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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Ghastly Prince Enma Burning Up: Punnin' with the Devil

Name: Masaaki Endoh
Nicknames: "Young Lion of Anison", "En-chan"
Date of Birth: August 28, 1967
Debut Year: 1993 (as part of The Hiptones, followed by Short Hopes), 1995 (solo)
Iconic Song: "Yuusha-Oh Tanjou!" (from GaoGaiGar: King of Braves)
Superpower: "Super Endoh Time", "SEVENTH EXPLOSION" (with Yoshiki Fukuyama)

The only other founding member to still be a part of the supergroup, Masaaki Endoh may not have the same extensive catalog as Hironobu Kageyama, but he more than makes up for it by having one of the strongest voices of the entire quintet. Endoh is a master of sustained, high-pitch notes, which fans have dubbed "Super Endoh Time", and he's used it to great effect in some of his songs. While "Yuusha-Oh Tanjou!" is Endoh's most identifiable song, he's had a lot of underrated songs in his catalog... And I've actually covered a couple of them with my reviews of B't X Neo ("A Piece of the Sun" & "Towa no Sono Saki ~You're the Best Buddies~") & Cybuster ("Senshi yo, Tachiagare!"), so what title could I review that featured an Endoh song?

Dororon Enma-kun was a three-volume manga that Go Nagai made for Weekly Shonen Sunday during 1973-1974 that introduced Japan to little Enma, the nephew of Enma the Great (ruler of Hell), & his mission to keep runaway demons from creating havoc in the human world. Like many Go Nagai titles of the era the manga came with an anime version by Toei that ran alongside the manga for 25 episodes, and Nagai kept the manga going with short one-shot stories during the rest of the 70s. In 2006 came Kikoushi/Demon Prince Enma, a sequel-of-sorts to Dororon which featured grown-up versions of Enma & gang and was a much more serious & dark take on the series. The 4-episode OVA adaptation was released on DVD by Bandai Visual USA, and I own those DVDs (so I can always review it), but what I'll be reviewing is what came about five years later. During the Spring of 2011 anime studio Brains Base debuted a new anime adaptation of the original Enma story called Dororon Enma-kun Meeramera, and was immediately different from the usual Go Nagai anime of the time simply because it wasn't a mech anime. Against all odds, while this anime never got simulcasted it still got licensed by NIS America, who named it Ghastly Prince Enma Burning Up & reminded everyone that Go Nagai can be one of the most insane, perverted, & downright bizarre people in anime history... And this applies to the director of GaoGaiGar, too!

It's the 1970s & unbeknownst to the citizens of Tokyo there's a rampage of demons that escaped from Hell. To combat this menace & bring them back home Enma the Great sends out the Demon Patrol, made up of his nephew Enma, Princess Yukiko (Yuki for short) of the Snow Woman tribe, encyclopedic hat Chapeauldie, & (kind-of-sort-of useless) recon kappa Kappavier. They soon meet up with Harumi Fudo, a hapless elementary schoolgirl who keeps finding the demons that bring up problems, and together the Demon Patrol have to not only stop all of the demons but also find out who exactly let them all loose.

Upon first glance Enma Burning Up looks like a simple children's anime, & indeed the original 70s anime was for kids, but this reboot shouldn't be anywhere within reach of a small child. It does seem like most Go Nagai fans only really know him for the likes of Mazinger & Getter Robo (which he co-created with Ken Ishikawa), but let's not forget that the man's first serialized manga, Harenchi Gakuen/Shameless School, was infamous for being intensely raunchy for it's time (the late-60s) & is often considered the first ecchi or even hentai manga. In turn, this version of Enma is intensely perverted & ecchi, and if it wasn't for some mosaic blurring & a few Go Nagai heads this could very well enter (very light) porn levels. Enma is always ready & willing to strip Yuki to nothing if the opportunity comes about (Yuki not wearing any panties doesn't help) with Kappavier always trying to watch, Chapeauldie's top can become very "solid" & erect (requiring mosaic blurring), and even Yuki turns the tables on Enma once or twice. Still, Enma's antics in particular aren't solely for laughs, as he does truly care for Yuki & feels that he's the only one who can see Yuki naked.

What takes the cake, though, is Enpi, who was originally the lead character to a gender-switched parody of the original Enma manga by Go Nagai. Here, Enpi & Enma are both existing in the same world, but it's how she dresses that takes the perversion to its absolute limit. Much like fellow Nagai creation Kekko Kamen, Enpi literally wears nothing but a hat, a cape, & boots and gloves; her cape covers her nipples & her nether region is covered up in many ways (the cape being the most used). In fact, Enpi's goal in all of this havoc is to lead the world to one of "titillation & delight", where everyone is naked & free. It's almost shocking that Enpi could even appear on television the way she's designed, even on a late-night timeslot... But that kind of leads itself into how this show operates.

One of the biggest appeals to Enma Burning Up is the fact it doesn't exactly take itself seriously, and that's shown with extreme fervor by its leads. The Demon Patrol are almost nigh-useless outside of actual fighting, and even then there's a chance that the demons end up killing themselves in some way. Enma the Great's speech pattern usually involves him trying to sound & look cute at the end of his sentences, Enma is constantly trying to indulge in voyeurism, Kappavier is being absolutely useless, Yuki is intensely caring & polite but also amazingly blind to other things (like how touching Harumi long enough can kill her due to her cold skin), & poor Harumi is nothing more than a spectator who can only react to everything. Yes, if Harumi is the "straight man", then nearly everyone else in the show, including the demon enemies, are the "funny guys". Sure, there are Harumi's friends & teachers, but more often than not they're just "victims" of the demon-of-the-episode's power. It gets to the point where Harumi's inner voice has to react properly to her dimwitted reaction... And sometimes it requires up to four inner voices to finally come to a point! While there are serious moments to be found, you come to this show for the comedy.

And, speaking of the comedy, allow me to talk about the puns & references. Oh god, the puns & references; they're almost too much to cover. This has got to be a world record, but Enma Burning Up features what has to be the largest concentration of puns & references to ever be contained in one production. Literally, if I had to guess, about 95% of the entire dialogue features either a pun or a reference to something, and I don't mean Japanese in relation. This show brings up references to almost anything you can think of, whether it's from Japan, the U.S., Canada, Europe, China, etc., and, to the show's credit, the puns & references don't detract from the storytelling one bit. It may seem like a little, but in that remaining 5% there's plenty of good writing to be found. Not to be outdone, the visuals are filled with plenty of references as well, and tons of Go Nagai works are poked fun at; episode 10 in particular will please Nagai mecha fans.

NIS America, in turn, decided to adapt their translation to make some jokes work better for English-speaking audiences; this isn't a 100% "translation" by any means. Episode titles are mostly made into pop-culture jokes, the translation can be a little "loose", and some character names are made to be more "punny", but in this case it really works. Much like Shinesman, these takings of liberty don't turn the translation into "joke subs", but rather make the title even wackier (if that's even humanly possible), though still keeping the original tone & style intact. For example, the first demon can steal faces, so NISA translated its name as "Mug Mugger", while more Nagai-focused puns are maintained like "Geta Robo" or "Violence Queen", except for "Sutten Doji/Fall Down Boy". For those who absolutely must have nothing but accurate subs you'll probably hate the changes, but I personally found them hilarious.

Remember how I brought up the director of GaoGaiGar at the beginning? That's because Yoshitomo Yometani himself not only directed this anime but also did series composition, some scriptwriting (eps 1-3 & 11-12), and was heavily involved in the final episode (including animation direction, storyboarding, & even key animation). For someone who's previous directorial work was generally more serious, or at least mixed seriousness with some comedy, seeing him be so heavily involved in a title like Enma Burning Up is definitely a shocker, but Yometani delivers & then even more; the ending even delivers on an epic scale (not to mention including some references to his own work). He also relied on scriptwriter Hiroaki Kitajima to handle the rest of the episodes he didn't write himself, and Kitajima doesn't disappoint; it's just intensely solid & funny writing. Also of important note is the animation, which was chiefly directed by Takahiro Kimura (GaoGaiGar, Code Geass, Bastard!!), who also did the excellent character designs; simply put, it's beautifully animated. There's constant motion going on, everyone moves intensely fluidly, & you can tell that tons of effort & love was put into this show; even the OP & ED footage changes slightly for each episode!

The music by Keiichi Suzuki (No. 6) & Moonriders (Tokyo Godfathers) is really nice, keeping with the silly style & the 70s motif when needed, but the real stars of the OST are the vocal songs. The opening theme is "Tamashii Mera Mera Icchou C!" by Masaaki Endoh & Moonriders, and it is simply outstanding. The lyrics by Yometani & arrangement by Suzuki sounds fun as hell, and Endoh's performance is filled with infectious energy; it's probably one of my favorite Endoh songs of all time & deserves much more love. The ending theme, "Minna Kutabaru Sa Sa Sa" by Moonriders featuring yoko, is a slow & soothing song that's all about how everyone is going to die one day... Yet is so calming & peaceful that it's not depressing at all; it's awesome. Anyway, until now I thought Hareluya II BØY had the most insert songs I've ever heard in a shorter anime series (six), but Enma Burning Up doesn't just beat it, but does so by a factor of 1.5 (in half the episode count!!)! Yeah, there are nine insert songs in this show alone, all of which are performed by the seiyuu as their respective characters. It would take way too long to cover all of them, so I'll instead bring up my favorite one of the bunch: "Roujin to Kodomo no Polka" by Yuki & Harumi. It's a silly song about asking god for help and it's folk-song delivery is just downright memorable.

The voice cast is likewise exquisite. Enma is voiced by Kappei Yamaguchi, who delivers his usual high-pitched child voice and obviously had nothing but fun playing the perverted character (of his dreams?). Yuki is played by Mamiko Noto (Kotomi from Clannad, Oichi in Sengoku Basara), who does a great job as the aloof-yet-compassionate snow girl. Chapeauldie is done by Minoru Inaba (Rock in Soul Calibur, Coach Maeno in Cross Game), who is probably the tamest of the Demon Patrol, but still delivers some great comedy. Kappavier is voiced by Takehito Koyasu... And you would never know it. Koyasu can legitimately be called out for generally having one "main" voice to his roles, but it's performances like this that show the range Koyasu has; outside of a few comical moments which use his "main" voice, you wouldn't be able to accurately identify Kappavier's voice solely through listening. Harumi's delivered excellently by Ayako Kawasumi (Saber in the Fate/Stay night franchise), who manages to not only be the perfect foil to everyone else's silliness but also knock out some great jokes of her own. Enpi is performed by Rumi Shishido (M.O.M.O. from Xenosaga), whose child-like voice actually fits her character well, even though she's obviously an older teen by visuals (va-va-voom); she also voices Harumi's friend Tsutomu. The enemies of Enma & company are actually voiced by a "celebrity" line-up of seiyuu, including Norio Wakamoto (Enma the Great), Nobuyuki Hiyama (Fatty the Kid), Akira Ishida (Fall Down Boy), Noriko Hidaka (Catnapper), Shinichiro Miki (Marky Angel), & Mitsuo Iwata (Das Foot), among many others.

Ghastly Prince Enma Burning Up is downright sheer insanity that is somehow contained into only 12 episodes. It's a perfect reminder of the kind of person Go Nagai can be when he's not making badass giant robots, and the same goes for Yoshitomo Yometani, too. Without a simulcast back when it debuted it seemed like this title would have been lost to fans, but NIS America knew it was something special & I commend them for giving this title such a quality release. Personally, I consider the Spring 2011 anime season to be one of the strongest seasons of recent memory; it's partially why I even reviewed two anime previously from that season right after they finished airing (Ring ni Kakero 1: Sekai Taikai-hen & Kaiji: Against All Odds). There are still plenty of titles from this specific season that I'm interested in reviewing, so we'll definitely be returning to this time from three years ago more than once. In the meantime, if you like a good, hearty laugh, then by all means pick this title up; NISA did give it a standard release on Blu-Ray.
Seriously, this show is non-stop laughter, and if you ain't down with that I got two words for ya: Titillation & Delight.

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