Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Feb 22nd 2011
What do you do if you find a drowned man floating down the river? If you're Tatsumi Oga, you pull him out and whack him in the head. Whereupon the man splits clean in half and out pops a baby. Who immediately takes a liking to Oga. Which is kind of weird, because Oga is a crude, habitually violent delinquent with the babysitting skills of an angry grizzly. But little Beelzebub, as the babe is known, is no ordinary infant. He's a pint-sized demon prince on a mission to destroy humanity, and it appears he has chosen Oga as his surrogate parent. Hilda, Beelzebub's smoking hot demon maid, explains that the little boy is attracted by Oga's aura of evil, and that unless Oga finds someone stronger, meaner, and more ruthless for lil Beel to attach to, he'll be doomed to raise the tyke until he's old enough to reduce the world to rubble. Luckily Oga goes to the most violent school in Japan, so finding such a man shouldn't be hard. Should it?
There is much to be said for a series that just wants you to have fun. That's Beelzebub. Screw substance, it says. Let's party! And it can get away with it—largely because it has a great premise. The idea of a demonic teen on a quest to find the world's most evil delinquent just to foist an infant off on him (or her) is funny enough in it's own right, but the plot also allows Beelzebub to flit from warped sitcom hijinks to fantasy spoofs to hilariously truncated shonen fighting fare without so much as breaking a sweat. Which means it has a basically limitless supply of crazy crap to blindside you with. There's the twisted family unit formed by baby Beel, papa Oga, and mama Hilda—none of whom knows the first thing about the gentler emotions, and each of whom is perfectly willing to abandon, electrocute, skewer or otherwise torture one another. There's Hilda's incredibly misleading self-introduction to Oga's slack-jawed family, which itself is a prelude to beefy drowned dude Arandron pulling a repeat—and very very wrong—performance on the family of Oga's best friend. There's Beel's "wet season," during which he urinates rivers (the better to hydrate the demon realm, Hilda points out), and demonic toys that turn Oga and his best friend into evil nurses armed with an arsenal of lethal demon-world medicine. It's a non-stop barrage of comic invention, designed specifically to crack you up so bad that you won't paste yourself back together again until the show has run its course. And it does its job very well.
The show does owe a debt to 2000's alien-baby cream-puff Daa Daa Daa, with which it shares its basic premise (Japanese teens raise otherworldly baby) and a general lack of narrative weight. The comparison would seem to end there, though. Mangaka Ryūhei Tamura took Daa Daa's premise, ripped the sweet heart right out of it, and replaced it with a humorous nihilism that refuses to take anything seriously—not bank robbers, not the End of Days, not even stone cold high school psychos. Still, somewhere beneath all of Oga's cheerful moral bankruptcy and Beel's love of carnage there beats a surprisingly sensitive heart that wouldn't be entirely out of place in Daa Daa. Oga's makeshift demon family is less dysfunctional than either its sociopathic members or their often callous treatment of each other would indicate. Protestations aside, it's obvious that Oga and Beel like each other, Oga even going so far as to give Beel sound fatherly advice; and Hilda clearly loves her little charge, and isn't quite as hostile towards Oga as you'd guess from her repeated attempts to kill him. Oga isn't quite the hellspawn he's made out to be either; he's heartless, to be sure, but he also lives by an iron code that when broken (by others) brings out the retributive beast in him. He's clearly a better man than any of the lumps he tries to pawn Beel off on, which is odd since Beel—who is supposedly attracted to evil—spurns them all. For the record, whether that's a plot hole or a sneaky clue to future developments isn't clear, though given the series' general distaste for brainwork it's likely the former.
Beelzebub is a show created to have a good time, not look good. Its art is very funny, but hardly pretty. A good deal of the series' humor comes from the exaggerated evil of Oga's expressions, or the sparkly-eyed look Beel gets when confronted with guns, anarchy, and other things babies really shouldn't like, or the mustachioed sangfroid of uber-manly and uber-laid-back Arandron, or Beel's outsized posterior. Aside from sight gags (and Hilda's design), however, the art is merely utilitarian. Backgrounds are unremarkable, characters are forgettable delinquent stereotypes, and neither is used in a particularly noteworthy manner.
The same goes for the series' animation. Motion is more commonly suggested than shown, and when it is shown is usually unimpressive and often less than convincing. So little action actually makes it to the screen that the action scenes, with a few notable exceptions during Oga's fights with his high school's four "kings," are such only in name. The Oga-nurse episode does try to do some interesting things with its animation by sacrificing quality control for mobility, but it ends up looking plain bad. And yet still, amidst this purely functional mess of shortcuts, the series manages to find a highly effective comic rhythm, as well as ways to turn its budgetary limitations into comedic advantages. A typical fight consists of a close-up of Oga's fist followed by a cut to punks with their heads imbedded in ceilings and walls. Cheap, and when repeated enough times, hilarious.
The score is similarly functional. It does its job and knows enough not to intrude too far into the action and can even be kind of cool when it breaks out the demonic guitars and organs, but it's highly unlikely to top anyone's must-have soundtrack list. Though the silly punk opener and surprisingly full-voiced closer might.
If Beelzebub doesn't look or sound impressive, that's at least in part because it has focus. It just can't be bothered to spend time grooming itself when it has better things to do. Like think of new uses for Beel's naked butt. This is pure comedy: no artistic trimmings, no unfunny diversions, its heart manfully hidden behind a veil of cartoon violence and crude humor. If you had any more fun watching it, it'd be a controlled substance.
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B
Animation : C
Art : C+
Music : B-
+ The best comedic premise this side of Masked Maid Guy; very funny; not entirely heartless.
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