Image source: MBS（毎日放送） on YouTube
He looks cute. He sounds cute. But the jokes are sharp and fast with a healthy dose of good old-fashioned Japanese weirdness in the crazy world of PriPri Chi-chan!!
Recently I wrote about the wildly kinetic children’s gag anime 100% Teacher Pascal. In that article I talked about how the comedy within the show is derived from manzai, the traditional Japanese stand-up comedy format that features a duo made up of a tsukkomi and boke.
Pascal is actually a 15-minute show coupled together with PriPri Chi-chan!! to fill a 30 minute slot. Both are comical cartoons for kids, but while the manzai elements are strong in the former, in the latter one it is a different type of comedy, using exaggerated visuals and ridiculous situations. In particular, the laughs come from the different ways in which the main character, Chi-chan, a tiny, bulbous underground-dweller, is always depicted as being deathly frightened of being found by humans because he might be abducted and then experimented upon, and perhaps dissected. A somewhat odd thematic choice for a show aimed at little girls, right?
In many ways, the slapstick humor and the overall knowingly tongue-in-cheek mood seen in Pri-pri Chi-chan!! is similar to other anime shows that at first glance seem to cater to young girls—such as Onegai My Melody, based on the popular Sanrio character. In that series from 2005, the look and feel is very childish and cute, but some of the storylines and dialogue are very edgy for such a young target age group, and the black humor is almost certainly intentionally catering to the tastes of an older, more cynical audience.
Image source: マイメロディ【公式】 on Twitter
Chi-chan ends up befriending a young schoolgirl who, it turns out, has also taken under her wing an alien from outer space… who, if you think about it, traditionally would be feared by humans, since they are the ones claiming to have been abducted and then experimented upon by extraterrestrials (even though the show itself does not point out this irony explicitly). So clearly there’s a thematic subversion at play that is hilarious in itself, albeit subliminal. The main characteristic of the series is that rather than telling you this, the laughs come from the visual reaction shots (intermittent, increasingly exaggerated close-ups of Chi-chan’s shocked expressions, etc., intercut with other shots), as opposed to the tsukkomi, more dialogue/performance-based comedy of Pascal.
As I mentioned, Chi-chan is so afraid to death of being found by human beings that he is usually depicted with an overly-exaggerated, shocked expression on his face. The humor in this situation comes from his reactions to almost being found out. For example, after leaving his home underground and exploring the human society on the surface, he sneaks into a convenience store to eat some shortcakes and caramel pudding. As it turns out, he eats too much, and this makes him too rotund to be able to go back through the hole he burrowed, that leads back to his underworld home. So, he gets stuck and can neither fit through nor pull himself back out.
Along comes a quiet, helpful girl called Yuka who notices him from behind and walks up to him slowly, looking at him inquisitively. As Chi-chan notices a presence, he slowly turns around… What follows is a sequence of well-timed, but mostly still shots with increasing magnitude of shock and surprise on both of their faces. First, the slow turn. Then, a wide shot showing both of them in frame, staring at each other in shock. Next, a quick close-up of Chi-chan’s face, mouth wide open, face totally pale and drained of warmth. After that, a comparative close-up shot of Yuka’s “What is this thing?” expression. Then, another, even closer shot of Chi-chan’s now morbid state of shock. Of course, this then needs yet another, again, closer response shot of Yuka, still with a look on her face of disbelief and confusion.
The timing is held on this one shot significantly longer than the others, breaking up the rhythm and thus building suspense for what comes next: the emotional explosion of Chi-chan where he flails around in a flurry of screams and then pretty much goes into cardiac arrest, finally accepting his fate and bestowing his goodbyes upon the world.
Later, after Yuka takes him back to her home and explains that she will look after him, he goes to what will now be his “room,” and finds that there is another strange being that she has taken into her care, staring back at him: an alien from outer space. And, once again, their encounter plays out the same as before, with interchanging close-up shots of their respective motionless stares as their brains slowly try to comprehend the situation. As before, the third shot in the sequence is held on unnaturally for buildup before the subsequent explosion of screams and squeals.
Despite running as a double-bill feature with 100% Teacher Pascal, which is also a gag anime, PriPri Chi-chan!! has a completely different comedic sensibility. Both are decidedly bizarre, to be sure, but it’s a great testament to the diversity of the animation medium how they convey their visual jokes.
Since they are broadcast back-to-back, these differences are emphasized, and demonstrate a clear contrast, showing that there are many ways to tell a joke in anime.
PriPri Chi-chan!! is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.