It's the only TV series we'll ever have from the late Satoshi Kon (Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress, Tokyo Godfathers
, Paprika). Working only on movies had given him no outlet for all those random ideas one has while creating reality-bending weird stuff. None of it would fit into any sensible framework, so he created this.
It's mental. It's also dark and kind of disturbing.
The story involves Lil' Slugger, a little boy on rollerblades who hits people with his baseball bat. In the first half of the series, this puts them in hospital. In the second half of the series, they'll die. The police are at a loss, since there's no connection between the victims and no sane way of getting one's head around what's going on with Lil' Slugger. The only common feature is that his victims all seem to be desperate, backed into a corner and/or retreating into a fantasy world. In some way, it was a relief to them to get their skulls broken.
Sometimes it's an anthology series. Disturbing and/or loony freaks ruin their lives for our viewing pleasure, en route to a Lil' Slugger punchline. Sometimes they're simply unpleasant, so there's a grotesque kind of entertainment in seeing them sending themselves to hell. Tarai (episode 2) is a high-school megalomaniac, for instance, whose self-esteem depends on being the most popular person in the room. Watching him getting screwed is funny. Similarly the cop in episode 4 at first might merely appear to be repellent and evil, but in fact he's losing his sanity and is incidentally a monster worse than you'll have imagined.
These episodes are dark, but at least they're not as uncomfortable as, say, episode three and the split-personality girl who's at war with her prostitute alter-ego.
However at the same time, the series has ongoing characters and a web of unexpected connections between them. The policemen investigating Lil' Slugger at first look like the standard "nice cop, nasty cop" stereotype, but in fact there's far more to them than that. One's an old-school cop who lives by an old-fashioned code and doesn't have an ounce of imagination, while his partner is open-minded to a fault. There's a character designer who's had a massive hit with her cartoon dog, Maromi, which occasionally comes alive and talks to her. There's a dying woman who's the strongest person in the show.
All these people and more are weaved into a plot that can have unexpected permanent developments. It's not a happy story and it'll confuse you, but it is all resolved at the end in a way that's satisfying and makes sense. This will seem like a miracle.
To be honest, though, you'll have gone mad if you were watching this show for its plot. Instead of trying to guess the mystery, you'd be better advised to follow the themes. Patterns can be discerned. Keep an eye on the quiet, mouse-like women who look as if they wouldn't say boo to a goose. Watch people's selfish reactions to others' misfortune. Look at all the reality-bending. All these people, in some way or another, are hiding from what's in front of them. The variety of delusions and hallucinations is one of this series's most intriguing and important features, including different art styles and a naively drawn cardboard cut-out world in the last couple of episodes.
It's intelligent, subtle and sometimes witty. The wit is jet-black and often buried in material that's ugly or uncomfortable, but halfway through, it's as if Satoshi Kon decides to abandon his tangled plot and instead relax. Episode 8 is a comedy about a suicide pact. One of the three wannabe suicides is a child. This is hilarious and a delightful episode of simple good humour and fun. (No, I'm not kidding.) Episode 9 is an anthology within an anthology, as we get a bunch of unreliably related stories from those three gossiping old bats from Tokyo Godfathers
. This ends with a punchline that's funny, shocking and disturbing. Then episode 10 is a self-referential episode about the making of an anime, with a playful beginning and an evil ending.
It's also a hard show to translate. There are references to the kanji in people's names, cultural allusions and throwaways that would require even Japanese audiences to be alert.
Visually it's excellent, being by Madhouse. The opening sequence of people laughing for some reason disturbs me, even though I can't say why. The character designs are frequently ugly, to a degree that makes people look like Miyazaki toad-creatures.
Apparently Takashi Shimizu (Ju-on
) has shown interest in doing a live-action movie adaptation. That would break my brain, hopefully in a good way. Did I like this show? Um. It's different. It's also clearly more ambitious than most shows. It's saying terrible things about human nature and our capacity for hiding from reality, but in the end it's also standing up for our ability to overcome this. The ending is uplifting, in its dark way. The show's heart lies in the dying wife. However it's also a show to make you want to pass laws against sexuality, while it's a measure of how twisted things can get that it'll sometimes be a relief when Lil' Slugger shows up to break heads.