February 10, 2012

Eh… What… The… Hell… ?! Seems Double-J is another one of those short flash animations after Haiyoru! Nyaruani and Hontou Ni Atta! Reibai Sensei. Though there are only 11 episodes, each episode is only as long as 4 minutes! So you can actually finish the entire series in one go. Which is what I did. Due to the shortened nature of the show, most of the time I would be like going “What the hell…”. I know I dread long winded anime plots that go nowhere but this is too short for anything.

Apparently I decided to watch this without even knowing what the synopsis is about. All I know it was a funny show so that was enough for me to hop onto the bandwagon. All I can say it is about a bunch of high school students in a club called Traditional Arts Preservation Club. You know these days as time change and the new generation gets used to modern conveniences that old traditional activities are at the brink of extinction? Yeah, that. So I guess this club is just to keep the flame of that whatever tradition alive, eh? Of course this is where the funny part comes in. Hope it doesn’t gets lost in tradition.

Episode 1
Hajime Usami and Sayo Arima are being invited by the club’s vice president, Aya Chousokabe to join the Traditional Arts Preservation Club. The duo notice toothpicks and they believe they are being made by Maria Sassa and her family. Of course she denies since her family tradition has only been making carvings and incisions on the toothpicks. Uh, that is a traditional art passed down through generations? However our girls could never get the point that she is NOT a toothpick maker. There is a big difference in making toothpicks and just carving them. Hajime is surprised how a toothpick goes through many skilled hands when Ema Houjou, the daughter of craftsman specializing in rain gutters (really. I don’t believe this) isn’t amused that the newcomers do not come from a family background that practises traditional arts. Well, Hajime only has a mom who makes artificial flowers and puts glue on envelopes as a side job. Definitely not a traditional art. Ema thinks they’re mocking their club so Sayo feels she’s looking down on Hajime. The war of words escalates somehow dragging in Maria’s toothpick’s profession. Yeah, they’re calling her Toothpick-san. For the umpteenth time, she doesn’t make toothpicks. But the club president, Ichirou Toba feels a parent’s job doesn’t matter and anyone is welcome to join the club. He reprimands Ema for having a narrow minded thinking and this is perhaps the reason why traditional arts in Japan are on a decline. He invites the newbies to come back tomorrow if they like. Hajime later talks to Sayo about joining the club but the latter isn’t thrilled. Hajime feels she can probably sharpen the ends of toothpicks so Sayo warns that Maria may get irritated and offended if she makes sharpening sound so easy. Hajime agrees to ask her nicely so the next day when they confront her, she tells them it is impossible not because they are amateurs but rather toothpicks sharpening are done by machines nowadays. Shouldn’t everything be done by machines then?!

Episode 2
So Hajime ends up joining the club as she wonders why Toba is always drawing something with an ink brush. As she finds out from Maria, he is preserving manga. But manga can’t be a traditional art, can it? Since it is only developed recently. However as explained, the earliest form of manga was called chouju-giga or as it is known, Scrolls of Frolicking Animals. I went to Wikipedia to check this out and apparently there is truth in the explanation. Toba is from the line of descendents of chouju-giga. Well, there is only 1 still picture of it. In this case, a frog. Nothing else comes after that. Isn’t it no different than a picture then? Maria continues that Toba is trying to bring people closer to this form of manga but knows it won’t be accepted in its current form so he does some tweaking albeit nothing excessive or else it will lose its appeal. Finally Toba shows the girls the original work compared to his tweaked one. Uhm… Why is it wearing boots a belt and has more lines on its back?! But the amazing thing is that the girls couldn’t spot the obvious difference!!! Heck, they even think the blot on the paper was the difference! Blind cows! Yeah, they got so excited that it somewhat turns into a spot-the-difference game. Suddenly a tough guy barges in carrying a naked guy with bad news: The Traditional Arts Preservation Club will be disbanded today!

Episode 3
After that cliff-hanger in the previous episode, we are being told that danger has somehow being averted. Somehow but we don’t know how it happened. What a letdown. And I thought Hajime has joined the club because she narrated that she is still unsure of joining it. Hajime talks to her mom about joining the club and she’s supportive of it. Asking mommy if they have any skills handed down by generations in their family, mom confidently replies they have none and that envelope gluing thingy is just a side job. Thanks for the confidence, mom. Hajime wonders if there is anyone who could teach her a traditional art she can preserve so Toba introduces her to an old guy who does kamaboko pads. More precisely, he doesn’t make them (the factory does) but rather adds the final touch to them. How? Notice the curve shape on the pad instead of being totally flat? Yup. That’s what he does. I don’t know, I’m not an expert but this really affects the taste for a deeper flavour. Hajime gets excited to learn this traditional art to preserve seeing this old guy is the last one who knows the skill. Happy Hajime goes home with high confidence, can’t wait to break the news to mom about her new job. However she is shocked to see her mom carving curves on the kamaboko pads! Isn’t it supposed to be a traditional art? Apparently not because she says their neighbour is also doing it! This is too much! Either that old geezer was lying or the art you could say is safely preserved…

