The Yomota family is small and typical: father Kinekuni (42), mother Tamiko (38), and son Inumaru (17). One day, a beautiful girl appears at their front door, calling herself "Maroko Yomota," granddaughter of Inumaru who travels back in time with a time machine to visit her ancestors. Even with Tamiko's strong objection, Kinekuni and Inumaru welcome her to stay with them, and the structure of a happy family has begun to collapse.
There is nothing quite like the raw feeling of enjoyment that a viewer can savour throughout their first sitting of a work that manages to mesmerize them.
Nonetheless, when approaching the charms and disillusionments of any show, our vision is rarely able to cope with the bigger picture, and to prove a point we must, more often than not, focus our attention in the specifics. In those details that for some might be of scarce relevance, but that in great measure have the potential to make a difference, both in a good and a bad direction.
There is really no other way to start referring
to Gosenzo-sama Banbanzai! than by mentioning its unique conception of staging. In this matter, the setting is eminently static and simple, most of the times simulating an actual theatrical mise-en-scène. This becomes particularly noticeable thanks to the certain use of props, the blatant repetition of trademarks, the measured use of lightning and noted visual gimmicks such as superposition. Admittedly the elements are not many, yet they are consistently deliberate.
The role of the characters fits consequently, when even the setting gets a thematical importance, their existence consists of several layers. Are they actors? Are they puppets instead? Or are they simply the people the story is telling us they are?
As it turns out, all the previous options are correct, giving them room to question what is happening from various perspectives. Their actions and expressions are clearly dramatized, with abundance of gesticulation; and, narratively speaking, the use of soliloquies to directly refer to the audience. Their appearance, closer to that of puppets, is more of a themed importance and reflects in the same roles they're playing.
Put together in the late 80s by Studio Pierrot, this production is noteworthy for being the result of a collaboration from many interesting names from the industry. Heading them all is a pre-Ghost in the Shell Mamoru Oshii, directly afterwards his role with the 1st Mobile Police Patlabor OVA alongside with the rest of the Headgear group. This series presents us with his more comedic manner of scripting, which might be not the most popular of his facets, but certainly one worth of recognition. The musical scope is composed by Kenji Kawai.
When it comes to old school OVAs, odds are you're not precisely going to be delighted with what you see. They won't ever be the paragon of originality and they frequently got discontinued midway. Gosenzo-sama is a refreshing prove that this was not always the case, and will remain as an entertaining option for those who don't mind to dig a little bit deeper.
Idiosyncratic and unfairly forgotten, a six-part OVA "Gosenzosama Banbanzai!" (literally, "Long Live the Ancestors!") belongs to the most experimental period in Oshii’s career. Told in the form of a loony play, this farcical tragicomedy revolves around the Yomota family: a teenage boy, Inumaru, his father Kinekuni and his mother Tamiko.
Their normal life starts to collapse after the arrival of a mysterious girl, Maroko, who claims to be Inumaru’s granddaughter from the future. Even though she has a hereditary star-shaped birthmark on her buttock, Tamiko refuses to acknowledge her as Yomota. So, she leaves her husband and son, and hires a private detective, Bannai Tatara, to
reveal the true identity of the uninvited guest.
Driven by self-irony and absurd, slapstick humor, a twisted, paradoxical story is directed in the vein of the French New Wave masters, with a short metaphorical mockumentary in which different kinds of birds and humans are compared, at the beginning of each episode.
An otherwise linear narrative rooted in its own logic is deconstructed, as Oshii plays with both the characters’ and the audience’s expectations. However, his anarchic shenanigans are not meaningless and they do follow some rules – no matter how strange it may sound.
Utterly aware of the fact they are nothing but marionettes controlled by a merciless puppeteer, the protagonists still try to manipulate the events in order to turn the situation to their own advantage. Occasionally, they burst into “karaoke soliloquies” under the spotlight – and not only figuratively speaking. With the most essential props and the minimalist backdrops on one hand and medium-related "deviations" on the other, "Gosenzosama Banbanzai!" is simultaneously stagey and filmic.
After all this spectacle you are left wandering through this labyrinth of ideas, hoping to find the answer to a question asked since the beggining of human life: "Who are you, only a puppet?"
Gosenzo-sama Banbanzai is an anime I would not recommend to just anyone. It's an obscurity that won't be easy to appreciate. From its directing, it is similar to what Kunihiko Ikuhara first introduced in Revolutionary Girl Utena. From its execution, it reminds FLCL, but also goes into such levels of abstractity, it comes close to animated shorts such as 'Nekojiru Soup' and 'Inaka Isha.' I'd only ever recommend it to experienced viewers and old schoolers.
The anime starts off by a doorbell ringing. Followed by a 10 minutes long debate over who should open the door. When it's finally opened, a person claiming to be a
timetraveler is standing behind the door and declares she is the future granddaughter of the house owner's son. This is accepted by the father, and by the son (upon prove), but not by the mother. This breaks the family apart, and starts off a story so tragicomedic it could as well be originating from ancient Greek.
An aspect similar seen in titles such as Zaregoto, Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei and Jinrui -where the main characters are nameless personas such as I, Watashi and Boku- is introduced. What Babanzai does is on whole other dimension, however. It creates a character called "Audience", which is -you guessed it- the viewer itself. With this, the series starts addressing all sort of issues related to family, life, society, future, past, and even to issues such as how helpless it is for the characters to take controll of their own lives when they come to acknowledge that they are indeed puppets controlled by the creator of this anime. Is it okay just to give up? Maybe the viewer can offer some help?
In case this review got your interested, a word of warning. This series took me off guard so hard I had to watch it twice just to make sure I didn't miss anything. In case you plan on trying it, make sure to come with an open mind and mindset ready for a different type of adventure.