It’s funny to look back on Hiroko Utsumi‘s directorial career. Not only does it chart a pretty wild and interesting evolution for her style, but it also maps a parallel evolution of anime fandom at large. I was around in 2012-13 when a frankly embarrassing amount of noise was made over Free! and Kyoto Animation‘s supposed departure from their previous target demographic. A decade later, anyone getting mad over a show about hot guys taking their shirts off to swim feels as quaint and distant as TV broadcasters only filming Elvis from the waist up. Nowadays Free! is an established part of KyoAni’s collective IPs, and Utsumi herself has moved on from the franchise to get wilder weirder with every new project. Which brings us to Bucchigiri?!, a ludicrous new entry in the long-dormant (sans-Tokyo Revengers) genre of delinquent anime, that takes two big swerves
The first is pretty expected, given the director’s pedigree, by taking the long-simmering homoeroticism of a bunch of brawny dudes beating the tar out of each other and cranking it all up to a self-aware 11. Every guy who wants a piece of Arajin really wants a piece of him, if you catch my drift, to the extent that our protagonist has become the centerpiece of the world’s most violent harem anime. There’s a cheeky playfulness to the direction, purposefully taking the classic and aggressive masculinity of the genre and making it explicitly sexual. Toned muscles and powerful physiques are framed with an eye for their attractiveness, rather than a more traditional power fantasy, emphasizing a subtext that’s been part of the genre since its inception. It’s voicing the quiet part loud, basically, in the same way Utsumi has been doing with sports anime for years.
That’s a pretty great starting point for both action comedy, and Bucchigiri?! plumbs those depths with wild, audacious abandon, all while smartly presenting it with dead seriousness. Whether it’s Marito riding through the hallways on a dekochari that looks like a camel ripped off a merry-go-round, to characters flying into the sky with slapstick sound effects, nobody but Arajin so much blinks at the insanity of it all. Senya making a speech about how every man wants to “become one” knows exactly what it’s doing, but is made funnier because Arajin rolls with the innuendo rather than calling it out. The couple of extended fights we’ve gotten have also been pretty stellar, displaying a great eye for grounded choreography and animation that perfectly captures the impact of every blow and kick. I have a suspicion about how long that will continue, given studio MAPPA‘s infamous behind-the-scenes problems, but for now, the show’s look and execution are great.
The second swerve is a bit more esoteric, deciding to mix the aesthetics of brawling delinquents with Middle-Eastern architecture and the folk tale of Aladdin, along with some fittingly supernatural elements. In case his name wasn’t clear enough, Arajin is gifted the power of a Djinn to make his greatest wishes come true, though this not-so-street rat is more interested in losing his V-card than gaining wealth or power. His school of warring hoodlums looks like it was pulled out of any number of pop culture versions of pre-modern Arabia before being covered in graffiti. It makes for a striking aesthetic that meshes surprisingly well with the loud designs of the cast while allowing for a broader visual palette than the familiar bleached hair and black school uniforms. It’s a bit of an unexpected aesthetic choice, and the supernatural elements have yet to fully gel with everything else, but they’re an interesting combo nonetheless.
Combined, it makes for a pair of introductory episodes that are fun and feel like junk food. We’ve got a huge cast of wacky characters who can be funny, cool, and occasionally sexy, but I don’t have a great grasp on their comedic dynamics yet. Part of that is Arajin who keeps vehemently fleeing from every character that isn’t Mahoro, making for some frustrating pacing to this intro and leading to some repetitive scenes with Senya. I hope he gets sat down with Matakara so they can hash out their childhood baggage soon because there’s only so long this weenie can trip over his dick before it gets tiresome.
Similarly, while I like that the rest of the cast is completely unhinged – including Mahoro, who gets the funniest bits of episode two – there needs to be a bit more cohesion and escalation for them to keep their novelty. Stuff like Marito preempting Arajin’s escape by coming through the window is a great starting point, and now that the lines have been drawn, I hope that the show can start delivering more jokes and action in that vein. For now, we’re off to a solid start, and I’m excited to see where all this insanity goes.
Footnote: This is a “me” problem but I wish they had chosen a different term than “Honki People” because all I can imagine is these boys training to become terrible 2000s-era country singers.
Bucchigiri?! is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.