The Mike Toole Show
by Mike Toole,
It's January, which means that I just killed the mid-month holiday weekend off at Arisia, Boston's largest science fiction and fantasy convention. This year, not only did I sit on panels on the furious Evangelion debate, fanservice, and other anime-related topics, I programmed the 24-hour anime theatre. This is actually something I used to do back in the mid-2000s at this convention, so it was fun to make my return and essentially use my position as an excuse to inflict stuff like Time of Eve, Galaxy Angel, and HELLS on the show's attendees. There was just one problem, though—I simply wasn't willing to sit in the room for hours on end, obligingly flipping discs when one show ended and another needed to begin. So I automated the process.
Automation just amounted to ripping stuff from DVDs and Blu-Rays and putting them on a secured PC, with a playlist set up to keep things on schedule. But there was one last wrinkle: all the dead air between showtimes. I didn't want the playlist to just run every feature back-to-back, because that'd result in odd start times; who would be able to remember, for example, that the GoShogun Movie Special started at 11:52pm, rather than a more sensible 12:00am? At this point, programming the theatre became an exercise in trying to fill those tiny gaps between shows and movies. Trailers were helpful in this regard, but I wanted to put weird stuff in there. After briefly entertaining the notion of finding every single last Linkin Park/Rurouni Kenshin anime music video and using those as interstitials, I set to work digging up some quality short anime.
I've talked about short anime before, but I still think it's a segment of anime programming that's starved for coverage in the west. Longer shorts, the stuff that clocks in at ten or twelve minutes per episode, might sneak into preview guides and season coverage and full-length reviews, because it's full of things that anime fans expect, like ample production staff, coherent storylines, animation, acting… the works. Really short anime, however—stuff in the three-to-five-minute range—remains charmingly esoteric. For every sweet, earnest Wakako-zake, there's a Delinquent Hamsters. Why spend twenty-five whole minutes on an episode of one of those gender-bent Nobunaga anime shows from a couple of years back when you can get a much more satisfyingly violent, concentrated blast of history via Ninja Girl & Samurai Master?
The truth is, though, that even stuff like Ninja Girl & Samurai Master is kinda normal. Keep digging, and you'll find an entire stratum of weird, brief comedy cartoons seemingly engineered specifically to sell LINE stickers, or silly zakka baubles, or ad space on Nico Nico Douga. One such show almost passed me by, because it aired back in 2016, but wasn't picked up until Crunchyroll quietly acquired it this past November. This filled me with rage, because it meant that I couldn't put it on my Best of 2017 list! It's three minutes long per episode, which means you can watch the whole thing in half an hour if you skip the credits. It's about a fart.
Onara Goro is one of those shows that's produced almost single-handedly, and wears this on its sleeve. It's only barely animated, the voice-acting is minimal, flat, and disaffected, and every episode has the same formula – a mild problem or conflict is established, a guy farts, and the resulting cloud of fart gas reveals itself as Onara Goro (we always know it's him, because every character he confronts shouts “Onara Goro!” in surprise. I think this is my favorite part of the show, because it implies that the talking fart is extremely well-known), a kind-faced entity who speaks reassuringly in a gentle, paternal voice. Onara Goro talks the person through their problem (or not; sometimes he just says a bunch of random stuff and the problem is somehow solved anyway) before dissipating with a wistful “Sayo-onara,” or “Fartwell.” Then, the ending credits roll and I get mad at the lack of subtitles, because the song (by rockin' idol unit AND CRAZY) is all about eating garbage food and farting without honor and humanity.
In some ways, Onara Goro is the perfect anime shitpost—funded via Makuake for a paltry $14,000, it's all one joke, but the details will keep you amused, like the fact that Onara Goro's host is a portly, balding, man in short pants, who's always slumped in the corner and never speaks. Later episodes will go to considerable lengths to allow characters to dish out farts strong enough to become self-aware, culminating in a finale where a succession of people hang suspended from basketball hoops, the better for their farts to emerge without having to draw any extra frames of animation. It's also pretty decent anti-comedy, with more than one episode passing without the writer really remembering to tell a joke. I'm pretty mad that we had to wait a whole year to get it with subtitles, but I'm even madder that Onara Goro is only one season long. Here's a sequel idea for you, creator Takashi Taniguchi and studio ILCA-- Detective Onara-Goro. Why have a fart solve daily problems when you can have a fart that solves crimes?! That one's free.
