Alright, let’s start on an entirely new project! Today we’ll be exploring the first episode of Kuuchuu Buranko, also known as Trapeze. I’ve never watched any of Trapeze before, but I do know it’s an original project by Kenji Nakamura, he of Gatchaman Crowds/Mononoke/Tsuritama fame. I also know it’s focused on some sort of clinic where people go to get their life sorted out, that the central doctor is a little girl in a ridiculous bear costume, and that it’s possibly Nakamura’s most visually experimental work, incorporating live action footage and dramatic style digressions and all manner of other weird tricks. My own experience with Nakamura has been limited to Gatchaman Crowds, which was certainly visually compelling, but more noteworthy for its piercing exploration of modern society. That show’s political laser focus makes me assume this show will be using its episodic cases to poke at society in different ways, but I won’t know until I watch. Let’s get right to it!
And here we are, opening with a shot that’s clearly a live-action photograph painted over in simplified watercolor skin tones, adorned with an anime-style purple haircut. It’s an inherently off-putting effect, one that draws significant attention to the artificiality of the whole composition. We can believe in the unreal when the unreal presents a consistent internal vocabulary – here, the close juxtaposition of realism, quasi-realism, and anime style tropes makes it impossible to ignore the fabricated nature of the image
It appears we’re at a circus. This man seems to be stressing out about his potential performance when lying in bed – Kohei Yamashita is his name
Title cards further facilitate the show’s artificial presentation. Like in Monogatari, such choices also draw attention to the dramatic artifice of animation
The steady heartbeat and whispers in the background place us in a claustrophobic emotional space
Even in these backstage shots, we’ve got traditionally animated characters standing in front of an obviously photographed set. It’s a striking effect, though it certainly makes it hard to believe in this world
The actual character art style feels closer to a newspaper cartoon than standard anime designs
The characters in the audience are given their own style of unreality, framed like they’re two-dimensional cardboard cutouts even in the context of the other two-dimensional characters
These effects are unique, but… why? I suppose this sequence could be so artificial because it’s intended to be the dream of the live action dreamer
Cute sequence involving the missed grab. If this world is going to be completely artificial, leaning into gags like this pause-time moment is a good idea
And it looks like the whole show will be in this style? This is incredibly garish, and the color palettes basically assault the audience. This feels like visual invention purely for its own sake, not necessarily because it facilitates some dramatic end – something that’s also bothered me about Masaaki Yuasa’s totally original stuff
Granted, visual experimentation for its own sake is useful in that it can inspire creative and also fully coherent stories down the line. But the pure experimentation doesn’t really do anything for me
The show’s standard character art actually is pretty expressive. Cartoonish in its own way, but capturing all the ugly lines of real faces
We arrive at Irabu General Hospital!
My god these colors are ridiculous. I can see the artistic sensibilities that would eventually come together to make a coherent aesthetic in Gatchaman Crowds, but the results here are… a lot
And now here’s some straight live-action video footage as Kohei walks down a hall. Is this intended to convey him traveling to the separate world of the show’s central character?
The music is quite interesting. Some classical orchestral pieces, odd synth melodies, and a lot of unique percussion
The receptionist is a live-action woman, because why not
The doctor’s office looks like a strange technicolor circus funhouse. It makes sense at this point why we started with a trapeze artist – the whole show is intended to create that sickly sense of plasticky unease characteristic of circuses
And in keeping with that, the doctor is a person in a bear mascot costume
Ichiro Irabu is the doctor
And he has a clownish high-pitched voice, which makes sense too
Of course the coffee would come in on a CG rolling tray. Let’s just get every type of unreality in here at the same time
We get a title card for Kohei’s symptoms, and then a live-action dude drills a hole in it and pokes his head through to discuss the disorder
I mean, this is all very unique, but it feels almost hopeless to “analyze” it. This show is intentionally melding visual styles to create a consistently off-putting experience, and succeeding, and that’s about it
The doctor is way more interested in visiting the circus than his patient’s troubles
Mayumi, the live-action nurse, arrives. We get some porny synth music and bass slaps for her arrival
Well, I guess I’ve never seen a fanservice scene starring an animated man and a live-action woman before
They’re framing this whole injection as a “penetration” joke, and taking forever with it. Even the comedy in this show is annoyingly garish
And now the bear-Ichiro has been replaced by the little boy or girl Ichiro. Okay
And Kohei has become a bird-headed dude. We’ve gotten repeated bird imagery throughout this first episode, so presumably Kohei, as a trapeze artist, is naturally associated with the bird. He talks about how he’s always been “light”
And now we have a third version of Ichiro, because why not. Again, so much of this show’s style seems to exist on a “because we can” basis that analysis feels almost besides the point
Kohei wakes up, accompanied by the chirping of another bird
Kohei becomes the bird-head again when confronting his foreign teammates. Perhaps the shot, and the world it summons, reflects a more core emotional truth
Okay, now it looks like Ichiro is actually a presence that can follow Kohei around. That’s a bit more interesting
The government worker can only walk with his chest aimed down at a ninety degree angle, because no potential idea for this show was vetoed
The local yakuza group have a guy who just sits there wearing scientific goggles and repeatedly stabs a mechanical pencil into them. That’s a pretty great bit of absurdism, one which actually makes some sense in the context. We’ll make a real show of this yet!
The nurse basically just seems to be a dominatrix nurse version of Aubrey Plaza, which is certainly a combination with some clear mass appeal
The episode at least seems to be gaining some momentum now. And the doctor’s integration into Kohei’s everyday life is helping the consistency of the comedy, too
Apparently Kohei was just jumping way too short, and everyone else was somewhat accommodating him
It still often feels like the show itself is just an excuse for this visual experimentation, as opposed to the experimentation facilitating something the show was always trying to do
So in the end, it was Kohei’s fear of strangers that was preventing him from being caught by Ali, something that basically nothing else in the episode would have indicated. So essentially, this episode was mostly just a series of inane mini-skits dancing around Kohei’s problem, and there ultimately wasn’t really any psychological inquiry or insight at all. As for the show overall, it still feels mostly like a vehicle for form over function – this episode’s visual digressions didn’t really elevate anything, they were just there. Nakamura’s certainly an interesting and creative artist, but this premiere certainly didn’t thrill me. I guess we’ll have to see where things go from here!
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