Comedy is hard, and its never harder than in anime, where it’s left of string of painfully unfunny harem shows and boring slice-of-life snoozefests in its wake. Fortunately for those watching, Squid Girl dodges these traps and instead emerges as a winning, if slightly lightweight, sketch show with an eye for amusing details.
A lot of the amusement in the premise can be found in the simple but versatile setup. Squid Girl is, as her name suggests, a squid who has taken human form. She’s come to invade and conquer the surface world, as a punishment for mankind’s willful mistreatment of the ocean. Such a threat would be a lot more serious if she didn’t look about twelve years old and prove to be utterly incompetent in every way. As a result, she’s instead co-opted by Chizuru, Eiko and Takeru, a trio of siblings who run a beachfront bar, into helping as a waitress and general tourist attraction. Squid Girl works the bar, meeting new people and harbouring increasingly unrealistic dreams of world domination.
In essence then, it’s your classic fish-out-of-water (groan) premise. What makes it work is that the stories prove plenty of interesting characters and unorthodox situations to wring the maximum possible comedy out of any given setup. Squid Girl herself is a delight – loud, brattish and utterly convinced of her world-conquering potential, she’s nevertheless adorably childish and it’s difficult not to laugh at her bemused wonder or self righteous indignation over the smallest things. The writers also do well to keep a steady stream of weird and wacky interactions up. Middle sister Eiko takes the straight man role and keeps it relatively interesting, and while Takeru is a largely anonymous little brother eldest sister Chizuru gets a few laughs by being both the quiet pretty one but also a secret psychopath. Of the supporting characters, I particularly liked Nagisa, the confident, smart surfer girl who for inexplicable reasons is the only one who takes Squid Girl’s invasion threat seriously and is subsequently terrified of her, a fact that Squid Girl mercilessly exploits for kicks. Bikini wearing scientist Cindy Crawford is another standout, an enjoyably broad American caricature who, along with her three MIT scientist assistants, believes Squid Girl is an alien and is obsessed with experimenting on her.
Stylistically each 22 minute episode is broken into three separate vignettes, effectively making the show a series of sketches. This isn’t big, rolling on the floor laughing style comedy, instead it’s a more wry, relaxed experience, fitting with the slice of life elements scattered liberally throughout. Not every segment is a winner but that’s the beauty of the format – in only seven or eight minutes there’ll be another one along, and the show generally did a very good job of keeping me engaged, especially since there’s the occasional highly amusing chunk of flat out Japanese weirdness, such as the episode with the giant mechanical Squid Girl head. Being set on a beach, there are plenty of people wandering about in swimwear to add a touch of fan service, but the show is refreshingly non-exploitative of its lead character and is very family friendly overall – I’d happily watch this with children of all ages.
Studio Silver Link don’t have too much work to do in terms of animating elaborate actions scenes and such, but they give the show a bright, breezy palette perfectly in keeping with its beach setting, with characters looking cute and staying on model well. The included dub is great fun and includes a standout performance from Christine Marie Cabanos in the title role (she’ll also soon be heard as Madoka in Puella Magi Madoka Magica) which perfectly captures Squid Girl’s brazen aggressiveness but also her essential cluelessness. She also manages the tricky task of making the character sound young without resorting to the helium infused squeak we hear all too often in anime dubs – this sounds like a voice someone would actually have. It’s also worth a quick note on an unusual translation – in the Japanese Squid Girl has a vocal tic wherein she says ‘de gaso’ (basically, ‘squid’) after every sentence, whereas in English this is replaced with some truly groan-worthy fish and squid based puns. Extras are brief but enjoyable, matching the tone of the season perfectly – the ‘how to fold the Squid Girl Hat’ video is a particularly quirky highlight.
Squid Girl isn’t world changing anime – people aren’t going to look back at this and see it as a classic, but it does what it does very well, and I enjoyed the time I spent with a lot. It’s packed with endearing characters, enjoyable situations and is just a lot of good old fashioned fun. If I had to sum it up I’d say…it’s kraken!
Squid Girl will be invading our shores on 13th August and is available to order on DVD now.