Gokudo Anime Review
The Chronicle of Gokudo's Pleasure Trip
US Release By
Fantasy Parody of Religion and Folklore
26 25-minute episodes
1999-04-02 - 1999-09-24
What's In It
- Demons n' Devils
- Fantasy Gone Wrong
- Just Plain Stupid.
- Violence: 2 (moderate)
- Nudity: 1 (mild)
- Sex: 2 (moderate)
- Language: 2 (moderate)
The magical king of an apparently peaceful land is rumored to be plotting dark things with evil beings from the world of magic. And, perhaps not coincidentally, beautiful young virgins have been abducted across the land, including the king's own daughter. There is a legend of a long-lost prince who will return to save the people and bring peace... and then there's young Gokudo. He'd rather just take payment for pretending to rescue his landlord's missing daughter, then skip town to chase girls. Instead, he somehow manages to get himself hooked up with a genie, a magic sword, half a prince, three beautiful women, and a death sentence as a human sacrifice. He also gets transformed into a girl for good measure. And that's just the first five episodes.
Thus begins the epic adventures of Gokudo--even Ranma never had problems like this, but nobody deserves them like Gokudo.
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Gokudo is consummate fantasy stripped of every shred of seriousness, logic, and decency. Cartoony, slaphappy, nonsensical, hyperactive, relentlessly malicious, and so stupid it hurts, Gokudo is annoying from minute one, yet absolutely hilarious--the title character is the ultimate anti-hero, putting self gratification above absolutely everything else and stubbornly refusing to ever have a change of heart. Aside from moments bordering on demented genius, it also stands out for its relentless and merciless parodies of every classic legend and world religion you can think of. It even slyly slips in a bit of an anti-authoritarian libertarian moral toward the end... if you even notice it through the crazed body swapping and inter-planar hijinks.
Don't come expecting plot, depth, or anything remotely clever, but silly fantasy fans and those fond of deranged situation comedy should definitely give Gokudo a shot. I, at least, was laughing in spite of myself.
Full ReviewSwitch to Quick Review
Gokudo takes a consummate fantasy yarn, replete with captive princesses and legends, and strips it of every shred of seriousness, logic, and decency. Cartoony, slaphappy, nonsensical, hyperactive, relentlessly malicious, and so stupid it hurts, Gokudo is annoying from minute one, and I was expecting to hate the entire experience of sitting through it. Except I couldn't stop laughing.
I freely admit to being a fan of weird and very stupid comedies, but Gokudo is a different breed. There are basically only two jokes when you boil it down: Gokudo puts immediate self-gratification above everything else, and everybody--everybody--is an idiot. The characters are annoying at best, and the overall level of humor aims low and hits even lower--the sort of juvenile, crude, obnoxious stuff that makes Looney Toons look highbrow. And yet, embarrassing as it is, I laughed long and loud over and over again. Maybe it's the smart-mouthed, violent spunk of the characters. Maybe it's the constant barrage of lame jokes. Maybe it's the fact that the series takes every possible opportunity to warp a heroic deed or classic fantasy situation into something shamefully wrong. Maybe my taste is just really, really bad.
Of course, as funny as many of the story arcs are, Gokudo is stupid, juvenile, and annoying enough to make almost anybody cringe at one point or another, so come prepared. It starts so cartoony that it takes the punch out of jokes better suited to sharp timing, but it does solidify a little as it goes along. Whenever it starts to flag or the joke starts to wear thin, it always manages to pick things up with something remarkably wrong and random. A few spots border on demented genius: Anything that features a male panda going through labor in a flying cloud mobile home while two witches videotape the blessed event and Demon Command is laying down flack outside gets my seal of insanity approval.
Once the series is well underway, you realize the initial plot arc is only a set-up, and the preposterous facade gets a lot more detailed. The prototypical European hero legend out of the way, the series begins assaulting a variety of other classic folklore: Urashima Taro, Journey to the West, Arabian Nights, and more. Later, it sets about symbolically tearing apart every religion you can think of.
Take note: If you are religious and do not have a sense of humor about your beliefs, Gokudo is guaranteed to offend you. From Japan's native Shinto to Hindu tradition to primitive animism, not a single major world religion is spared from all manner of savage mockery. Gods and demons are turned into bickering and decidedly incompetent weirdoes engaged in a vast cosmic game, and Gokudo never misses a chance to swindle or backstab as many as he can.
Sending up religion as brutally as Gokudo does takes some guts, although for the most part the religious themes are just another form of legend used as a springboard for all manner of wild hijinks. The series never gets serious, although it does get to a "point" buried in all the stupidity at the end. The final story arc, in addition to wrapping up the vast, layered mess set up through the series, casts Gokudo--the embodiment of hedonism--as mankind's savior from the whims of distant and uncaring gods who do little more than toy with humanity for their amusement.
Those apt to get particularly worked up about the rampant blasphemy should keep in mind that "freedom to make your own mistakes beats being pushed around by your 'betters'" is more of an antiestablishment Libertarian message than an intent to offend. The religions Gokudo sends up seem symbolic of authoritarian morality rather than representative of a particular dislike of spirituality.
