Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
Sixth grade continues. For hapless rookie teacher Yabe that means getting mocked and humiliated by his students, mistaken for a pervert, and beaten to within an inch of his life by the Marui triplets' burly father. For the Marui sisters that means alternately wreaking havoc on their classmates and having it wreaked on them. New "erotic ninjutsu" will be tested (and fail). Horrifying things (ripped swimsuit butts! catastrophic float failures!) will happen at the pool. Mitsuba will attempt to turn Futaba into a weight-loss device. Hitoha will break her father's heart (several times over). Futaba will try her hand at homemade pornography. Who said childhood was a time of innocence?
There's a scene early in Mitsudomoe Zōryōchū! when Yabe walks into his classroom to find his students burning "cursed" photos on a sacred pyre They're also crying puddles of tears, arguing the finer points of panty shots, and generally generating chaos. "Mm," he nods, satisfied. "Just like always." It's a pretty funny scene, but it's also an implicit acknowledgement of what makes these four episodes inferior to the thirteen that came before: Mitsudomoe has gotten predictable. Rather than invent new comic atrocities, it's content to revisit past successes. There's an athletic festival, a Christmas episode, more of Chiba's doomed girl-harassing techniques, and more opportunities for Shin to deepen his reputation as a panty fetishist. They say familiarity breeds comfort. They also say comfort is comedy's natural enemy. Watching this you can believe it. It's hard to shake the feeling that the show is too busy contentedly basking in its cast's established quirks to properly execute the deadly comic escalations, elaborate contrivances and proliferating perverse misunderstandings that gave season one its down and dirty comic kick. Whether you buy that is up to you, but the fact remains that nothing here matches the first season in either height or consistency of hilarity.
That still leaves a lot of room to be funny, however. The new ways it invents to get Shin caught panting in panties are genuinely hilarious. The punchline to the ripped-swimsuit sketch is as mean-spirited as anything season one devised. And the entire first episode, during which the series indulges in a beautifully pointless sentai parody, is a kick. Much of it is artless—a strange thing to say about a series that made its bones on pee jokes, I know, but there is an art to transgressive humor—and even more of it dishearteningly sanitary. Nevertheless it's rarely anything less than amusing, and occasionally is outright uproarious. And the sanitization makes the gags—lightly recycled and unambitious though they are—easier to stomach for those who were put off by the series' enthusiastic vulgarity. Though it is still vulgar. Nothing with a sixth-grader sporting enormous fake breasts (the better to pass for eighteen and buy porn) could be called anything else.
As Mitsudomoe's first season wore on it introduced a strain of simple character development. While it may not have been meant as insurance for a time when pure humor could no longer support the series, it pays off here as if it was. For a bunch of one-trait wonders with hideous designs (think grown-up kewpie dolls with buck teeth and bobble heads) they're a pretty enjoyable bunch, and discovering new facets of their various relationships is a surprising amount of fun. The Marui sisters of course remain the main attraction, their believably fraternal mixture of camaraderie and unhesitating cruelty saving a good many otherwise poor gags. But lesser relationships—the unexpectedly tender support Miyashita lends to Yoshioka, Futaba and Shin's baggage-free friendship, Shin's exasperated boy-bond with Chiba—also do their share of rescuing. To be sure we'd rather be laughing our collective asses off, but there is something to be said for just hanging out with the Marui triplets and their screwy classmates.
The moments when we are allowed to laugh our asses off are thanks as much to Masahiko Ohta's visual instincts as the inherent humor of a given joke. Incongruously good animation adds just the silly punch that Mitsuba's nighttime race astride Futaba (and Futaba's freakishly fast swim technique) needed. Spot-on emulation of shoddy sentai filmmaking, including obvious stunt men and questionably choreographed superhero poses, adds considerably to the first episode's already estimable fun. A smartly employed Titanic parody not only makes the pool episode a riot (you know Hitoha is in trouble when her inner tube floats past a quartet of violinists playing "Nearer, My God, To Thee"), but also segues into a lengthy and inventive violation of the featured hymn.
That said, like the series as a whole, Ohta isn't quite working at full capacity. His visuals lack that indefinable spark that lets you know an artist is truly enjoying his work. It shows in the lazy ways he uses the Marui father's inherently funny design, in the less than convincing way that characters interact with their frankly mediocre surroundings, and even in the occasionally pedestrian usage of composer Yasuhiro Misawa's otherwise refreshingly well-deployed assortment of silly themes and tongue-in-cheek mood music. But mostly it shows in the comic timing, which only periodically matches the lethal effectiveness of the first season's.
Zōryōchū's dilemma can be summed up very simply. Mitsudomoe's one overriding advantage was that it was all kinds of funny; Zōryōchū is fewer kinds of funny. And that's a big problem. If it doesn't shape up before its end, Zōryōchū will be one of those sequels that feels more like an extended extra than an extension of the original. It had better hurry. With a mere eight episodes planned, it's already halfway there.
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C-
Animation : B-
Art : C
Music : B
+ Will periodically have you in stitches; cast proves surprisingly enjoyable; doesn't push the bounds of taste as hard.
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