In 10 Words or Less
Import a little kid with a big mouth from Japan
Loves: Animation, good sitcoms
Dislikes: gross-out comedy
The path to where "Shin Chan" is today is one of the more unusual amongst its [adult swim] brethren, starting over a decade ago in Japan as a cheeky family comedy, before a few abortive attempts to dub it as a kids show. Then Funimation got the idea to take the animation and go in an entirely different direction, recasting it as a surreal adult-themed comedy, essentially a much more cohesive application of the What's Up Tiger Lily? Concept.
The star of the show is the titular Shin Chan, an odd little 6-year-old with an obsession with his own backside, an aggressive personality, a love for superhero Action Bastard and some weird thoughts about how the world works. His traditional family, with mom Mitzy, Dad Hiro and little sister Hima, is a boiling cauldron of resentment, frustration and oddness, though they still love each other (sorta.) his school life brings more friends and freaks into his life, including uptight conservative Georgie and Penny, whose home life is far from storybook.
Each episode is broken up into a trio of short adventures, which can be connected, but most of the time, they are purely random. That's for the best, as the show's sense of humor, which is heavy on bodily function comedy, doesn't lend itself to traditional storytelling, and works best in smaller doses. When it does go long-form, like an extended arc that sees Shin blow up his house, it can drag a bit, making you wish for something a bit different. There's a span of several full episodes focused on the family adjusting to their craptastic new apartment, which starts to feel like any old sitcom, thanks to the consistent setting, but the show comes back strong before the season ends, with an odd trip to a spa for Hiro and Shin.
The best stories though are the quick and senseless, which lets Shin make odd observations and show his ass as he pleases. In translating the show to America, the writers liberally sprinkled pop-culture references and disturbingly dark jokes that somehow still jab despite years of hearing kids mouth off on shows like "South Park." Perhaps it's seeing a very American sense of humor with a very Japanese art style, not to mention in the guise of a sitcom family, that makes it fresh. But while much of the comedy comes from the way the new writers fit jokes into the pre-existing material, some of it can be credited to the original creators, as the art style and anime conventions are played for laughs frequently, while the super-creepy Happiness Bunny story is only possible thanks to the strange animation from Japan.
The 13 episodes in Season One have a weird mix of comedic sensibility, as the first six, which feature comic-book writers Evan Dworkin and Sarah Dyer as punch-up writers, working with the staff, have a pace that's more chaotic than later episodes, which are more traditional sitcom-style comedy, but with an off-kilter flavor. It's hard to compare a segment like "The Brotherhood of the Groveling Allowance," which has the legendary Trust Dance of the Manly Brotherhood of Men, with more down-to-earth bits like Mitzy's attempt to get Shin to school in "A Bicycle Built for Poo." But there are plenty of bits in the more traditional stories that will have you laughing, as they stand in harsh contrast with the normal stuff going on.
On a side note, the ending credits song is one of the catchiest pop songs I've ever heard. Also, the language is still censored here, so curses are bleeped.
The 13 episodes of Season One are spread over two DVDs, with seven episodes on the first disc and six on the other. The discs are packed in a three-panel, two-tray digipak (with some amusing Mister Elephant art), which is held in a solid slipcase. The discs feature static full-frame menus with options to play all episodes, select shows, and check out the extras. There are no audio options, no subtitles and no closed captioning.
The full-frame animation is a bit old, which results in video that's a bit dull color-wise, with some noticeable dirt in places, but otherwise it's pretty solid, as the image is sharp and there are no issues with pixelation or digital artifacts.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track is your standard TV comedy presentation, with clean dialogue and good separation from the strong music, but there's nothing special about it, as everything is right down the middle.
Though the show airs on [adult swim], this is not an [adult swim] DVD, but thankfully Funimation didn't drop the ball, adding a few extras to the mix. First up is an audio commentary on the episode "Get Your Hands Off My Happy Cake," with Shin Chan voice Laura Bailey, director Zach Bolton and sound engineer Peter Hawkinson. The trio is very focused, talking about how the episodes were made, with some chit-chat included, keeping the tone friendly. Unfortunately, the writers weren't involved (see this interview for info), but it's a good track anyway.
Disc Two continues the bonus features with "From the Bowels of the Booth," an 11-minute collection of edited-out material, including alternate takes, background dialogue and bloopers. It moves very fast, and has some very funny line readings. Funimation smart included an original episode of the Japanese series, "Battle: Encho-man!," allowing viewers to see how different the two series are. This segment, which follows Principal Ench's superhero persona, is offered with and without subtitles, and shows how much the new writers add to the show. There's also some original storyboard, though their value is limited, so they are really more of a curiosity, as you get to see how anime is sketched out.
Cast audition clips for 13 of the characters are included, though only with audio, allowing you to hear the first takes on each role. There's some goofy stuff happening as they try out, so it's definitely worth a listen. It would have been nice to hear other actors' attempts though, to see what could have been.
The disc wraps with a bunch of Funimation trailers, including one for "Shin Chan."
The Bottom Line
"Shin Chan" should appeal to the [adult swim] audience, along with fans of shows like "South Park" or "Family Guy," though the art style might keep some viewers from jumping in, as it's unusual, even for anime. Give it a chance though, and it can grow on you, as the creativity of the artists, mixed with the dark comedy, results in something new for fans of comedic cartoons. The DVDs are solid all around, with a decent selection of extras, topped by the chance to compare the original and re-imagined Shin Chan. Whether you think anime is teh suck or are a devoted fan of Japanimation, this show has something to offer you.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.