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Hozuki no Reitetsu – Review

by Anthony Sulwer

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Who’s ready for a fun-filled, outlandish trip to the bureaucracy-laden underworld of Japanese Hell? Hozuki no Reitetsu began airing in January 2014 and follows the daily life of Demon Ogre, Hozuki.

Acting as the deputy and chief council for Japanese Hell, Hozuki works the weekly grind of trying to keep order, instructing the various minions on the proper, most astute ways of torturing the dead for their transgressions in life, and solving the various daily problems the ruler of Japanese Hell, King Enma, has neither the time nor inclination to pay attention to.

The show is hysterical, doing a fantastic job of paying homage to a plethora of Japanese pop-culture references from video games, manga, television shows, and movies from the nineties to today, while at the same time lampooning and satirizing them with quick-witted puns and jokes. In addition to the pop-culture references, they also make allusions to several legendary figures and stories from throughout Japanese mythologies. The average American audience may not grasp the near-countless references made, but not getting all of them will take nothing away from the imaginative and delightful weirdness of an exceedingly entertaining first season.

Written by Natsumi Eguchi and Midori Goto (Loups=Garous, Real Drive), Hozuki no Reitetsu proves there can be all the juvenile humor of fart jokes mixed with inside anecdotes, gags, and parodies you occasionally have to be quick on the uptake to get. Top all the eccentricity off with eastern philosophies on death, the concepts of the afterlife, and how we’ll each experience it, Hozuki no Reitetsu delivers a mash-up so entertaining I had difficulty tearing myself away from it. If it had to be compared to anything, it would be a workplace-style comedy along the lines of The Office. After all, Japanese Hell is run like a business, envied even by Satan, the ruler of European Hell.

Each episode is divided into two separate mini-sodes. Sometimes the two stories are inter-connected, sometimes not. It makes little difference for the enjoyment of each segment. For the most part, Hozuki deals with the day-to-day operations of Japanese Hell whilst hefting a massive studded steel club. Occasionally he makes an expedition to Shangri La – Japanese Heaven – and is forced to deal with the pharmaceutical bunnies that populate it, as well as the thousand-year-old feud with his despised Chinese counterpart.

Hozuki no Reitetsu not only pokes fun at some of the more obscure, and not-so-obscure, aspects of Japanese culture, they also point out some of the more amusing American, European, and Chinese pop-culture and stereotypes as well (i.e. only American dogs drink from toilets). It’s all done in good fun and with a complete absence of malice.

During the first episode, The Biggest Hell/Strange Discovery in Hell, the weirdness factor may seem cranked up a bit too high. But by the end, the weirdness begins to make a bizarre kind of sense and it becomes quite easy and entertaining to, not only keep watching, but to devour the first season in a single sitting.

The animation is classical, simple, and colorful with the emphasis of the show being the dialogue and character development of Hozuki and the continuing cycle of familiar characters, especially the fluffy animals in charge of Animal Cruelty Hell – one of the sections of Japanese Hell reserved for those who abused animals in life.

While not out training minions, Hozuki spends much of his workday subversively abusing his boss, King Enma, the inept and overly scatter-brained ruler of Japanese Hell. King Enma appears to have a complete lack of awareness to what is going on around him, much like the majority of bosses in the world of cubicles. His underlings show Hozuki a great deal more respect than his no-mercy rules and laws.

In his off time, Hozuki carries himself exactly as he does while working. He does not suffer fools, but only rarely loses his temper. Ornamental Goldfish Plants, which Hozuki grows as one of his favorite hobbies, are just plain disturbing when you’re first introduced to them. Huge goldfish sitting atop green stalks and swaying in the breeze in Hozuki’s garden takes a minute or two to fully register. Hozuki isn’t alone in his love of goldfish plants. There is an annual competition in Japanese Hell for the best goldfish plant. Criteria for the winning plant are based on the size of the fish as well as its melodious cry. This year’s winner was fed to Satan on his visit to Japanese Hell and cooked up perfectly by Hozuki himself.

The brevity of each episode make it easy to watch several in a row without noticing the time slipping by as you’re laughing and rewinding to make sure you take it all in. Personally, it was especially entertaining to see Satan (Ruler of European Hell) show up unannounced for a tour of Japanese Hell in the second half of episode two, The State of Hell and This and That. King Enma, being so incredibly busy, instead sends Hozuki to give Satan the grand tour. The remainder of the episode is one of the most original and hilarious sequences seen in anime in a long, long time.

Trying to compare Hozuki no Reitetsu to anything else is near impossible. The first season of this show is original, laugh-out-loud funny, and one of the best-executed anime shows to come around in years. If you’ve a fan of Magna and Japanese pop-culture for any part of the past thirty years, this is a show to watch immediately and demand additional seasons.

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Author: Anthony Sulwer

A freelance writer living in Denver, Colorado, Anthony fell in love with anime while working part time jobs at video stores in the 90s. Nights off were spent watching Akira, Ninja Scroll, Fist of the North Star, and anything else to appear in the small "Specialty" section of the large chain stores.

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