Abashiri Family Anime Review
US Release By
Gory High-School-From-Hell Action
4 20-minute episodes
In the next century, Japan will be ruled by an oppressive Chinese government, there will be riots in the streets and military hardware running rampant. But crime is an even bigger problem, thanks to one small clan: the Abashiri Family. Not even an army can stop one of their heists, and they're out to rob from the rich and give to anybody in the general vicinity of the bank. But when the patriarch of the family decides to go straight and send Kikunosuke, the first Abashiri daughter born in hundreds of years, to a prestigious boarding school, things turn really ugly. Because--of course--the school is secretly run by a group of sadistic lunatics and the curriculum consists of every variety of torture and murder. As if being a freshman weren't hard enough, it may take the whole family to get her out alive...
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Definitely not one of Go Nagai's best, and considering his reputation for sleazy "classics," that's really not a good sign. An odd mix of ultra-violent, ultra-gross, ultra-silly Technicolor fever-dream introductory episode and a closing half of brutally traumatized students and campus warfare, the whole thing lacks solidity in both its setting and art style, leading to a loosely put together mess of a series. The only bright point is the characters, which, true to Nagai form and helped out by decent Japanese acting, somehow manage to be likable and oddly believable in the face of their bizarre setting.
If--and only if--you're a huge fan of Go Nagai and his over-the-top, lowbrow mayhem, the Abashiri Family might be worth a look, but even then don't get your hopes up.
Full ReviewSwitch to Quick Review
The Abashiri Family definitely isn't one of Go Nagai's best, and since his claim to fame is the master of sleaze and cheese(cake), that's pretty bad. It's also not quite his worst, but despite the potentially amusing premise (which worked for him in Kekko Kamen), it has little of the guilty appeal of dubious "classics" like Cutey Honey or Devilman.
I have two big issues with The Abashiri Family. First, the entire thing lacks any sense of solidity, even by Nagai's rather loose standards. It may not bother some as much as it did me, but there is rarely any sense of place or logic to the world that holds these characters, nor any functional story to help them along. The opening sets up some sort of futuristic social unrest, proceeds through a fever dream of a bank heist (the bank is defended by an entire army and a massive cyborg bank manager in drag), and then throws our heroine into a Generic School From Hell where she progresses through a series of random, evil, superpowered teachers.
Even within the school, although we've been told (and shown) in no uncertain terms that the Abashiri family is capable of wiping out entire armies and the high-schooler-in-distress is the most dangerous of the lot, neither she nor the rest of the family seem to be much beyond the level of the villains. Admittedly, this leads to more drama than the first few minutes had me expecting, but while I usually consider evenly-matched heroes a good thing, I'd have enjoyed this considerably more if they weren't.
Which brings me to the second problem with the Abashiri Family: It's an awkward fusion of the three Nagai series I mentioned earlier. It opens with some very silly and very gross mayhem reminiscent of Cutey Honey, which, although too much like a Saturday Morning Cartoon gone wrong for my taste, got me set up for an exploding-head-a-minute school-from-hell romp. The final three acts of the series, all in the school, have the same premise as Kekko Kamen but try to play it as straight action/drama, a la Devilman. I kept waiting for the gag and "okay, now I'm serious, and you're all dead" fight, neither of which ever really materialize.
Instead, the only attraction is a very-nearly-serious series of tormented students, brutalized heroes, and gory intra-school warfare, none of which makes a whole lot of sense. I never quite took any of it seriously on account of the intro and silly supporting characters (not to mention the fire-breathing teachers), so I didn't get into it as a high-school horror flick. And, any appeal that the series would have had as a comedy (which it has every indication of being at the beginning) is beaten out of it quickly.
Go Nagai's style being what it is, fans may well still be willing to forgive a confused mood and flimsy reality, but I at least didn't even enjoy the story buried in there, leaving nothing worth caring about but a handful of half-decent characters.
