Shinryaku! Ika Musume 12 and Wrap-up

Ika Musume turns in a solid finale, starting with Ika and Eiko entering a beach volleyball tournament with a 3DTV as the prize ~ Ika wants it so she can watch shrimp jump out of the screen. This was the perfect vehicle to give each of the supporting cast a quick sendoff as Team Ika defeated them one by one. The only real threat were the lifeguards, but they were sorted when Chizuru was tagged in as a sub and used her (alas, never explained) superpowers to win the match…with a tengu mask and Eiko wig.

The remaining two-thirds of the finale were dedicated to a sudden crisis: Ika’s squid powers are disappearing rapidly. Before long she can’t move her tentacles or fins, glow, or even squirt ink. When she announces she’s returning to the sea to try to convalesce, everyone throws her a curveball and wishes her well rather than beg her to stay. They were joking around, but she leaves and appears gone for good. It’s at this point you realize there really isn’t any show here without Ika; and everyone is miserable until she suddenly returns.

This Ika Mark II talks normally and has chopped her lifeless tentacles away, and decides to give being a regular girl a try. With great success at first, everyone is accepting and supportive of her (except the punk kid). But when a whirlpool nearly swallows up Eiko, her tentacles suddenly regenerate and she saves her life. All she needed was an emergency! It’s really a testament for just how far Ika’s dry-land bonds have become. She progressed from pest to family. The closing act was definitely the most dramatic story of the series, but still balanced with enough comedy to keep it light and breezy; never sappy. Rating: 3.5

Series Mean Ranking: 3.375 (Ranked 9th out of 15 Fall 2010 Series)

Shinryaku! Ika Musume 11

This week’s trio of tentacled tales involved a creepy doll Ika believes is possessed, the American team researching whether Chizuru is an alien, and Ika’s first hiking trip. I’m with Ika on dolls being pretty damn scary in general. Mannequins too, for that matter.

It makes sense that the researchers would move on to Chizuru, as she’s demonstrated superhuman speed and strength on numerous occasions without explanation. We still don’t get one, which is fine; it’s more fun that it’s a mystery why she’s that way, and why she only opens her eyes on the rarest occasions. This series doesn’t dwell too deeply on anything, as it has other things to get to. I like that.

Finally, Ika is quite dubious of a hiking trip having any value whatsoever besides wasting her precious time and energy, but when she sees the view of the ocean from the summit, it all becomes clear, to the point that she chastises users of the cable car as cheaters. Since she’s a squid – a wild animal – any activity done “just for the heck of it” is bound to be hard to grasp initially. Rating: 3

Shinryaku! Ika Musume 10

A stormy day keeps everyone off the beach, and Ika discovers Teru Teru Bouzus and art. She can’t draw worth crap with her hands, but with her tentacles she renders gorgeous interpretive portraits of her friends. In an effort to preserve Takeru’s childhood, she crafts a Teru Teru Bouzu so terrifying, he wets the bed. Misson Accomplished!

Part two was my favorite; it involved Sanae, who had always been a somewhat one-dimensional character, but managed to exert her Ika-philia so creatively, she never really got on my nerves. In this episode, she attempts to cease swooning and groping Ika so she’ll be able to be proper friends with her. It succeeds, but at a cost: Sanae descends into a torturous withdrawal in the vein of Requiem for a Squid or Squidspotting that leads to insomnia and hallucinations. She needs to get back on the Ika immediately, which she does. It was a great little self-encapsulated character portrait.

The last third was all baseball. I like baseball. Kiyomi’s team needs a player, and she’s it. Once she learns the basics, she’s a bit shaky at first, but her tentacles take care of the rest, turning a triple play from the outfield and hitting an out-of-the-prefecture grand salami to win the game over the pretentious, black-uniformed opposing team, who immediately try to recruit her. I betcha they lose out to the Yankees…Nick Swisher can warm the bench.
Rating: 3.5

Shinryaku! Ika Musume 9

A failed doorbell ditch leads Ika to making her first friend her age. They get along famously, but when Ika thoughtlessly invites her to Chizuru and Eiko’s house without asking them permission, a cloud of dread floats over her the whole time. This wide gap between how Chizuru and Eiko actually act and what sinister things Ika imagines they’re thinking makes for good comedy, and the new friend is another step towards assimilation into humanity.

