Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Bobobo-bo-bo-bobo Review

No anime fan is a stranger to the bizarre.  Sometimes it’s cultural differences, but anime has some of the most wacked-out, creative, and sometimes supposedly drug-induced images and concepts none of us could come up with ourselves.  You need only look at Panty & Stocking, Lucky Star, or even the aptly titled Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure to see why anime has such a strong presence and fandom.

That’s not to say America doesn’t have its own weirdness.

But when I watch a strange anime, I catch myself thinking the same thing every time: “That was weird as hell, but it wasn’t Bobobo.”  No matter how weird an anime may get, I have yet to see anything more outlandish and mind-warping than Yoshio Sawai’s Bobobo-bo-bo-bobo.

The title alone should tell you it’s a weird one, but it goes far deeper than that.  Bobobo isn’t just weird and it wasn’t made on narcotics.  Bobobo-bo-bo-bobo is itself a narcotic; one you take just by watching it instead of snorting or injecting.  It is considered one of the most dangerous known to man, so much so that most drug dealers don’t dare stock it.  Watching it for too long at one time turns even the most intelligent human being into a babbling, head-banging psychopath.

That is the power of Bobobo.  And I love it.

Please do not click out of this page before you finish reading the show’s presmise.
Bobobo-bo-bo-bobo tells the story of a group of rebels led by the titular hero, who is one of the last remaining people of the Hair Kingdom, which was wiped out by the evil Chrome Dome Empire.  The Chrome Dome Empire, led by Czar Baldy Bald the Fourth, seeks to take over the world and shave everyone in it bald.

Being a parody of shonen, the overall structure is simple and straightforward.  Bobobo and his ever-increasing posse of allies fight villain after villain using their ridiculous abilities (super fists) and reality-warping randomness.  On the heroes side, there are characters like Hatenko, who uses the Super Fist of the Key, Gasser, with his Super Fist of the Backwind, and Service Man, whose only method of attack is flashing the enemy.

Bobobo himself, being of the Hair Kingdom, uses the Super Fist of the Nose Hair along with his “Wiggin’” fighting style, which basically lets him do anything he wants when he calls for it… Anything!  As the name of the technique implies, many of Bobobo’s attacks use his nose hair as well as his giant blonde afro.

Don’t close out of this!  This is serious!

Then there’s Beauty.  Beauty tags along with Bobobo for protection and questions things.  Silly girl.  There are no answers, and there are no rules.  There is only Bobobo.

But Don Patch is a good guy!

There are even more villains in the show than heroes, most of whom have fighting styles that are just as mad, such as Halekulani, who weaponizes money, Nunchuck Nick, who weaponizes tape, and Lambada, who turns objects into, and manipulates, polygons.

The insanity of when these superpowers clash is the main appeal of the show.  Every fight contains many puns, parodies, tons of nonsense, and more than enough mindfuckery to make you clutch your head.  You can choose any random episode and enjoy it.

That video is what your brain feels like when you’re watching Bobobo.  There’s no deep message to discuss or even characters to describe a whole lot other than “everyone is completely out of their minds (except Beauty and most villains)!”  It is the epitome of the surreal action comedy.

Much of the entertainment value can be attributed to the nigh-perfect English version, written by some of the best writers in anime, including Jeff Nimoy and Bob Buchholz, best known for their work on Digimon and the greatest anime ever made, Viewtiful Joe.  Like Digimon and Viewtiful Joe though, the English version was aired on TV and had to be censored (more than the anime was toned down from the manga), but I think that works in the show’s favor by giving it a much more innocent feel to it.

It’s a good thing they had control of this one, because I don’t think anyone less could pull off this kind of translation.  While the original manga and anime are enjoyably weird, there are a lot of Japanese cultural references and especially puns that could never be translated into the English language directly.

The heroes are playing an evil board game, and Bobobo first rolled a rhinoceros, so now he's rolling an elephant.

They remained faithful to the plot, but Japanese puns were replaced with English ones, the copious Japanese text was referenced as illegible, and the narrator was given a humongous role upgrade.

Even when not technically necessary, the English version makes something even funnier than it already was.

The English version of Bobobo has the chattiest narrator in any work, and with the hammy voice of Michael McConnohie pointing out stupidity, complaining about production and talking about his own life in the middle of the show, he’s one of the best parts.

The rest of the voice actors are also perfectly cast.  Fans of Digimon and the Viewtiful Joe anime will no doubt recognize many of the English version’s voice talent.  Bobobo is voiced by Richard Epcar (Myotismon, Ansem, after Billy Zane), second main character Don Patch is voiced by Kirk Thorton (Rotten Jack, Saix), Jelly Jiggler has the voice of Jameson Price (Commander Samson in Data Squad & Iron Tager in Blazblue), and Beauty is voiced by Philece Sampler (Mimi, Silvia).  Several other great actors include Jeff Nimoy (Viewtiful Joe) himself as Hatenko and the ever-underrated David Lodge (Jiraiya) as Giga and Czar Baldy Bald the Third, two of the best villains in the series.  All of them deliver their lines with as much enthusiasm as they can muster.  They have to speak, scream, change tones in an instant, and do everything in between.  They’re perfect for a series all about ridiculous and overblown fighting.

You’d think a series that’s just nothing but idiots battling evil by being as random as possible would get stale.  Truth be told, it can get repetitive on long viewing sessions, but like so many shonen series, there are enough set pieces and ideas to keep it interesting.  In one episode, Bobobo’s gang fights a group of villains on the rim of a giant toilet bowl, and anyone who falls in swells up like a balloon.  In another, they must fight a group of villains on bungee cords.  The fun never stops until the rather disappointing ending.

The Bobobo anime was cut short and wasn’t able to finish the entire run of the manga it’s based on.   In fact, in the final episode, the narrator outright says “we’ve run out of episodes.”  They make a joke out of it in their usual self-referential way, but it still comes out of nowhere and leaves you wanting more.

But I’m content with the 79 episodes we got, because they are outrageous works of surrealist humor, and not in that stupid Gainax way, where they resort to sexuality and make token attempts to take themselves seriously.  Bobobobo is like one good long joke.

It’s an anime that needs to be seen to be believed, so I highly recommend getting it on DVD.  The entire series is available in two box sets by S’more Entertainment.  These DVD versions keep the edited English version, but add small commercial interludes, the second Japanese opening, and the Japanese closing songs, none of which were in the version broadcasted on TV.

The DVD also seems to have added unaired bits later on in the show, in which the episode is given another recap and a second title in the middle.  I assume these were recorded, but cut from the original broadcast, likely due to its redundancy, but it does give the narrator more lines, which is always a good thing.

Disappointingly, the Japanese version doesn’t come with subtitles in the DVD release, not that it matters.  The English version is the best version, but it would have been great to see how the puns played out in Japanese (you can still make some of such puns and the original names out if you can read the Japanese text present in the English version, however).

They call it lightning ball, but the text says "psycho ball" (Athena?).

Because of its surreal nature and very shonen roots, Bobobo-bo-bo-bobo isn’t for anyone looking for a grounded experience (even by anime standards), but considering its popularity, there are a lot of people who can love it.  I am one of those people, and I give Bobobo an 8 out of 10.

I would like to end this review with a note from Mr. Nimoy himself:

“It’s an easy show to write.  All you have to do is take three hits of acid and then you just [zoom].”

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