Katte ni Kaizou
From the opening crawl:
"Katsu Kaizou, a second year student at Torauma High School, is a cyborg. Attacked by mysterious people and left close to death, he was turned into a cyborg by the genius scientist, Saien Suzu, which saved his life. She brought with her her underling, Tsubouchi Chitan, along with whom Kaizou continues his fight.
Or, at least, this is what he imagines."
With the exception of Bee Train, whose oeuvre almost exclusively consists of original productions dreamt up by founder Mashimo Kouichi, it's possible that no anime studio's output is defined more by the influence of a single man than is that of SHAFT. In contrast to Bee Train's Mashimo, however, SHAFT'S Shinbo Akiyuki is far more famous for helming adaptations of quirky and offbeat manga and light novels like Arakawa Under the Bridge and Bakemonogatari than he is for developing his own stories, and it's telling that the studio's only real original production of note, Madoka Magica, is probably more known for Gen Urobuchi's involvement than anything else. I do have to admit that I have mixed feelings about the studio and its director, for Mr. Shinbo's style is distinctive and striking but not necessarily especially interesting on its own, with the quality of the visuals and the quantity of SHAFT headtilts being fairly consistent across the board but the quality of the shows seeming to vary in proportion to the quality of their source novels and with the directing style sometimes seeming more like an extra sheen of paint than an actual fundamental, illustrative part of the story. The closest that the studio has ever gotten to depth, or to using Shinbo's directorial skills to their full extent, was 2011's excellent Ground Control to Psychoelectric Girl, after which point SHAFT seemed to make something of a retreat, both back towards relatively lightweight material and also towards commercially "safe" adaptations such as Nisekoi and the cashcow that is the continuous stream of Bakemonogatari sequels.
I bring this up because Katte ni Kaizou came out right around this same time, and along with the aforementioned Ground Control represents the studio's most recent work that I've at all genuinely enjoyed. Now, Katte ni Kaizou lacks the subtle exploration of adolescence that characterized Ground Control, being based on a rather slapstick and raunchy manga by Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei's Kumeta Kouji, and yet it strikes me as another series that no studio other than SHAFT would have wanted to or could have brought to light; for all of my many complaints regarding the relative shallowness of many of SHAFT's shows, as well as the preponderance of fanservice-laden works, that is, to me, its primary strength as a studio. And Katte ni Kaizou is, perhaps, quintessential SHAFT material: quirky, visually striking, manic, more than a little bit off-kilter in its funniness, and, most importantly, the sort of work that no other studio could have pulled off, given that at least one previous attempt at an adaptation was botched. It's not SHAFT's best, but this 2011 OAV makes for an enjoyably ridiculous outing, even if the handling of its raunchier aspects gave me a good deal of pause.
Katte ni Kaizou is defined by an absurdist atmosphere far more than the same author's later works, but it shares with it the presence of a somewhat delusional main character whose unconventional outlook provides something of a breeding ground for strange happenings in an otherwise humdrum setting. If there's something I must say about Katte ni Kaizou, it's that the style of humor is frequently of the risqué sort, to say the very least. In the second episode, for example, the sudden appearance of a large number of mostly-naked, heavily muscular men implied strongly to be gay as part of an "intrusion" into Kaizou's high school culminates in a lot of accidentally sliding across slippery floors and a lot of what can be best described as an "accidental anal threesome." In another sketch from that very same episode, Kaizou's "underling" and the show's perpetual butt-monkey, Chitan, gets a small rocket stuck in his pants in the middle of a swimming day in phys. ed. class, and let's just say that if you've just made the association between rockets and penises while reading this, you've fallen right into the trap that the show has set. The point is that like much of SHAFT's output, there's a lot of dirty humor in which the joke depends on characters, including innocent bystanders, finding themselves in compromising or humiliating situations. As much as I want to hate this kind of thing, though, I have to admit that the sheer ridiculousness and and Kumeta's comic delivery often made me chuckle in spite of the many misgivings I had.
So, I have to admit it: I like Katte ni Kaizou in part because I find Kumeta Kouji's style of humor funny, and in part because I appreciate the visual flair present in Akiyuki Shinbo's adaptation of it. My prediction is that one's enjoyment of the show will relate directly to those factors, since some of the things that Katte ni Kaizou makes light of are, frankly, pretty awful. Now, Katte ni Kaizou does evolve from a somewhat slapstick series into a more character-driven series with a satirical and wry sense of humor over the course of its run, somewhat mirroring the evolution of the parent manga; if I'm correct, the six episodes of this OAV don't cover the entirety of the manga, which would require near-warp speeds, but they do form a representative sampling of it. The later episodes, for example, dive into the fact that the Umi Natori, an incredibly uptight and neurotic character who generally disapproves of Kaizou's schemes, is in fact somewhat responsible for his having developed the fascination with UFOs and conspiracy theories that, eventually, lead to his mistaking being revived via an auto-defibrillator for being turned into a robot. The focus thus shifts from absurdist, slapstick antics such as Chitan's mishaps with the "rocket," to a style of humor more distinctly based on character traits such as the fact that Chitan is in fact intelligent, capable at sports, and charming but that he never has a chance to make those facts known to people due to a mix of other people's idiocy (especially Kaizou's) and his own social ineptitude.
