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"Haré+Guu": The Rumble (and Bumble, and Stumble) in the Jungle

You know, we haven’t really had that many anime comedies lately that aren’t harem/fanservice-laden, and even fewer that take place in the wild arena known as the jungle. Well, the wackiness of the jungle comes home in Haré+Guu.

Ten-year-old Haré led a simple life. He got up, cooked breakfast, did laundry, cleaned the house, went to school, and came home to play video games. Unfortunately for him, everyone else around him is demented. His mom, Weda, prefers drinking and sleeping all day to doing actual work. His teacher sleeps twenty hours a day. The village chief is obsessed with his chest hair afro. Still, even with all that, Haré had few worries. Then, a young girl came out of nowhere to live with him, and things went down the crapper. Guu is not your average little girl and her various antics cause Haré to constantly worry about how things will turn out and how he can get things back to normal. It doesn’t really help that nobody else in the jungle seems to notice or care about Guu’s strange tendencies (except maybe the chief), which gives Guu all the leeway she needs to unleash chaos. However, a chaos of a different kind comes to the light when Weda’s past is revealed and Haré begins to wonder what horrible tragedies her mother endured before he was born.

As anyone will tell you, comedy is subjective, and anime comedy seems to be more fragmented than any other comedy genre in the U.S. Most anime comedies are based on a traditional duo. Guu fills the role of the wacky, strange, and all-around weird person, as she is usually responsible (either directly or indirectly) for the story in each episode. Oh, and she also obeys her own unique laws of physics. Probably the most notable feature of Guu is her stomach, which holds an entirely different world (where two humans, Seiji and Tomoyo—and, later, Ms. Yamada—have a permanent residence) full of such crazy creatures as a million-legged cat. Not to mention she also has such other powers such as the ability to change personalities, switch bodies, make it snow, grow into a giant, swallow anything of any size, and even change her appearance. That she does all this while wearing an expressionless face makes the scenes even funnier. While some of her bits can get a bit old, the majority of Guu’s scenes are actually really funny and the randomness can be quite fun, especially near the end of the series when she reaches the big city. She’s not the most memorable figure in anime comedy, but she does hit more than she misses. The only real problem I have is her alternate form. Twice Guu changes into a more serious-looking adult form, which hints at a deeper storyline for the girl, but it’s never really explored.

But when there’s a wacky comic, there’s always the straight man, and that is Haré. Unfortunately, he also manages to bring the series down. For some reason, people in Japan love seeing the straight man in a comedy duo freak out to every little thing the crazy one does, but it quickly gets annoying seeing Haré yell out to the audience that what Guu is doing is not normal. Some of his lines can actually be quite witty and can inspire a chuckle or even a laugh maybe once or twice in an episode. But considering that he freaks out about ten or twelve times an episode, that’s not a good ratio. Every time Haré starts to raise his voice, I start to cringe because it just ruins the scene for me. I don’t mind it so much when Haré mutters his criticisms or talks to himself in certain scenes, but those moments are few and far between. Unfortunately, there are just too few scenes where Haré gets to act normal, which is a shame because those scenes where he doesn’t freak out are easily his best scenes, especially when Guu plays some of her mind games and winds up outsmarting Haré right from the get-go.

Okay, so Guu is great and Haré is awful 95% of the time. What about the other characters? Well, Weda is great too. Her bubbly personality and willingness to go wherever the story takes her makes her a rather endearing character, one who lights up the screen whenever she’s on. She also has one of the best gags in the entire series during the opening moments of Episode 1 as she watches Haré play his video game. Dr. Clive, the school doctor and Haré’s dad, also has some decent moments, though much of the time he plays the innocent victim (which is strange considering he’s the pervert of the show) and doesn’t really make as much of an impact as he should. I am thankful that his perversions aren’t quite as overblown as they would be in other anime. There’s also Marie, who’s the sweet, naive girl Haré’s age, and the only one of the school kids other than the title characters who gets any real development. The constant reminder that Marie doesn’t have any parents really makes her sympathetic, and the episode where she tries to combine what little family she has with Haré’s family makes for such a sweet episode that one wishes she had played a bigger role near the end of the series.

