Hozuki’s Coolheadedness

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Tuesday, August 26, 2014

There have always been plenty of anime series that focused on traditional Japanese folklore as well as customs and rituals associated with the country’s culture, but it feels like in recent years the number of shows using this as a story element has increased. I’ve enjoyed quite a few of them, but the majority has gone for a more serious tone. Hozuki’s Coolheadedness takes a lot of these elements and uses them for a dark comedy, and it’s one of the better anime I have watched so far this year. Although I didn’t always pick up on all of the references immediately, this one had a fairly different feel from the other comedy anime I had come across and had enough standout moments to be an enjoyable watch.

Hozuki’s Coolheadedness is set in Hell, or Japanese Hell to be more precise. You see, the Eastern vision of the afterlife and the Heaven/Hell scenario has always been a bit different from the Western view and there are different demons/spirits. King Enma is the one in charge of handing down punishment for the sinners in this version of Hell, and rather than having layers there are a wide range of Hell’s based on what the person did during their life. If someone abused animals, they’re sent straight to Animal Cruelty Hell, where animals chew on them for eternity. There are all kinds of examples like this, and the series lets viewers experience quite a few of them throughout the thirteen episodes.

The main character is Hozuki, the chief of staff to King Enma. What this basically translates to is he is the one in charge of making sure everything is running smoothly and orderly in all parts of Hell. Hozuki enjoys this type of work and seems to poke fun at the Japanese office worker mentality of always working and obsessing over his job, though since he is a demon in Hell there is a bit of a sadistic side to his personality. He’s also a bit quirky, preferring hobbies like visiting Australia and planting goldfish plants (which are actual plants with terrifying looking goldfish at the top instead of flower petals) to what one might expect from demons.

Rather than going for any type of specific storyline, each episode of Hozuki’s Coolheadedness is self-contained and has two different skits per episode, sometimes opting to tie the two together. While this is a dark comedy, it’s not the same as your usual anime comedy where jokes and slapstick elements happen every 15 seconds or so. There are moments where slapstick is involved, particularly when it comes to Hozuki and Enma. Although he is the King of Hell, Enma is actually fairly laid back and downright silly, and Hozuki likes to mess with him for his own amusement. Aside from these moments, a lot of the humor goes for a much subtler approach and there is quite a bit of parodying everyday life and work situations mixed in with spoof of Japanese folklore. For example, one episode has the workers of Hell participating in a sports festival of sorts, but because they’re in Hell everything is over the top and doesn’t go how you’d expect. The humor isn’t always in your face, and I appreciated that.

I’m not completely familiar with some of the characters referenced, as the series puts its own spin on the legend of the peach boy/samurai Momotaro and his three animal companions along with some others that tie into established Japanese legends and folklore. Sentai’s subtitles do a decent job of pointing out some of these references, but to fully get some of the jokes based around these characters viewers may have to do a little bit of outside research. It’s not nearly as hard to figure out as some of the other shows that rely heavily on Japan’s culture, but I thought it was worth noting. Aside from these characters, viewers will spend much of their time watching Hozuki and some of the other staff of Hell. Hozuki’s an interesting choice of main character, as he’s very straight laced and shrugs off most of the absurdities of Hell. But he can also be quite devious and when this kicks up the dark humor is at its best. The supporting cast isn’t quite as memorable, serving more to enhance the skits rather than truly having their own personality. The exceptions to this are Hakutaku, Hozuki’s rival from Shangri-La, and the leaders of European Hell, who showcase just how different Eastern and Western culture can really be. And where else can you get jokes revolving around a bunny with a murderous taste for revenge or a Hell that looks like a brothel?

Going too much further into the individual jokes and scenarios would ruin much of the fun of the series, so I’m going to stop there. While it didn’t quite make me laugh quite as often as some of the other anime that are focused on comedy, Hozuki’s Coolheadedness still remained quite appealing for its entire run. When it wasn’t throwing dark humor at you it was enjoyable just to take in all the sights and sounds that all of the different Hell’s had to offer. This is a very stylish series, and a different type of anime for Wit Studio following Attack on Titan. The studio did a great job of bringing everything to life, and there are a lot of small details in each scene that make it really enjoyable to watch. Each area of Hell really looks different, and while the overall look and feel does capture some distinctively Japanese styles it also has a very sleek feel as well. Comedy series sometimes skimp on animation a bit in hopes that the viewer will be too busy laughing or trying to keep up with some of the rapid fire jokes to notice, but this one had consistent animation that drew me in and kept me interested in between the humor.

Hozuki’s voice actor is one of the main reasons this show is so appealing, as he delivers a stellar performance. The voiceover work really helps paint Hozuki as a serious yet sadistic character, and the way that he is able to deliver a punchline as the perfect moment after showing almost no reaction before is a big reason why this series won me over. There are some familiar voices in the rest of the cast, but I wouldn’t say that there was any particular voice actor/actress that truly stood out. But again, I think this is more because of the script itself and the way it uses the supporting cast as a means to flesh out the world and lead into some of the jokes. What I was hooked on was the music though, as both the opening and ending themes are very enjoyable in different ways. The intro song makes it clear this is going to be a unique show, as it has all of the workers of Hell singing a lighthearted tune that contrasts perfectly with the subject matter. Sumire Uesaka’s ending track “Parallax View” also had me hooked, and it’s likely to become one of my favorite anime intro/ending songs from this year.

This is a series that isn’t for everyone, as it’s unique take on Buddhist and Shinto views of the afterlife combined with its darker humor will require a specific type of viewer to fully appreciate. But I found that it matched up with my tastes, and even though I didn’t always have the knowledge to fully grasp all the references the writers were throwing at me, I enjoyed watching Hozuki’s Coolheadedness and found that it felt different from all of the comedy anime I’ve seen before. Give the first episode a shot, and if you find yourself laughing at the scenarios and wanting to see what all the locations of Hell and supporting cast have to offer chances are good this will be one you’ll want to stick with.

http://www.sentaifilmworks.com/
http://www.hulu.com/hozukis-coolheadedness
http://www.crunchyroll.com/hozuki-no-reitetsu

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