Episode 4
Hajime asks Ema why Toba didn’t join the manga club since the school has one. Ema take this as an insult that she’s implying Toba will leave this club. Maria supports Ema saying that even if there was a toothpick club in this school, she wouldn’t join it. Well, nobody would. Haha! Hey, are you insulting toothpicks? So the best person to ask is Aya. It all started when Aya and Toba came to this school. Aya too drew manga but was too nervous to show it or join the club. Toba on the other hand wants to join the manga club and study alongside them. He shows his chouju-giga and well, anyone wouldn’t feel this is like some sort of manga anymore. That’s not a compliment. I think. Though Aya is embarrassed to show hers, after being persuaded that manga is to be seen, she shows her… Er… Is that a horrendous version of Sailormoon? The duo go show the manga club member her work but his scathing comments that they aren’t looking for those kind of people and that they’re not here to teach how to draw manga has Toba furious. He stomps his foot down and tells him off if there is a certain way to draw manga, every manga will look alike! It won’t be interesting! So true! In his rage, Toba plans not to join this club and quits! How can he do that when he’s not in? Yeah, he has Aya come with him too. Later he regrets getting carried away. Soon after, they joined the same club which is this club. Ema thinks Hajime is being rude when she comments how he eventually didn’t get to join the manga club. Aya continues to wonder about his manga as she didn’t understand the joke behind it. Hajime turns his manga upside down and finds it funny. Stop the insult!

Episode 5
Francoise Sakai, the president of the Comedy Club tells off a member for wanting to skip practice to go dating!!! Love comes second if you want to become a comedian???!!! A comedian doesn’t need love???!!! Is this a mockery of comedy???!!! Later as Francoise walks through the corridors, she suddenly fell head over heels for Toba when he picked up her dropped handkerchief. Remembering she just disciplined a club member, she tries to hold back her feelings so as not to be a hypocrite. She tries to reply a gag like a true comedian but experiences a comedian’s block. I don’t get it but she starts thinking of different buildings and finally blurts out a government office block in Tokyo. Because she took too long, Toba hasn’t got all day and decides to return it to the faculty office. Not wanting to lose out, Francoise tells him to wait 1 day and will definitely come up with a joke he’ll approve. WTF?! Back home, she analyzes where she went wrong and searching through the internet, she finally gets the perfect joke. I don’t get it too. She shapes her body into some Chinese character which is supposed to mean ‘good job’. Next day, confident Francoise enters the Traditional Arts Preservation Club and to her surprise, sees Toba doing that same body shape! The other club girls find it funny. Francoise starts panicking that if she does the same joke, it will amount to plagiarism and a rip-off. Thinking real hard to do a different joke, she finally pulls off a Tokyo Sky Tree tower. I don’t get it either…

Episode 6
Toba gets his chouju-giga manga, about a rabbit and a frog boxing each other, approved by his dad. He is amazed and confident his work will be able to fulfil their family’s goal by winning the Tezuka Award. However he notes there is 1 odd part he wishes to advice him. Doesn’t it seem strange for a rabbit and frog to speak human language? But if you think about it, having them boxing is even stranger, right? Well, daddy is okay with that. WTF?! Later Toba thinks about his father’s rational for the animals to box but not to talk so he asks his sister, Yutaka for advice. But really, she doesn’t care about stuff like that. Well, it’s not like she is abandoning her family tradition, she thinks modern manga looks much different that his chouju-giga. Yeah, slice of life story having females with big eyes is the norm these days. Plus, he doesn’t need frogs! What is she saying?! Frogs are THE symbol passed down by their ancestors. He isn’t going to abandon this tradition even if this means spending his entire life drawing frogs in manga only. Yeah well, even Yutaka finds it hard to believe he’ll protect the family tradition with frogs. Besides, he already went off tangent with the boxing thingy. Toba then has Yutaka read his manga further for the punchline. Scrolling through the rabbit vs frog boxing match, the rabbit nails his Inaba Punch onto the frog’s face as his frog mask comes off! Yutaka throws back everything into Toba’s face! He desecrated it already alright.

