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Thursday, December 24, 2020

Kill Me Baby: This Ain't the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew Mystery, It's Just Yasuna & Sonia in Your Vicinity

On three prior occasions I participated in the Reverse Thieves' Anime Secret Santa program, where participants get a "victim" (as I like to say) & have to recommend three anime to pick one from & put out an article, podcast, or what have you in time for Christmas Eve. Last year, the podcast All Geeks Considered took the reigns & have returned for another year, so I decided to participate once again. I specifically asked that my "Santa" challenge me this time around, and the trio of anime I got definitely is one of the strongest I had to choose from, I'd say. First up was 2018's SSSS.Gridman, Studio Trigger's wild & highly beloved interpretation of Tsuburaya Pro's tokusatsu series from the 90s, better known in English as Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad, hence the "SSSS" part of the title. Second was 2008's Michiko & Matchin, the directorial debut of fan-favorite Sayo Yamamoto that had music produced by Shinichiro Watanabe. Without a doubt, both of these shows are ones that I have had interest in watching one day, and both would definitely challenge this blog's focus on obscurities, as both have very ardent & notable fanbases. However, that made the third choice I was given feel all the more from out of left field, and it's definitely something I probably wouldn't have gone after on my own, hence why I chose it.

The actual title splash is rather generic,
so here's the literal final image of the show!

Debuting in mid-2008 in Houbunsha's seinen magazine Manga Time Kirara Carat (home of manga like K-On!, Hidamari Sketch, A Channel, & Doujin Work), Kill Me Baby is the debut work for a man known only as Kaduho (though he specifically uses the rarely-seen katakana "ヅ",  so it should technically be "Kadzuho"); it's also known in Japan as Baby, please me kill me.. Like its fellow Kirara Carat series, it's a 4-panel gag manga that's still running to this day & is currently at 11 volumes. At the start of 2012 a 13-episode TV anime adaptation done by J.C. Staff aired in Japan in late-night, followed by a bonus OVA episode coming out in mid-2013 alongside a CD album called Kill Me Baby Super. While Kaduho was initially hesitant about how the manga would adapt into animation, he wound up being very active in its production, attending production meetings & responding to any & all questions about dialog the staff had for him; everyone had hopes for a second season, but it never came. The anime then found itself in hot water in late 2015 when cast member Ai Takabe was arrested for allegedly owning cocaine & the like, resulting in the anime being taken off of streaming services, though the charges were dropped in early 2016 & the anime returned to Japanese streaming; Takabe has yet to act in another anime, however. Sentai Filmworks licensed Kill Me Baby in early 2013 & released a dual-audio DVD boxset later that year, followed by a Blu-Ray set in late 2014, though the OVA is not included in either release, so I'll be relying on a fansub for that bonus episode.

I have absolutely no prior experience when it comes to this kind of source material, so will I regret asking for Patz from The Cockpit podcast to challenge me, or will Anime Secret Santa give me yet another pleasant surprise? Let's lock & load and find out!

Yasuna Oribe is (allegedly) a Japanese high school student who's best friends with her classmate Sonia, who in reality is a trained assassin that's always ready to defend herself against anyone who tries to take her out. Because of this, Sonia often winds up exercising extreme self-defense against Yasuna, usually whenever Yasuna is doing nothing more than saying "Hi!" or the like. Along with Agiri Goshiki, a self-proclaimed "ninja" from the same organization that Sonia comes from, & an "Unused Character" who wants vengeance against Yasuna, as all of her personality was allegedly stolen by our lead, these high school girls find themselves in all manner of situations, both mundane & ridiculous. "What will you do now, Yasuna Oribe?"

Four-panel gag manga is comedy in some of its most focused & direct, as the creator literally has only four panels to execute the set-up, punchline, & follow-through, and while this type of manga can string together multiple sets to tell a longer story, each set has to have its own gag to it in order to work. While I have no experience with the original manga, the Kill Me Baby anime very much does follow a similar execution. In fact, it goes hyper-focused in that regard, as literally everyone outside of the main four mentioned in the synopsis are portrayed as nothing more than nebulous, white, humanoid shapes. There is the rare bystander who's actually given a design, but the focus is purely on Yasuna, Sonia, Agiri, & (to a much lesser extent) "Unused". Yasuna is, simply put, a pure-hearted but simplistic idiot, the kind of girl who can take her mind off a rainy day by imagining herself in a sunny environment, only to wind up mentally putting herself into a desert & dehydrating to the point where she's legitimately begging Sonia for water. Sonia, in turn, is rather terse & shows no mercy to Yasuna, both physically & verbally, but also has her own weaknesses, like being utterly terrified of things like ghosts, insects, & even dogs. Agiri has a very airy sound to her voice & stays completely calm at all points, which in turn allows her to always earn the trust of Yasuna & Sonia, even if she's really just taking advantage of them at points. In fact, her proclaimed ninja techniques often wind up being nothing more than elaborate smoke & mirrors, arguably making her more like the historical ninja than anything you'd see in anime & manga, though she usually ends with some legitimately inexplainable technique. As for "Unsued", she barely makes a literal handful of appearances, and the usual gag with her is that she wants to have some sort of relevancy to what's happening, only to wind up being too late & returning to being utterly useless. The only exception is a single moment where she does actually interact with Yasuna & Sonia, but it's only via a dream sequence... And she still winds up being irrelevant on the whole, due to how gag that ends the scene. Comedies like these are built upon thevarious characters & their chemistry, and Yasuna & Sonia are an excellent pair, while Agiri plays off of them nicely, and "Unused" is fun in her short bursts.

