Gokudo is a shameless crook, thief, liar, backstabber and slimeball.
Uh, that's it. That's the plot.
This should have been right up my alley. I love "evil bastard hero" comedy, but Gokudo wimped out. I'm not this show's target audience. Rune Soldiers for example felt as if they'd made it just for me, but everything about Gokudo screams "kiddie show" from the art style to the slapstick stories. It doesn't go far enough. You couldn't mistake Gokudo for a hero, but equally you're never really under the misapprehension that serious consequences could come from his attempts to sell his friends down the river.
Returning to the visuals: it's a bloody cartoon! If you don't like super-deformed art, you'll hate Gokudo... or at least that was my initial reaction. A few minutes later I'd modified my position. Admittedly it's drawn in broad exaggerated lines, but it has a knack for expressive characters which remind me of one of Mad Magazine's artists. It's not sexy (with the occasional exception of Bishoujo Djinn) but it can be cute, with an adorable scene-changing bunny girl.
It can also be very funny, though the best laughs come in the early episodes. Gokudo is a complete son of a bitch with no morals and no conscience, so it's funny to see him in situations where he must (aaargh, vomit) end up doing good! He's always trying to save his worthless neck and/or cooperate with the villains, so we have no qualms about laughing our arses off at the myriad ways in which the show tortures him. It's a simplistic comedy formula. Poke Gokudo with a stick and watch him jump!
That's a good start. Unfortunately after that it doesn't even get as far as a good middle. Gokudo's an evil hero stuck in timid runarounds, so he just ends up looking bad-tempered and silly. The plots aren't built around him properly. He doesn't get to be evil enough. I've posted nastier than this myself to the internet. The opening three-parter is good, but after that I was always hoping for more than I got from Gokudo's shenanigans. (Well, except for a devil eating people's souls. I'm still slightly disturbed by that.) What's more, Gokudo acquires friends... they think he's appalling, but they follow him around and share his adventures. Hideous fates would meet these folks if Gokudo's schemes all came to fruition, but we know that won't happen in this kind of show.
This may be lowbrow kiddie fare, but surreptitiously it has a theme. Of all things, this show is about religion. Gokudo and his chums are generally pitted against gods or god-like entities (the Hotoke), about which the show has views. At one point there's even a debate between polytheism and Christianity... ahem, I mean a Hotoke. In Gokudo's opinion, bugger all gods. He just wants them the hell out of his life so he can get on with chasing money and girls. Underneath its kiddie-friendly trappings, this show has some pungent and strongly articulated opinions.
In fairness I enjoyed much of this show. The best laughs were all in the first half, but things pick up again at the end. I particularly liked the last episode, which actually gave Gokudo and his friends a (relatively) dramatic climax. We even see how close they've become in their dysfunctional way, despite the obvious personality clashes and the fact that Gokudo will never ever learn. He's as shamelessly venal at the end as at the beginning. It's also easy to get suckered into watching episode after episode, since the show has no one-off stories but instead has story arcs and cliffhangers all the way through.
That bizarre theme aside, this show has the depth of a puddle. Nanya and Djinn have the only relationship with emotion, as opposed to slapstick violence and comedy rage. Some of the best laughs involve fart jokes. This show is silly, it's dumb and it loses its way during the ten-part body-swap saga, but you can't fault it for energy. Watch it by all means, but rent before you buy.