Go to hell, and if you get separated from the field trip group, meet back at the lunch tables.
[The following is my contribution to the Anime Secret Santa 2021 project, organized this year over at AGC Podcast. Please also enjoy reading the others!]
As we live in hell and time has no meaning anymore:
I have not been able to complete a single anime series since, well, Anime Secret Santa last year.
My “status” as an Essential Frontline Worker during a global health crisis has continued. Only higher levels of mandatory overtime, skipped holidays, and all manner of other things which would be rather upsetting to talk about in a festive media sharing setting.
Even in a good year, I always feel at least a little bad for anyone who has to pick out an anime for me for this project. I have enough anime under my belt to cause at least a few rounds of “Oh, they already saw this,” so the selection process time commitment could run a bit longer. Start adding in additional outside modifiers as heavy and massive as “By the way, just so you know, this will also be The One Anime I Watch This Year”? It becomes an outrageous situation.
A diabolical ask.
I had the option to watch a season of Natsume’s Book of Friends. I set it aside, despite being sure it would be pleasant. Television causes me enough problems with straight up passing out in my exhaustion at the moment. I could see myself trying to start the first episode several times, only to all of a sudden wake up hours later to go back to work. Which could be an interesting write-up on its own. But some other time perhaps.
Kaiba was another option, which I understand to be a work with a lot of thematic richness and density. A solid Kaiba post would be all but assured. Even if I turned out to not like the show much, I know there is a lot of material there to sift through and roll around with. It also presents a degree of challenge which, well, to be honest, I question if I have the energy required. For now, at least.
This turns the crank even harder working up to the final climatic choice.
Ghastly Prince Enma Burning Up (Dororon Enma-kun Meeramera) is a twelve episode series produced by Brains Base. Director and Series Composition duties go to Yoshitomo Yonetani. To a current anime fan, he would be best known for handling the anime adaptations for every season and special for Food Wars!: Shokugeki no Soma. The larger Dororon Enma-kun franchise goes back to the fall of 1973 in both manga and prior anime forms. The original creator being none other than one of greatest enemies of numerous parent-teacher associations over the decades: Go Nagai.
It is quite possible “Reboot of a 1970’s Go Nagai property led by the future Director of Food Wars” can punch your train of thought with an express ticket to the land of assumptions.
As your passport collector and paperwork stamper for this particular post, I can indeed assure you:
The series is Capital H for Horny.
Every possible thing about how one would interact with the series flows from this key point. It is the rock, it is the river. It has to be top of mind, before touching on anything else.
The setup and characters for Ghastly Prince Enma is simple enough. The Judge of Hell, Great King Enma, is having a bit of a time with demons running amok on Earth. He assigns his nephew Enma-kun to corral them back to the underworld. To assist in this operation, he is joined by Kapperu the kappa, the elder talking hat demon Chapeau-jii, and a snow lady named Yukiko. Together they form the Yokai Patrol, with the first episode addition of the regular plain human girl Harumi Fudou stumbling into the gang as our more grounded audience relation to these underworld shenanigans.
Folks often knock Monster of the Week formats, for understandable reasons. There are huge benefits. It can keep a constant supply of new designs coming, while also creating an environment with low episode to episode commitment. You can have an on and off again relationship with a piece. However, pacing is paramount. The work can fall into not only a certain safe routine, but into the dreaded ravine of active boredom. Before you know it, you are staring at the ceiling wondering what you ever saw in this to begin with. The quiet prayer for it to hurry up and finish already.
As a rampaging Go Nagai sex comedy, one thing the series has in its corner is a relentless and ravenous speed to the whole affair.
On some occasions Nagai has mentioned not being able to remember the exact process of writing or drawing a particular manga, such was the pace of his enormous output in his younger years. I feel Yonetani was able to capture this particular sense of momentum. While I have never read the original Dororon Enma-kun comics, I do have copies of various other manga by Nagai on hand, such as the nice hardcover copies of Devilman and Cutie Honey.
There is real page turning speed in his larger body of work. Entire chapters dissolve in moments.
As the kind of person who likes to keep a long form personal hobby website for anime writing, this may not be a huge surprise but: I have to admit that most of the jokes are not what I would consider laugh out loud funny. My personal strike zone is often something slower or slyer.
However, I never have much of a gut busting time in the comics section of a newspaper either. But I still look at it from time to time. And this show is much closer in feel to browsing through those pages, and I respect the kind of craftsmanship that goes into slamming that stuff out. Go Nagai’s character design work has been able to hold up so well over the years due to his commitment to a certain mix of simplicity, boldness, and indeed cuteness to stay one step ahead of the wrong side of a censorship board.
