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.
Gosenzosama Banbanzai is by far one of the most unorthodox anime I have ever experienced, it breaks the conventional methods of storytelling we commonly see in anime for something much more unique and experimental. The entire story is told in the style of a theatrical play filled with asides, monologues, and backgrounds that rise and fall like props on a stage.
The anime begins by following the peculiar life of a seventeen year old boy named Inumaru who lives with his mother and father, he wants to get out of the house to experience life but at the same time is too scared of society
to do so. Inumaru waits for something insane and chaotic to happen that will completely change his otherwise mundane life. One day Inumaru’s wish comes true when he hears someone ring the doorbell, when he looks to see who it is he sees a beautiful girl, his parents warn him not to let her in, thinking that’s she’s probably trying to sell them some useless product or something along those lines. Inumaru completely ignores his parent’s warnings and allows chaos to enter his life.
The girl introduces herself as Maroko and claims to be Inumaru’s granddaughter who came to visit her ancestors in a time machine from the future. While Inumaru’s family does not believe her at first they being to consider it as true when she shows them the star shaped birthmark on her behind which only members of Inumaru’s family have. But is this mysterious girl really telling the truth, does Inumaru believe her ridiculous story, and what changes will she bring to his family and his otherwise mundane life?
One of the things that first caught my eye while watching Gosenzosama Banbanzai is how witty and well written the monologues and dialogues were, they often feel very poetic and give deep insight on the state of the cast, they also often feature meta elements, pointing out things such as who is a main character who is just a secondary, how bizarre the events of the story were, and even story telling elements such as deus ex machinas and foreshadowing. The play felt like it was self-aware of the fact that it was a play, in later episodes this became even clearer as things such as lighting fixtures fell onto the set.
Another interesting thing that Gosenzosama Banbanzai excelled at was the framing of its story, each episode began by talking about a particular species of bird and how it breeds and raises its youth. As you expect the events of each episode’s bird paralleled various aspects of the cast, for instance the first episode discussed the cuckoo which plants its eggs in the nest of other birds, the same way Maroko infiltrated Inumaru’s family. These segments are surprisingly well handled and while some of the parallels are pretty obvious other require the audience to really think in order to understand what the anime is alluding to.
They story begins very simply but slowly spirals down becoming more abstract and fragmented as the episodes go on, the last two episodes in particular were simply insane and had some segments that bordered being purely nonsensical, in a good way. The finale was simply brilliant and tied up the themes of the show rather well while staying a bit ambiguous, making the audience have to think for themselves about what happened. Was Maroko telling the truth, or was it all an elaborate ruse like that of the cuckoo.
Gosenzosama Banbanzai was animated by studio Pierrot and they did a brilliant job, one of the most notable visual features that makes Gosenzosama Banbanzai stand out is how the character designs resemble puppets, with their limbs having little crevices in them similar to that of wooden puppets. This fits the theatrical conceit as the characters are nothing more than actors in a play. The amazing direction and interactive backgrounds which flipped, rose, fell, and dropped down like the cardboard backgrounds one would find in a play was also really well handled. In terms of fluency and consistency Gosenzosama Banbanzai was pretty solid, there were very few ugly in-between shots and for something from 1989 the animation was pretty fluent during some of the more important scenes.
All around Gosenzosama Banbanzai is a one of a kind work that I would highly recommend to someone looking for something unique and eccentric. If you enjoy watching anime that are a little more abstract and experimental this one is definitely worth a shot.
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?"