Episode 7
Today, Maria, Hajime and Sayo pay a visit to Katsushika in Tokyo where the traditional art of Edo Kiriko (a glass cutting technique) is still alive. While Maria is doing the interview (they just show an old bald man in the background and though he reacts, he has no speech or dialogue whatsoever), it’s like the rest of the girls are being idiots like Sayo thinking Edo Kiriko cuts down brazen lowlifes that plague the streets of Edo. Or they are glass artisans by day and contract killers by night (what the heck is that bunny suit?) assassinating people by cutting ornamental patterns in their bodies. WTF?! Moving on, showing us the beautifully crafted glass, surprisingly it only costs 7,350 Yen. Unexpectedly cheap? Sayo’s punchline? Their day job wasn’t enough to make a living that’s why they work as assassins by night. WTF?! Now it’s Hajime’s turn to be the idiot because when she learns that Edo Kiriko craftsman carves everything like a true artisan, Maria takes it as she is implying that she is not a real artisan since she only carves a part of a toothpick. And she still doesn’t remember she DOES NOT MAKE TOOTHPICKS. And about making toothpicks day and night, Maria is now up to here with the idiots because just like Edo Kiriko artisans, they don’t “Cut’em down with toothpicks” as their night jobs.

Episode 8
The club members go see Shizuma Sanada whose family have been preserving the art of training Varied Tit birds. Yeah, she amazingly trains the bird to do just about anything from opening doors to fetching fortune strips. Because Maria has been saying how this craft has a long history with it, Hajime says that it’s like the other traditional arts they’ve seen so far are fakes. Like toothpicks. Grr… Suddenly wild birds start attacking Toba and though Sanada isn’t sure how it happened Maria feels she’s a natural when it comes to the art of bird training. Yeah, just a lazy theory. So does this mean Maria can summon toothpicks? Don’t push it… Suddenly a guy who trains falcons, Souma comes by to ask Sanada’s hand in marriage. You can tell she’s not pleased. However another kid who trains cormorant fisher, Shima is also chasing after Sanada. Yeah, the guys lock in a battle of insults over Sanada. When Maria tells them that Sanada isn’t interested in both of them, they get the wrong idea and wonder what kind of bird trainer she is interested. Then some guy who ‘came in as the last entrant’ and trains bush warblers, Sanada starts blushing. The guys again got the wrong idea she wants a bush warbler trainer.

Episode 9
Hajime and Sayo look completely different! They are drawn so mature that they look horrible! I beg to differ that they look cute. And that gorilla that has been bugging us in the background, who is she actually? IT’S AYA!!! The next scenes are manga drawings of a group of frogs in some restaurant as they try to convince some big shot frog to try out some meal. He was reluctant and having no confidence at first but takes back his words upon trying the delicious dish of flies. Lastly, Hajime is trying to solve a matchstick puzzle. Asking Maria if she has any (of course not), Hajime than starts wondering what other matchstick equivalent items she could use for her puzzle like pins or cotton swabs. I don’t know how off tangent her conversation went and as Maria was about to lend her some toothpicks, Hajime finally solves the puzzle in her head. She then has a cheek to ask Maria if her family has matchstick puzzles called toothpick puzzles. Absolutely not!

Episode 10
The girls learn Aya’s traditional art is writing fortune strips. Well, somebody has to write them. Don’t tell me you believe God wrote them, eh? Seems Aya has her own ratio she based on when making good and bad fortunes. Depending on the economy, if it is a bad one, she’ll increase more good luck since people want some solace. Noting how some people believe everything in their fortune, she has to be careful of what she writes. For instance, Toba. Too late. He is so happy after drawing a fortune strip that says his manga will get published in a magazine if he submits his work. You can’t blame Aya for being careless because after getting so many bad luck ones, she thought of cheering him up. The girls didn’t have confidence in seeing his manga go through so they prepare to console him. Yeah, to even think of that shows how they don’t believe in him… But a few months later, the girls are shocked to learn his works did end up being published in a magazine. Though, it is in the reader submissions section. Yeah, see all the comments on it… Lastly we see Francoise consulting the divine help of a fortune teller. She laments her club members’ concept of being a comedian differs of those. Instead of stage performances, they attempt to be erotic or do anything to show up on TV. The fortune teller looks into her crystal ball and the result is her members are right! She speculates that modern comedians try to garner attention in every possible way and would’ve agreed with Francoise’s concept if it was in the past. Since times have changed, she should make herself flexible and accept it. Also, she warns her about a disease in her digestive system. Huh? I don’t understand.

Episode 11
Sayo reports to her members that she saw Sanada turning down another guy’s confession. The topic changes when Hajime spots Toba drawing something suspicious and trying to hide it. Adult manga? Seriously, adult manga with frogs? Actually he is experimenting writing a love comedy. Albeit the frog and rabbit are still there. The girls like this kind of thing and are supportive over his work even if they’re just animals (weird for a frog and rabbit to confess to each other, eh?). Don’t sweat the minor details because heck, the entire manga is just weird. They want him to continue before he loses steam. He wants to get rid of unnecessary panels but they tell him he doesn’t need to leave out any and make it as long as possible. He gets fired up to finish it at home but reflecting back at their words, it doesn’t sound like they were very supportive. Yutaka comments he probably was thinking too much. The final scene shows Hajime walking in space while Sayo manning ground control. Hajime is looking at how beautiful Earth is and though so many things are crammed into this small planet, everything is pretty. Everyone on the surface living their normal everyday lives. She feels she wants to ask lots of questions but Sayo doubts anyone knows the answers. Then Hajime feels the wind blowing in her hair although she’s in space. Sayo replies it might be they are right next to each other because she too feels a cool breeze.

