also make this a swipe at certain restrictive public decency laws past in Japan in recent years, and allusions to Fahrenheit 451 are hard to miss.
Any claim to respectability that the series might make ends at that point, however, as the humor is in the same dirty-minded, sexually-charged vein as Seitokai Yakuindomo. Depending on your mentality about dirty jokes, this will either elicit giggles or eye rolls, especially one scene where a voice-over of a video on flies mating is used to get the audience of students aroused to a level that they don't fully comprehend (since they have been so sheltered). Even the name of the terrorist organization Blue Snow wants to form is a sex joke, albeit a cleverer one than most: the name is SOX, with the O meant to represent a censorship circle. (It would say “sex” otherwise, you see.) If that's not normally your cup of tea then save yourself the time and bother, as the series does not offer enough on the visual or characterization fronts to make it interesting on any other basis.
I am giving this a very mild approval because I somewhat respect the notion of push-back against the draconian standards carefully couched in positive wording, but a classy approach to the topic this definitely isn't.
SHIMONETA is currently streaming on Funimation.com.
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