by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 5 of
If it wasn't already obvious that Koji Kumeta has it out for his editors, this week's episode of Kakushigoto lays any subtlety to rest regarding the prickly relationship between Kakushi and his editor Tomaruin. Of course, Kumeta does so in his typically self-deprecating manner, and spreading the absurdity around helps the jokes feel neither too one-sided nor too mean-spirited. On a basic level, Kakushigoto understands the inherent silliness of an industry built around people drawing cartoons, and it revels in poking holes at the façades of prestige that naturally form in any industry with a certain degree of longevity. After all, you can't truly love something unless you can mercilessly roast it.
First on Kumeta's hit list this week are newcomer awards and, specifically, the mangaka who have to judge them. Kakushi's neuroses act up per usual, but there are some legitimately sage observations made here about the nature of critique and peer review. It's one thing for a professional critic to perform their job; it's another for a professional mangaka to step into those shoes and lob observations that could just as quickly bounce back onto their own work. An artist possesses a critical eye by necessity, however, so it's not surprising that Kakushi is able to immediately dole out useful criticism, even if it takes him a while to register what he's doing. I had never heard the anecdote about readers' text-based attention spans lasting only as long as they can hold their breath, and while I don't know if it's true, it's a good way to think about the economy of language one can (and usually should) abide by in a visual medium. It also sets up the episode's most wonderfully dumb joke, where his assistant decides to increase his lung capacity rather than make his worldbuilding more concise. I think anybody who has done any creative writing can relate to that.
The relationship between an author and their editor is a rich and complex one, and here it manifests as open and mutual disdain between Kakushi and Tomaruin. Tomaruin's bumbling nature and apparent inability to experience remorse don't paint a kind picture of manga editors, but he's also consequently one of the most consistently funny characters in the show. His actions could be construed as either incompetence or as deliberate attempts to mess with Kakushi, and I think it's much funnier if this remains ambiguous. They're both stuck with each other and doing whatever they can to cope and/or get reassigned to a new partner.
Kumeta doesn't have it out for Tomaruin specifically, however. The industry's overall absurdity cannot be ascribed to a single person, but rather to ingrained structural elements that inevitably clash with the desires of artists. In other words, I can absolutely believe that Kumeta has been forced to sequester himself in a hotel room overnight so he can redraw half of a chapter that the editorial board decided it did not like at the last minute. That's self-evidently ridiculous and unfair, but manga can hardly be considered an outlier when innumerable industries rely on pushing deadlines to the last minute and extracting as much work out of their employees as possible. Kumeta is able to find the humor in the situation, but there's a dark undercurrent that he also doesn't forget.
Lest we forget, Kakushi is also a dad, and there are plenty of adorable dad-based jokes this time around as well. I continue to be fond of the segments where Hime proves to be more mature and more insightful than her dad—there's just something incisive about the way a child's simpler outlook can understand the importance of doing things you don't' enjoy, while an adult has more faculties with which to reason themselves into being lazy. I also very much enjoyed the adorable physical comedy of a tiny Hime becoming fully entombed by a tower of cardboard boxes, as if a rookie Minecraft player were crafting their first domicile. Overall, Hime lets Kumeta explore a sillier and more wholesome vein of comedy than he could in Sayonara, Zetsubou Sensei, and I think that has been a boon to Kakushigoto.
There are, however, some iffier veins of comedy in Kakushigoto that I haven't been too keen on. While this was more of a thing with last week's sketches, the weird Othering of Nadila's character hasn't sat quite right with me. It's been mostly good-natured, to be fair, but I hope she develops more of a character than simply being from an unspecified foreign country. The momentary gay panic misunderstanding between Kakushi and his assistant Kakeru in this episode was also unnecessary. If I'm being charitable, the joke is structured more like Kakeru thinks he's refusing an implied proposition to sleep his way to the top, which is typical of the sudden leaps in logic a Kumeta character will make. But there are better ways to get to this punchline that don't involve brushing up against homophobia.
Finally, it's that time again for “Steve Explains A Koji Kumeta Pun Even Though The Act Of Explaining A Joke Is Inherently Ruinous To Comedy!” Hooray! This week's is thankfully a lot simpler than last week's, and the translation actually does a good enough job to not necessitate an explanation. So really, this is just an excuse for me to praise the translation (while I continue to admonish Funimation's frequently unparsable subtitle formatting). When Rokujo pins Tomaruin outside the Goto household, she accuses him of being a henshitsusha (変質者, meaning “pervert” or “degenerate”), to which Tomaruin rebuts that he is instead a henshuusha (編集者, meaning “editor”). The pun here is that the two words sound pretty similar in Japanese, and this is translated cleverly by rhyming “editor” with “predator." Obviously, not all wordplay is going to work across fundamentally different languages, but good on the translators/editors here for finding a pair that worked perfectly.
Overall, I had another fun half-hour with Kakushigoto and its brand of rapid-fire satire. It hasn't strayed very far from the formula presented in the premiere, but the formula is still working just fine. We didn't get much of the 18-year-old Hime frame story this week, however, so I'm curious just how far we're going to explore the (presumably) post-Kakushi world she's now traversing. Making these scenes feel sincere instead of mawkish is going to be tough tightrope to walk for the entire season, but this adaptation has proven itself capable so far.
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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