A very creative comedy series, based on a successful novel, that has won a lot of critical acclaim but remains largely within the shadows of obscurity due its lack of the key ingredients that a show seems to require in order to permeate the general consciousness (That is to say, ingredients such as disproportionately large weapons, cute high school girls and fan service, all three combined appears to be the standard viewer appeasement policy taken by shows which have no other substance to offer).
The story is set at a university in Kyoto where our protagonist, whose name is never actually revealed (hence simply titled “watashi” or “I”), chooses a club in the naive hope that it will lead to his idyllic rose coloured campus life of popularity and romance. These efforts invariably result in miserable consequences that the protagonist bitterly regrets after spending what he considers a wasted two years, at the climax of his despair towards the end of most episodes, time is rewound and an alternative world created.
Each episode is a parallel world with a usually self-containing story in which the protagonist chose a different club to join. This style of story telling will be familiar to those who have watched “Higurashi No Naku Koroni”. Like that similarly excellent show, “Yojohan Shinwa Taikei” cleverly and gradually builds up a complete picture of the major stoy line, involving his eccentric friends and acquaintances, by letting the protagonist see the same series of events from several different perspectives, allowing the viewer to gradually gather information. This all builds up to the final two episodes that, while not being unpredictable, provide a very satisfying conclusion.
The comedy comes from the cast of bizarre quirky characters (including a personification of the protagonist’s lust), the at times quite surreal individual storylines (with interesting creations such as a strict and brutally totalitarian library police) and the accompanying witty first person narrative. In terms of the last point, the amusing narration provided, right from the very first second of the show, is a verbal machine gun chattering away at five hundred words a second. This might make the series a little difficult to follow for those not used to a barrage of subtitles flying across the screen like cars on a five hundred miles per hour high way. However viewers who enjoyed the humorous dialogue in “Bakemonogatari” or the witty banter in “Gintama” will probably enjoy the flowing narrations, of perhaps a higher literary caliber than the two mentioned examples, often referencing classical literature and mythology.
The creative art style (a little stylistically similar to “Tekkonkinkreet”), as expected from Madhouse Studio, is also a beautiful clean cut business with lines drawn sharper than Goemon’s Zantetsuken (I went out on a limb there, referencing a classical long running anime. “Lupin the Third” anyone?) The vibrant and colourful animation complements the narrative well, often visually expressing the wild analogies and metaphors employed by the protagonist, adding nicely to the surreal feeling of the series. The characters are by and large drawn proportionally accurately, so no biologically impossibly large eyes (except for the villainous companion to the protagonist, Ozu who is drawn deliberately inhuman and caricatured), if that is the sort of thing that grinds your metaphorical gears.
I haven’t much ear for music but as far as I (in my capacity as someone who found out two weeks late when Whitney Houston died then took another week or so to work out who she was) can tell, the original sound track is sufficiently interesting and fitting for the series; with a polite classical atmosphere that works well with the generally refined and polished comedic feeling of the show (in contrast to say, the enjoyably crude “Gintama”).
The one negative point to the show that I can excavate is that, due to the format, it does inevitably become a little repetitive in places and a few of the individual episodes are a little predictable. However its only a short series of eleven episodes and the ultimate conclusion is satisfying enough to make these issues, at least in my eyes, completely insignificant.
Overall “Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei” is a series with a good story (both individual episodes and the overarching plot), solid character development (demonstrating well how no person has just one true face), enjoyable comedy and beautifully flowing artistic animation. A definite recommendation.