Just like Chihayafuru before it, Joshiraku focuses on something to most foreigners. Basing its roots in mimicking a certain style of Japanese storytelling called rakugo, this show is already on a good start with its strong aim in overturning the slice-of-life genre. Taking the deadpan humor that its source material is notorious for and incorporating it into the genre creates something unique that really is different this season.
Of course, being different doesn't immediately make it funnier... a sad fact that Joshiraku seems to have trouble coming to terms with.
Right off the bat in the first episode, the fourth wall is broken as our main characters question why the audience would ever want to watch an anime of cute girls talking to other cute girls. The message is loud and clear: it's silly to watch an anime where all people ever do is sit in a room and talk. But here we are, watching precisely that with a dash of irony and facetiousness.
It's refresching to see a new take on the same formula, though it's not enough to hide that this show is trying way too hard to point out how funny it is. The first 15 minutes of episode one are dominated by forced cliches and wise-cracks about how you should be reading the manga instead of watching its shitty anime, which frankly gets really old, really quick. Try imagining how self aware the Excel Saga anime was, but half as wacky and twice as full of itself. It's ironic how unfunny the constant beating of a dead horse is to the people who worked on this anime, yet Joshiraku just never knows when to give up with the self-awareness.
Of course, whenever you accept that this is what the series is all about, then it's not so bad. The characters really like talking extensively about simple things to keep the episode interesting, like dressing casually or winning the lottery... though you can't help but notice how dryly it's all being told. Like I said, this is a dialogue-heavy series, so having our characters talking a lot without much moving really is asking a bit too much for people looking for a quick laugh. Though I suppose that's the whole point of Joshiraku being a satirical look at the slice-of-life show, so you can't really blame the truth for not being funny all the time.
It's an odd impression I got from this show for sure, though I'm really excited to see the (sometimes more often than not) excellent JC Staff give comedy another shot this season. I'm sure it's tough for the studio to animate such, you know, unanimated subject matter... especially since they must feel more obligated to convince us otherwise. The characters are very energetic and fidget around a lot to help break up the long periods of sitting. Everything else about the show is light and fun, snagging a catchy OP and ED and cutaways to actual rakugo performances from our stars. And even when things start to feel a bit settled, there are plenty of cutaways to elaborate gags, so thankfully Joshiraku doesn't fall victim to its own joke too often.
It may not be the broadest sense of humor-- or even one that resonates with foreigners very well-- but like real rakugo, the subtlety and pacing of Joshiraku is a kind of comedy with a very specific taste. Sometimes, I felt that some of the gags in this series were pretty bad and pandering, though there's always a motive and revealing punchline at the end sometimes makes the poor approach to mindless talking somewhat worth it. A bit odd, a bit grounded in realism, and a bit stupid fun, Joshiraku is an anime that certainly might turn a few heads this season.
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