Oh Manga, how you confuse me. When Squid Girl popped through my door I put it on expecting a romantic comedy series about a cross-dressing man in a girl's dorm, but I soon found that I was thinking of Manga's other nautically named series, Princess Jellyfish. No, Squid Girl is not a romance, but it is a comedy.
Squid Girl is set largely in a Japanese beach café which is unfortunate
enough to be in the path of an invading force from the depths of the ocean.
The denizens of the deep have become enraged with the pollution of the seas, and
the titular Squid Girl has decided the only way to protect her home is to
conquer the surface world and bend humanity to her will. However, she
falls at the first hurdle when her assault on the Lemon Café is halted by one of
the waitresses, and after she damages the building the café's manager Eiko
Aizawa forces her to work
off the cost of the repairs! Now a waitress at the Lemon Café Squid Girl
becomes a hit with the locals and her squid powers prove extremely useful, with
her prehensile tentacle hair enabling her to carry multiple plates at once -
something her new employers mercilessly exploit. However, whilst Squid
Girl may be settling into the human lifestyle she still hasn't given up on world
domination, deciding to start small by conquering the café and making the
workers there her 'undersquids'. This is not going to be as easy a task as
she hopes though, the café is frequented by some unusual characters, including
the owner of a rival café who wants to employ her, a group of American
scientists who think she is an alien and want to study her and a schoolgirl who
has an obsessively unhealthy crush on her. Then there's the café staff.
The youngest Takeru is no problem, and his older sister Eiko is loudmouthed and
short tempered but beatable, but the eldest - the mild mannered and sweet
Chizuru - is another challenge entirely…
It's not often that an out and out comedy anime is released in the UK, so the charming and enjoyable Squid Girl is somewhat refreshing. The series is basically a situation comedy, with the fish-out-of-water farce of Squid Girl trying to come to terms with the human world blended with slapstick and wordplay (you will never hear so many squid puns). Squid Girl's nautical powers are the source of plenty of gags, with her prehensile tentacle hair, photoluminescence and ability to spit out squid ink used to their fullest by the
Aizawa sisters to help their business, whilst they exploit her natural love of shrimp and fear of Chizuru to keep her in check. Her cuteness and strange abilities attract numerous visitors to the café, and much of the comedy revolves around how they react to her. Lifeguard Goro treats her like a child, whilst Eiko's friend Sanae has an obsessive crush on her and surfer Nagisa views her as a genuine threat to humanity, something Squid Girl mercilessly exploits by teasing her constantly. The characters are all pretty good, if obvious comedy archetypes, and they do change somewhat over the course of the series, with Squid Girl settling in to human life and even seemingly one-joke characters like Sanae getting episodes revolving around them. This really helps you to warm to the cast, and despite some quite standard anime comedy subplots (contests with rival cafés, characters with hidden crushes on each other etc) the selection of storylines is pretty good with plenty of funny situations and light-hearted drama.
Visually the series is bright and colourful and there's a
great sense of fun to it which is reminiscent of series like Di Gi Charat
and Lucky Star. Squid Girl is the undoubted star of the show, being
both endearingly innocent yet cheerfully megalomaniacal at the the same time,
and she is at the centre of most of the humour and action. However, what
surprised me is that the series, for all of its light heartedness, is able to
squeeze in a couple of quite moving plotlines. The first of these revolves
around a silent, adorable 6" tall version of Squid Girl and the bond she forms
with one of the characters, whilst the other focuses on Squid Girl's powers
fading. Both plotlines are somewhat surprising but both excellent, giving
the series a little more depth than its lightweight premise suggests. The
dialogue is packed with more squid references that I thought possible, and
although I found the English dub a little grating the actors pull off all of the
puns flawlessly. The opening theme is infuriatingly catchy too.
If I have any problems with Squid Girl it's that it lacks the laugh-out-loud anarchy of series like Excel Saga, and although it is refreshing after the stream of more action-based titles it is quite straightforward anime comedy. It's really good fun but it is amusing rather than hilarious, the characters are great and there are some enjoyable storylines but there's also a lot of unanswered questions left during several episodes. I know this isn't the kind of series to have deep meaning or anything, but there are plot threads about Goro's crush on
Chizuru, a mysterious woman who tries to discourage Squid Girl's conquest and the absence of the Aizawa's parents left dangling. It doesn't matter in the scheme of things but in some cases there are hints given to larger stories that are left unexplored, and this is slightly frustrating.
To be honest though drama and intrigue isn't what Squid Girl is about. The series is about fun and it delivers on a good premise with aplomb, making for a hugely enjoyable anime with a great sense of humour that isn't afraid to inject emotion on occasion. It has an eclectic and entertaining array of characters, plenty of silly situations and some great fish-out-of-water comedy that makes it really entertaining, and Squid Girl herself makes for a really endearing lead. It's largely inoffensive stuff and packs in plenty of slapstick, which would make it a perfect comedy for younger viewers if it wasn't for a few more risqué elements to Sanae's crush on Squid Girl. It's a shame they had to add a slight sexual edge to what seems at first like a fangirl crush, as this kind of moves it away from the audience that would most enjoy it. Nonetheless Squid Girl is a fun, charming and infectiously cheerful anime comedy which is something of a rarity in the UK catalogue. It may lack the sheer inventiveness of some of the more anarchic comedies available here, but for enjoyment it has little equal. Well worth checking out.
The usual clean opening and ending sequences are joined by short video featurettes where the Japanese voice actress for Squid Girl demonstrates folding Squid Girl's trademark hat and talks about the role and a couple of adorable OVA episodes featuring Mini-Squid Girl. Great stuff!