Wataru TakagiEmi ShinoharaShigeru ChibaYuri Amano
The Abashiri Family (1991)
Medium: OVA
Year: 1991
Director: Takashi Watanabe
Original creator: Go Nagai
Studio: Dynamic Planning, Studio Pierrot
Actor: Kousei Tomita, Kyouko Tonguu, Shigeru Chiba, Taiki Matsuno, Tessho Genda, Emi Shinohara, Hideyuki Umezu, Kiyoshi Kawakubo, Kiyoyuki Yanada, Rokuro Naya, Shigeru Shiihashi, Taro Arakawa, Toshiharu Sakurai, Wataru Takagi, Yuri Amano
Keywords: Abashiri Family, anime
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 4-episode OVA, 75 minutes
Url: http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/anime.php?id=506
Website category: Anime early 90s
Review date: 8 January 2011
I love Go Nagai, although his reputation precedes him. He's famous for sex and violence, usually in some kind of desperately childish, perverted or disgusting way that's guaranteed to freak out even people who normally live for this kind of thing. Needless to say, this is why he's great. His manga can be too much even for me, but his anime is kind of brilliant in the way it's taking no prisoners and ignoring all boundaries (e.g. taste). However his live-action adaptations... no.
The Abashiri Family manga ran from 1969-1973 in Weekly Shonen Champion. It features the adventures of a criminal patriarch and his four children, each of whom was born to a different (and deceased) mother. These scamps are:
1. Daemon - violent midget father
2. Kikunosuke - daughter and martial artist, often losing her clothes
3. Goemon - panty-stealing pervert
4. Naojiro - cyborg
5. Kichiza - small boy and explosives expert
The first episode shows the Abashiris robbing a bank, finding the police waiting for them and as a result slaughtering everyone in the building and turning the area into a warzone. However Kikunosuke wants to stop being a mass-murderer. It's her sixteenth birthday. Daemon thus enrols her in Paradise School, only for this to turn out to be a hellhole in which the teachers rape and kill the students.
That's the normal bit, by the way. More insane is the Abashiris all being sexually interested in Kikunosuke, trying to see her naked and (in the case of Goemon) stalking her, stealing her underwear and asking her to marry him. Have you ever seen an incest-crazed groping pervert played for laughs? No? Well, here's your chance! Then there's the exploitation and attempted rape at Paradise School. You'd think Go Nagai was twelve years old. There are decapitations, guillotines, head-crushings and people vomiting blood as they die. There's a lesbian bondage queen called Mademoiselle Honey who fondles Kikunosuke during their fight to the death. The only mitigating factor would be that the animators are trying not to get lynched, so the nudity is tame and the gore is cartoonish and mild compared with, say, Violence Jack.
This is brilliant. Admittedly the childishness and vaguely comedic tone means it's not Go Nagai's most powerful work, but even so you'd have to look long and hard to find something this crazed from any other creator.
Despite appearances, Go Nagai's saying something. He created the series in reaction to the controversy he'd stirred up with Harenchi Gakuen (aka. Scandal School and sometimes called the first hentai manga) and I'm sure I've read somewhere that he ended it with a bloodbath in which everyone died. Consistently in these OVAs, he's saying that even the Abashiris aren't as bad as the society they live in. The first thing we see is riot police using grenades on civilian protestors. Kikunosuke has personally slain 160 people, but the reason for that is that she's been marked as a criminal from birth, giving her no choice but to kill or be killed. When she tries to mobilise her fellow students to fight and defend themselves, they're as bad as the teachers. It's a savage, almost angry worldview.
This could have been the best thing ever, but unfortunately it's not as good as I'm making it sound. It's a bit stupid and silly. It's not disturbing, but instead encouraging you to laugh at it like Kekko Kamen. I'd also advise feminists not to watch. It's not the nudity, but the subtext. People keep telling Kikunosuke that she's not acting as a woman should and there's an off-putting message of "women's happiness is in the kitchen". Cutey Honey this is not, despite the cropping up of a Cutey Honey motif in which a semi-clad woman gets crucified. There's also inconsistency about Kikunosuke's strength as a fighter, which seems to come and go according to plot convenience even more than you'd normally allow from her injuries.
The Abashiris have returned in later years. Almost all of them, plus Paradise School, later cropped up in Cutey Honey, although not as recognisably as I'd hoped. They're also in Mazinger Z and Grendizer, while as well as spawning this 1991 anime they got a live-action film in 2009. I'll be watching it, but I'm assuming it'll be rubbish. Go Nagai and reality don't mix.
In summary, bloodthirsty and perverted and yet also oddly trivial. It feels like nonsense, but you also know that this is Go Nagai, so anything might happen and no one is safe. When it's time for the finale and our sixteen-year-old heroine is advancing on the villain with an axe, there's not a shadow of a doubt that things are about to get ugly. Is it a must-watch? No, not even for me. For normal people it'll be more of a must-not-watch. However personally I'm very pleased to have tracked it down and I think it's a deceptively important piece of Nagai-ography. It's less throwaway than something like Iron Virgin Jun and the force and richness of its subtext puts it on a par with something like Devilman, even if some of that subtext makes me uncomfortable. That's why I watch Go Nagai.