"Nerima Daikon Brothers" Box Is Anime for the Neck Downwards
Nerima Daikon Brothers may be the stupidest TV show I’ve ever seen, and that is absolutely not intended as an insult. As David St. Hubbins said in This is Spinal Tap, “It’s such a fine line between stupid and clever,” but the 12 episodes of Nerima Daikon Brothers are so relentlessly, unapologetically stupid that the series punches through to the other side to become clever again. It’s not highbrow, it’s not high-concept, it’s not sophisticated, it’s loaded with untranslated or untranslatable Japanese cultural references, and it’s really, really dumb. I love it. I suspect most people will react extremely positively or extremely negatively to the show, so it’s a shame that the show isn’t available on iTunes or on FUNimation’s own video streams, because the only way to find out if you’ll like it is to watch an episode or two.
Nerima Daikon Brothers is an anime musical at least partially inspired by The Blues Brothers. The title characters are a trio of would-be rock stars who dream of building a giant dome stadium in their daikon radish field and rocking mightily to a standing-room-only crowd. The actual owner of the field is Hideki, a hairy, boorish daikon farmer in the Tokyo ward of Nerima (which, apparently, is also where a lot of anime studios set up shop). If Hollywood ever discovers this series and makes a crappy live-action movie out of it, he’d be perfectly cast with Jack Black. His best friend is Ichiro, a deadpan straight-man who’s the number one host (apparently, a socially acceptable gigolo) at the Echo-da Echo Blue Heaven club. The trio is rounded out by Hideki’s cousin, Mako, a former pop idol seeking to make a comeback and who also has to fend off Hideki’s lusty advances. In the first episode of the show, “Please Touch My Nerima Daikon,” they pick up their fourth sidekick, Pandaikon, a tiny, mostly mute panda with a daikon leaf growing out of his head. He may be the smartest of the bunch and tends to create uncontrollable sexual attraction in the people he comes in contact with.
The show follows a fairly predictable formula. The trio gets tangled up in some complicated scheme to realize their dreams, with their primary obstacle usually being some unsavory character just begging for his or her big pile of cash to be swindled or stolen, if it hasn’t been stolen from the Nerima Daikon Brothers in the first place. After digging themselves into a deep hole, they are bailed out by some deus ex machina supplied by “Pops” (Oya-san in Japanese), a mysterious stranger who is a thinly disguised stand-in for series director Shinichi Watanabe (a.k.a. “Nabeshin”). More mayhem ensues in the closing minutes of each episode, as the trio loses all the money and have to start over. In between, there’s a lot of very catchy songs, some crazy dancing set pieces, and a whole lot of incredibly crude humor. We get the mother of all fart jokes in episode 3, along with no missed opportunity to make a joke about the shape of a daikon (the Western equivalent would be jokes about cucumbers or hot dogs). Late on disc one, the improbably hot police detective Widgett (Yukika Karakuri, or “Gadget” in Japanese) joins the cast to make life harder for the Nerima Daikon Brothers and be the butt of many, many incredibly crass jokes as she falls into public fits of sexual ecstasy over a succession of incredibly odd things like Pandaikon or fish cakes.
One common complaint leveled against the series is that it becomes incredibly repetitive very quickly. Animation is recycled endlessly, the same melodies are used over and over again with different lyrics, the plots are formulaic, and the jokes are all predictably crude and borderline offensive. The strange thing is that you start off thinking the series is funny because it’s so off-the-wall. The show stops being funny once you realize how repetitive it is, but at some point, it becomes funny again specifically because it’s so formulaic and repetitive. It’s weird and I still can’t quite figure it out, but I do think that the show’s formula ends up being a strength, not a weakness. It’s kind of like blues music, where pointing out that it’s formulaic and repetitive is to miss the point. It’s the execution that matters, and when you do stick to such a rigid and simple formula, the tiniest alterations can have outsized impact. It also gives a perfect setup for running gags (like the troop of sexy, identical dancing girls who appear periodically to encourage completely reckless borrowing of money) and for the subversion of its own formula. Regardless, the repetitive nature of the show can easily be a turn-off, so be forewarned.
