8 Happy Family Planning
This is one of the most delightful things I’ve experienced. Three people who met online form a pact to commit suicide together. There’s the elderly Fuyubachi (Kiyoshi Kawakubo), the youthful Zebra (Yasunori Matsumoto) and the extremely young girl Kamome-kun (Mina Tominaga). Both Fuyubachi and Zebra spend the episode trying to shake Kamome-kun since they’re freaked out that she’s so young. Their suicide attempts keep failing hilariously. Along the way they also decide to live large since they plan on dying anyway.
Part of what makes this episode so funny is the tone. Suicide is a dark subject, but the story just strikes the right level of absurd to make the episode darkly hilarious. The constantly failed attempts to shake off Kamome-kun as well as the ways in which their suicides hilariously backfire is a wonderful blend of morbid and light-hearted humor. The timing is impeccable. The train gag and the gag in the forest finds just the right moment to make the unexpected happen.
Also, for an episode about a suicide pact, the story becomes a celebration of life and friendship as the characters begin to bond and grow through their hardships and festivities. They decide to live fully and richly for their last days on earth and in the process begin to experience so much joy together that by the end of the episode they suddenly find the prospect of life joyous. It’s a beautiful, heartwarming episode that grows from such a dark and morbid subject.
Shonen Bat does show up as the group chases him down begging to be killed, but this begins a series of episodes that are less about the overarching plot and more one-offs that allow for interesting, self-contained stories.
A group of gossipy women share a number of stories about people encountering Shonen Bat. It’s a fun little montage of stories and plays up the idea that Shonen Bat has become such a legendary tale that he no longer exists simply in the realm of reality, but now has all number of fantasies being constructed around him as an idea. In terms of exemplifying the idea of Shonen Bat, this is probably the most effective episode.
There’s also a funny gag where the wife of a screenwriter tries to make up similar tall-tells but ends up making the worst conceived stories. The whole thing ends with her returning home to find her husband has been attacked. Instead of worrying about his well-being, she begs for details of the attack. It highlights our fascination with the gruesome details of the assailant’s acts over the well-being of the victims.
10 Mellow Maromi
A group of animators making a cartoon about Maromi begin to have members of their crew picked off one by one by Shonen Bat as they crack under the strain of an accelerated work schedule. This episode playfully slips between the story and a fourth-wall breaking meta-commentary by Maromi about the various functions and roles of the crew. It’s another piece that makes an elegant tonal balance. It’s got a childish, edutainment feel to the commentary that clashes with the horror story of Shonen Bat hunting down the crew. Somehow, the Maromi bits are wry enough to work with the darker elements.
It’s a cool episode because it gives the audience some actual education into how a show like this would be made, but also ends up having some of the most chilling scenes of the show. The entire episode is framed as production coordinator Saruta Naayuki remembering the events of the past week as he drives in the rain to deliver the first episode to the studio to air. The driving scene itself is chilling with Shonen Bat beginning to tail Saruta at one point. Another chilling scene is when Saruta goes to an apartment to pick up some drawings and gathers the notes as the animator he assumes is passed out lies dead on her desk.
© 2014 James Blake Ewing