Gokudo the man is a marvel of a character, the antihero to end all anti-heroes. He takes human decency and kicks it in the shins, just for fun, in every single episode. Beyond just mercenary or self-absorbed, he's positively despicable--he likes gold first, women second, and absolutely nothing else even ranks, including self-preservation or dignity.
Rubette is Gokudo's moral opposite in the story and the hate interest. (Love? Yeah, right.) While she's technically the smart one, she's even more eager than Gokudo to blindly charge into a fight. The rest of the main crew consists of the super-studly deposed prince of the underworld and a gender-bending, incessantly moralizing genie. Keeping track of who's who isn't as easy as you might think as the lot of them are prone to shameful predicaments and spend much of the series wearing a different body or gender. On top of the species-confused and face-swapping leads, their ever-expanding entourage includes everything from a panda philosopher to two saccharine evil witches for an impressively broad ensemble cast.
Technically speaking, Gokudo is solid if unremarkable. The character design and artistic style, despite being rather cartoony, look good enough. The characters are also distinctive, especially Gokudo and his give-CLAMP-a-run-for-their-money eyebrows. The animation is relatively smooth, although a lot is wasted on spastic slapstick and (non-SD) exaggeration. Aside from a plethora of incredibly random visual jokes, Gokudo holds its own even in comparison to other, much more serious fantasy shows. Oh, and there's an SD bunny girl who pops up to take care of all the scene transitions.
The Japanese acting is quality stuff all-around, with distinctive voices behind every character. It's not the peak of high-energy idiocy (read: Excel Saga), but there's more than enough energy to keep things rolling along. The weak translation in AnimeWorks' subtitles is a bit of a disappointment, though--there's barely any effort put toward making the harder-to-translate jokes work, and there are gags randomly added elsewhere in an attempt to compensate.
I can't exactly call the dub well-acted, but I must admit to it being among the funnier ones I've seen. Part of it is the writing--it isn't as sharp as it could have been, but it manages to capture plenty of orneriness and work in some distinctly modern flavor. That's matched with a solid and well-chosen ensemble cast, who rail through the chaos and stupidity with an abundance of flavor. My personal favorite is Gokudo's downright mean whininess, but there are more than enough good voices to go around.
The forgettable music is mostly generic-fantasy standard.
All in all, despite being the longest dumb fantasy series outside Slayers, Gokudo is for the most part a very funny stupid series (or maybe a very stupid funny series) that manages to send up a variety of fantasy as well as every major world religion without even once getting serious. It is about as low as silly fantasy gets, and constantly flirts with flat-out annoying, but I was laughing in spite of myself. Don't come expecting plot, depth, or anything remotely clever, but silly fantasy fans and those fond of deranged situation comedy should definitely give Gokudo a shot.
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Gokudo is somewhere between Slayers and Sorcerer Hunters, but with far less functioning plot than either. Rune Soldier Louie is another more serious fantasy parody, but the closest match is probably the little-known Dragon Slayer, or perhaps the SD Dragon Half. Series with similar moods or casts of characters in entirely different genres include Jubei-chan (even more silly), Excel Saga (king of weird), Photon, the Ultimate Teacher (duke of weird), and the one and only Urusei Yatsura. The last of those is definitely the closest fit on both the madness factor and folklore tie-ins.
Notes and Trivia
Gokudo is based on a series of light novels by Usagi Nakamura with illustrations by Takeru Kirishima, not available in English as of this writing. There are 13 main novels, and, thus far, 10 side novels; the TV series aired between the 12th and 13th volumes of the main series. While the most recent side-story novel was published in 2001, it was the first of a two-parter that hasn't yet been completed. There was also a short 3-volume manga adaptation, also not available in English as of this writing.
While the series just goes by "Gokudo" in the current English release by AnimeWorks, the full Japanese title is "Gokudou-kun Man-yuuki"--"The Chronicle of Gokudo's Pleasure Trip." It's also known by the English title "Jester the Adventurer," apparently due to one of the licensors, although no US release has ever used that title.
For those not familiar with Amaterasu, she is the sun goddess at the center of the Shinto pantheon, creator of the universe. Even in reality, she's a bit of a brat--the holing up in a cave comes from the actual mythology. Shinto is the native religion of Japan, now largely supplanted in practice by Buddhism imported from China centuries ago, although Shinto traditions are still very prevalent.
Also, for those noting the similarity of the flying cloud and monkey king Gokuu to Dragonball, it's because both stories are based on Journey to the West, an ancient Chinese epic.
US DVD Review
The hybrid DVDs (originally released one-by-one, later in a box set) are passable, nothing more. The video transfer is weak--it's so fuzzy it looks more like VHS than DVD. The audio is better, but there's very little in the way of special features.
A few gross jokes and a bit of raunch account for AnimeWorks' appropriate 13-up rating. Some viewers are also likely to find the religious parodies offensive.
Violence: 2 - All manner of brutality, but it's very cartoony.
Nudity: 1 - Nothing graphic.
Sex/Mature Themes: 2 - Occasional moderately mature jokes, little more.
Language: 2 - Some coarse language in the dub.
Available in North America from AnimeWorks on a 6-disc set ("Collection Extraordinaire") of hybrid DVDs, currently out of print. Was originally released on six individual dubbed VHS or hybrid DVD volumes.
You can find used copies of the box set through Amazon, but they were quite expensive at last check: Gokudo: Collection Extraordinaire