Of course, there are also moments where the humor doesn’t quite translate due to some cultural or contextual divide. Nerima Daikon Brothers is very much a product intended for the Japanese market, and it’s a bit surprising that anybody thought to license it in the first place. In some ways, it’s probably better if you don’t know about the references to Japanese current events or pop culture because it might make it funnier and more random when, for instance, a bunch of people in lion outfits parachute down to fight the money-lending dancing girls (and being able to write things like that reminds me why I like the series so much). Even though it’s played with the same broad comedy as everything else, there’s a streak of not-so-disguised racism behind the second episode, which involves Korean pachinko parlor owners swindling good Japanese housewives out of their savings. It might be the same kind of genial ribbing British and Americans give to the French, but it’s easy to believe that it is much uglier than that. The show can also land squarely on the wrong side of American sexual mores. No matter how broadly the joke is played, it’s hard not to be a little weirded out by the way Ichiro can completely blow off being openly molested in public in the first episode. It’s also hard not to think that the show is sending all the wrong messages with Ichiro’s “love slap” power, which causes Mako to fall madly in love with him when he smacks her across the face. It’s probably possible to wring an effective joke out of sexual assault or domestic violence, but Nerima Daikon Brothers doesn’t quite make it over that hurdle.
Speaking of that cultural divide, Nerima Daikon Brothers turns out to be a real bargain, since the original Japanese soundtrack and the English dub are different enough that you sort of get two shows for the price of one with this boxed set (three if you count the commentary tracks). The heavy emphasis on musical numbers in each episode meant they needed to do write some exceptionally creative lyrics to match the music and the lip flaps. In other cases, a cultural gulf leads to some transpositions: Mako speaks with an Okayama accent in the Japanese soundtrack, while the English dub switches to a thick Southern accent. There are also points where it seems that the English dub writers threw up their hands and just started making stuff up, What’s Up, Tiger Lily?-style. Luckily, they do an excellent job at channeling the stupid to come up with comparable or even funnier gags in English, sometimes breaking the fourth wall by making a character demand, “Who wrote this?!?” On the other hand, the Japanese dub is funny in the same way that the color commentary in Ninja Warrior or the original Iron Chef is funny: you’re never really sure if you’re laughing because they didn’t translate something very well, because they’re using terms that don’t or can’t translate well, or because they’re translating perfectly and the show you’re watching is just plain, straight-up, stone-cold insane. I suspect it’s probably a combination of all three, but I was usually laughing way too hard to really care.
Nerima Daikon Brothers was originally released by ADV on 3 DVDs, and FUNimation’s re-release has bundled them together into 2 thinpak volumes. Both the English and Japanese soundtracks are in 5.1 Dolby Digital, and both sound terrific—something especially important in a show that relies so heavily on music. Other reviews of the earlier DVDs mention “AD Vid-Notes,” which don’t seem to have made it to this release. Luckily, the best extra was carried over intact: full commentary tracks on all 12 episodes by director Nabeshin, who is joined for three episodes each by “Technician” Haruka, Hideki voice actor Shigeru Matsuzaki, Ichiro actor Showtaro Morikubo, and Mako actor Ayano Matsumoto. These tracks are sometimes as funny as the show, and occasionally Nabeshin even sneaks in some genuine behind-the-scenes information between goofing around and singing along with the show. The most informative tracks are probably with Haruka, even as they admit that neither one knows what her job title means. The remaining extras are the usual trailers and clean opening/closing credits, with the latter being a bit more enjoyable than normal, since both credits sequences are really fun little music videos. Nerima Daikon Brothers is the first anime series in a long time where I’ve wanted to see (and hear) the clean credits.
Supposedly, Keith Richards called rock and roll “Music for the neck downwards,” and paraphrasing that yields a pretty good description for Nerima Daikon Brothers, too. This is not a show that rewards heavy intellectualizing, or really any sort of impulse that doesn’t originate from the lizard chunk of our brains that’s mostly concerned with food, sex, and other sensory pleasures. The highest impulse it does appeal to is that which makes us laugh, and it’s a joy to say that Nerima Daikon Brothers can appeal to that portion of our brains wonderfully well.