Episodes 1-3

by Steve Jones,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Kakushigoto ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
Kakushigoto ?

How would you rate episode 3 of
Kakushigoto ?

Kakushigoto, which translates to “secret,” is a comedy about Kakushi Goto, a man whose occupation is writing and drawing manga (or, in the original Japanese, kaku shigoto). The manner and degree to which you groaned at the previous sentence should inform your reaction to Kakushigoto as a whole, so there's not much point in me assessing the show any further.

Rating: 4 Kakushis out of 5 Gotos

…okay, I've been informed that I do need to write more in order to conform to “journalistic integrity" or something like that, so I suppose I can go into more detail.

Kakushigoto's source manga is written by Kōji Kumeta, the man most notoriously responsible for Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei. This should come as no surprise to fans of SZS, since our main character is a dead ringer for the titular despair sensei, and the anime is even kind enough to supply him with the same voice actor (the always-fantastic Hiroshi Kamiya). Kumeta's authorial voice is similarly loud and clear, and the structure of his comedy remains largely undisturbed: mundane observations and occurrences escalate into absurd projections and pandemonium by way of the colorful cast's various neuroses. It's full of rapid-fire gags, untranslatable puns, and esoteric references; it is not an easy-going comedy by any means, and there will be moments where a joke completely whizzes by you for one reason or another. Despite that, however, Kakushigoto has a surprisingly compelling core that manages to elevate both its comedic and dramatic aspirations.

On a personal note, I found it impossible not to compare Kakushigoto to Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei, which was one of the more formative series I watched in college (alongside masterpieces like Kaiba and “masterpieces” like Code Geass). Consequently, these initial impressions of mine are going to be colored and framed by that comparison, so I apologize to anybody not familiar with SZS, but I do believe it's a useful point of reference. Additionally, I wouldn't recommend those not familiar with SZS to despair as a result of that, because in many ways Kakushigoto emerges as an evolution of the formula seen in that series. Kumeta started writing this three years after SZS ended, and it's neat to see what tools he kept, what he dropped, and what he improved upon.

Kakushigoto's most egregious loss when compared to Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei has little to do with Kumeta, ironically. Aside from his very particular brand of humor, the other defining feature of the SZS anime was its production by studio SHAFT and their distinctive and increasingly experimental pop art aesthetic (accomplished by animators who would apply these results to later SHAFT series like Monogatari and Madoka Madoka). I highly recommend everybody look up at least all of the OPs and EDs, which match great tunes with trippy visuals. These aesthetic choices lent themselves well to the show's sense of anarchism, where no topic was considered too weird or too obscure for a comedy sketch. Kakushigoto's visuals are comparatively much tamer, but they're by no means bad. I actually like how the show looks a lot. The staff translates Kumeta's flat yet distinct character designs really well into an environment that bursts with color and personality. It's not going to turn into a mixed media collage at the drop of a hat like some SZS sketches would, but I'd argue that this mellower sense of style better fits the kind of story Kakushigoto is.

Although it's strange to say this about an anime starring a guy who draws a manga called Balls of Fury, Kakushigoto is a more "mature" comedy than Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei ever was, and that's to its benefit. I love SZS, but it opens with its main character trying to commit suicide, and then turns that situation into its first barrage of jokes (and its first running gag). SZS is a deliberately acerbic comedy dripping with satire, i.e. it's one I wholeheartedly loved when I was a 20-year-old male college student, but it's one that requires a lot more equivocation out of me when I praise it now. That's actually why I was nervous when I first read a plot summary of Kakushigoto, which described an ecchi manga artist trying to hide the subject of his job from his young daughter. That is an accurate description, but I had visions of a lot of lascivious jokes done in very poor taste at the expense of a little girl. Thankfully, Kakushigoto is nothing like that, and instead it has shot up to one of my early favorites from this Spring season.

Kakushigoto's wacky premise belies a surprisingly heartfelt series that finds Kōji Kumeta in top form, tempering his acidic comedy with a sincere and sweet relationship between a single dad and his adorable daughter. There are shades of recent shows like Sweetness & Lightning and Barakamon here, with plenty of dad feelings to go around. Kakushigoto also doesn't shy away from melancholy, with the absence of Hime's mother being a constant presence, alongside the apparent absence of Kakushi himself from teenage Hime's life. The frame story is a particularly interesting component at this point, because it turns the wacky hijinks of the past on their head as the now-adult Hime walks through the mementos her father once hid from her, now suffused with feelings of loss and regret. The quiet stillness of these small scenes works in spite of the comedic leanings of the show's bulk. This is the mark of commendable effort on both Kumeta's and the anime staff's part.

Of course, being a comedy, it also matters whether or not Kakushigoto is funny. Speaking as a fan of Kumeta's past work, I've gotten plenty of good guffaws and wry chuckles out of the material so far, and I'd wager even people turned off by Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei's brand of comedy might find themselves more amenable to the presentation here. SZS was edgy and scattershot in its approach—often to great success—but Kakushigoto's jokes and structure feel subtly more refined. What I love about Kumeta gags is that the step-by-step journey seems more or less logical when digested piecemeal, but the gap between the start of a sketch and its end can be hilariously gargantuan. That's how we get from places like “Kakushi is worried about Hime being on her own on the school trip” to “Kakushi imagines a tearful Hime apologizing to the mass media about the fraudulent discovery of a Hercules beetle.” I also really like the inclusion of sketches about Hime and her group of friends, which follow similarly absurd tracts but benefit from the naturally-exaggerated perspective of a child. They might not be able to tell the difference between a Starbucks and a satanic ritual, but perhaps they're onto something there.

Perhaps Kakushigoto's greatest asset is its snappy pacing. The comedic timing is perfectly brisk and rarely does a sketch overstay its welcome. If one joke doesn't land for you, that's okay, because plenty more will be on their way and quickly. One drawback, however, is that jokes can often fly by too quickly. While thankfully toned down from Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei's omnipresent chalkboard gags, there's still a lot of gags that rely on onscreen text that can be difficult to parse without pausing the episode. It also doesn't help that Funimation's web player handles this text in a pretty awful way, layering it on top of dialogue with no indication of what part of the screen it's referring to. It's worth noting that Aegisub, a piece of robust subtitling software used by Crunchyroll and fansubbers alike, was in fact made so robust in order to deal with SZS' onslaught of onscreen text. Just last season, Crunchyroll did a great job handling In/Spectre, which frequently had text-heavy web pages and comment sections on screen. It's frustrating to see that there are tools available to handle shows like Kakushigoto, yet they aren't used by one of the largest anime streaming services in the West.

That digression aside, I'm a big fan of Kakushigoto so far. Kōji Kumeta's wry sense of humor is a sharp as ever, but he also gives himself permission to be soft. Kakushi and Hime's antics have both warmed my cockles and sent me cackling in the space of the same sketch. There's lots of mangaka inside baseball about the stresses and absurdity of the profession, but also plenty of juvenile humor about balls that people from all walks of life can enjoy. Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei will always hold a special place in my twisted heart, but I think there's potential for Kakushigoto to stand as an even richer work, and I'm eager to follow it and find out.


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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