Ika also discovers makeup, predictably covering half her face in lipstick. But this segment then becomes a commentary on the superficiality of various style factions – Genguro girls, Napoleonic Cross-Dressers, Visual Kei-ers, Maikos, Stylish – no one can make Ika understand why these people dress the way they do. She’s only interested in makeup she was told would make men fall to her feet, which she naturally believes means conqueror-conqueree-style subjugation.

This episode wraps with a debate about who truly possesses Ika’s heart and/or body. Sanae, ever hopelessly simtten with Ika, aims to put a stop to the machinations of CIA lady and her three MIT stooges who are back, but are a bit more tolerable. This time, their tomfoolery (accidentally vaporizing the entire cafe) draws the ire of Chizuru, who beats a promise of reimbursement out of them. This series has been good with continuity, but next time the cafe will probably be back the way it was. Rating: 3

Shinryaku! Ika Musume 8

Week eight brings us three fresh scenarios in which Ika Musume has to deal with something new. First, she contracts a mysterious illness akin to shrimp withdrawal, handily cured thanks to Sanae’s giant shrimp costume. Nice continuity, but also never expected them to find another use for that! The shrimp’s entrance is very well-orchestrated…and quite surreal.

In the middle story, Ika discovers that she can wiggle the fins on her head, which can be used for anything from swatting mosquitoes to slapping people, to providing a cool breeze. We already knew that removing her cap would be fatal, but didn’t know until now how dexterous those fins were. They weren’t necessarily useful in winning a serious sand castle duel with some kid’s dad; that was thanks to her tentacles. Always good to see Ika discovering powers she never knew she had.

The third story takes place on a rare rainy day, and Ika discovers umbrellas, which are the coolest thing in the world. She lets her imagination run wild with one while waiting for Eiko outside the store; and even has a pretty dramatic and hilarious mini-arc, which is all wrapped up by the time Eiko emerges. Without even asking how Ika’s umbrella got so beaten up, Eiko shares hers on the walk home. Now that’s a friend. Rating: 3.5

Shinryaku! Ika Musume 7

Ika was a teensy bit off this week, as it recycled a couple of stories. The first one continues Nagisa’s somewhat unjustified fear of Ika. Sure, Ika talks big, but her actions never suggest anything other than her being a mischievous kid, not an evil invader. I hope Nagisa eventually gets over her squidophobia and gains another dimension.

The second story revisited the CIA investigator. I don’t really like Cindy Campbell, and her ridiculously enormous laboratory and fellow scientists aren’t exactly inspiring. It’s okay to have a few eccentric characters here and there, but all four of the Americans were totally insane. No good could come from Ika being experimented on by people who are convinced she’s an alien, anyway.

The third story was probably the best of the trio this week: Eiko and Chizuru hire the gorgeous but shy girl from the rival cafe. Without her enormous squid head, she doesn’t make eye contact and says very little, but business is booming. Her father, the rival cafe owner, then rents the services of Ika, and she turns out to be as big a hit there as the cute girl is at Lemon. I don’t mind occasionally revisiting ideas, but this show is best when the ideas are fresh…like squid itself. Rating: 3

Shinryaku! Ika Musume 6

Ika Musume keeps chugging along at full steam with fresh and original comedic situations. For instance, everyone at a hero show would be perfectly willing to consider the Squid the antagonist, but obviously not Ika. She gets the crowd behind the Squid and against the human superhero. Then Chizuru intervenes. Chizuru is a strange one: she obviously has almost-superhuman fighting skills herself, and is more than a match for Ika. Is that just a part of her character, or is there a specific reason for it that hasn’t been revealed yet? We’ll have to see.

In part two, we discover that Ika is a total math prodigy, and tries to use it as leverage against Eiko…who isn’t. It all goes well until Ika finds out that math isn’t all that useful in everyday life (though she’d probably make a fine engineer!). In part three, Gorou saves Nagisa from a big wave. Believing everyone to be brainwashed by Ika, she resolves to protect Gorou from the ‘squid person’ with everything she’s got, just barely concealing how terrified she is beneath the surface. The episode ends with a handy organization of relationships: [Sanae] likes Ika likes Nagisa likes Gorou likes Chizuru. Poor Eiko is left out. Rating: 3.5

Shinryaku! Ika Musume 5

Ika Musume continues to impress with its sheer variety and diversity of stories – three per episode. The first involved an American extra-terrestrial investigator convinced Ika is an alien. The second had Ika following Eiko to school and wreaking havoc ( a school has all of the basic amenities and equipment that a military base has, after all.)

