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.
What usually constitutes a unique anime? Normally, one would instantly take the synopsis as an indicator to the anime’s creativity, however it’s not really all that simple when it comes to Oshii Mamoru. From Angel’s Egg to Mobile Police Patlabor 2, Oshii is known for his artistic and aesthetically stunning works. This man’s works are far away from being judged with such a thoughtless method, and Gosenzo-Sama Banbanzai! is no exception. In fact, Gosenzo-sama, even when compared to his other works, is incredibly unique. The cover doesn’t show much at all, nor does the story. Thus, it’s quite understandable why people may ignore this piece
of art. The simple description for this anime would be that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, not because of how complicated it is, it’s a fairly simple story, yet a well-structured one. It’s just that the execution itself feels a lot more peculiar compared to anything the anime medium has ever brought us. Who would ever think about making a dramatic play in anime-form other than Oshii?
At first, the idea seems silly and impossible to execute, Both mediums are so starkly different structure-wise which makes replicating their experience in the other’s medium just not feasible, but it just works perfectly here.
The story follows the life of the Yomota family, who is a very normal Japanese family. One day, a beautiful girl appeared out of nowhere and revealed the truth about being a member of this family who came from the future using a time machine to experience what family does actually mean. Like I said before, it’s a very simple story, on the surface, at least. From this moment on, Oshii begins to manipulate his fans with various questions throughout the series; what is the identity of this girl? Does a time-machine exist after all? Scene-by-scene, the audience get immersed into Oshii’s brilliant script and play. At some times, one may even forget for a moment that he’s watching an anime, and that is what makes Banbanzai a very challenging and ambitious work. Each episode starts with a vague scene; an animal lifestyle. Those scenes don’t hold any meaning behind them at all. It’s as if Oshii is mocking and making fun out of people who are watching this anime. Banbanzai Is basically this man trolling the anime medium as a whole while still having an excellent story and themes. It’s like a student who never studies and learn, yet manages to be at the top of his school while looking down on others.
As any normal play, this Ova has its own characters’ chemistry. They are not just other unique, well-written, fleshed-out characters. If I wanted to pick one word to describe Banbanzai characters, then it would be “strange” as they are all relatable to a terrifying extent. It’s almost like watching yourself in an anime, doing what you want to do as you please. Simply put, they are like puppets, which are moved by strings manipulated by the creator’s hands, but they decided to rebel against their master and gain their freedom. You can say that Oshii has lost his authority over them, making the once-so-called puppets now the ones manipulating the strings, writing a new story on their own will. At the very start of this work, we were given a very familiar scene in which a father is arguing with his son and that scene lasted for about 10 minutes, showing the writer’s utmost attempt for making the experience more realistic and relatable for us.
If there’s anything that makes this anime works pretty well, then it’d be the direction. It’s quite noticeable that it suffered from low budget, and there are very few excellent directors who are able to use it to their advantage. The opening shows more than that. It’s literally in black and white with some random footages. Well, the reason why this never felt boring or mundane lays in his usage of backgrounds and lights. A very clever move done by Oshii, is the rapid transition between scenes while still maintaining the same background. Something that’s normally exclusive to another medium is just being used by him like it’s another day at the park. Let’s talk about an aspect which I’d like to call “Oshii’s lighting technique”. By using the minimum amount of light in particular scenes and alternating between a dark and a light one in other specific positions, it immediately draws your attention towards that place, and makes you forget about the same-used background before.
In addition to that, Banbanzai tackled numerous themes regarding family and its structure. At first, we thought of the Yomota family as the embodiment of what an ideal family should be, but with more and more secrets being revealed, our impression of them began to slowly shift. We cannot describe their actions as ‘bad’ ones at all, because if we were in their place, we would be doing more horrible things than they did. I think what Oshii wanted to communicate through this anime is that, the beautiful mysterious girl was not the cause of what happened at all, but all she did was igniting the fire that was already inside the family members. Each of them had his responsibilities, but they all wanted to escape from them and live a happy life. Who was wrong? Was it the girl? the family? Or probably human nature? This work had one of the most influential endings that I have ever seen and an unexpected one, but still very suitable for this dynamic cast of characters.
In short, this OVA is the pinnacle of what the anime medium is capable of. It’s still a show that keeps insulting its viewers continuously though. For most people wondering what would occur if Oshii decided to work on an Original anime, Banbanzai may be a good answer for you.
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.
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.
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?"