by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 6 of
Odd Taxi continues its streak as 2021's best anime written by boomers, for boomers. That's a tongue-in-cheek dig at the show, myself, and the ridiculous plasticity of the word “boomer” in modern parlance, but I mean it as a genuine compliment too. Odd Taxi is an odd duck, as eager to wax philosophical about capital-S Society as it is eager to explore the esoteric cul-de-sacs of its author's fascinations. I don't think it has insightful things to say every time, but I also think there's value in its voice being so loud and distinctive. Even absent its cartoony aesthetic, nobody is ever going to mistake Odd Taxi for another anime.
This week's boomer energy is notably off the charts with the episode's focus on both Odokawa and Shibagaki. Odokawa is, in many ways, the same big grumpy walrus we all know and love, but he really embraces his stern loner anti-hero self when Shirakawa refuses to leave both his proverbial and literal doorstep. Even though he called Dobu's bluff last week, his fear of intimacy still causes him to push Shirakawa away as she opens her heart up to him more and more. It's a familiar cliché that begets further clichés, like her confession of love and his feigned indifference. However, Odd Taxi's identity lies not in its lack of clichés, but in its aversion of familiar anime clichés. Odd Taxi has always had much more in common with film noir, or with Martin Scorsese's filmography, than with any other series airing this season.
On the other hand, though, Odokawa and Shirakawa's faithfulness to the noir ur-text robs their scene of potential emotional authenticity. For instance, Shirakawa reveals she's in an abusive relationship with Dobu, but the shock that should be there gets lost amidst their adherence to these statuesque archetypes of Moody Loner and Tragic Woman. Humorous Odd-Taxi-isms peppered into the dialogue (“Hey, you're starting with something I didn't know”) do make the scene feel much less stiff, and I do appreciate that. I just would've liked to have seen more of that subversion, to give more of a sense that both of these characters are playing the roles they believe they have to play, while trying to break out of them at the same time. Shirakawa also makes a loaded allusion to broken windows theory, which works in the context of the conversation—she wants Odokawa (and herself) to heal together, lest they hurt each other even worse. However, in reality, broken windows is just smoke and mirrors: a misguided way of thinking that has led to myriad police abuses (e.g. stop-and-frisk) and no provable reduction in crime. Odd Taxi obviously has no fondness for the police, and this is a minor offence, but it's still an unfortunately clumsy metaphor to include in your crime caper.
Shibagaki might be even more curmudgeonly than Odokawa, and he's all the more delightful for it. The part-time comedian/part-time cabaret club waiter is pretty much always “on,” responding to everything and everyone with a deadpan wisecrack or heated tirade. It's hard to tell where the acerbic radio personality ends and the “real” Shibagaki begins, but this episode gives him both emotional depth and some of the show's funniest material yet. At least, I was really tickled by the jet-black comedy of his “I thought it'd be funny if I got shot.” I think he was actually trying to be heroic too! He just can't turn off, even around his partner. Despite that, Baba can definitely tell that Shibagaki is beginning to feel left behind by his horse partner's sudden popularity. It's a quietly sad situation, and I'm genuinely invested in how their friendship is going to shake out.
Shibagaki's old man energy also radiates from this week's radio rant topic: is comedy too soft these days? Every week, I see a new pull quote from a comedian over 50 who laments the kind of jokes you “can't tell” anymore, so if Odd Taxi's goal was to have its finger on the pulse, then consider its whole hand wrapped around the heart of a very insecure entertainment complex. Shibagaki, unsurprisingly, argues that comedy is funnier when it comes at the expense of others, with familiar “back in my day” arguments, while the younger Baba sees value in comedy that doesn't hurt people. I have zero interest in litigating this topic (which happens in perpetuity on Twitter if you really want to partake), and thankfully, neither does Odd Taxi ("Drop the generation gap crap"). This scene isn't about the content of the argument as much as it's about the argument itself and the natural way Shibagaki and Baba bounce off each other. It's another way of showing how strong their friendship is, in spite of their performative prickliness. Also, contrast their rapport with the sudden appearance of Satoshi Nagashima, who completely agrees with Shibagaki but comes off as a creep. The scene conspicuously evokes the beginning of Scorsese's The King of Comedy, which alongside Taxi Driver provides a strong reference point for Odd Taxi's themes of fanaticism and the blurred distinction between reality and fiction.
Themes aside, the plot grows knottier in many thrilling and unexpected ways. I actually forgot that Odokawa was the one who gave Imai the winning lottery numbers, so that's another fun wrinkle to that development. Additionally, I enjoy the deadpan irony of Odokawa being rescued from his awkward cabaret experience thanks to an attempt on his life. You have to hand it to Tanaka for being serious about the whole murder thing. Dobu's bank robbery plan comes out of nowhere, but considering how he talks Odokawa in to working with him at the end of the episode, I'd say there's going to be a car chase or several in the future. On a happier note, Baba and Rui's behind-the-scenes relationship is very left-field, but we get a very cute glimpse of it. I'm also stoked by next week's tease of a combination Halloween episode and hippo kidnapping. Kabasawa's vigilante fantasy is about to crash into reality's brick wall, but hopefully he makes it out okay (and if you read Japanese and want to spoil yourself, you can check out his very real Twitter account for a peek into the future).
Here at the midpoint of the season (or close enough to it), Odd Taxi is still adding all kinds of connections to its huge tapestry of relationships. I feel like I need a dedicated whiteboard to keep them all straight! And knowing myself, I'm guaranteed to forget some important details between now and the show's conclusion, but it's a testament to the series' quality that this won't stand in the way of my enjoyment. To me, Odd Taxi's core appeal is still its voice. It's a slow-burn, banter-rich anime with boomer appeal, and if that makes me a boomer, so be it.
Odd Taxi is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Steve is hungry for anime and on the prowl for Revenge this season. Learn about this and more (i.e. bad anime livetweets) by following him on Twitter.
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