As SZS and SHAFT in general fangirl number one, I was pretty much committed to watching this one no matter how much it sucked, so I was pleasantly surprised to find it entirely enjoyable. My Akiyuki Shinbo fetish does not blind me to the fact that SHAFT has put out a few real stinkers lately (I’m looking at you, Dance in the Vampire Bund), but Katte ni Kaizou! is a return to form.
If you hadn’t noticed yet, the humor is a wee bit rougher- the first OVA has a number of explicit dick jokes, but it’s definitely recognizable as the work of the Zetsubou Sensei creator, Kumeta Kouji, with the ridiculous characters and the silly concepts stretched to their (il)logical endpoints. What most attracts me about the style, though, is its loyalty to comedy. Unlike the gaggle of forgettable highschool girl slices of life that get marked as comedy every season, Kumeta’s work always makes a point of ending on a joke. It might toy briefly with a characterization, but unlike, say, Nichijou or (reaching further back) Minami-ke or even Azumanga, this will always be the setup for a joke. Other shows might try to keep a foot in both worlds, blending comedy with a more narrative genre, but the results are seldom to my taste. It’s difficult to make interaction between characters really touching when they’re so obviously stereotyped contrivances, who will spend the rest of the show making silly faces and telling bad puns. Of all the parts I hated about K-on!, the worst was when Mio and Ritsu had some ridiculous fight about nothing, and then made up in the most protracted and unfunny way possibly. Even if I thought the show was funny (it was not), that scene would have done nothing for me.
In contrast, Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei (and Katte ni Kaizou!, so far at least) used every opportunity to prevent any disbelief from being suspended, and to head off any character growth that might distract from the comedy. The characters are all named after the contrivance they represent, from Mr. Despair himself on down, and they make no bones about breaking the third wall. This kind of honesty appeals to me more than when other cheap comedy anime try to be more than they are with drama and story lines (or not so subtle insinuations of yuri- fuck you, A-channel). Incidentally the Excel Saga manga was similarly hilarious and discrete about separating comedy from “story” (such as it was), although I haven’t seen all of the anime, so I can’t vouch for that.
E Minor actually takes a different point of view here: he prefers comedies with story because it gives him something to pay attention to if the jokes get slow. He cites here Community, which is not an anime at all, but a live-action American sitcom he’s gotten me hooked on (check it out, it’s funny as hell). Of course, this kind of show has a whole staff of writers and a contract for 13 or 26 episodes off the bat, whereas most anime are adapted from comics written and illustrated by one guy, who knows his run could end with one or two episodes’ notice if readers decide it’s not funny anymore. There’s a lot less room for experimentation and diversity, or trying to show a clear arc of story or character development, which is why my preference is that they don’t bother trying. Really though, you should watch Community if you haven’t already: it somehow combines relentless fourth wall breaking with funny jokes and character development. I’ve watched my fair share of anime comedy, and I can’t think of any that can claim that kind of triple threat.
Anyway, so far Katte ni Kaizou! is still an OVA and only has a couple episodes, but they’ve both been memorable (the first more than the second, perhaps) so I’m hoping for more. God knows the world could use another long-running SHAFT/Kumeta team-up.