It's a little surprising that one of the most meta and self aware shows in the anime industry could be one that isn't even conventionally animated. Tesagure! Bukatsumono is, at first glance, a horribly CG animated moe slice of life show, otaku-targeted, made simply for the sake of money. Never mind that it has surprisingly high sales for such a low budget production (its second season is currently outselling Kill la Kill); sales only indicate popularity, which never means much about quality anyway.
Or does it? If you look past the CG animation and watch through the first episode, you will discover right away that this
is a series filled to brim with anime trope parodies. Its OP sequence goes through, with almost methodical precision, every cut you can expect to see in an anime opening, while the lyrics provide instant narration. "And now we're running! And now we're reaching out our hands! As long as we keep this up, we'll have a real anime opening in no time!" Similar parody is seen frequently throughout the series, with topics ranging from anime hair colours, to overly powerful student councils, and even to the way anime schools never seem to have male students. It's always hilarious to see this show pick out, with such unerring accuracy, the little flaws and irregularities of anime that every other series has come to ignore.
The humour extends beyond parodies of the anime medium. Tesagure! describes the activities of the Tesaguri-bu, a club dedicated to letting its members grope for their respective interests. As such, every episode has them discussing a different club activity they could take part in. This opens up into a systematic break-down of activities as they are portrayed in anime and manga, with the characters very wittily pointing out illogical features of each. But it doesn't stop there. The characters spend roughly half of each episode brainstorming ways to improve upon the activity under discussion, each coming up with their own 'New XXX club'. ”新しい”, "new", is a word you're going to hearing a lot when you watch this show. The brainstorm segment is generally the highlight of each episode, as the ideas thrown out are deliberately ridiculous and very funny. It's because of this random humour that even people who don't watch a lot of anime can appreciate a lot of the comedy in this show.
As a matter of fact, much of what makes this show funny besides the continually inserted jokes is the characters themselves. The main cast (four of them, and of course all girls) each come off as having distinct personalities and play each other off very well in their separate roles, from Koharu the naive kouhai to Hina the mysterious (and floating) senpai. Cliches they may be, but as a unit they work very well, and their energy alone is enough to make even unfunny jokes crack a laugh.
It is a unique feature of this show's production that allows the characters to interact so realistically and with such energy. While most anime are animated and then dubbed over, Tesagure! has its audio recorded and then the animation made to match. Supposedly, parts of the dialogue are also improvised, resulting in moments when the characters talk over one another or bend double in laughter for seconds on end. These are small details, but they really solidify the character interactions of the show. If you were to watch Tesagure! with your eyes closed, the group of girls joking on your screen might not be just the two dimensional characters seen everywhere else. For once, they could be real people, and you wouldn't be able to tell the difference.
Tesagure! is, as a result, one of the truest and most entertaining pure slice of life series in the anime medium. Juggernauts like K-ON! and YuruYuri feature with a good mix of slice of life and drama, and so become as entertaining as they are. For Tesagure! to reach similar heights of entertainment with its far lower production quality and nothing but slice of life should be a testament to how well this show is executed. If there ever comes a day when an English fansub group picks this up and subs it in full, do yourself a favour and watch it. If nothing else, you will be impressed with a very strong sense of the 新しい.
"Oh no, another CG monstrosity that shames the essence of anime.", is more or less what I thought when came upon Tesagure! Bukatsumono. Why? I don't know, maybe the crude novelty of it all and the delicate standards being broken put me in shock. But from death came life and that's what this anime is.
Tesagure! Bukatsumono is a very meta piece. It shows you the cliches and tropes prevalent in many anime and manga while playing with new(新しい yes, you will hear this a lot) and interesting and lewd and gay and sometimes violent ways things like cute girls falling from the sky, or
cute girl running to school bread on mouth, or maybe guys who keep shouting while playing sports, could be different from the norm.
So if you like panic attacks, sliding, bad puns and strange imaginations of Japanese voice actors, give this a go.
And one last bit, this anime is half ad-lib, so that's fun.
Once upon a time, if you had come up to me and said that a bunch of Japanese guys made an “anime” entirely using MikuMikuDance starring a bunch of popular female voice actresses pretending to be high school girls who are pretending to be in a non-existent after-school club but are really just doing comedy routines from Japanese variety shows and you told me that this was actually genuinely funny you would have elicited from me an incredulous guffaw followed, perhaps, by a slap on the shoulder and a hearty “come off it, mate.” But, no, Tesagure is that show and incredulous me would have
dined on crow.
