Kuuchuu Buranko: empathy and humaneness

The search for a second Tatami Galaxy

I’m always looking for shows that are similar to The Tatami Galaxy (Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei / 四畳半神話大系 ). Why is that? Maybe it’s because it’s one of the first shows that I’d seen, borderline life-changing, that is really worth watching even if you hate anime, just because of its clever writing and literary value. With that being said, I think that people who loved Tatami Galaxy would greatly enjoy Kuuchuu Buranko / 空中ブランコ (Welcome to Irabu’s Office). The two shows are very similar in style and structure, and they share common themes about psychology and the complications of adult life.

Kuuchuu Buranko is about a psychiatrist called Dr. Irabu who sees various patients with different mental problems who get sucked up into crazy misadventures with both comedic and serious elements, covering topics like a prominent professor’s obvious toupee, heart-breaking divorce, accidentally burning down your house, and having to start life all over again on Christmas Eve. Most of the characters are seriously lovable and realistic, and we get to see the same events from different perspectives. The story involves personal growth and empathy but is accompanied with many healthy doses of irony and self-criticism.

In this review, I will offer some high level thoughts on what really stood out to me. You might enjoy reading this even if you have no intention of watching this show at all.

Flying Trapezeman (Yamashita) – First Episode

In my opinion, this is a great “first episode.” It successfully lays down all the motifs, which we will see repeated throughout the show, on top of a good and isolated episode that is funny, meaningful, and insightful, but not excessively dramatic as to be a distraction from the show, which is only just starting.

The bickering and fast shots of the foreign workers, who are just “babbling” in non-Japanese languages is not only hilarious but also shows how Yamashita is being overwhelmed and uncomfortable both in his own homeland and his own personal territory (circus arts, which have been passed down throughout his family for generations).

Even though the foreigners make Yamashita uncomfortable, with Yamashita believing in paranoia that they are laughing at him, we see them also depicted in a gentle and warm way, like benevolent muscular giants, and they have a certain friendly attitude towards Yamashita which is especially revealed when it turns out that Ali — the Turk — was only trying to give Yamashita advice on how to improve his performance. Yamashita also gradually warms up to these foreigners and “donates” extra food to them without letting them see him.

The conclusion of the episode ends up being fairly straightforward — Yamashita watches his own performance on video (which can sometimes be a highly traumatic experience for people who aren’t ready) — and realizes in the end that he was the one who was mistaken all along, and his semi-delusional unreliable narration (which we’ve seen also in the animation itself) comes to an end. Yamashita had been isolating himself as a response to his painful childhood, where he had been constantly on the move and being mocked by his neighbors and fellow countrymen. A great, steady start for what will soon become an amazing show.

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