But the most unexpected, pleasant surprise was the third: an entirely dialogue-free, poignant story of Eiko taking care of a pocket-size, ageless Ika Musume throughout her life…until she dies of old age. It’s very reminiscent (and possibly inspired by) Pixar’s Up!, and taking a totally different tone from the previous segments.

It isn’t just the variety I enjoy: whatever the theme of any particular segment is, Ithis series excels at spinning interesting, concise stories that continually enrich Ika’s understanding of the human world. These stories are like popcorn shrimp: you can’t stop eating them until they’re all gone, and then you just want more. Rating: 3.5

Shinryaku! Ika Musume 4

Squid Girl’s charming squid-out-of-water escapades continue as she’s rewarded 10,000 yen for returning a lost wallet. She spends it all on shrimp – possibly a squid’s favorite thing in the world. When her somewhat creepy admirer gets wind of it, she mails herself to Squid Girl dressed as a giant shrimp. Very bizarre, but true to character.

She also is finally let inside her employers’ residence, something Eiko was opposed to, but when the TV at the food stand broke, Chizuru let her in (I guess that makes sense…). She comes to grips with humans needing more sleep than her, and learns about all the other myriad things they do at home of an evening. Eiko wakes up on the floor ensnared in tentacles, her bed stolen from her by Squid Girl.

Finally, in what is possibly the most surreal segment of the series, Squid Girl and Eiko learn of a rival food stand owner building off of her popularity by constructing a giant squid girl head for his bikini-clad colleague. Actually, two oversized heads, one more grotesque than the last. Squid Girl’s momentary existential crises upon sight of her ‘doppelganger’ are quite amusing. Shinryaku! Ika Musume is always creative, never boring, and sticks to comedy, without even a tinge of sappy melodrama thus far. Rating: 3.5

Shinryaku! Ika Musume 3

Much like countless reality show participants, Squid Girl didn’t come here to make friends. She came to subjugate humanity. Squids are extremely arrogant and have a superior attitude; the only thing they fear is whatever is above them in the ocean food chain: orcas and sharks.

This episode deals deftly with two more aspects of Squid Girl: her fears, and the fear she wants humans to feel for her. When a surfer girl, Nagisa, shows up wanting a job (so she can be close to the ocean, natch), she doesn’t react to Squid Girl like everyone else has. Nagisa’s afraid. Afraid of the prehensile hair. Afraid of the unknown. This is a natural reaction. She’s the voice of reason: why is no one else freaking out about the Squid Girl?

Even more priceless is how Squid Girl reacts to Nagisa’s reaction: rather than taking offense, she’s delighted someone is taking her seriously. I initially thought Eiko would be Squid Girl’s main foil, but Eiko accepts her. Nagisa is very concerned with her presence. Their future interactions should prove most entertaining. Rating: 3.5

Shinryaku! Ika Musume 2

Episode two builds on the solid comedy of the first not by repeating all the same jokes and situations, but by serving up a wealth of new ones – owing to the vast possibilities of a squid-out-of-water heroine. On the one hand, she has designs on “subduing” the entire human race, but she’s so clumsy and uninformed, it’s hard to take them seriously.

Concepts like beach lifeguards, birthdays, dogs, and cosplay-obsessed photographers are as foreign to her as having squid ink for spit is to humans. When she interacts with new people, reacts to new things, or even mispronounces new words, hilarity ensues. Ditto when the humans react to her quirks and abilities. Rating: 3.5

Shinryaku! Ika Musume – First Impressions

Let’s get this out of the way: yes, Squid Girl says squid a lot. But at least it’s in Japanese, and when she substitutes squid (or squidy, or squiding) for a cus word, it’s actually pretty funny and keeps the show PG.

Anyway, I’ve replaced Togainu no Chi in my watchlist with this much brighter, more upbeat series. It promises squid girl and it delivers. She has legitimate powers which could be a threat against humanity; at least until she threatens the younger sister and brother of the proprietor of a seaside cafe. She’s one of those characters who hardly ever opens her eyes, but when she does, look out.

As I said, this show is certainly lightweight, but I’ve always made room for such fare to balance out the more serious, deeper, darker. A good show needn’t be too complicated, and this isn’t. It’s cute, its to-the-point, and its lovingly made, with a bright, cheerful palate, smooth animation, and instantly charming characters. Shall I keep watching? Squid yeah. Rating: 3.5