This week’s Yoru no Yatterman follows the course set in the first episode but the result is significantly less satisfying. I could go so far as to call it dull.
The retro costumes and revenge structure is still there, and it’s still juxtaposed with bleak environments and a population that is obviously starving. So what isn’t working?
Leopard has renamed herself Miss Doronjo, and her henchmen Boyaki and Tonzra after their ancestors. Each member of Doronbo experiments with his or her new identity a bit — Doronjo acts a bit reckless, Boyaki tries to add double-entendres to his repertoire, Tonzra …smashes stuff, and Honorable Oda the pig becomes the group’s problem solver.
They quickly find an alternate rout into Yatter Kingdom via a book called “The Secret of Seikan Tunnel,” which is about a train tunnel and probably significant if I knew anything about the Japanese rail system, but I don’t so if it was a gag it flew over my head.
After clearing the rubble at the mouth of the tunnel, Boyaki, who also calls himself Boyayan sometimes which is also probably a joke that I don’t understand, builds a wacky mine-car and they zip through.
Along the way they pass several lighted placards that the show clearly wants us to notice: The first is a station or destination sign, which probably identifies where YnY takes place in modern day Japan. The second features an angel girl, who is referenced at the end of the episode.
The last placard features a dopey Basset hound… which I also don’t understand the significance to. However, I vaguely remember Ghost in the Shell’s director Mamoru Oshii having a thing for Basset Hounds, which comes up more in his terrible live action eastern European anime-inspired cyberpunk movie Avalon but I have no idea what that has to do with anything?
You may have noticed that, only a few minutes in, I’m don’t generally know what YnY is making jokes about or, if they even are jokes, why they would be funny. Considering how sparse the visuals are (the tunnel is basically empty except for our heroes and the mine cart) I felt no connection to anything.
When Doronbo reaches Yatter Kingdom, they build a head-flicking robot and fight the Yattermen. Well, not actually the real Yattermen. Rather, a near infinite stream of robot Yattermen who chant “Yatter Yatter” and eventually overwhelm them.
While still painted in the dreary cold, wet aesthetic elsewhere in the show, and slightly weirdified by a shadow filter that frames many of the scenes, this is the best part of the episode. All the contrasts work well, the villains are interesting, and the mecha is delightfully silly/old school.
Fleeing for their lives, Doronbo is turned away by the various Yatter-citizens they meet. In a call back to the maple-leaf-eating of their own poverty, the Yatter-citizens are doing the same thing, living in the same poor wooden houses, on a muddy, plant less earth.
If it weren’t so slow and directionless feeling, these scenes would be interesting too. Obviously, if the Grand Yatterlands are as destitute as the Doronbo lands, we must wonder what the world is like or, guessing based on the art from the original series in the 70s, what has happened to make the Yatter-lands so terrible since then?
Unfortunately, these scenes are slow and the Yatter-bots’ chase sequence is very long and it watching it just feels so hopeless.
What also felt hopeless was the attempt to pump slapstick humor into the mix. Take Honorable Oda’s gigantic fart scene, where he’s just been saved by Tonzra as he falls from a tree. Huge, well animated gas attack ensues, which re-alerts the Yatter-bots and resumes the chase.
The episode ends with Doronbo drying off at an empty house’s fire when a blind girl walks in and decides Miss Doronjo is the Angel she’s been waiting for all this time.
It’s all a big…Whaaaa?, and in the same way that any ‘plot twist’ annoys us when it comes completely out of left field, the entire story felt like a confused, random, mess that was written for an audience that does not include me.
So what worked? Watching the characters review a children’s book for how they should act, and not be able to capture those identities (or even want to) was clever and lent a playfulness to the central trio…that feels totally out of place with everything else.
I loved the vehicle design too. This is definitely subjective, but the “hand shaped battle mech designed to flick” struck me as charming. The Yatter-bird vehicle was less so, but still matched the retro vibe and when it ‘spits’ a missile at Doronbo, I really did get a “Haha that’s so stupid” laugh out of it.
Nothing else worked. More specifically, the flow of action and the movement of the narrative were constantly coming to a halt. Shots of Doronbo standing around. Shots of Miss Doronjo looking and thinking and feeling… stuff. Stills with added ‘brush’ effects. It’s actually impressive how little actual animation happened in this episode and how a jerky pacing can crush any enjoyment you may get from wacky antics.
I’m confident there’s an intelligent reason for all of this and I just don’t have the cultural awareness to ‘get it’ but that doesn’t make it any easier to watch.
I must admit, I was completely surprised by this turn of events. I think it’s very likely that Yatterman will be a more interesting show than Binan Koukou over the long run but, even with its silly premise, I had a lot more fun with Binan’s second outing than this.
I guess Yatterman is lucky it’s getting a third week. Otherwise, I’d be very tempted to drop it.