So, what is Tesagure? Like I said: it’s basically a Japanese variety show masquerading as an episodic, slice-of-life anime. The masquerade is paper thin, of course, and the show indulges often in pointing it out. It’s animated entirely in MikuMikuDance, which is this really awful 3D animation program that is the software equivalent of trying to wrestle a coked-up, greased baboon. If you’ve ever watched stuff on Youtube or NicoNico labelled “MMD” that’s the program: models will clip through each other constantly and the hair meshes just go nuts all the time. So, the fact that these guys were able to make relatively professional-looking, fifteen to twenty-minute episodes with minimal clipping and nothing going insane is grounds for, like, the Nobel Peace Prize. Now, don’t get me wrong, Tesagure looks awful. I mean, it’s made in MMD: you get what you pay for. The textures for the models are simple and probably just stock that came with the software. Be that as it may, I think that lends a lot to Tesagure’s charm. See, it’s supposed to look stupid because it’s a Japanese comedy and Japanese comedy is quintessentially incapable of subtlety.
And that’s the most remarkable thing about Tesagure. The writing is actually funny -- to me, a Westerner. The reason I find this so remarkable is because Japanese people have a hard time dealing with comedy. Partly this is a consequence of culture: being funny isn’t Japanese. Japanese culture is super-serious even when it’s trying not to be. I’m not trying to be racist or bigoted here: I’m positing this on anthropological fact. Moreover, the Japanese language, though in certain areas quite robust, is highly contextual, owing to its Chinese and Sanskrit roots. Quite often, sentences and even certain words have multiple interpretations and everything coming out of Japanese person’s mouth is highly ambiguous, subject to a high degree of misinterpretation, and predicated on a host of tacit assumptions grounded in the cultural paradigm. So, telling a joke in Japanese is really, really hard. The language simply isn’t built for it. Consequently, Japanese people who want to be funny have had to construct ways around this. Their solution, from what I’ve experienced, has been to simply hammer the joke in as hard as physically possible, subtlety be damned. Crack open any gag manga and you’ll probably see one of the characters do a little aside after the joke where they flat-out explain it as obviously as possible -- because they have to, lest the Japanese audience be confused (“I don’t understand. She said ‘I really like you.’ Why did she hit him? Oh, I see, she wasn’t being serious. My language is incapable of denoting sarcasm.”).
Conversely, Tesagure’s jokes somehow come across despite the ponderousness of the language. And I think the main reason why it is so successful is because all of the dialogue is recorded live. That’s why I’ve been calling this a Japanese variety show. The voice actresses are literally in a little sound booth together talking to each other and doing the gags. And it works amazingly well! Moreover, the jokes are ad hoc and done on the spot, just like in Japanese talk shows, so occasionally the girls will break down into giggling fits on the spot or screw up the joke or interrupt with little quips. This gives the dialogue an incredibly life-like quality that really brings the humour to life. They aren’t just reading the gags in typical manga-esque, stone-faced monotone. They are just a bunch of Japanese women goofing around in a sound booth. It makes the comedy more human, more spontaneous and natural. It utterly lacks the artificial quality you’d find in something like an internet 4koma. In the later episodes, the girls will record on location at actual Japanese parks and attractions. The actresses themselves even exclaim how unheard of that is!
One of the seiyuus is a real-life pop idol (I’m not big into J-idols so I don’t know who or care) and all of the other seiyuu have professional vocal careers. Thus, they sing both the opening and ending themes and they are really quite good! The soundtrack to Tesagure is nothing short of godlike and I willingly listen to the OST frequently. In addition to the opening and ending themes, they will occasionally sing other songs which, when translated, are extremely self-deprecating and actually incredibly clever. I would watch this show for the music alone, which puts Tesagure head and shoulders above other comedy anime.
Tesagure is basically the Japanese version of Mystery Science Theatre 3000. They just sit around riffing on anime and manga stereotypes and doing humourous bit gags. And that’s great because it actually works super well. It’s genuinely funny for everyone, not just Japanese people: real John Lennon, hands-joined-across-the-world crap. Man, I hate MikuMikuDance.