Review: "Ghastly Prince Enma-Kun" Complete Series: The '70s Are Back. Joy?
Remember the 2004 Cutie Honey OAV? It was something of a nostalgic throwback to the ’70s TV series, a lot more wacky than the gritty mid-90s OAVs and blending retro and modern designs. Well, Ghastly Prince Enma Burning Up is a similar kind of thing. I haven’t seen the original series, but based on this new OAV, I’m not exactly chomping at the bit to check it out.
It’s a shame, too, because it starts out very promisingly: Through a series of events, grade-school girl Harumi befriends a group from Hell called the Yokai Patrol, which consists of Enma-kun (a lecherous, diminutive devil who harnesses fire power), Yukiko-hime (a yukata-clad princess who attacks with ice), and sidekicks Kapperu (a kappa who’s often mistaken for a frog) and Enma-kun’s talking hat, Chapeauji. Together they battle yokai (supernatural monsters) who have illegally infiltrated Earth. The monsters frequently unleash comedic mayhem, such as turning everyone into human balloons, or unleashing bees which turn them into monkeys and causing everyone to repeatedly fall to the ground without warning. I like how the show takes a comedic approach to this material for a change, because heaven knows we’ve seen plenty of deadly serious shows where a group thwarts a series of supernatural threats. I also like how the show actually takes place in the ’70s, no doubt a reference to the original series.
The problem is, the show gets really repetitive, mistakenly running a joke or set piece into the ground as comedy gold. For instance, a later episode features the gods of hot and cold duking it out, with Earth going through constant weather changes in the process. We get the dichotomy very quickly, but the show keeps presenting the same joke (“It’s hot!” “No, it’s cold!” “Hot!” “Cold!”) over and over like we won’t get it unless it’s repeated ad nauseum. There’s another episode where a group of characters chase each other in a circle for a good minute. Ultimately, this kills a lot of the comedy due to its predictability. This also means that the initially engaging off-the-wall wackiness gets tiresome when all you’re doing is recycling shtick at a fast speed.
Also, the show suffers a similar problem as Desert Punk in that it seems preoccupied with witless sex jokes, many of them centered around Enma-kun wanting to sneak a peek at Yukiko’s nude body. There’s a bit of a twist here, since Yukiko doesn’t wear panties under her kimono, so that makes it a lot easier for Enma-kun to see some skin, but that’s not exactly the highest compliment; the basic pervert gags are still pretty tired. In truth, I did initially like a character named Enpi, a witch only clad in boots, a cape, and hat (definitely a nod to Kekko Kamen, another Go Nagai character), simply because she was different from the norm, and offered amusing interplay with Enma-kun. (Enma-kun doesn’t find any allure in seeing a woman nude if they aren’t embarrassed, which Enpi certainly isn’t.) But even her shtick (wanting to spread hedonism and nudity throughout the world) got routine after a couple episodes, especially since she constantly brings it up.
Sadly, like all of NIS’s releases so far, it’s Japanese with subtitles only, so if you’re a dub fan, you best look elsewhere. Thankfully, the aforementioned subtitles are well-done. I don’t know how faithful the subtitles track is to the original show or if it’s more along the lines of a gag rewrite a la “Shin-Chan”. But either way, it provided most of the amusing moments: The script’s filled with pop culture references, puns, and wordplay. Often a subtitle slide is funny just from the way the sentence is written. The subtitles alone at least made the experience tolerable instead of insufferable, although that may be damning with faint praise.
As stated above, the art style mixes old with new, and it works quite well. The animation quality is par for the course; although there are bits of recycled animation and shortcuts throughout, there are also some fully animated sequences that are pleasing, especially in the first few episodes. Some of the face vaults are amusing. And there’s even a little squash and stretch in there, helpful in a wacky comedy series. Unfortunately, the music is really forgettable, almost to the point of melting away, although that might merely be the fault of the mixing.
As usual for NIS America, they’ve taken great care in presenting a top notch package: The video quality on the Blu-ray discs is nice (I spotted a touch of minor banding, but nothing that ruins the picture), the artbox housing the two slim cases is sturdy and pretty (if a bit tall), and the included artbook has a treasure trove of drawings, episode summaries, and staff comments. On-disc extras are a bit more limited, though; only clean openings and endings are present.
Ghastly Prince Enma is a show whose individual parts are better than its overall quality; despite some positives, it doesn’t quite come together, and the repetitive humor really drags things down. I wish I could recommend it, but to be perfectly honest, it didn’t do much for me.