Kekko Kamen Anime Review
US Release By
Pervy Superhero Comedy
2 30-minute episodes
Kekko Kamen: The masked avenger who wears a mask (a pair of panty hose, actually) on her head, a scarf on her neck, boots on her feet, and nothing at all in between. At the Spartan Academy, an elite boarding school that uses some decidedly unorthodox punishment methods to beat the best performance out of its students, poor little Mayumi seems to be a favorite target of the depraved teachers. Only Kekko Kamen has the power to save her from the dreaded string of Punishment Teachers... but who is she?
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Master of cheese and sleaze Go Nagai sets his sights on the classic action series Gekko Kamen and turns out what he does best: a ditzy, cheap, dirty little romp that has a guilty appeal in spite of how lame it is. The production values are bargain-basement (although noticeably better in the second episode), the character designs range from generic to downright ugly in the protagonist schoolgirl, plot and logic are entirely absent, and the humor is of the most basic sort. As a send-up of classic action anime from a simpler time, however, the lack of quality is something of a nostalgic plus, and it manages to toe the line between cheerful sleaze and outright dirty in a way that makes the series embarrassing without being offensive.
For some late-night, sleazy, stupid, guilty pleasure, Kekko Kamen is a decent choice in spite of bargain-basement production values. If you don't like the sort of thing that Go Nagai specializes in (as well as extremely low-brow humor) it's bad anime incarnate, but it's just the sort of so-bad-it's-good shlock that keeps Nagai buffs coming back for more.
Full ReviewSwitch to Quick Review
Kekko Kamen: More low-brow madness from the master of cheese and sleaze, Go Nagai. This time around, Nagai sets his sights on the classic '70s action series Gekko Kamen... which, of course, is only a classic in Japan, so most of us are going to miss the in-jokes, but what the hey. The product is a ditzy, cheap, randy little romp, and depending on your viewpoint, either Go in his groove or as bad as he gets--pure, unadulterated, sleazy comedy.
Make no mistake, Kekko Kamen is an irredeemably bad series from any standpoint involving actual taste--the tiny shred of plot doesn't even make sense, the jokes are base and simple, and the action mediocre. Even the art, for a series whose sole appeal is girls in various states of undress either being abused or kicking around the abusers, is remarkably poor. No, the closest things to worthwhile in the whole affair are a couple of chuckle-worthy "Eew!" moments involving the teachers' deviant personal habits (worst transparent negligee ever) and the catchy theme song.
Of course, like most of Nagai's "art," Kekko Kamen isn't supposed to be good by any standard definition of the word--it's an exercise in quality limbo, seeing just how low it can go without crossing the line into totally tasteless. On that count, it does alright--there's all manner of relatively mild embarrassment-centered torture (you're supposed to enjoy it even though you're rooting for the good guys), and plenty of innuendo-wielding (and nunchuck-equipped) naked superheroes jumping around. It's cheerfully malicious in a juvenile way and, all things considered, it's really not that dirty. As such, you can sort of snicker and point through the whole thing without feeling guilty about anything other than actually watching it.
Even taking this into account, it took me a while to figure out why I was enjoying it, until I realized that all the lameness is part of Kekko Kamen's appeal--it hearkens back to the classic action shows of the era of innocent anime it parodies. Back when the original Gekko Kamen was cool, plots were thinner than the gaudy paint on the crudely-drawn cels, clumsy action was something you jumped up and down cheering at, and "Love and Justice" were the only motivation a masked hero needed. From that point of view, whether intentional or not (I can never figure out how much of what Nagai does is accident and how much deserves credit as subtly clever), all the flaws in Kekko Kamen make it feel like a nostalgic send-up of those simpler times. It's fun because it's so lame.
As a result, enjoying Kekko Kamen requires a combination of bad taste and nostalgic willingness to overlook all manner of glaring flaws. Among the questions you're better off not asking: Why on earth are these kids even at this school, why doesn't Kekko Kamen do anything permanent to fix the situation (perhaps in this world, schools are supposed to be run this way?), and why does she only show up to save Mayumi when scores of other kids get equally bad treatment? You're also better off not expecting anything clever in the humor, or well-drawn nudity--even the skin is substandard.
Having to forgive the poor visuals is unfortunate. Mayumi's character design is downright ugly, the other characters aren't much to look at, either, and all the female students look nearly identical from the neck down. There's also zero sense of space to the weak-looking action, a common flaw in Nagai's anime. With all the frontal nudity and Japan's odd censorship laws, it'd have been nice if they'd played around with cleverly avoiding exposing Kekko Kamen's crotch directly, but no--Barbie Doll anatomy is the main solution. The second pair of stories (the series consists of two two-story episodes) is noticeably better looking than the first half, but the upgraded visuals are still unimpressive. At least Kekko Kamen herself is drawn considerably more attractively, and the animation is acceptable.
