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Gosenzo-sama Banbanzai!

Most people who are familiar with Mamoru Oshii’s works tend to first think of shows like Ghost in the Shell, Patlabor, and Urusei Yatsura...maaaaaybe Angel’s Egg. One series that flies under the radar for quite a few people is Gosenzo-sama Banbanzai, arguably one of his most experimental efforts. It examines the Japanese family unit while being presented in an almost theatrical, play-like manner. This OVA is by no means an easy watch and may require more than one viewing to absorb everything. Nevertheless, it is very interesting with a story worth experiencing, while being a window into a very different side of Oshii and what he’s capable of.

Gosenzo-sama Banbanzai is the story of a typical Japanese family, the Yomotas. The father, Kinekuni, works hard all week to provide for everyone, but doesn’t really have much say as to what happens at home, ultimately feeling powerless. The son, Inumaru, is a teenager and going through all of the trials and tribulations that come with that period in a person’s life. Finally, there is the mother, Tamiko, who is the bedrock of the home, making sure the family is functioning properly. This all gets thrown for a loop when a young girl, Marako, knocks on their door claiming to be the granddaughter of Inumaru, having travelled from the future to visit him.

It’s a preposterous notion and the show plays with it throughout. There is plenty of reason to believe that she’s nothing more than a con artist with ulterior motives. Then again, it is an anime, so anything is possible. The series doesn’t pick a side and leaves it to the viewer’s imagination. However, the Yomota’s are firmly divided into two camps. Kinekuni and Inumaru immediately accept her has family once she provides some proof that she is one of their descendants. Meanwhile, Tamiko ever cautious to protect the family, doubts Marako and thinks she’s a swindler, eventually leaving the family to hire a PI and unlock the mysterious girl’s secrets. While doubts may linger as to Marako’s origins, one thing is certain: she has a massively destabilizing impact on the family. As the six episodes play out, viewers watch the gradual collapse of the Yomotas.

As mentioned earlier, Gosenzo-sama Banbanzai is a dense watch. This is because characters are constantly breaking into fairly long soliloquies explaining their situation or ideas. Moreover, when they do this they talk quite fast and cover a lot of ground. As such, it can be tough to keep up with what they’re trying to get across. Much of what is covered is a commentary on the Japanese family unit, and general customs common to the culture. Each member of the Yomota family is an archetype of the Japanese family, being what many would consider a typical father, mother, and son from that part of the world. They play their roles in life while also being aware of some of the contradictions, absurdities, and drawbacks that come with towing the line. Part of them wants to fulfil their expected societal role to the best of their abilities, but part of them also wants to break away from that. Marako acts as an opportunity to break away, and as Kinekuni and Inumaru attempt to follow this tempting path, the Yomotas begin their journey toward destruction. This is brought into even sharper focus given that each episode begins with a mock documentary about a different type of bird. These show how the animals follow their predetermined roles and thrive, while the Yomotas do not and fall apart.

Story isn’t the only departure from typical anime that one will see here, as the art style is quite unique as well. Most of the characters almost look like marionettes, further playing into how many of them feel like they are playing a role that is dictated by others. On top of this, various characters make appearances in different scenes in very unusual ways. A door may materialize out of nowhere, or they’ll just lift the backdrop and walk through. Coca Cola, Nikon, and Kodak also regularly appear throughout the series through giant billboards, cans, and a blimp. It’s so in-your-face that one has to wonder if they’re meant to be more than simple product placement (or maybe that's all it is, and how the OVAs got funded).

It’s also worth noting that from time to time, characters express themselves through song in Gosenzo-sama. In particular, Tamiko and her PI lover have a nice duet in episode five, and Inumaru regularly recounts tales of his past in episode six. While music is spares throughout this anime, when it does make an appearance, it’s actually quite nice.

All-in-all, Gosenzo-sama Banbanzai probably won’t be for everybody. The dense nature of the storytelling is likely to be a roadblock for some, as it can take some time to properly digest everything the character is saying and the larger implications thereof. Those who can get past this have a real treat of an OVA series, though. Mamoru Oshii has developed a reputation for a certain flavor of anime over the years, but this is something comparatively different. It’s not for everyone, and isn’t trying to be. Those looking for something unique and a bit challenging should give this series a look, though.

- IroIro
November 15, 2019

Directed by: Mamoru Oshii
Studio: Studio Pierrot
Released: 1989 / 90
Episodes: 6

Gosenzo-sama Banbanzai Image 1
DVD Cover

Gosenzo-sama Banbanzai Image 2
Father and son prepare for battle

Gosenzo-sama Banbanzai Image 3
Tamiko and her PI lover

Gosenzo-sama Banbanzai Image 4
Marako, the source of the Yomotas' troubles