With every anime season, the selection of shows runs the gamut from good to bad. And, of course, there are a few titles that are just plain ugly. and, while they don’t necessarily show their true colours in the first episode, things quickly become apparent as the series progresses.
Denki-Gai is a perfect example of this.
Denki-Gai, Pony Can USA’s début release, is a slice of life comedy set in a doujinshi shop known as “Umanohone.” Basically, the store is an obvious homage to Akihabara’s famous Toranoana, and features familiar sights and setups to its real-life counterpart.
Anyway, much like Wagnaria!!, the series revolves around the various quirky individuals that work the store. Each has a nickname, from the soft-spoken Sommelier, who can recommend the perfect manga to anybody, to Sensei, who produces doujinshi under a cult-famous pen-name. Each is a hardcore fan of some genre or another, and they all work together to deal with the various challenges that a doujin shop faces, from dealing with surprise inspections, to scouring Comiket for the latest merchandise.
On the surface, it’s not a bad idea. The characters, while basic, seem like they could be somewhat interesting, and the “subculture hot spot” setting could be fodder for countless clever, biting, or witty jokes that could hit right in the feels.
Sadly, this doesn’t happen. Instead, the series dives straight into the most convenient plots imaginable, and just remains in the gutter of mediocrity. The first episode is split into two stories: “Love & Eros For All” and “The Nightmare Before Carnaval.”
“Love & Eros for All” sees the shop receive a surprise visit from a government agent, who checks the store to ensure that all stock complies with existing regulations. After a mild chastising over a pair of titles, the employees find her attending a “sommelier party”, in which Sommelier selects the perfect adult books for all who attend. She’s outed by Hiotan, and proudly proclaims that she likes adult manga, as all adults should on some level.
The second story, “The Nightmare Before Carnival” focuses on Sensei, who is busy working on a manga title for the upcoming Comiket. Unfortunately for her, the deadline for printing is one day away, and it looks like she won’t finish! To get things ready for printing, Hiotan and Umi volunteer to lend a hand as Sensei works overnight. That shouldn’t be hard, right?
These are the plots in their entirety. They are, quite literally, stock situations that have been done dozens of times before in far stronger titles. What’s particularly sad, though, is the fact that even with bland scenarios, the show could have succeeded in some form, if the characters and writing were halfway decent.
Denki-Gai‘s characters are, at this point, a collection of boring stereotypes that fail to really do anything interesting. They’re check boxes on a list, who seem to exist to fill some quota that every slice of life show has. Hiotan is the trademark naive girl, who freaks out over anything remotely provocative. Sensei is the token creative who has huge dreams, but turns out to be a gigantic baby about everything when the going gets tough. Fu-Girl is the creepy pseudo-loli, who’s barely legal but is built like an eight-year-old (to quote Drawn Together, “I just taste eight!”). And so on, and so forth. But they work in a manga store, so they’re automagically quirky and fun!
Pardon me while I gouge my eyes out with a rusty spoon.
The writing is similarly shallow, with little effort made to really build the characters or their relationships with one another. Sure, they go to a family restaurant, or work together to finish that big work for Comiket, but there’s little reference otherwise. They just exist to work together, and suddenly do random crap because they’re such good friends that they don’t even associate outside of work.
The show’s jokes tend to scrape the bottom of the barrel, in many cases. They’re predictable to a fault, and the setups are delivered so far in advance, so as to avoid startling the viewer with something that could actually be funny.
Visually, there really aren’t many complaints to be had. The animation is decent and the character designs themselves are attractive. The overall look is charming, and the bright backgrounds really pop.
In most cases, I’d say that a show like Denki-Gai is a generally middling show, and be done with it. The first episode really didn’t reach for the stars, but it wasn’t offensively bad in any regard. It just wasn’t very good, either.
Unfortunately, episode 2 aired, which really changes the game. Specifically, the episode revolves around a competition between doujin shops, in which the final prize is 10,000 yen. The events, though, are basically perverted takes on popular festival games. The bread (pan) race becomes the panty race, in which contestants must grab a pair of silk panties with their mouths as they dash for the finish line. The ball rolling event becomes the gold ball (kin-tama) rolling event, where contestants basically roll gigantic testicles (kin-tama) down the street. The ever-popular egg race becomes the waifu race, where participants run with a figure of their most beloved 2-D fantasy girl cradled in a ladle, and so on.
The entire episode just takes a swan dive into the realms of base pandering. The jokes go from hokey to creepy, as the characters try to cram in every damn ball-fondling joke, panty gag, and 2D fetish quip possible. And, really, the jokes aren’t even funny. They’re the equivalent of that creepy otaku in the anime club proclaiming that he wants to sleep with Hatsune Miku whenever a vocaloid video plays. There’s nothing to laugh at, only a lot that will make most viewers cringe and pray that things end quickly in this train wreck of an episode.
Jabs at the minority otaku subculture have been done, and done far better this season in I Can’t Understand What My Husband Is Saying. Hell, 1990s OVA Golden Boy proved that even creepy humor can be legitimately funny, if handled correctly. And, to be honest, Denki-Gai didn’t have to be so blunt, or so blatantly creepy to be funny. The show proves time and time again, though, that it’s just incapable of being any less subtle than a screeching siren. and continues to fumble the ball as it makes clumsy attempts at perverted humor.
Denki-Gai is shaping up to be a regrettable flop, from these early impressions. The show’s hollow-shell characters and unfunny humor will ensure that most fans look elsewhere for their slice of life comedy fix. At the same time, episode 2’s turn to the realms of absolute creeper-dom ensure that the show never escapes a tiny niche of devoted fans who will continue to insist that it’s funny until it’s just forgotten and abandoned, like so many other titles that failed to live up to their potential.