Etotama is the insane and wickedly cute acid trip you never knew you wanted to be on until it was over. From the very beginning, this anime grabs you by the hand and leads you down the rabbit hole of its self-deprecating imagination. Etotama‘s main goal is to brute-force you along lest you begin asking too many questions.
While Etotama has elements from several different genres, not least of all harem and action, it’s best approached with the understanding that the series is a satire. It will use one played-to-death trope just to change the cliche outcome and subvert your expectations. “Romantic” scene where girl waits for guy to stumble upon her in the bath? Does our boy Takeru blush, stutter an apology, and cover his pathetic nosebleed? Of course not, he’s too stupid. He grabs the girl by the head, shakes her, and threatens to call the police on her for breaking and entering.
While Takeru’s innocent rebuffs of the affection being showered on him aren’t exactly how many of us might react, it’s a particularly important plot point that a great number of the characters are genuinely stupid people to the point that they should probably be wearing rubber helmets. When Takeru finds “Nya-tan” in his house and asks her where she came from, he doesn’t question it when she points to a hole in the floor that goes to the realm of the gods. When twelve goddesses show up to battle for his gratitude, he watches impassively. When those battles result in the destruction of his house and it spontaneously reappears intact a scene later, his reaction is, “I’m tired so I won’t think too much about it.”
Not thinking about it is what Etotama is all about. The animal aspects of the Chinese zodiac show up (through a portal in Takeru’s floor) to watch as the cat aspect, Nya-tan, tries to earn her place as a proper Zodiac goddess. To do this, she’ll need to defeat all the rest of the goddesses in combat to earn their seals. In order to fight, she has to store up energy from “proper emotions” like joy and gratitude. Wouldn’t you know it, Takeru happens to have the tastiest and most powerful spiritual energy, so the would-be harem are constantly trying to trick him into thinking they’re doing nice things for him to leech his spirit energy, called Soruraru (or “Sol/Lull” as people have been horribly, illegibly transliterating it).
Nya-tan’s imbecilic nature is chalked up to amnesia (oh boy it’s that plot). Well, partially. She is, after all, just inherently moronic in her own right. When an attempt to trick Takeru fails, Nya-tan says she’s “so embarrassed I wish I could just crawl into a hole.” With Takeru’s help, Nya-tan actually finds a hole and crawls into it. She doesn’t even remember why she wants to be in the zodiac in the first place and it really doesn’t matter after about a quarter of an episode anyway.
The series is very keen on making fun of itself. When the boar (who incidentally is the smallest girl) shows up out of nowhere to explain what’s happening to Takeru, he expressly points out that she’s an exposition character. The joke runs through multiple episodes, with the boar aspect pulling out chalkboards to explain plot elements and other characters seeing if they can hold their breaths through her explanations. Ridiculous as things like this seem, they’re all effective efforts to get the show rolling swiftly.
The battles for the seals are where things get truly insane. In the spirit of poking fun at itself, Etotama dubs the human bodies “adult form” and their chibi battle mode as “pretty form.” Having enough spirit power to transform involves hopping into a TV screen, running down a rainbow bridge lined with glowing Shinto gateways, terrifying giggling, and spirit energy exploding into flying animals. Etotama is the single biggest “because [reasons]” anime in the history of anime, but the resultant battles are almost entirely CGI and play out like a Marvel vs. Capcom light show. It’s a little awkward to transition completely into CGI for the god realm, but it’s also not poor aesthetically and the fighting speed and choreography are quite intense. To a degree, it feels like the rest of the show is filler while you wait on the appropriately impressive battles of the gods.
The anime succeeds at being a self-mocking commentary on several genres in its own right, but some of the humor is going to be lost on the casual Western audience. Aside from simple cultural bits of knowledge like the significance of the “-tan” honorific, there’s a great deal of humor lost to basic language puns. Not just in Nya-tan’s name and incessant insertion of the word “nyaa” after everything, but genuinely clever back-to-back plays on words that are destroyed in translation.
In keeping with the spirit of the anime, the intro is a combination of sweet guitar jams and grating singing that somehow manages to be terrible-but-infectious, which is basically a metaphor for the entire show. However, the end roll is so sleepy that it actually features images of the characters napping. Presumably, they all need to sleep off the drugs that went into making the show. In a number of ways, Etotama is a rising star in what we call the “no one and everyone” demographic. It’s impossible to make an honest recommendation for the series as something you need in your life, but it’s also not something most people are going to loathe if they’ve got a mild sense of humor or knowledge of the anime tropes being ground to dust. It’s fun and uplifting, but it’s also firmly in the “so bad it’s good” sort of skippable fare that you have to approach with your eyes open and expectations low.
Recommendation: Has potential!
Original Source: Manga
Source Writer: Takashi Hoshi, Touru Zeku
Source Publisher: ASCII Media Works
Director: Fumitoshi Oizaki, Takamitsu Hirakawa
Writer: Deko Akao
Run Start: 04/2015
Review Date: 05/2015
Episodes Reviewed: 01-02