Moving on to the format of the episodes themselves, each one is literally named after a quartet of the subjects featured, like balloons, kites, rainy days, mochi, chocolate, and (fitting for this being an Anime Secret Santa review) Christmas & New Year's. Yasuna & Sonia, in turn, start their usual rapport, leading into the gags relating to each subject, with a loose thread connecting everything throughout the episode, or at least in a half-&-half fashion. What makes Kill Me Baby interesting is that, rather than utilize the manzai routine that you often see in anime gag comedy, which often turns into "straight man reacts to funny man's jokes", Yasuna & Sonia are instead more like Abbot & Costello or Laurel & Hardy. By that I mean that Yasuna is the equivalent of Lou Costello & Stan Laurel, i.e. she's clumsy & pure but will also try to mess with her "partner", while Sonia is definitely the equivalent to Bud Abbot & Oliver Hardy, i.e. she will play along (even if tricked or forced to), but has no problem outright physically striking her "partner" when she (often) goes too far. Meanwhile, Agiri plays a fun little third wheel at points, often appearing as the most competent of them all & sometimes even takes advantage of her friends' weak points, especially in regards to Yasuna. Finally, "Unused" feels like those cameo appearances you'd see from other comedic actors that would appear in the previously-mentioned duos' films, like how Shemp Howard would appear in some Abbot & Costello films, but would otherwise play little-to-no importance in the long run. While I do enjoy manzai comedy, I grew up watching the likes of Abbot & Costello or even Kenan & Kel, and I do enjoy how Yasuna & Sonia fit into that mold.

This brings us to the comedy of Kill Me Baby itself, which will obviously hit differently for each viewer, since comedy is by far the most dependent on personal interpretation. For me, personally, I find the comedy in this series to be very fun, and while I only occasionally would literally "laugh out loud" at some of the situations, gags, and jokes, I never got bored or felt that the series was constantly pulling out a tired gag; even Sonia beating up Yasuna never got old for me, since it's always quickly executed. Obviously, it wouldn't be good for me to straight up give detailed examples in this review, since that would ruin of the moments for those who might want to watch this show, but I can bring up situations, at the very least. As mentioned in the synopsis, Kill Me Baby's situations go between the seeming mundane, like Yasuna & Sonia going to a summer festival, & the more ridiculous, like Sonia being hunted after a pair of assassins who both disguise themselves as Yasuna, right down to acting just as dense as her. There are also some moments that fit between each end of the spectrum, like the girls coming across a zoo-escaped bear in the park or Yasuna getting a 5-gallon jug stuck on her head (in an attempt to protect herself from Sonia's physical prowess). As for the OVA that stayed in Japan, it apparently adapts Volumes 5 & 6 of the manga very accurately, whereas the anime did alter some elements, resulting in it looking notably different from the TV episodes. The visuals are much more simplistic compared to the TV series, and the animation makes everything feel much more "flat" & "2D" than before, though I'm pretty sure that it's very much done on purpose. Finally, due to it being a much more direct adaptation of the manga, the pacing feels much more rapid-fire & frenetic. Overall, it's a neat little bonus episode that's well worth watching if you enjoyed the TV series.

In terms of the production itself, Kill Me Baby was animated by J.C. Staff with direction by Yoshiki Yamakawa (Hells, Hi-Score Girl, Little Busters!), and while Yamakawa is experienced in dealing with the absurd & comedic, J.C. Staff has never been known for being an animation powerhouse. That being said, this isn't exactly a series that requires constantly fluid animation, and in fact I think the more "standard" visual feel works very well here, with backgrounds every now & then purposefully drawn in a more simplistic fashion (almost as if drawn by crayon at times) so as to keep the focus on the characters & what they're doing. The character designs by Shinya Hasegawa (Golden Time, Revolutionary Girl Utena) look to adapt Kaduho's style well, one which obviously doesn't care to portray any of the characters as looking exactly like high school girls, but also one that doesn't aim for a "cute" feeling, either; instead, it's really more to match the ridiculous moments, logic, & non sequiturs. As for the writing lead by Hideki Shirane (Girl's High, Hayate the Combat Butler), it's very snappy, going from one comedy bit to another with little fat to them, resulting in them flowing in a relatively natural feeling fashion. Also, I just have to mention that Shirane also brought in Noboru Kimura for four episodes, since they both worked under Yosuke Kuroda for Ring ni Kakero 1... Because I just want to mention that, okay?