Those characters are the only bright spot in The Abashiri Family. This isn't surprising, since putting likable and oddly real-seeming characters into the most nonsensical of situations has always been Nagai's strong point. You sort of have to like Kikunosuke, and the rest of the family in their limited role has a certain appeal as the total cartoon caricatures they are. Kikunosuke's schoolyard friend Yukiko, the one normal girl we get to know, is a fairly believable and sympathetic character, but that's sort of the problem; everyone and everything else is so over the top that it doesn't seem like you should be sympathizing with anybody, so the realistic character in the midst of it all never quite fits.
Visually, the Abashiri Family is much like the rest of the production: chaotic and lacking in solidity. The art has the rough look of Nagai's older anime, and the opening scenes in particular feature gaudy colors, chaotic action, and way-too-loosely-drawn backgrounds galore. The rest gets a little more solid, and the action is fairly well animated (if very poorly choreographed) for something this old, but the backgrounds are still mostly rough and minimal. The scenes also lack a clear sense of space, though that's true of most of Nagai's work and probably won't annoy most people as much as it did me. The character designs are basically Nagai's standbys: A tomboy girl, a meek normal girl, a 3-foot-tall perverted weirdo, and a bunch of big ugly guys. The music isn't worth mentioning either way--not particularly noticeable, but not notably bad either.
Last of all is the acting (Japanese only), which is somewhat above the rest of the production. All the Abashiris are appropriately cast and played far enough over the top to keep up with the wild visuals. The best of the lot is Kikunosuke, whose perfect-fit tomboy voice is supplied by Kyouko Tonguu, best known as Kei from the classic Dirty Pair. The same holds for the generic ruffians at the school--fitting voices and over-the-top acting. There aren't any real dramatic standouts, but Kikunosuke and Yukiko (voiced by Yuri Amano) are both fairly believable in the trauma they go through.
In all, the Abashiri Family is a pretty sorry piece of anime. If you enjoy extremely silly and violent comedies (think "slapstick Fist of the North Star"), then you might enjoy the first 20 minutes, but the other three quarters will be a disappointment. If you're very into schoolyard horror, brutality, and superpowered teacher-student warfare, you might enjoy the second half if you can get through the opening. I didn't enjoy either half, and any appeal one might have had was removed by the other. If you're a huge Go Nagai fan--and only if you're a huge fan--give it a shot, but even then don't get your hopes up.
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As mentioned above, it's somewhat similar to two of Go Nagai's other works, Kekko Kamen (but this one is much more violent and serious) and Devilman (but this one is much sillier). Also bears a bit of resemblance to his Iron Virgin Jun short, which was of marginally better quality. Also, of course, has something in common with every other evil high school show; Battle Royal High School and to a lesser degree Devil Hunter Yohko come to mind.
Notes and Trivia
Based on a several-volume-long early '70s vintage series by Go Nagai, master of over-the-top gore, sleaze, cheese, and cheesecake. He is, among other dubious honors, credited with bringing the "flash of skin during hero transformation sequence" to anime.
The manga was the direct result of widespread PTA protests generated by one of Nagai's earlier manga series, Harenchi Gakuen; it is a sort of over-the-top satire of the cultural war between students and authority figures that resulted from his envelope-pushing stories.
Kikunosuke was the final anime role of veteran voice actress Kyouko Tonguu before her temporary retirement. She's best known for voicing Kei throughout the classic Dirty Pair TV series, OVAs, and movies; she also supplied the voice of Slippy in the Star Fox video games. She has since returned to occasional voice acting.
In 2009 there was a live-action movie produced based on the same characters, distinguished from the anime by its full title "Abashiri Ikka: The Movie."
US DVD Review
No US-release DVD exists as of this writing.
Some gross humor, rather serious student brutality, nudity, and graphic violence all combine to put this one easily in the 16-up category.
Violence: 4 - Rather silly at times, but lots of gore.
Nudity: 3 - Not a lot, but there is some.
Sex/Mature Themes: 3 - Several rather raunchy jokes and innuendo.
Language: 3 - Some swearing in the subtitles.