Jul 30, 2019
When I was a kid, I noticed a pattern, a law of sorts, that every so often I would look back on my self from 2 years ago and cringe. I would see my former self for a fool and be ashamed of how stupid he was. This law definitely didn’t keep holding true forever, but upon re-watching this weird anime I watched 2 years ago, I suddenly had that same feeling again. I don’t feel it quite as strongly; I definitely don’t feel I was an idiot for looking at this anime the way I did, but I do feel like I was far
less worldly at the time.
This is an anime about American president Donald Trump going to a Japanese grade school as a transfer student, but that description could not be less helpful in explaining what’s going on. The fact of the matter is, that this anime is making fun of Trump. It can’t be called criticism. None of Trump’s political stances are named in it. Instead these two episodes attack Trump’s over the top character. Attacks on Trump’s character have always been common, but remain ineffective. To his supporters, you see, his personality is his strongest attribute and criticizing it is a worthless pursuit. As such, all that remains to be seen here is a shallow satire that’s somewhat baffling in it’s usage of comedy.
Or at least, that’s about how far I came when I first watched it. And to be fair, at the time, that was enough for me to list it with a 10 out of 10 score and proclaim it to be the be-all-end-all of anime, that no anime would ever surpass. Fair. I can still kind of see that. But that way of looking at it was just as shallow as the show itself and both people meme-ing about how great it was as well as it’s detractors were just as shallow. But the thing is, I keep coming back to this anime, time and time again. Why is that? Why do I keep thinking about it? Why is Trump rapping in this? Why does he keep swinging his balls around? Who made this and why? And why is trump’s hair a lunchbox?
Well it would be understandable to blame all this nonsense on the weird comedic style of it’s creator: Takashi Taniguchi. He’s been making weird animations like this for years. Before this he was most famous for Mori no Andou, a web short that is hilarious with friends and mildly funny without them. There’s a lot of lol-random style humor in his works, but they’ve always managed to find an audience by just being so out there that it didn’t matter. This one makes heavy use of Donald Trump to make that happen and I can see why. Taneguchi’s work is full of weird personalities and Trump fits right in among them. What’s more baffling is the way he’s introduced. The first half of the first episode is entirely build up. First the school bell rings, then the teacher tells his class that they are having a transfer student coming in today and then the door slowly opens revealing Trump: A long build up with an explosive punchline. His works may be weird, but at least Taniguchi knows what he’s doing. (That kinda reminds me of the time I went back to some old smosh videos and realized that, though I thought the substance of the jokes were incredibly unfunny, the comedic timing and pathos were masterful)
I didn’t quite recognize this as a Taniguchi work, when I first watched this and when I did find out I felt stupid for not realizing it earlier. Taniguchi’s works are usually immediately recognizable. His visual style involves these weirdly shaded, dumb looking faces. The faces in this anime were less detailed, except for that of Trump. But Trump looks so different from Taniguchi’s other works, that It took me a while to find out this anime was his. Even so, as is true with this work, the faces are always the best part of a Taniguchi work, and are the factor that make the comedy work. If Taniguchi wasn’t able to draw this way, I don’t think his works would have caught on. It should not be understated how much I like his drawing style and how much personality it has.
Trump’s character design is definitely nothing to be snuffed at either. He’s drawn short and stumpy, like a weird, humanoid cave creature. His upper body is too big for his legs, but not by a crazy amount. He’s wearing a suit on his upper body and shorts on his lower half. I’d assume the idea is to contrast his childlike attitude with his position as a businessman and President. He’s wearing a backpack on his back, a symbol of elementary school in Japan, and there’s a recorder sticking out of it. Trump may be here to make a mess of things, but at least he’s brought his stuff. The most striking parts of his character design are his dumb ass looking face and the fact that he constantly points upwards with his right hand. He’s not animated, except for a few lip-flaps here and there, and this is a staple of Taniguchi’s works. Taniguchi has to animate all his shorts entirely by himself, so he must have figured smoothness of animation wasn’t going to matter much, if the appeal of his works lay elsewhere. I’d say he was definitely correct in thinking this, and I even think the barely animated style makes his work funnier.
Besides that there is one more noteworthy visual in this anime. Late into episode 1 there is a moment where Trump pisses all over the place. This drawing of him has far more work put into it than any other in the show. In fact, though it looks really gross, I definitely love Taniguchi’s unique shading work on this image. Regardless of whether you like what you see here, it’s hard to argue that this image in particular, isn’t well crafted, impactful and extremely memorable.
And what an appearance he must seem to these poor children. The teacher announces that there will be a transfer student coming in today and the class is immediately excited. The trope of the transfer student is a common one in anime and is almost as iconic as the trope where characters eat and either hate the food or think it’s the best they’ve ever eaten. But unlike the food trope, a new transfer student can be absolutely anything. What a shock must it then be for the new student to come in and rap and piss all over the place. Donald Trump is definitely the last thing you’d expect to walk into your classroom. His appearance is preceded by several seconds of dramatic sounding music, clearly meant to build suspense as the door slowly opens and Trump comes in and I definitely think that without these few seconds of extra build up, the moment where he starts rapping and all hell breaks loose would have been less effective.. Again, though I don’t find this anime to be all that funny on it’s own, I do believe it to be well crafted. Taniguchi clearly is experienced in his craft and knows what he’s doing.