Following the trail of Onara Goro to additional micro-sized anime proved easy, because the show's studio, ILCA, specializes in producing short anime. (They also did some of the CG work in that Final Fantasy Kingsglaive thing. Anyone else seen that? What the hell was going on with that movie?! It made less sense than Onara Goro!) For years, they've produced the reliably entertaining Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories, which marries creepy ghost stories to an artistic style that resembles the old-tyme kamishibai method of storytelling. Like lots of Japanese ghost stories, Yamishibai is more about establishing a creepy atmosphere than going for visceral, lurid jump-scares, and it does a pretty good job of this—I particularly like an episode where an office worker is confronted with a horrible, ghostly human face in the photocopy machine. Does the office worker's blood curdle because she's afraid of the phantom, or because her damn copies keep getting ruined?! Anyway, the show's simple formula—ordinary people try to go about their day, but then slowly realize that they're in an episode of Yamishibai and are therefore screwed—makes for some good late-nite viewing.
Kowabon is another ILCA joint, one that dropped onto Crunchyroll at the same time as Onara Goro. But like Yamishibai, it's a creepy horror story. I really dig this show's concept—it's done via rotoscoping, with very little hand-drawn artwork, and the action is entirely shown through ubiquitous built-in cameras—the cameras in smartphones and laptops and building security systems. There's just one thing about the show that bugs me, and it's the way it uses blasts of static and analog noise to make the viewer jump and squirm. This equipment is entirely digital, dammit—there's no way old-style static is gonna happen! Anyway, every episode basically ends with “Ahh! look out, it's a reasonable facsimile of Sadako from The Ring” and then we get to the best part, the ending sequence, which shows the rotoscoped actors setting up and horsing around. Kowabon's not always good, but it's always good enough, and hey, it's over in a couple of minutes!
Somehow, some way, my favorite ILCA show isn't the one with the talking fart. (Hey Onara Goro creators, can you do a season where the fart talks and travels through time?!) It's the one featuring the bloody and complicated Warring States era, the period during the 1500s when one time-traveling wizard alien robot girlfriend assassin named Oda Nobunaga worked to unify the nation under his rule. Nobunaga fell, but his policies and innovations shaped the future of Japan, making him one of the most important of the country's historical figures. Anyway, this show's version of Nobunaga is a cuckoo.
In SENGOKUCHOJYUGIGA (literally “Sengoku Animal Comics”), Nobunaga is joined by his comrades and retainers, Hideyoshi Toyotomi (monkey) and Ieyasu Tokugawa (tanuki). In a bold, eye-popping style that looks like 19th century Japanese pop art, these animal versions of the era's pivotal figures… kinda act like shitheads, occasionally touching on the big moments that defined history. Nobunaga, renowned for introducing firearms to wide use in military combat, brandishes a musket and querulously asks his comrades who feels like being shot, because he really wants to try his new gun out. “You can do it,” he tells an aghast Hideyoshi, “You're wearing armor!”
Later, we'll see an infamous and gruesome event involving a teapot basically get turned into a Lupin the 3rd gag, but it's not enough to make the characters dress like the characters—something amazing happens when Nobunaga's seiyuu, Hashinosuke Nakamura IV (yep, one of those kabuki dudes) tries to do a Yasuo Yamada impression, realizes he can't pull it off, but just keeps going, even as his comrades break character and ask him why he's talking like an imbecile. The show reaches a creative zenith in an episode where the entire running time is taken up by Tokugawa haplessly chasing his wind-blown fundoshi, while an enka song about having no underpants blares in the background. He meets Toyotomi later, where they just might hatch a historical plot. “It is not known if this meeting actually occurred,” intones the narrator solemnly (note: the narrator is Megumi Hayashibara!), “but it probably didn't.”
Eventually, I seeded the Arisia program with an episode or two of each of these shows, unlisted in the program. I wasn't present for all of them, but I was in the room when an episode of Onara Goro suddenly appeared after the Fate/Grand Order anime. A good fifteen or twenty viewers reacted the only way you can when confronted with a wise, talking fart: with dumbfounded silence. Mission accomplished! I'm sure all of those people left the anime theatre inspired, and I hope you are, as well. Finding Onara Goro, and then chasing down other stuff produced by ILCA and delivered by KBC, are good proof that, when you head out to the margins of the anime medium, you can still find great and unexpected things. I'll be looking forward to what ILCA farts up next with great interest.
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