What tradition?!
Sighs… So that is how it ended? I won’t say I am disappointed because I had a good laugh in some of the jokes but for the rest I was just stumped. Maybe there is a deeper and hidden meaning to it and since I’m not a traditionalist, perhaps the joke wasn’t able to reach me. There were some of the final scenes at the end in some episodes that just doesn’t make sense. For instance, there was one whereby Hajime and Sayo were talking about some TV drama while diffusing a bomb (she was being told to just use the right side of her brain?), one whereby Hajime and Maria discuss some snack mascot or Sayo trying to give Hajime an apple juice. I know everything is supposed to be random and nonsensical but too much of it and it somewhat took the fun out of it all. Also like the part whereby the club escaped from being disbanded. How on Earth? We want to know how it happened and not just being given some lazy convenient excuse.

I read from many comments that many viewers felt disappointed that they have wasted over 40 minutes of their lives watching this nonsense. Plus, they find that the flash animation to be horrible and of poor quality. To be fair, the length of the series allows the jokes to be spontaneous and the funny part is seeing how the people who are supposed to preserve the traditional art preserve it. Though we get only 1 little insight on the glass cutting, we don’t really see how the rest of the members do it. That’s what makes it funny. And I hope that at the rate they’re going, the traditional art won’t be twisted and screwed up into something totally different than the original. Heck, do they or we even know how the original sounded like. Recording equipments weren’t created back then you know? Also, I find the drawing and art to be quite okay. Hey, I do find some of the ladies pretty :). What’s more, in addition to using 2D flash animation, notice how the backgrounds are real pictures, whether still or moving ones.

I would have preferred to have the series having a slightly longer running time since it would have been better to flesh out some of the characters. But from what I can see, Hajime and Sayo may be newbies in the club and though honest, their words or what they comment usually sound like an insult or something offending and rude. That’s why I guess Maria can never get it right to them that she is NOT a toothpick maker. They’ve been calling her that right till the very end. It’s amazing how she can stand all those offensive remarks from Hajime and Sayo. Toba is one passionate dude but can he really preserve his chouju-giga seeing it went off tangent many times? I guess some traditional arts are really hard to preserve. Hajime’s mom is also one cool lady because she is not afraid to tell the truth and never loses her cool. I wish there were more screen time for characters like Yutaka, Ema, Francoise or even Sanada but given the duration of this series, I suppose it’s not possible.

Surprisingly there are a few seiyuus that I am familiar few albeit I didn’t recognize them. For instance, Chiaki Omigawa as Maria. After hearing her unique voice in roles like Maka of Soul Eater and Hotori in Soredemo Machi Wa Mawatteiru, if I had never found out it was her voice behind the deadpan expressionless Maria, I would never have known it was her. Same case with Ayana Taketatsu as Ema. Her character was quite reprimanding but it wasn’t so much to instantly remind me that she was K-ON!’s Azusa. Emiri Katou who voices Kagami in Lucky Star was the voice behind Sayo and Ryou Hirohashi as Sanada (Kyou in Clannad) but then again I wouldn’t be able to recognize them seeing that I never could. Of course there were some recognizable ones like Yu Kobayashi as Francoise (Ayame in Gintama) and Nobuyuki Hirama as Toba (Ikkaku in Bleach). Lesser known seiyuu Ayuru Oohashi does Hajime (Ayumu in Hoshizora Kakaru Hashi E) and Kanami Satou as Aya. The ending theme of this series is somewhat, how should I put it… Haphazard. Entitled Wani To Shampoo by Momoiro Clover Z, the song is about unable to finish homework and panicking about nothing could be done about it (80 more freaking pages to go!). Sounds energetic and lively but you’ll get addicted to it if you here it too often. As for the ending credits animation, the chaotic and messy water colour effects really make everything so haphazard. Isn’t that somebody trying to absorb a jet, shrine, rocket among many other objects into her mouth? What a meal.

So yeah, what constitutes tradition? Is it something that has been done for over generations over hundreds of years? Time, technology and people’s attitude play an important factor in determining whether a traditional art continues or not. Some die out some don’t. It just takes a little effort in preserving these little miracles and without proper documentation, they’ll forever be lost in time. Animes may not be something new but in a few hundred of years to come, I’m sure it will be called a traditional treasure. So start preserving all those animes and mangas quick!

%d bloggers like this: