This is review number three hundred and twenty two. This anime is part of the Winter 2014 lineup. The anime I’ll be reviewing is called Hoozuki no Reitetsu or Hozuki’s Coolheadeness. It’s a thirteen episode anime about a bunch of Japanese jokes that I didn’t understand about a peach boy that just confused me. Oh wait. This show does get better so let’s read on.
This anime is about Hozuki, a demon ogre who is second in command in Japanese hell. He handles the day to day stuff inspecting hell and solving problems presented to him. Hell is a tightly run ship where the incoming human souls are judged for their mortal sins and then promptly given eternal punishment. Hozuki makes sure it operates well. The anime follows the day to day adventures of hell’s troubleshooter.
Taking the Pants Off
I would just like to share to you, dear readers, the most Japanese anime TPAB has watched. It was back in 2012 and it’s called Utakoi. It’s an anime about the poems of karuta and it’s one of my most awful reviews. I personally hate it because I didn’t really get the point of the show. To understand Utakoi, you must have a proper understanding of the poems of karuta ergo you have to be familiar with Japanese culture. I’m probably one of the few western viewers that don’t care for the culture and I have no need to learn it. So a very Japanese anime watched by a western viewer would mostly likely not have the same potent punch it would deliver to its intended audience. I had a hand at a few other overly Japanese anime as well and I had the same iffy feeling towards my review of them. I totally missed the point of shows like Joshiraku and Nyaruko-san. Utakoi is my worst of all as you can clearly see me horribly fumbling and repeating paragraphs over and over. Hoozuki no Reitetsu is among these kinds of show. It’s overly Japanese requiring some basic knowledge of Japanese culture. The first episode would strike you as odd because it does not have a shred of appeal to it. The first episode featured two short stories about our main character facing off a guy sent to hell and the other story is literally nothing but two people talking about random sh*t. If you’re Japanese though or those japanophile then you’ll recognize that Hozuki is actually talking to Momotaro of the short story “Momotaro the Peach Boy”. I’m assuming a Japanese audience with a high school education would’ve understood the first episode as it basically references the short story nonstop. As for me, I was like “what the hell is going on and where is the BL the title poster promised”?
The second part of the first episode featured two people randomly talking but if you know your Japanese folk lore then you’ll instantly recognize Enma, king of hell, talking to Hozuki. There are a lot of episodes where characters from various folklore and stories are referenced by the show and constantly poked fun of. Sometimes, popular historical figures are slipped into the jokes and it felt like re-watching Nyaruko-san because of all the Japanese references I cannot pick up. Nyaruko-san often has fifty to a hundred references in one episode. It’s one of the reasons why I don’t want to pick up the second season. Hoozuki no Reitetsu has the same kind of alienating subject matter. It constantly feels like the show just referenced someone or something or made a subtle joke about something and my non-Japanese brain can’t figure it out. It’s a little frustrating. To any Japanese reading this blog, I would like to apologize that the cultural barrier has trumped TPAB. I concede defeat. The extent of my Japanese culture only went as far as the Shin Megami Tensei franchise and its immersed summoning system. To better appreciate this anime, you’d have to have basic understanding of Japanese customs, Japanese folklore and myths and a little bit of Japanese history especially those of the Edo era since the show references it a lot. The appeal of the show is that recognizable fictional characters are all in hell and they all meet this straight laced serious guy named Hozuki. He is a basically a problem solver overseeing hell. His by the book attitude also molded hell into a company where King Enma sits atop and the demons employed are given training and paid for their job of torturing sinners. The idea that hell is run like a strict Japanese company is funny given how most cliché Japanese attitudes are applied in the show. Given the fact that recognizable fictional characters are also in it adds to the appeal of this company hell. This show would then be about the various sections of hell being managed by Hozuki as he keeps a proper disciplined attitude towards the employees of hell.
The alienating aspect of the show isn’t all that bad. It’s not like Joshiraku where you seriously cannot understand any of the gags. It’s also not like Utakoi where you’re confused at what in the holy Pikachu is happening since it expects its audience to know the karuta poems. There are very little wordplays at work here and I do think the creator also understood that it didn’t want to alienate its broader audience so there are a few elements here that you can still enjoy without a proper knowledge of the land of the rising sun. Let me be clear though that you’ll only be able to experience half of the show’s true beauty though. Don’t let it bother you. I’m writing this review knowing full well I only soak half the beauty of the show and I still enjoyed it to a degree. Anyways, the anime has elements that anyone can enjoy even with the cultural barrier. I’m talking about three things. The dark comedy:
The talking cute animals:
Lastly, the intricate narrative and punch line of each short story. I don’t have a screenshot for that since it’s basically about the structure of each episode and the proceeding punch line that satisfyingly ends it. The dark comedy would have to be the best thing about this show. Throughout the anime, Hozuki often interacts with a lot of people who works in hell. They have only one job and that’s to torture sinners that dies and then spends their eternity in hell. Hell apparently has 272 subdivisions and each of them is basically a corner of hell to torture people based on their mortal sins. There’s a place for people who torture animals, people who abuse alcohol, people who gives into their lust, people who lie and there’s also one where the ultimate sinners are kept and it’s so vile the show keeps it censored. So each episode would have Hozuki talking to another character and solving their problems. In the backdrop though, you’ll often see humans being casually tortured and abused. The anime never mentions how f*cked up this is though. Since the demon’s only job is to torture, seeing people attacked by dogs or has trees planted in their stomachs to grow as large oaks is nothing new. So you’ll often see humans treated in such a cruel way that it’s often funny how the demons don’t give any flying f*cks about it. I love how you’ll see iron maidens frantically moving in the background or how some instruments of torture are kept in the sides like this grinding stone where human souls are grinded into paste. This is hell though. They don’t die. In fact, they turn back into their original form and the process is repeated over and over. The show is extremely light hearted in nature though but the deplorable acts in the backdrop really give it a different feeling.
There are also some characters that talks about how they would torture human souls in their specified subdivisions. The short stories in the shows often act as an educational type show as well where the audience is informed of the go-arounds in hell. The episodes would often take place in a different subdivision and various characters would give a basic rundown of how the torture is done. Hozuki is often seen giving a rundown on how to properly torture someone and you’ll often be in awed because he is so serious that it comes off as funny. My personal favorite would have to be the rabbit that obsessively kill badgers. She gave a detailed explanation of how to apply her own blend of spicy mustard on exposed skin and it was funny because she’s cute yet she enjoys torturing people. The dark comedy also extends to physical violence. Some of the short stories often just involve Hozuki and King Enma doing a random gag. These gags involve the king getting abused and tortured by Hozuki though. It’s a bit juvenile because Enma acts like a trusting child while Hozuki is an abusive wife beater but it still has some pockets of really hilarious moments.
Whether you’re Japanese or not, I’m sure you’ll also be drawn into the anime because of the cute animals. They don’t just look cute. Their manner of speaking is also very cute and the show utilizes that a lot in order to dilute the cultural barrier it has going on. While you don’t know who Momotaro’s three animal companions are, you don’t need to know because one of them is a white Shiba dog and he is seen chasing his own tale in one episode. He also randomly does cute sh*t like this:
The show has a lot of talking animals and a lot of them are cute. From the sadistic bunny who shares her own poop to the goldfish plants Hozuki keeps, there is enough cuteness to keep you engaged in the show for hours. I honestly find some of the stories a bit boring but then the cuteness appears and I’m easily drawn in to the show again. Of course, it’s just cute talking animals though so the novelty might run out if you’re not into that sort of thing. The talking animals are just a refresher though because the true beauty of this show would have to be in the smartly delivered narrative of each short story.
Each episode is divided into two parts. Each part usually involves a unique story of its own. Once you nullify the alienating aspects of each episode, you’ll recognize that they often contain a short educational description of hell and its subdivision. It sticks to the company theme of hell where the new hell employees, and the audience, is given a short lecture of what they do in hell and whatnot. This is tied in by how the episodes also poke fun of a recognizable fictional character and the various dark comedies that ensues. To finish it off, each episode actually has a story to tell weaved in the exposition dumps and dialogue heavy scenes to create a wonderfully executed situational comedy. A good example is when Hozuki was tasked to handle a subdivision in hell where drunken human souls have stolen this large snake’s wine. So the episode progresses with an explanation of the subdivision and the references to the large snake, it then ended with Hozuki paying this guy to use the never ending stream of alcohol in Shangri-la to control the situation. This is superbly funny because the episode started with the guy owing a lot of money to a hooker that he can now pay off. The episode ends with the guy contacting the hooker again getting ready to create another huge bill to pay. It doesn’t sound as smart when I describe it but the balance of all the elements and the way the characters are utilized made the show really interesting to watch. There’s a lot to enjoy in one episode because of how the various elements interact with each other. Don’t be fooled though. Some episodes are loaded with dry dialogue heavy scenes often utilizing the references to carry the episodes but there are ones that are just really easy to appreciate as well. Whether it’s the dark comedy or the eccentric characters, I’m sure some of the stories will pack some punch.
Some of the episodes are also fairly easy to follow because they focused on certain themes and structures that are constantly used throughout the show. It’s another way to dilute the cultural barrier of the show and make sure to not focus much on the Japanese references. The first would have to be Hozuki acting as a mentor/superior to a couple of young demons. They mostly do some all-around work in certain parts of hell and Hozuki would often impart his wisdom on them. Some of the episodes also focus on the two young demons. Basically, episodes concerning them often play off the friendly interaction of the two with Hozuki’s superior attitude. This structure is pretty fun as well because one of the young demons is a super serious yet honest immature kid while the other is a happy go lucky airhead. While most episodes would have an individual story, they still have this structure added to the mix to it make easier to follow the pace of the episode. When you see these two then expect the episode to be about the two demon’s inexperience and their different attitude playing off each other.
Other episodes would focus on Hozuki and his endless banter with an ancient heavenly beast. These episodes often focus on how much they hate each other but they also seem to be the best of friend. Hozuki is a no nonsense demon while the heavenly beast is a resident of Shangri La and a womanizing drunk. These episode would be about the two’s differences but also their slight comparisons that ticks both of them off. It also focuses on their relationship and how close they actually are despite hating each other’s guts. Also, I consider them my OTP. I never had one but the way these two characters interact just really keeps me engage in the episode.
Lastly, some episodes simply revolve around Hozuki and his unusual job as second in command managing hell. This often involves being associated with a lot of people and the episode structure just focuses on the immediate impression of the person towards Hozuki. An example would be the idol that had a nice chat while on the train with him. Other times, Hozuki would handle diplomatic situations involving some members of European hell. This involves freaking out Satan himself because of how fierce and strict Hozuki acts. A lot of these episodes make me eye roll though because it often talks about how mighty the Japanese is. A lot of ultra-Japanese anime often flaunts that they’re the best in the world and it’s something I particularly don’t like in anime. They’re free to do that though because I am taking the time to watch something intended specifically for them. If it’s not various people in hell then some of these episodes just follow Hozuki and his interaction with the king of hell. It presents Hozuki’s strict personality but also King Enma’s gullible personality. Majority of the episodes simply follows this structure as well.
This show has a lot of characters. They often serve as an integral part of the episodes because the dry dialogue heavy scenes often becomes tolerable because of the eccentric characters. Hozuki is an amazing character. He acts like a Mary Sue but there is very little opportunity for him to be one though so he felt like an out of place character. Anyways, Hozuki is a wonderful character. He is super serious but he also has a dark sense of humor that fits with the show’s dark theme. He loves to play along in teasing others and his superior attitude often shocks people. His no nonsense attitude also weird people out since he seems overly devoted to his job but he also loves playing tricks on people. At the start of the show, he is simply this serious guy that is the main character. As the show progresses though, you learn more about him and he does eventually grow on you. I personally like him when he goes about teaching us the various subdivisions of hell with his super serious voice. There are a lot of side characters that Hozuki interacts with. I’ll refrain from introducing them. I think part of the fun in this anime is falling in love with the side characters and learning to appreciate their weird quirkiness they contribute in the show. Otherwise, the bon fire in the last episode would just feel like a hollow filler ending instead of this nostalgic farewell and deep appreciation to this twisted hell and all its inhabitants. I would like to point out the poor human souls though. They are treated badly in the show but they have this defeated face on them since they know they don’t have a reason to fight back. Some of them do try to run away but majority are seen tortured. Hozuki even ordered the Shiba dog to cut up a human soul so he can part of the ingredient he is brewing in his pot. Human souls are treated lower than dirt so it’s funny how they are treated in the show. It’s a pretty sick mindset now that I think about it but this is hell and everyone in it is a demon.
Wit Studio is this little baby studio founded by Production IG. Their first ever work is Attack on Titan and you just know this studio is destined for greatness. I still believe AoT is a Production IG anime though since it feels like one. I was a bit doubtful about this studio adapting such a worrisome title though like this anime but I think they captured the manga’s appeal to a tee. This is one complex manga though because there are a lot of components that makes this manga good. Wit Studio might be a fairly young studio but you can tell seasoned veterans are running this ship if it can pull off a complex manga like this one. I think they also captured each panel and animated them perfectly so that’s a high level of talent right there. Most studios condense the adaptation cutting insignificant panels out and even side stories if the studio is lazy. At some point, the adaptation has to stray because the length of the source can be bothersome. Studio Wit took everything and animated it. That’s pretty incredible. You know what’s even incredible? The director of this anime also directed Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun and Kimi ni Todoke. Ah, so that explains this out of place cameo:
The original source was captured to a tee so I think the director just couldn’t help but make sure he has a stamp on this anime. I believe that any good director starts out as a great storyboard artist and you can tell Hiro Kaburaki has talents for both. Being able to capture the light hearted direction of the source with its dark comedy takes some talent and I think he really did a good job handling this show. I think he’s in good hands too with Wit Studio. He should start cranking out romance anime soon since it’s his strong suite. Despite my personal complaints, I consider Kimi ni Todoke and Tonari as some of the best shoujo anime out there. So, Mr. Hiro, please go do more.
Sight and Sound
The show took inspiration from traditional Japanese art style. I don’t exactly know what the style is called but Natsumi Eguchi wanted to capture the ideal fictional hell in his manga. I think some of the styles are reminiscence of hand scroll paintings. I seriously lack knowledge on this part. Let’s just say that they look traditional and they often capture the rather Japanese feel to them. How’s that? As for the actual character design, Natsumi’s approach is actually a bit more ghoulish with Hozuki really resembling a demon that would tap on your window at night. His eyes are more narrow and evil looking while his nose is lower and his mouth is smaller. The way the hand strokes are given emphasis resembles those of hand scroll paintings along with the noticeably long neck and narrow flow of the outfits. I think it adds to the atmosphere of being in hell when your character looks like someone from your nightmares but the company setup and Hozuki’s light hearted personality counteracts this potent image. The rest of the characters look lovely as well though in a ghoulish way. The use of heavy inking to some characters really gives them an intimidating personality. The amount of details on the face alone though is pretty impressive since it’s often the one aspect of his design that remains consistent in all his panels. The anime certainly added a lot to improve his designs though. The design in the show looks more appealing with a blend of moe and some “handsome” features to tone down his nightmarish designs. This is noticeable in the animal and female designs. Natsumi’s work is a bit rough but the anime gave them a softer touch. It’s all good though because the show was still heavily reliant on the kind of humor and precise setup Natsumi did in his manga.
The animation is pretty great. There’s not a lot to animate though since the show has a heavy dialogue setup. The show also re-uses a lot of background shots from time to time. It’s still undoubtedly a baby Production IG work though with the little high quality scenes actually looking incredibly detailed. There are scenes where Hozuki would swing his giant bat around and the movements are pretty smooth. Simple scenes like sweeping or just walking also looks great. The torture scenes aren’t really detailed. They often just showcase them in the background somewhere often in still shots or just a small scene of a man attacked by dogs. The background looks like Ink Washed Paintings. It’s another traditional art style that captures this drab gloomy looking hell that is counter balanced by the cheerful and colorful characters moving in it. It’s a pretty scary place in context though considering most scenes are just empty landscape and other scenes have human souls boiling in cauldrons. It’s insane. I guess for a dialogue heavy anime, I would have to give points to the way the mouth is animated. The facial expression on Hozuki remains constant but there are still enough details to convince you baby Production IG made it.
The anime’s OP song is “Jigoku no Sata mo Kimi Shidai” by Jigoku no Sata All Stars (Hiroki Yasumoto, Takashi Nagasako, Yumiko Kobayashi, Tetsuya Kakihara, Touko Aoyama, Eri Kitamura x YOUR SONG IS GOOD) . The lyrics are like that of a company song that the characters sing in unison. It has lines like “japan’s hell is the best. This is hell, this is hell” and it is so f*cking catchy. I honestly thought it was a loud mess at first because you can’t hear the lyrics and it’s a bit hard on the ears but like the anime, it grows on you as well. I sang along to the song after my fifth viewing and I do not regret a single moment of it. The OP sequence would be the first good thing you’ll see in the show though. It features a lot of the characters singing the song. It then gives you a detailed montage of the events in the show highlighting the characters. I used this as a way to better ready myself for the reference overload. Knowing what the characters look like lessen the alienating aspect of the show for me. It also gives you a rundown of the show where demons in hell torture human souls. The anime’s ED song is Parallax View” by Sadesper Record feat. Sumire Uesaka. I love this song. I can’t hear the lyrics well but the rhythm is infectious and Sumire’s voice is lovely. The ED sequence features two goldfish plants frantically trying to run away on the train tracks. The goldfish plants are referenced in the final episode as being caught by Hozuki and blended up then fed to King Enma. There’s your happy ending right there.
8/10 “It has a smart setup of a situational comedy with dark humor and eccentric characters that makes hell surprisingly lively.”
The Japanese references can bring the enjoyment down a bit but the show has a lot for great things to offer. From the characters that’ll grow on you to the dark comedy of torturing human souls, this anime has a lot of fun things to enjoy. It doesn’t look like much upon the initial viewing but the show really went out of its way to make sure it entertains in a lot of aspects. Whether you laughed at the references, the torture scenes, the cute animals acting crazy or the punch line at the end of every story, Hoozuki no Reitetsu has something for you to enjoy. If you are a japanophile, f*ck you and also, you’ll love this. If you love dark twisted comedy then you’ll laugh lively at this one. If you enjoy dialogue heavy comedy with a satisfying pay off at every skit then you’ll enjoy this as well. It takes time for the show to get good but it does happily grown on you and you won’t regret watching this show.