As for the other characters, they don’t really get to do much. Aside from the aforementioned “Marie builds a family” episode, Lazy-sensei doesn’t really get to do much aside from the running gag that has him turning the first period of class into a siesta. Gupta, Ravenna, and the other school kids don’t really have any defining traits either. Usually, they are just there to be the brunt of Guu’s latest antics and for Haré to worry about their reactions. There are two twins in the class, but since they’re mostly silent and in the background, one often forgets that they’re even there. One of the teens does have a crush on Weda, but it’s never really explored outside of one episode where he competes with Dr. Clive, Marie, and Haré in a game show to rent Weda for one year. The other characters are mostly one-note jokes who appear from time to time but very rarely add anything of real substance. Heck, some of the characters are so thrown in for the hell of it one wonders why they were created at all.

Things only get worse when the family moves to the city near the end of the series. For one thing, this entire arc gives us Bell, one of Weda’s maids who has a crush on her. While I don’t mind her Russian accent or her love for Weda, I am annoyed by the constant over-exaggeration whenever Weda disagrees with her (causing Bell to punish the other servant, Ashio) as well as her tendency to spout twin waterfalls of nosebleeds whenever she talks about Weda. I hate anime nosebleeds in general, so geysers of blood obviously don’t work for me. But the city setting itself brings a lot of problems. The story’s premises (a bank robbery by RPG nuts, a game of tag gone wrong, etc.) often work, thanks to Guu and the new servant Robert, and the drama works, but without the various jungle people to bounce off of, that means we get more of Haré freaking out, which as I said earlier, isn’t a good thing. What’s worse is the ending of the series. More than likely this is expanded in the Hare+Guu Deluxe OAVs, but the ending is extremely disappointing. It’s not a rushed mess like a typical Gonzo series, but it simply … ends. It feels like there should be at least another few minutes, but nope, the credits start rolling.

As for the animation, it won’t blow your socks off, but it won’t appall you either. The simple character designs have a unique charm that makes them instantly memorable, while the backgrounds and creature designs give the animation some life, making it visually distinct. Jungle settings are not often used in animation, and this series uses that to its full advantage. Even the interiors of the school buildings look a bit different from all the other cookie-cutter school buildings we’ve seen in dozens of other anime. And just when the jungle starts to get a little stale, the series moves to the big city. Though the city isn’t quite as distinct as the jungle, it still has enough charm to be effective without looking too bland. Much of the series skimps on the budget when it comes to the characters performing simple motions such as walking, instead saving the dough to blow on all the wild takes and sight gags throughout the series, the vast majority having to do with Guu. The majority of Guu’s wilder movements are animated very fluidly, resulting in an even more charming character.

Since this was dubbed by AN Entertainment, we get BangZoom doing the English dub instead of FUNimation’s typical Texas crew. Wendee Lee is perfect as Weda, displaying just the right mix of the serious and the bubble-headed to make her even more charming. Jennifer Sekiguchi’s Guu is wonderfully monotone, though there are spots that don’t sound as charming as in others. Alex Simon makes for a good Haré, and I can only imagine how many cough drops he had to take after just one take of a Haré freak-out. Liam O’Brien makes for a good Dr. Clive, even if he’s basically channeling his Fukuyama from Girl’s Bravo. While the dub isn’t quite as good as the Samurai Champloo or Naruto dubs, it’s still quite entertaining and anyone who’s a fan of the various LA dubs will enjoy this one as well. The Japanese version is also quite well-cast, though Haré still annoys me, even moreso with the higher-pitched Japanese voice. The music is quite wonderful, especially the annoyingly addictive opening theme “Love Tropicana.” Unfortunately, AN Entertainment couldn’t get the rights to the ending theme, so all we get is an instrumental. Still, it’s a nice-sounding instrumental.

Extras are actually pretty decent. Each volume contains an insert listing various Japanese cultural notes (similar to Azumanga Daioh‘s but less extensive) as well as a short interview with a member of the staff, a random fun feature spotlighting whatever central theme there is on the disc, and a cartoon featuring what went on right after taking the coverart “photos.” On the discs themselves are English outtakes, which range from the chuckle-worthy to the meh; Japanese commercials, which are thankfully spread out so we don’t have to watch the same commercial ten times with minor differences, as with other DVDs; a re-print of the cultural notes; production art; and trailers for AN Entertainment’s other two properties (the funny Risky/Safety and the lame Miami Guns) and some of FUNimation’s other titles (Lupin III, Negima, Desert Punk, Kodocha, and Case Closed). Unfortunately, due to the singles not selling very well, the boxset ends up being the 7 regular volumes places inside the artbox from the Starter Set instead of a digipak/thinpak set like we’re so used to.

Overall, is this cult classic worth the money? Eh, it’s hard to say. I wouldn’t put it above Cromartie High School or Azumanga Daioh (or even Excel Saga), but it’s at least worth a rental.

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