Andrew Osmond on the evolution of squashed-down anime
Melancholy of Haruhi-Chan Suzumiya features super-cute (or “super-deformed”) versions of the Haruhi cast. If you’re unfamiliar with super deformity, it means the practice of turning a character into a cuter version of itself, usually by making them character more infantile. The standard way to do this is to enlarge the head, shrink the body and make the limbs into stumps flailing in a blur. The realistic detail is lost; the characters look hastily sketched, engaging in correspondingly crude antics. Bashing each other in the head is common; so are raging figures with gaping hippo mouths, or huge eyes gushing rivers of tears.
Super-deformity, shortened to “SD,” figures widely in anime and manga, but only in some anime and manga, so you’re never quite sure in advance if a title will have it. It’s commoner in anime TV shows than in movies (the sketchy style suits TV budgets). Unsurprisingly, it’s most common in anime comedies, especially the batty likes of Azumanga Daioh, but it also breaks into serious fare. Two recent cases are Eden of the East, where the SD moments probably reflect the cute influence of Honey and Clover artist Chika Umino, and both versions of Fullmetal Alchemist, where you can predict a super-deformed tantrum each time someone mentions Edward’s diminutive height. Often it’s unclear whether the SD gags take place in the same “reality” as the more serious stuff (though that is, if you think about it, like wondering if Doctor Who aliens “really” have zippers on their backs). Some shows build SD into the story, such as the recent Black Butler, where the sage steward Tanaka regularly deflates into a shrunken homunculus of himself, while the other characters ask why he does it so often.
SD is a development of all cartoons’ natural tendency to exaggerate expressions and rush from one emotional extreme to another (from tragedy to fart jokes, for example). Haruhi-Chan is hardly the first SD spinoff to develop its own life. More than twenty years ago, Scramble Wars united the casts of Gall Force, Bubblegum Crisis and Genesis Survivor Gaiarth in a Redline-style wacky race. Oddly enough, metallic characters are especially prone to being super-deformed, be they the suit-of-armour Al in Fullmetal Alchemist, the already-cute Tachikomas in Stand Alone Complex (spun off into the end-of-episode “Tachikoma Days” skits) or the very uncute robot power suits who are cut down to size in Minipato (from Patlabor) andthe SD Gundam franchise.
SD has been fondly referenced outside Japan, as in the wonderful super-deformed self-parodies of Avatar: The Last Airbender (which was itself, of course, hugely indebted to anime). There are also plenty of Western parallels to super-deformed humour. Think of the children’s toy figures sending up blockbusters in Robot Chicken; the gag in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy film where the cast become woolly-dolly versions of themselves; and loads of music videos, going back to the crude CG cartoons of Dire Straits in “Money for Nothing.” But perhaps the ultimate super-deformed version of Western pop-culture is a fan-made trailer for the (imaginary) Watchmen Saturday-morning cartoon, complete with squid!
A comical spin-off of epic proportions The Melancholy of Haruhi-chan Suzumiya In these animated short episodes, based on the comical spin-off manga, the characters are presented in cute little versions of themselves and focus each of their unique quirks. Haruhi is even more outrageous with her twisted understanding of Valentine’s Day and Halloween, Mikuru is just as clueless as ever and Yuki is an ero-game addict. Nyoron! Churuya-san There comical shorts were originally a fan drawn 4-panel parody manga and due to its underground success, chosen to be animated. Follow the whimsical adventures of Churuya-san (based on the character, Tsuruya-san) on her quest for her favourite food, smoked cheese.
That might explain why in 2006, Nissin sponsored the anime series Freedom, designed by Akira and Steamboy godfather Katsuhiro Otomo and directed by Shuhei Morita. Set on the Moon and exploring themes of blossoming adulthood in a post-Earth society, the characters in the seven-part series are often seen chowing down on a steaming hot Cup Noodle.
Does the future of anime lie on the big screen, and if so, will developments in cinema exhibition technologies redefine its form, content and audiences in the digital age? These are questions many are asking as pundits declare conventional anime’s glory days to be a thing of the past.
Studio Ghibli, tattoo removal and the San Diego Comic Con in our 26th podcast
Jeremy Graves is joined by Jerome Mazandarani, Andrew Hewson and Jonathan Clements to discuss last week’s Studio Ghibli, the San Diego Comic Con, upcoming releases, and your questions from Twitter and Facebook. Includes an inadvisable impersonation of Meryl Streep, commentary track shenanigans, and Jerome’s skateboarding stunts.