by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 11 of
Even though you, dear reader, know me as the esteemed purveyor of deep critical analyses about cutting edge anime (like the one with the gun cyborg private eye, or the one about a fox girl housewife), I regret to inform you that I do indeed work a non-cartoon-related day job. I've had a few different occupations since graduating, but only my current one falls into the category of “office” jobs. This might not seem immediately relevant, since I'm bringing this up in the introductory paragraph of a review about an episode of a show written by and starring a neurotic mangaka. However, I bring this up with just cause: in the paltry 1.5 years I've been working here, I've borne witness to a staggering amount of office culture idiosyncrasies, but none so baffling to me as “the meeting.” Kōji Kumeta seems to agree with me.
This week, Kakushigoto sets its satirical sights on the myriad ways that interpersonal communication can (and will) break down in the midst of gatherings explicitly designed to foster and improve interpersonal communication. This flavor of observational humor has existed since the dawn of human hypocrisy, yet it remains as sharp as a newly tempered blade, because we just don't seem to be getting any better at telling each other what we think. I really haven't been working at my current job all that long, but I can't tell you how many times I've been in a meeting that has accomplished nothing, or accomplished something that was later overruled, walked back, or forgotten about. Misunderstandings are the seed of lots of Kakushigoto's humor, but here Kumeta takes it to a level that almost derails Kakushi's entire career. I actually thought for a moment that this was going to be the “tragic” backstory behind why he quit the manga industry. I honestly would have applauded Kumeta's audacity if that had turned out to be the case. He has other plans in store for this manga dad, but even with just one more episode left, I find myself scared he might pull the rug out for one last terrible joke. This is what watching all of Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei will do to you.
The sharpest of Kumeta's observations about meetings aren't actually about meetings themselves, but about their periphery. The mere announcement of a meeting can be enough to send people—especially neurotic ones—into overthinking overdrive. Kakushi's insecurities flare up as soon as Hime formally requests a family meeting, while Tomaruin and Rokujo also lament their upcoming staff meetings. Later, both Kakushi and his boss stress out over the implication behind Tomaruin setting up a meeting with each other. Meetings are, naturally, never good things, so the two of them quickly assume the worst and ultimately agree to two completely different things while saying as few words as possible over a very awkward dinner. Kumeta plays up the degree of the misunderstanding for laughs, but this kind of miscommunication (or lack of communication) is so commonplace in the corporate world that it continues to shock me. Ostensibly, we're all supposed to be adults just trying to do our respective jobs. If you're younger, maybe you still have that vision of a grown-up world. I used to. I don't anymore.
With nothing to lose (or so he thinks), Kakushi finds inspiration in his new devil-may-care attitude, and he churns out his best chapters of Tights in the Wind to date. In the midst of the farce, however, Kumeta reflects on the space in between manga serializations and writes what feels like some of his most personal thoughts yet. The sense of aimlessness, inability to concentrate, and piling bills add up to a familiar portrait of depression. I've certainly experienced similar peaks and valleys in my own creative process, and I imagine those can be much worse when you support your livelihood on that creative process. Thankfully, Hime quickly snaps Kakushi out of his depressive reverie, and the bond they share as family continues to be Kakushigoto's emotional backbone. But I'm glad Kumeta feels comfortable being openly sympathetic with the plights of his fellow mangaka, even as he seeks to shred their egos in other sketches.
While I hope I've been clear about Kumeta's particularities as a writer, I fear I've been remiss in not talking enough about Kakushigoto as an adaptation. There's little point comparing it further to Shaft's SZS anime, since Kakushigoto has firmly established itself as a different work with different goals, so the same adaptation philosophy just wouldn't have gelled. The approach here is more workmanlike, but sensitive to the source manga's moments of sincerity amidst the shitposting. Juggling those tonal extremes isn't easy, so I have the praise the anime for its natural-feeling transitions between those modes. Also, on an immediate level, I love the show's palette, which tends to skew colorful even during the show's winter months. The opening and ending in particular have been absolute treats to watch every week, fun and soaked with summery style. Finally, this week's episode had some really nice cuts of animation stand out, and above-average work when it came to deforming Kakushi's expressions. It might not be as outrageous as other comedies, but Kakushigoto wields a confidence in its aesthetic that goes a long way.
It feels weird to consider that the show will end next week and possibly answer some of the nagging questions it has teased since the season's beginning. I wonder if it will take place entirely in the timeskip, or if it'll be business as usual. And will Kumeta bean the audience with one last SZS-flavored curveball? I dare not speculate, but I will get some concluding thoughts out of the way now just in case things go topsy-turvy. I'm going to miss how fun, easygoing, and frequently touching a show Kakushigoto could be. It's been a weekly source of comfort in otherwise exhausting times, and it's been nice to digest a “grown-up” version of one of my favorite anime. I'll be sad to see it go, but I'll definitely be looking forward to whatever Kōji Kumeta has in store for his future manga.
Kakushigoto is currently streaming on Funimation.
The state of the world has left Steve in despair! But never fear, he's still on Twitter too much.
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