The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Joshiraku

Title: Joshiraku
Genre: Comedy
Company: J.C. Staff
Format: 13 episodes
Dates: 6 Jul 2012 – 28 Sep 2012

Synopsis: Five women who work as rakugo comedians shoot the breeze backstage after performances, and their conversations cover wild, surreal trains of thought. They also like to go out every so often.

The Highlights:
Humor: Lots to laugh at, particularly as the series goes along.
Culture: Language puns aplenty and other specifics references to and riffs on Japanese culture that may not be immediately apparent to foreign audiences.
Logic: The conversations go to strange places that somehow travel along a bizarrely logical path.
Direction: The show is much more visually interesting than expected — it dives headlong into weird scenarios that pop up in conversation.

Comedy is a tough nut to crack. We often take for granted how much of it is steeped in specific cultures — what may be obvious to us in our own country may fly over a foreigner’s head. It is sometimes difficult for me to truly appreciate Japanese humor, because I know only the most basic, stock phrases of Japanese and whatever cultural references I’ve seen in anime a million times before. Joshiraku is not different from many anime comedies in that much of the humor comes from specific, far-ranging cultural references and puns. However, much like Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei (also penned by manga author Kumeta Koji), Joshiraku also trades in smart, weird but broad comedy that can be understood by anyone.

The basic premise could quickly become tiring if it weren’t so well executed. The crux of each segment (there are typically three per episode, much like Zetsubou Sensei) involves the five main women (and occasionally one other silent character who wears a wrestling mask) chatting around a table backstage after one of them finishes off a comedy routine. Their conversations revolve around subjects like the lottery, full moons, and the number four; these chats rarely end in the same place they began, part of the show’s fun is tracking where the girls go on their wild conversational trains of thought. One of my favorites involves a planned Christmas party that turns into a jungle war that riffs on First Blood, Predator, and Apocalypse Now.

These strange turns of conversation become weirder as the series progresses. People may have wondered how a Kumeta manga not adapted by SHAFT‘s Shinbo Akiyuki would turn out, but seasoned comedy director Mizushima Tsutomu (Bokusatsu Tenshi Dokuro-chan, Genshiken, Squid Girl, Hare+Guu) is more than up to the task. The show dives headlong into the conversational dreamscapes the women concoct, and there’s a solid amount of energy and rock solid comic timing in each chat. It’s not simply a show of talking heads. It is to Mizushima‘s credit that I didn’t often think of Zetsubou Sensei while watching the show. Joshiraku clearly comes from the same author, so there are comparisons to be made, but it’s a different way of adapting Kumeta.

What also helps, though, is that there is a strong foundation. The characters are all quite funny and interesting in their own ways; I would imagine each has an almost equal number of fans. For the record, my favorite is Kukuru, who not only has a fun name to say, but who is also very morbid and unhinged. This often leads to her taking great pleasure in very weird things or growing fearful and despondent at normal things. I also enjoy Kigurumi, who is cute and sweet most of the time — at least until someone acts a bit condescending or protective of her, after which she briefly launches into an inner monologue that reveals her true personality as sarcastic and manipulative. The ladies all have excellent chemistry, which is a big part of what makes the conversations work so well. The show really does feel like peeking into the conversations of five women who have known each other for a long time.

Joshiraku is a good comedy series, and, in my mind, one of the best series overall of this year. I was skeptical at first, but the charm of the cast and the show’s weird point of view won me over and kept me laughing from start to finish.

The Rating: 7
6/10

Reviewed by: Shinmaru

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