First Impressions: Houzuki no Reitetsu


Hell is your day job

You would think that after the smashing success of Attack on Titan, whose bombast and flair reached across the usual culture barriers to infect mainstream consciousness outside the otaku sphere, Wit Studio would attempt to make lightning (or giant naked people) strike twice, with an equally action-packed property...or another season of Attack on Titan.

They didn't, though. Instead, they chose to make Houzuki no Reitetsu.

It was a good choice.

Now, I'm saying that Wit Studio made a good choice, not just because Houzuki no Reitetsu is a genuinely good show, but also because Wit have, for their second outing (third, if you count that movie, Hal), made a show they can actually make properly.

Indeed, though Attack on Titan was our pick for Best Anime of 2013, there were times when Wit's struggle to produce the chronicle of humanity's battle against the titans seemed quite titanic by itself. As possessed of style and canny artistic direction as it was, for every awesome 3D- maneuvering scene, there were several scenes that were pretty much dialog playing over a slow-pan of some concept art. Wit had clearly overreached both its budget and manpower time and time again. Forced to take shortcuts (some more obvious than the ones Trigger took making Kill la Kill), the studio promised to fix everything in the Blu-ray edition. 

But in adapting Natsumi Eguchi's dark comedy about an ogre in the afterlife (more on that in a bit), Wit have picked a target they can more reliably hit, and two episodes in, their reputation for craft (inherited from their time as veterans in Production I.G.) is much clearer here than it was when they were biting off more Titan than they could chew. I've seen both episodes several times (indulging the habit that helped me appreciate Buddy Complex more), and have yet to see any incidences of characters looking off-model, even at a distance. And those scenes where they do have audio pan over a static frame, it's done for the art, like in an awesome panty-thief recreation of Delacroix's Liberty Leading The People

That said, there's room for indulgence, as in two separate episodes they've sprung for two separate, originally-composed ending themes and accompanying animation, rather than some licensed pop-rock stuff (not that there's anything wrong with that, mind). The point is that the show has great production values despite not being the prettiest thing on the block. It's no Wizard Barristers, but it has no need to be so decadent, instead devoting its energy to looking well put-together at all times, instead of stunning just where it counts most. 

Of course, it helps when the actual show itself has little need of such intense animation, and Houzuki no Reitetsu is a low-key laugh trip, anchored by the deadpan calm of one Houzuki, the ogre majordomo of the Great King Enma (aka Yama, probably best described as "St. Peter, Oriental Hell version"). Houzuki's a veteran troubleshooter in the afterlife bureaucracy, and in a place as troubled by the population boom and mankind's moral decline as Hell, a demon who can Get Things Done is invaluable.

"Getting things done" includes filling staffing holes in the Hell for Animal Cruelty (where adorable animals devour sinners eternally), dealing with funding schemes by neighboring Shangri-la, and giving the grand tour to Satan, King of European Hell, who's visiting on business. And of course, there's finding some downtime to tend to his hobby: Breeding screaming goldfish plants.

To conclude, Houzuki no Reitetsu feels most like a more stylish, culturally relevant, less overtly "otaku"...ah hell, I'll just say it:

Houzuki no Reitetsu feels like Lucky Star.

Yeah, I said it! And I like Lucky Star, so having a decent, good-looking show about shooting the breeze and talking a bunch, except set in Hell's back office, is cool with me.

Hella cool.

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Josh Tolentino
Josh TolentinoManaging Editor   gamer profile

Josh is Japanator's Managing Editor, and contributes to Destructoid as well, as the network's premier apologist for both Harem Anime and Star Trek: Voyager For high school reasons, he's called "u... more + disclosures


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