But that brings me to the question. Why is Trump going to school? Is it a cheap jab at the fact that Trump seems to act in a somewhat juvenile manner? Is it just to say: “Ha ha, look at what a kid that guy is, look at how gross he is.” I mean that seems unlike Taniguchi. Sure he’s not beyond making childish jokes like that, but he seems to revel in gross and weird stuff. Why would he of all people criticize Trump for being obscene? I don’t see any references to what Trump has said or done either. This anime is solely about the ridiculousness of the idea of Trump coming into a primary school and making a mess of things whilst rapping. I don’t think this anime is a jab at Trump at all. I don’t think Taniguchi is pro Trump or anything, but I do think he appreciates his comedic value. I think he saw Trump not as a cultural or political icon to take down, but rather as a fantastic piece for his weird and obscene, animated art. And that brings me to my next question. Why make this? Why create such a weird and daring short?
Was it just for attention? Around that same time Taniguchi would make a collaboration with Daimaou Kosaka, who in the west Is most known for a somewhat recent meme clip where he put to things together and people made all kinds of edits of it. It could be that Taniguchi is trying to expand his audience with collaborations and political anime. But just sit down and think about it for a second. For that to work, ultimately what would need to happen is for people to share these anime with each other. It doesn’t matter to me whether taniguchi is doing all of this out of a desire to grow his audience, or out of a love for his craft. I can’t figure that out anyways, because there isn’t enough information about him
available in English. What matters is the fact that elements like Trump in his works, make them more shareable. And that’s what it’s all about: watching this weird anime together.
This anime takes place in school and when I first watched it, I too was in school. I know how eerie that coincidence must seem to you, but hear me out. I was kind of a loner in school so I never got to show this anime to too many people, but showing it to people was always fun. Sure they always reacted somewhat aversely, but that was half the fun in it! I remember watching Mori no Andou with friends an it being way funnier than it was alone. And that was an experience that stuck with me forever.
I see some weird criticisms of the show such as that it is dumb and repulsive(like, literally the point of the whole thing) or more bafflingly, that the characters are weak. The characters are weak? Trump comes strolling into school rapping about himself and pissing all over the place, showing no remorse whatsoever. That’s the most character I’ve seen in a character introduction since Bumi’s introduction in Legend of Korra. I mean there’s being weirded out by a show and not liking it and there’s having weird detached ideas about a show’s quality that don’t make sense at all if you actually watch it.
Weird tangents aside though, the point I’m trying to make is that I think people woefully misunderstand the point of Trap-kun and other weird works by Taniguchi. The fun in it is not the actual experience of watching it. It’s about the experience of sharing it. Even just reading comments or reviews about it is participating. But the best experience to be had with Trap-kun is showing it to friends or cousins and watching them be weirded out, as they don’t know what to represent and what to repress out of their reaction. You put them on edge, into a weird social situation they were not prepared for; you laugh together; you’re grossed out together. You laugh at each other's reactions. You both go out to show it to more friends. And then you look up into the sky and you jokingly ponder what went wrong in humanities development that it would lead to this; and then you wonder if maybe the creation of Trap-kun was an inevitability of the universe and there simply couldn’t mathematically exist a universe that didn’t spawn this exact anime; and then you wonder if the universe was created by higher beings for the express purpose of creating this specific weird anime or if otherwise, humanity was by mother earth.
It all seems so silly, but those moments spent with your friends are a valuable treasure you keep with you for your whole life. This anime, you could say, is a meta-modernist piece of work, where the point of it can’t simply be found in the work itself, but also in the people around it. What made this anime valuable is that people talked about it and shared it, so much so that you are reading this lengthy ass review about it. This review is a part of Taniguchi’s art and of your experience of it, that can simply not be denied. And this anime would be infinitely less valuable without the funny comments you read about them, without the people you share it with, without this review, that you’ve read all the way through, either because you’re intrigued by it, or because you’re bored out of your mind. What else could you think whilst watching this show for the first time but “Wow this is the weirdest shit I’ve ever seen. Can’t wait to see other people’s reactions to it.”, as you proceed to scroll down to read the comments. And in that sense, I argue that this weird, obtuse piece of art is just as valuable as a normal, conventional, well made 12 episode tv anime. The experience you had with this is not any less valuable because it’s weird or because your enjoyment of it was unconventionally obtained. I recognize that a lot of people genuinely dislike this show, and that’s of course acceptable but I couldn’t help myself but recognize a lot of the negativity towards this show to be shallow and poorly thought through in nature. What I want to do here is to help you, dear reader, cope with more unconventional ideas of how media could exist and how it could be enjoyed and thought about.
But all that ranting aside, in short, I like this show, not because I think it’s enjoyable to watch, but because I like the idea of it and the surrounding culture. And now, having made this lengthy review that I conned you into reading all the way through I am part of that surrounding culture and as an extension, I’m part of this artwork and so are you reading; we are all art.
But wait… I still haven’t answered the question: why is Trump’s head a bento? Ah shit this throws off all my calculations. All my theories are useless now. I’m gonna have to start again from the beginning and go back down the rabbit hole…Well, see you next time reader, if I survive another deepdive that is...
Also, to whomever poor mod that has to read through this whole review… I’m deeply, deeply sorry. I’ll buy you a beer if we ever meet in real life, I promise!
Reviewer’s Rating: 9
What did you think of this review?