I will say that Katte ni Kaizou definitely strengthens as it trends towards this, and it especially benefits from the introduction of several equally eccentric students and teachers from Kaizou's former "academy for gifted students," in which his denpa tendencies both resulted in his getting kicked out and in the rest of the people picking up habits similar to his. This nit-picking of, say, people's obsessions with the occult, otakudom, or, in Umi's case, desperate obsession to be "the sane one" in spite of having been responsible for much of this nonsense in the first place is, I'd say, a far better use of Koji Kumeta's talent for comic timing and dramatic delivery than is the simplistic slapstick of the early episodes. Thus, I can see why he generally veered into satire in his later works. That's not to say that this show really has anything especially profound to say about modern Japanese society, though, and like Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, it's content to make puns and lampoon its characters, the usual endgame of its sequences being that the humor escalates exponentially in absurdity and loudness until the joke exhausts itself and the show finds something else to make fun of. Put simply, it's an almost purely gag-based show, even if those gags do become at least somewhat more dependent on character traits as opposed to absurd situations as time passes, and there are limits to what one can do with this, ultimately.
Thus, if there's a weakness to Katte ni Kaizou, it's that said characters can come across as being overly-defined by these traits and as functioning as devices for humor rather than as characters themselves, with Kaizou's living in a fantasy world serving to draw strange characters to the school, Chitan's ineptitude leading to fanservice-laden mishaps, and so on. It's a bit hard not to see these characters as precursors to those in Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, where in fact a great deal of the humor relies on these singular character traits, to the point which the kanji in their names reflect this. The art style, too, is distinctly Kumeta Koji's as well, but it's cruder and somewhat clunkier, which hurts the show, somewhat. SHAFT's tendency towards stylized shots, unusual backgrounds, and headtilts is as present as ever, even if it's clearly on a somewhat lower-than-usual budget here, but Shinbo and co. have a difficult time of making up for the rudimentary design and of finding a color scheme that works for the manga, which has a grayscale shading scheme more akin to that of 90s shounen manga (which SHAFT rarely, if ever tackles) and less akin to the stark black and white that characterizes Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei. I'd guess that Shinbo, given that he and his studio have now adapted no less than four seasons of that show, had hoped to make something of a pet project out of adapting Kumeta's lesser-known work, but that they struggled with taking on a series that consisted of the author's efforts to define and hone his style and humor of art rather than a fully-realized exposition of them.
My view of Katte ni Kaizou might, in fact, somewhat align with my general opinion of SHAFT's output itself. Namely, its style sticks out, but it tends to present nonsensical material as being profound, sometimes thus coming across as pretentious, and it also leans towards a rather mean-spirited vein of humor. And I do have significant reservations about Katte ni Kaizou: it's a very funny but very, very inappropriate series based on slapstick gags that gradually evolves into a series that's still grounded in gags but that now makes its character traits the target of a wry, satirical sense of humor, which works to its benefit but doesn't intrinsically give it more depth or staying power. I've had to bring up Sayonara, Zetsubou Sensei a good number of times in this review because, in my view, this series is a prototype for that, and while it doesn't have anything more profound to say, it does at least find more of a groove with its art style and characterization. I might recommend Katte ni Kaizou to fans of that show, and to fans of SHAFT in general, especially those who were disappointed by the studio's later trend towards "safe" material. But it won't cause those who see SHAFT mainly as a presenter of shallow and pretentious material, and of stylized fanservice, to change their minds.
Worthwhile for those who miss SHAFT's old risk-taking and fans of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, but for others, it probably ranges from being a niche show to representing everything that's wrong with the studio. I'm close enough to the former to have enjoyed this, but given my reservations about SHAFT, I also have a decent number about this OAV. — Nicoletta Christina Browne
Recommended Audience: Very close to being adults-only; the show stops just sort of explicitly depicting anal sex, and of three men simultaneously having it by accident, for that matter. There are also several scenes in which girls have their clothing ripped off. It's worth considering that the show frequently comes across as laughing at the misfortune of the characters who experience this, with some homophonic tones being apparent in the first of those examples, which is worth considering before you decide to watch it. Either way, don't show this to kids: even if they miss the lewd puns, it'll be hard for them to miss the stuff I described in the first sentence of this section....
Version(s) Viewed: Digital Source (Japanese with English Subtitles)
Review Status: Full (6/6)
Katte ni Kaizou © 2011 Kumeta Koji/Shogakukan/Katte ni Kaizō Production Committee
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