*is quickly beaten up by Sonia for bringing up something completely pointless to the subject at hand*

The music for the anime was composed by the duo of Suguru Yamaguchi (Magimoji Rurumo) & Kimitaka Matsumae (Jade Cocoon 1 & 2), who worked under their old EXPO name. While nothing instantly memorable in the long run, the two create a very light-hearted & silly sounding soundtrack that perfectly matches the ridiculous situations & jokes that they go with. EXPO also composed & arranged the OP & ED themes to Kill Me Baby, sung by "Yasuna & Sonia" themselves, which are definitely memorable. OP "Kill Me Baby!" is a fast-paced & absurd song with sometimes fast lyrics that bring up seemingly random Russian words, namely Komi, pirozhki, & kobrowski (a common Russian surname), likely just because Sonia's name sounds Russian. Still, it's a very fun & wild song to listen to, and the footage showing Yasuna being captured by aliens, with Sonia & Agiri coming to her rescue(?), is appropriately bizarre. ED "Futari no Kimochi no Honto no Himitsu", on the other hand, is a slowly absorbing song with the joke of Yasuna & Sonia secretly being in love with each other, but decide to keep it a secret from each other, and the footage features them doing a wild little dance number, one that a pair of men even tried recreating in real life.

The voice cast for this series is purposefully small, so I'll just cover both the Japanese & English casts together, since they're pretty much equally as good. Yasuna is performed by Chinatsu Akasaki (Stunkette in Interspecies Reviewers) & Hilary Haag (Kirschwasser in Xenosaga the Animation), and both absolutely deliver the earnest enthusiasm & obvious idiocy of the (apparent) lead character, with Haag sounding very similar to Akasaki at points. Sonia is voiced by Mutsumi Tamura (David Lynch in Pandora in the Crimson Shell: Ghost Urn) & Luci Christian (Misha in B't X's Illumitoon dub), and while both give the young assassin a fittingly deep & serious voice, I will say that Tamura often sounded like a dead ringer for Romi Park's boy voice, sometimes making me think Park was voicing Sonia; seriously, Tamura could be Park's understudy. As for Agiri, we have the aforementioned Ai Takabe (Maiko in Wandering Son), as well as her English counterpart Rozanne Curtis (Rie Nishina in Clannad), and just like the other pairings Takabe & Curtis deliver astoundingly similar performances, this time with Agiri's very floaty & slow-paced cadence, though Curtis does have a couple of moments where she delivers a line differently for comedic effect, whereas Takabe stays the same all throughout. Finally, "Unsued" is voiced by Rie Kugimiya in Japanese, which I feel was purposefully done as a gag, and Brittney Karbowski in English, while the remaining "Et Cetera Men & Women" are all performed by just Cho & Satomi Arai in Japanese, while in English its shared by Andrew Love, Blake Shepard, Jessica Boone, & Samuel Roman. Finally, Kill Me Baby looks to be one of the last anime dubs directed by the infamous Steven Foster, who would retire the year after this show's initial DVD release, but unlike his usual penchant for wildly altering a script, the dub here utilizes ~95% of the subtitle script, with only minor changes every now & then for lip flaps or style.

*"No one knows who the hell those characters that they had previously voiced are you idiot!", screams Sonia*

Admittedly, while I had heard of Kill Me Baby in the past, I had mainly hesitated in actually checking it out because of its peers. Looking at what else Manga Time Kirara Carat has serialized, they all kind of can be described as "Cute Girls Doing Things", and while I have no problem with that kind of product being made, it just doesn't interest me for the most part. That being said, Kill Me Baby is essentially a parody of that, as it's best described as "Idiots Doing Ridiculous Things", which is something I can get behind. Combine that with the a comedic styling that hearkens back to the likes of Abbot & Costello or The Three Stooges, and I had a lot of fun watching this anime, and if the comedy I described here has your interest then by all means give the show a try, as it's currently still streaming over at Hidive in both English & Japanese.

So now I'm 4-for-4 in terms of really what my Anime Secret Santas made me watch, but Merry Christmas, Happy Belated Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, & just Happy Holidays to all!

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