The Japanese voice acting is another unfortunate weakness. Arisa Andou sounds like a sleepy amateur as Mayumi, and, perhaps due to the directing, the timing seems a little off on some of the comedy. Emi Shinohara, on the other hand, turns in a nice strong performance as Kekko Kamen, and the various teachers are voiced distinctively and with a generally acceptable level of cheesy energy. Johji Yanami, whose gravely, yet oddly mellow voice you might recognize from Dominion's Buaku, turns in the most memorable performance as the evil-but-silly masked principal. ADV's subtitles (they use the same ones on the DVD as the old VHS release) take a few liberties in an attempt to spice up the humor, but are largely accurate. No comment on the dub.
The music is the high point. Not the background music, which is barely noticeable (although the series makes use of a lot of random sound effects--who decided that "Moo!" is the sound of confused disappointment, anyway?). The main theme song, on the other hand, is a faithful riff on the original. Capably sung by Shinohara, it's full of that cheesily infectious quality that keeps classic TV themes stuck in your head. The theme, of course, makes appearances during every fight as well as the credits. The closing song in the second episode, also sung by Shinohara, is catchy as well.
The bottom line is: For some late-night, sleazy, stupid, guilty pleasure, Kekko Kamen is a decent choice in spite of its bargain-basement production values--a randy send-up of old-school action anime that's eyebrow-raising and snicker-inducing without being too dirty or at all serious. If you don't like what Go Nagai specializes in as well as extremely low-brow humor, don't even touch it, but for those who go for Go, it's just the sort of so-bad-it's-good shlock that keeps 'em coming back for more.
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Any of a number of Nagai's dubious classics are related recommendations, with New Cutey Honey topping the list and the similar but drastically more mean-spirited Abashiri Family next in line. For the mostly-naked-hero angle, the underwear fetish samurai comedy Labyrinth of Flame is somewhat similar, as is the underwear fetish action of Agent Aika by the same director.
Notes and Trivia
The original Gekkou Kamen ("Moonbeam Mask") started life in the late 1950s as a boys' comic about a masked, turbaned, motorcycle-riding, pistol-wielding hero, written by Kawauchi Kohan and illustrated by Kuwata Jiro. It was adapted into a live-action black-and-white TV serial in 1958 that was eventually cancelled because kids were hurting themselves copying his moves. The more direct inspiration for this series comes from the better-known 1972 anime adaptation.
Kekko Kamen itself has become something of a franchise as well; begun in 1974 with a Go Nagai one-shot parody in Monthly Shounen Jump, it was so popular that he ended up continuing the serial for four years, and a number of reprints and other books have also been produced. In addition to the two anime OAVs this review covers, there have (unsurprisingly) been a number of painfully bad straight-to-video live-action movies produced, most recently as of this writing a trio in 2007. Several of the live-action adaptations are available translated into English, although the manga hasn't as of this writing.
"Kekkou," for those wondering, has several meanings, but in this case is an exclamation of satisfaction, roughly equivalent to "That was great!" It comes, presumably, from what villains say after being assaulted by her ultimate technique.
That you never do see who Kekko Kamen's alter-ego is is a reference to the original Gekkou Kamen, who was never unmasked--memorably, the credits always listed "?" for the actor. The same goes for the villain, who has been downgraded from the original "Claw of Satan" to the somewhat less-impressive "Toenail of Satan."
US DVD Review
ADV's DVD is a rather basic little deal, combining "all four episodes" (actually two two-part episodes) into one nicely packaged volume. The video transfer looks as good as can be expected for a series like this, and the stereo audio is acceptable in both languages. There aren't any extras past a number of production sketches (with the theme song in the background), although I do give credit to the creative packaging--the box is red, with a cover design reminiscent of an old-fashioned movie poster. The colorful menus match this look.
Not horrifyingly offensive, but loaded with nudity, sleaze, and rather mild "torture" (provided you take it for what it is). ADV tags it with a TV-MA (for "VSL"), which I'd say in this case translates to an 18-up, though you could call it 16-up if you're very leinent.
Violence: 2 - There's poking, prodding, humiliation, and a bit of swordplay, but nothing serious.
Nudity: 5 - Undetailed but in huge volume.
Sex/Mature Themes: 3 - A hard call, but despite some moderately dirty jokes, it's not that explicit.
Language: 3 - The expletives aren't heavy in the subtitles, though there is a bit of dirty-talk.
Available in English on hybrid DVD from ADV, currently out of print; the DVD was (maybe still is) also available in combo packs along with Puni Puni Poemi or Cutey Honey. Was originally released by ADV on two subtitled or dubbed VHS volumes, now long out of print.
RightStuf had both of the combo packs in stock at clearance prices (around $10) at last check: with Cutey Honey and with Puni Puni Poemi. Amazon also had both combo packs in stock at last check, though both were much more expensive; they also have the standalone DVD listed used for cheap: Cutey Honey/Kekko Kamen , Puni Puni Poemy/Kekko Kamen, Kekko Kamen