May 10, 2013
Every country seems to have their version of the materialistic, gossipy teenage girl stereotype. The details differ in minor ways, but many similar trends arise. Talking endlessly about mindless gossip, bitchy and shallow minded, fashion obsessed and concerned about their appearance. Where Japan differs is that, due to their fetishisation of youth, the teenage girl stereotype is seen as the ideal creature.
Short Cuts is a reaction to this idolisation of the teenage girl. More specifically, the Kogal, a specific brand of teenage girl with their baggy socks, short skirts, Shibuya-based lifestyle. If the Kogal had existed several centuries ago, there would be giant statues of
them and their baggy socks. A monk’s sutra chat would be him saying “yeah but no but yeah I saw him checking me out but he’s like so gross and like I only like men who have load of money so I can like make them buy me new clothes”.
Yes, that is a joke from Short Cuts.
Short Cuts is one of the very few anime or manga I’ve seen that could legitimately be called a straight up satire. It’s very similar to Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei in that regard, except with a narrower focus which I think works in its favour. The jokes about Japan’s fetishisation of Kogal are sharp and cutting like any good social satire should be. It’s jokes are hardly high-brow either, with plenty of jokes revolving around prostitution, blowjobs and what have you. But this style of humour fits given the subject matter is about this bizarre lust the nation has developed around teenage girls. Plus in using this subject area and general tone, they can expand to make some surprisingly clever and cutting gags about wider Japanese society too.
Let’s do the whole ‘dissecting a joke is like dissecting a frog: Nobody cares and the frog dies’ thing and explain one of the funnier jokes in the series: The author presents you with two options. Would you spend your time on a deserted island with a woman with top half human, bottom half fish (mermaid) or top half fish, bottom half human (reverse-mermaid). The answers he got were, as you can probably guess, overwhelmingly in favour of top half human.
One of the main reasons suggested for Japan’s declining birthrate is men are too scared to talk to women anymore, and visa versa to a lesser extent. This is why host bars, where you pay attractive women to simply sit around and talk to you, are popular. So the problem is people can't do social interaction anymore, right? Well as this comic astutely points out using its clever binary choice, people always choose the option they can talk to and not the one they can procreate with. Therefore we have scientifically proven that Japan’s declining birthrate is because people want to socialise rather than reproduce and all the previous scientific studies should be thrown out the window.
I fucking love this type of humour and could go on ruining jokes by explaining them all day, but I won’t. Instead let’s go over the areas the manga doesn’t do so well in. The author admits he has no idea how to do panel layout and doesn’t even try. All layouts are simply square boxes. It still works though as an extended 4-koma gag style. Because its pure satire, there isn’t any running story whatsoever. OK there’s a few re-occuring characters like Panty Flash the trainee detective whose contributions to the police team are only recognised once she flashes her underwear, a cutting satirical take on how young women are only valued for their sexual characteristics…ok sorry I swore I’d stop explaining jokes. When a joke doesn’t work, it has no story to fall back on so it just feels drab.
Jokes can fail for a few reasons. Because it’s so culturally rooted in Japanese culture and society, I’m sure there were plenty of jokes that flew clean over my head. Also because my knowledge of Japan is mostly through anime and manga, my perception is massively skewed so maybe I’m grasping the totally wrong end of the satirical stick. The biggest problem of all though is that it simply runs out of steam. It’s only 2 volumes long, but frankly it should have stopped after the first one. The second is noticeably weaker with way fewer satirical gags and a much greater focus on puns and fourth wall breaking. I’m not a particularly big fan of puns anyway, but when they’re crossing a language barrier they’re basically doomed to fail, no matter how hard the poor translator tries.
The fourth wall breaking jokes fare better. I particularly liked the one where a pretty Kogal starts reminiscing about what great attention to detail the drawings in her school textbook are and how dedicated and wonderful and sexy the man who drew them must be because the author of Short Cuts used to do illustrations for school textbooks on the side. But the satire side takes the worst hit of all. There’s still the occasional gem, like the salarywoman who makes a living selling used schoolgirl socks to salarymen after capital punishment was brought in for touching underage girls. However when your jokes devolve into a children’s TV presenter getting bum-fucked by his stuffed animal sidekick, you know you’re running out of good jokes.
Falling quality aside, Short Cuts is still one of the purest examples I’ve seen of anime/manga doing satire and doing it well. If you think most anime jokes are just people yelling loudly and doing that tired manzai routine, and providing you’re not turned off by incredibly crude humour, I highly recommend checking Short Cuts out.
What did you think of this review?