The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Trapeze

Title: Trapeze aka Kuchu Buranko aka Welcome to Irabu’s Office
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Company: Toei Animation
Format: 11 episodes
Dates: 15 Oct 2009 – 24 Dec 2009

Synopsis: Yamashita Kohei is one of Japan’s best trapeze artists, but his recent performances haven’t gone well. The circus master, concerned about Kohei’s wellbeing, specifically his sleeping habits, sends him to a psychiatrist. However the doctor he visits, Irabu Ichiro, is no ordinary shrink. Dr. Irabu has his nurse, Mayumi, give Kohei an injection, which has immediate results…

The Highlights
Aesthetics: Between the rotoscoping, artstyle and colour scheme, highly unconventional.
Main characters: Dr. Irabu is eccentric plus; Mayumi, strangely enough, is the closest thing in this anime to a normal person.
Episodic characters: Interesting and well developed, but not exactly memorable.
Substance: The style is slightly misleading, as the subject matter is grounded and relevant.
Ending: Resonant.

Trapeze initially appears as a bizarre anime, and while it is certainly unique, past its hugely unconventional visual style is a relatively straightforward set of episodic stories. I say “relatively”, because the types of stories and situations this series deals with aren’t typical for anime at all (unless, for some bizarre reason, your only exposure to anime has been hard-hitting, grounded Noitamina series and similarly mature titles). Trapeze is a quirky take on a handful of very real psychological problems, but it’s aware enough not to be distracted by (or make a distraction of) its eye-catching visual style. Underneath it all is a very interesting set of commentaries about society and people which only work in Japan, late ‘00s.

Watch Trapeze, and you’ll see a one-of-a-kind anime. Its mixture of animation and live-action is unlike anything else… rotoscoping, a technique which has probably been seen in anime less often than the Clippers have made the NBA playoffs, is used extensively. Actors are utilized frequently and in their haphazard appearances throughout the series, their faces and features are overlaid with dull textures and thick cartoon-y lines. Even beyond this the execution is unconventional… the eccentric Dr. Irabu has three forms, apparently representing each of part of Freud’s model of the psyche: the id, ego and super-ego; meanwhile Fukuicchi fills in the audience’s mental health knowledge gaps by literally drilling through the fourth wall. Extras look like cardboard cut-outs, while the backgrounds are covered in bright, flamboyant colours and modernistic polka-dot patterns, the type of which wouldn’t be out of place on a pair of underpants, but are completely out of place on the buildings and walls that they appear on.

Then again, on a superficial level, so much in this series is out of place for an anime. Despite its whacky presentation, its subject matter is real and relevant. It’s only at the surface and at the outset of each episode where Trapeze is absurd; in pretty much every episode, the array of mental health issues the characters face make way for something deeper and more insightful… cases involving insomnia, erectile dysfunction (one of the funniest episodes), OCD and the yips go on to focus on much tougher issues like xenophobia, divorce, family breakdown and growing old. The characters are almost all believable and analyzed closely, and the show has a very aware grasp of modern Japanese society, and the unique problems people face as they continue to drift apart.

I guess, ultimately, my problem with the show is that none of the episodic characters are strongly memorable. While the show has its clever and insightful moments, nothing really lingers for more than a couple of episodes (other than the brilliantly resonant note that the series ends on). The characters occupy the couch for their episode and remain interesting for that time, but the show expends too much energy using them as commentaries for the wider societal problems faced by modern Japan, which doesn’t give them their full opportunity to make their mark. I guess the fact that they’re constantly overshadowed by Irabu and Mayumi (the most mentally sound of the characters) doesn’t help either. The episodes are all obliquely interlinked, but only one of these connections is at all meaningful, which makes me wonder “why bother” except to try to look clever. There are better “unconventional” (bordering on pretentious, but I’m only rarely adverse to pretentious works) anime, but there is certainly no other anime quite like Trapeze.

The Rating: 7
7/10

Reviewed by: Sorrow-kun

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