Defining Anime – the Gag Series Genre
From that tiny elongated chain of islands across the Pacific comes the onslaught of new ideas and entertaining cultural displays. Japan has been showering us with their massive animation industry for a while now, every year finding more and more of a foothold in the foreign markets that eat it up so ravenously. The growth of the industry even in Japan was unprecedented, but here in the states it’s almost impossible to keep up with. So, what do you do when you’re first getting into anime and wanting to learn a little more about what’s out there and what’s best to watch. Which genre will you like? Which shows are the least violent? The most violent? The weirdest? There’s something for everyone in this business, but you have to know where to start because the wrong episodes of that weird sado-masochistic samurai love story will probably throw you off the scent of anything good for a while, if not spoil the entire art form.
The gag genre is something we’re more comfortable with in the states. It’s more or less a mindless comedy which focuses first and foremost on the gags with which it is comprised than with the plot, characters, or development. Think family guy with Japanese humour. These tend to be fairly weird, and in love with the pop culture reference (…Family Guy?).
Azumanga Daioh – Conceived as a series of short cartoon strips similar to what we see in our Sunday papers (though actually funny), Azumanga is the story of group of junior high school girls and their teachers and their oddball, over the top antics. There’s no story here, just a whole bunch of characters doing really goofy things. There’s the over achiever, the super genius little kid, the quiet but popular girl, the talkers – all the stereotypes are present but they’re blown up as big as they can be for the sake of how incredibly funny they are.
Cromartie High School – Take Azumanga and change the girls to high school guys and you’ve got Cromartie High School. Cromartie High is an amalgamation of tough guy stereotypes and school fighting, but it’s never willing to take itself seriously; one of the tougher guys around is a tiny robot shaped like a garbage can. It’s punchline after punchline with very little time to breath in between.
Excel Saga – One of the most oddball, absurdist comedies of them all, Excel Saga follows the trials and tribulation of ACROSS, an organization bent on control Fukuoka as the first step in their quest for world domination. It’s essentially a story loosely thrown into sketch after satirical sketch skewering contemporary life in Japan. Think Monty Python but Japanese.
FLCL – which translates as Fooly Cooly, is about a bored young Naota being hit by a vespa driven by Haruko. His life immediately changes and in the ensuing six episodes he’s berated by her constantly, including a horn she give him early on. The show is a pop culture homage, making mentions to everything from South Park to Evangelion and repeatedly takes down the fourth wall to address its audience. It’s something of an anomaly in anime, sparse on logic, but heavy on comedy.