I honestly wasn’t sure what to make of Amagi Brilliant Park when I learned of its existence. It was the Full Metal Panic team coming back for the first time in almost a decade to adapt a Shoji Gatoh light novel about some dude saving an amusement park. It was called a “slapstick drama”, whatever the hell that means. It had the rat with a hat from Fumoffu. I wanted it to be Fumoffu, but I read a bit of the manga beforehand and knew it wasn’t going to be like that. As such, I went into the show with cautious expectations.
Then I discovered that the main character was Kanye West as a Japanese high schooler. Then I found out that the cast included a bunch of weirdos like a perverted pink dog, a tough-talking sheep, a shark who turned into Jaws when splashed with water, a masked wrestler who acted as security, a triceratops who does not hide his desires well, and everyone else in this image. Then I realized that despite taking place in “reality”, the show was about as unreal as could be. Then the show started parodying old classics like Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Rambo, and…uh…KISS? And it finally clicked with me around the halfway point: I was watching a Takahashi sitcom except made by today’s standards.
Let’s look at this a bit further: Amagi is about a jackass teenage boy getting roped into saving an amusement park because the employees are magical beings who need the energy generated by customers in order to survive in the real world. The one in particular who needs said park to survive is the princess, because of a curse placed on her due to her dad reneging on a deal he made (in other words, her dad was a dick). It turns out that the boy met the princess once as a child and swore to make her smile, thus establishing a connection between the two that will pay off now that the boy has grown up. From that description alone, you’d probably expect some sort of sappy Disney-esque love story where the main character uses his charisma and such to save the princess, and indeed you wouldn’t be far off the mark.
But then things take a darkly comedic turn once you realize why the park is shutting down in the first place: because the management is f*cking terrible. The employees are a bunch of lazy assholes who have pride in their jobs, but they have no work ethic. They close the park on Fridays. They take unscheduled breaks when they’re not in the mood. And no, there is no outside interference causing this to happen. The park simply sucks because the employees are a joke who don’t evolve with the times, and now they’re paying the price by having their very existence threatened. You know, just like real companies and the people who make them that don’t evolve, except greatly exaggerated because the employees are live animal mascots or humans who might as well be mascots
And as time went on from that realization, I became more and more convinced in my claim. Yes there is a plot, and the show does work towards it throughout its entire runtime. But whilst shows like Arakawa and Zvezda use the comedy to tell a touching story, Amagi simply uses its plot as an excuse to tell jokes related to its wacky cast and company management in general. Even when the show dips into the serious territory, it’s just so that they can setup punchlines for later, sometimes in the same episode. Kanye has a past as a child-actor, but it’s never really used as more than as an excuse to justify why he’s so good at managing things. Fiddy Cent (Sento Izuzu to all you plebians) has a fight with Kanye over her behavior, but all that comes out of it is her gaining a crush on our hero, as well as for a later episode to use the results of said drama as a springboard for its comedic story (that admittedly, wasn’t all that funny). I’ve heard people complain about the princess drama, and yeah it wasn’t very good. But at the end of the day, it’s just an excuse to add necessary tension to the show’s end goal (whilst adding a man-eating plant chomping on the three stooges), as well as a reason for the show to continue in the future. It didn’t change the game like Chuunibyou’s tonal shift did. Hell, the actual resolution of the “save the park” plot was mostly just an excuse to have the characters suffer for our delight.
That’s exactly the same sort of structure that Ranma and Urusei Yatsura had, isn’t it? Each show set up a plot in its opening episodes regarding a jackass male protagonist and a violent female one, and there is some progress regarding that throughout each show until it reaches its end (well, not really the Ranma anime) but most of the time, it’s just used as a high-concept justification for all sorts of wacky adventures that add to its large cast whilst causing said cast to suffer for our delight. And what differentiates it from other LN trash that try something similar like Kore Zombie is that the situations, including the ones that aren’t very good, have imagination to them and are supported by a cast of hilarious idiots whose saccharine appearance betrays their gritty personalities (again, like a real amusement park employee…who smoked one too many joints in the back). Not everyone works of course – looking at you, Dornell – but the final piece of the puzzle that makes me love Takahashi’s sitcoms as much as I do is because the majority of the cast is f*cking hilarious. From Kanye to Tiramie to Macaron to Okuro, these characters never failed to put a smile on my face with their antics.
So if Amagi is so much like my favorite anime sitcoms of all-time, does that mean that Amagi itself is one of my favorite anime comedies of all-time? Um…no.
One thing I don’t like about Takahashi is that she can’t really do serious very well, and it doesn’t help that KyoAni has a reputation for mishandling that sort of tone at a worse level than her, themselves. Even if it’s necessary for future laughs to land and it only takes up an episode at most, it’s still not that fun to sit through unless you turn it into a joke by the end of the episode. And whilst KyoAni do turn serious situations into humor more often than you’d expect from them in this series, there are times where they slip into their old habits. Episode 4 may been necessary to give Fiddy and Kanye more of a personal relationship, as well as show the weaknesses in Kanye’s business strategies, but it still wasn’t very fun to watch because the dramatic tone felt over-reaching and the resolution was quick and sappy. It’s the second-worst episode (worst being Episode 9 with the focus on the Elementario) IMO, so thankfully the show doesn’t really slip into that territory again.
But then we get into the princess’s stuff. I won’t go into detail regarding it, but whilst I didn’t hate it as much as some of my colleagues since it worked fine as a plot device and never really got in the way of what really went on, that didn’t change the fact that the resolution to her problems was lame, played entirely straight, and was poorly built-up to the point of Deus Ex. Yeah, I know she’s still cursed and all – because otherwise, she’d be able to leave the park – but c’mon!
The biggest reason why this show doesn’t sit amongst my favorite comedies though is that despite getting all the fundamentals right, I didn’t find Amagi Brilliant Park to be gut-bustingly funny. Its quality is more akin to the later seasons of Ranma in that there’s a few laugh-out-loud gems buried under a bunch of mildly interesting stories that are more weird than hilarious. Or to put it in more modern anime terms, Amagi Brilliant Park is to KyoAni what Ouran Host Club is to Bones: A decent show overall and much more preferable to the studio’s usual – and more popular – output, but not something I’d consider a must-watch because the laughs are mostly moderate and it dips into the serious territory a bit too much for my liking. I can’t really explain why the laughs didn’t come as often as I wanted other than some awkward timing, focus on a character I didn’t enjoy, and so on and so forth, but the bottom-line is you can’t force yourself to laugh and Amagi almost cut it in regards to what I prefer from my humor, but it fell more short than I would have liked in the end.
If they do make a sequel to Amagi Brilliant Park sometime down the road, hopefully it’s in the vein of Fumoffu where you can just forget the plot, focus entirely on the laughs, and the laughs will actually produce, well, laughs. Because as is, this property isn’t a good enough indicator that KyoAni has recovered from the hole they dug themselves into with, well, everything not directed by Takemoto, post-Clannad. It’s a fun show overall. It’s nice to see that the Takahashi formula can still exist by today’s standards. But it could have been so much more.
PS: The first person to bash this show by comparing it to a certain PA Works anime will earn my undying wrath.
Edit: In retrospect, the ninth episode was alright in an “evil” sort of way. Sixth episode kinda sucked on rewatch though. Are all episodes focusing on Sento just doomed for failure or something?