Asobi Asobase -workshop of fun-
Episode 5

by Rose Bridges,

How would you rate episode 5 of
Asobi Asobase -workshop of fun- ?

It was always going to be difficult for Asobi Asobase to follow up episode 4. I'm not sure if anything could be better than that collection of the greatest butt jokes known to mankind. Still, I felt more than a little disappointed in the dip in quality of episode 5. Asobi Asobase is still largely good, but there are a few worms in this week's apple.

The main problem comes from the second short, "Loaded Questions." Asobi Asobase has largely avoided outright cruel humor so far. It makes fun of its leads and their eccentricities (especially Hanako's), but that's the furthest it goes, and there's often plenty of understanding affection around the edges. So "Loaded Questions" was unfortunate for revolving around shaming a whole group of people. The entire premise is based on the idea that it's weird, creepy, and gross for a girl at their school to have the "wrong" genitalia. At first, Asobi Asobase plays up the situation as over-the-top and silly, but then the resident fujoshi Kasumi starts freaking out about "crossdressers" and the whole thing goes south from there. The girl in question claims she isn't trans or even a crossdressing boy, but simply came up with a story to scare her boyfriend off. The truth remains nebulous as only Hanako remains suspicious, and while Asobi Asobase shows this conclusion as silly, this installment left a bad taste in my mouth. I hope that Asobi Asobase doesn't go there again.

"Maeda's Curse" also could've been better. I did enjoy what we got out of this segment overall, exploring the witch girl from the previous gag as a real character who gets along fairly well with the Pastimers club. With all the weird rules and superstitions their hijinks endorse, it makes sense that someone would eventually mistake their games for sincere occult activity. For those who aren't familiar (or didn't watch Gugure! Kokkuri-san a few years ago), the game they're playing when she arrives is like a Japanese version of a Ouija board. It's definitely something that fans of the paranormal would find fascinating, but it's mostly seen as a harmless slumber-party activity.

As with last week, the two strongest mini-episodes come first and last. Both largely revolve around making fun of Hanako, a reliable well of comedy for this show. "Devilish Taste" involves Hanako's ridiculous fashion choices. I like the way that this plays on a familiar anime trope: the first time we see the cast without their school uniforms. Anime often uses this convention to say something about its characters' personalities through their clothing, so of course Asobi Asobase takes this to its silliest extreme when Hanako shows up in a ridiculous clown outfit. She tries to claim it's edgy fashion from Harajuku, but no one is buying it. The real cherry on top of this is Asobi Asobase's tendency to stretch everything to the point of absurdity. It's goofy enough that Hanako's outfit and attempts to look cool would physically intrude on other guests in the cafe, but when her spinning pen knocks a cigarette away and ends up starting a fire, things take a turn for the truly absurd. The title even comes full circle, since "devilish" just seemed like a reference to how awful Hanako's taste was or the "horns" on her outfit. But these women actually think that she is the devil after the fire. It's especially inspired the way that Asobi Asobase uses a verbal countdown to doom as we watch the pen fly away from her hands.

"Sex Ed" is yet another segment poking fun at the ignorance of our leads. It's less that the characters are clueless so much that they feel awkward explaining these topics to their friends, and things escalate from there into truly bizarre explanations for seemingly mundane things. All of these characters have very strange ideas of where babies come from, which they readily pass on to Hanako. Even when they're in the right ballpark like Olivia, they jump to the weirdest conclusions. (Olivia thinks babies are made through some type of psychic mind meld.) My favorite part was the inclusion of the dolls to show physically how people have sex. The teacher is the one person who knows the answer that Hanako is looking for—but her inexperience means she just can't get the dolls to pose right either. The strange acrobatic positions everyone puts the dolls in just turns Hanako off to the idea of having sex, at which point the narrator makes a quip about Japan's falling birthrate.

Asobi Asobase still gave me a lot to laugh at this week. It's unfortunate that within two great installments and one decent one, there was a short that was downright ugly—somewhere this show doesn't usually go. I hope that the show keeps its caustic humor focused on its own characters and their inherent silliness or stupidity. Asobi Asobase remains one of the cleverest anime comedies I've seen in a long while, so I hope it fulfills its potential better going forward.

Rating: B

Asobi Asobase -workshop of fun- is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Rose is a Ph.D. student in musicology, who recently released a book about the music of Cowboy Bebop. You can also follow her on Twitter.

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