The Summer 2018 Anime Preview Guide
Late night! The Genius Bakabon
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Late Night! The Genius Bakabon ?
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How was the first episode?
If the first episode of Shinya! Tensai Bakabon gives you a case of Osomatsu déjà vu, don't worry; the similarities are more than just skin-deep. This is another remake of an old comedy series, and one with the same original creator as Mr. Osomatsu at that. It's not shy about pointing out the connection, either: there are multiple references to the Matsuno brothers, and Bakabon himself gets split up into a group of sextuplets at one point. The humor is a similarly self-aware mix of absurd jokes and cultural references, and there's a clear implication that this series is aiming to follow directly in Mr. Osomatsu's footsteps. That's fine in theory, but this premiere spends too much time hitting familiar points and not enough time distinguishing itself.
Things start off with a familiar joke: Bakabon and his family discover that they're getting a new anime adaptation, but they're clearly too old-fashioned to appeal to a modern audience. Bakabon's dad promptly goes overboard trying to update the characters and setting, and some of his efforts are more amusing than others. There's some mildly clever stuff like literally pushing the edges of the frame out to a widescreen aspect ratio, recasting a random background character as the “new” Bakabon, and bringing in Black Jack to surgically update character designs. Unfortunately, a lot of it comes across as overreaching in its pursuit of humorous surprises, or alternatively too rigid in its execution. Where Mr. Osomatsu gave off the impression it was pulling new ideas out of thin air, Shinya! Tensai Bakabon feels more like it's trying to appear unpredictable while following a set formula.
It's hard to pin down exactly why this premiere doesn't hit the mark in its presentation, but I think there are a few factors working against it. Not being the first show to the party certainly doesn't help, and I think Bakabon actually does itself a disservice by inviting comparisons to its genre sibling. Its comedic timing does feel a bit off in some cases, and many of its referential jokes focus too much on the reference itself and not enough on the actual punchline. It also lacks an equivalent to Mr. Osomatsu's gimmick of making the main characters older than they used to be; where the older Matsuno siblings could draw parallels between their own aging and that of their series, this feels more like an unchanged group of characters being resurrected just for the sake of a new remake. None of these issues are dealbreakers on their own, but they add up to an underwhelming experience.
It may be a bit too early to make a proper judgment of this show, since it doesn't settle on its “real” art style until the end of the episode. With the obligatory jokes about getting a new anime out of the way, there's every possibility that Shinya! Tensai Bakabon could settle into a more comfortable comedic groove next week. At the moment, though, it's just not making me laugh as much as a dedicated comedy ought to, and there's nothing else to carry the weight when the jokes come up short.
As an extremely self-aware revival of a long-dead anime property, it's basically impossible not to draw comparisons between The Genius Bakabon and Osomatsu-san. To be honest, it seems highly unlikely that this show would exist at all if not for Osomatsu's success - something the show itself is fully aware of, and even draws attention to throughout this episode. But attempting to capitalize on an unexpected success is no serious crime, and there's certainly room for more than one tongue-in-cheek revival. So does Bakabon successfully establish its own identity?
The bad news is, not really. This first episode of Bakabon essentially repeats the same trick as the first episode of the Osomatsu revival, spending its whole running time actively panicking over the necessity of updating itself for revival. As opposed to Osomatsu's parade of absurd modern show parodies, Bakabon focuses on its titular character's father specifically, as he works to reinvent both himself and the world around him. Bakabon leans heavily on a few central jokes (“we're very aware we're an old-fashioned property,” “here's another old famous property,” etc.), and does very little to escape direct Osomatsu comparisons.
The fortunate thing is, as far as clear Osomatsu derivatives go, Bakabon is actually pretty darn funny. I felt this episode leaned far too heavily on its show renovation gags, but the highlights of that focus were genuinely pretty great, like one lengthy sequence where Bakabon's dad is voiced by the sultry Jun Fukuyama. Bakabon's gags aren't fresh, but its delivery in terms of dramatic commitment, visual invention, and line-by-line comedy are all pretty strong, making this a reasonable enough watch for anyone still riding the Osomatsu train.
All in all, Bakabon's premiere was better than I expected, but still a hard show to recommend in this comedy-laden season. With Chio's School Road, Asobi Asobase, and Grand Blue Dreaming all impressing in their own ways, “second-string Osomatsu knockoff” just isn't enough to cut it. If you have some actual attachment to the Bakabon franchise, give it a shot, but otherwise this one's probably a skip.
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