The work is Horny, yes, pumping away on every wordplay or visual front. Yukiko captured in various states of disrepair, and it is not uncommon to see her tied up in one way or another. Sometimes with snakes, other times with squid tentacles.
But it is also Go Nagai Horny Comedy. The very first episode graces the viewer with a swashbuckling demon penis sword fight.
I am putting a screenshot of several members of the cast getting wet and tugged riding the high seas on a giant wacky novelty banana above this section.
It is the kind of tonal dance that often lends it to have more in common with, say, a randy Tex Avery cartoon wolf with bulging eyes and a tongue rolling away like an unwrapped red carpet. Stock “awoo-gah” type soundboard buttons would not be out of place here. This is the kind of show where a demon can find themselves fighting to hold back an enclosing black hole dissolve while the end credits play, demanding more screentime.
You might be familiar with the story of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and its encounters with the British Board of Film Classification. Within the explicit guidelines of the classification board, it was difficult to recommend anything to cut. The shot composition, the music, the cutaways, and more create an overall tone of terror to the film. It was refused classification to the BBFC more than once. But it shows very little. The mind is doing most of the work.
This series is not that slick, but being part of the Go Nagai package does grant it quite a bit of protection.
There is a palpable difference between Nagai’s style of wacky high velocity cartoon antics for a mountain of butt and boob jokes versus, say, where a High School DxD or Queen’s Blade are aiming. Even the character of Enpi, who much like Kekko Kamen has a provocative outfit to the extreme. She both wears a lot of pink while also not wearing a whole lot of anything around her entire torso. But while she is still very much in this sex joke comedy, she has quite a different presence than such a character would in other programs. There is always something covering her pelvis, no matter how contrived the show needs to go to make it happen. Combine that with the high speed of the series and simpler cartooning of the character design work, and her antics come all the way around to be less squicky than boatloads of “less” perverted raw fanservice shows.
If anything, I think something the series could have used more of is greater differentiation between what the male trio of Enma-kun, Kapperu, and Chapeau-jii find attractive.
Yukiko and Harumi play well together. The former as more sweet and gentle, with the other as her more direct and blunt foil. Plus the later introduction of Enpi as an unreserved exhibitionist. But we lack much of the same differentiation with the core dudes. All three will more or less become drooling maniacs over the exact same sexy situation or thought, in the exact same ways, at the exact same times. This is extra rough in the initial episodes of the series, where you are trying to get a sense of the lay of the land and who everyone is. Outside of providing an extra set of hands to give Enma-kun a weapon, or cover up an otherwise scandalous situation for the camera, Kapperu and Chapeau-jii can feel quite superfluous. They do bulk out the central cast from being just Enma-kun and two to three ladies. Which does benefit the series, as that would perhaps be far more dangerous to balance the Wacky Horny At Warp Speed through-line around.
I feel even establishing something from the outset akin to “This one likes butts more” between Kapperu and Chapeau-jii would have gone a long way towards fleshing out a bit more of a gap between their characters. A simple contrast like that would grant some further setups for later comedic interactions.
While I can not find a source to back this up, it would not surprise me to learn if Yoshitomo Yonetani was a fan of either Go Nagai’s original comic or the television anime growing up. Released within weeks of each other in 1973, either way Yonetani would have been ten years old at the time. A perfect influential age, and it would make for a fun story if it was true.
What I do feel confident is saying is this:
In October 2014, the anime adaptation of Food Wars! was announced, with Yonetani set to direct. The series would go on to be a huge mainstream success across the world for the rest of the decade and then some. Even achieving the kind of western audience numbers for multiple seasons of Toonami airplay in the United States.
And much like the original manga: Food Wars! is Quite Horny.
Would the Food Wars! anime have been so satisfying to so many people for so many seasons without Yonetani’s past experience handling stuff like Ghastly Prince Enma to work out the kinks?
I think not.
It has been yet another long, hard year, and I sure have delivered unto you a bundle of overdone sex jokes over the course of this write-up.
So you know, given the circumstances, and taking in the careers of the folks involved in this show I had to watch:
They never gave up on Horny.
Are there way more literary, more lyrical holiday messages in this time of reflection? Maybe. For sure.
But given how much the internet increases to joke about the potential for a massive worldwide orgy whenever we get on the other side of the current viral pandemic hellscape?
Ghastly Prince Enma may have ever more in common with where a lot of folks are at the moment.