Alex is a School of Visual Arts graduate with a passion for media, writing and animation. He writes reviews for film, television, and games.
Sawai's Bizarre Creation Comes Alive
Have you ever watched a television show or a movie that is so stupid that you find it legitimately entertaining? We have all heard the phrases "so bad, it's good" or a "guilty pleasure" in our lives. But, there has always been a form of escapism where we turn off our brains and have fun with it. Nothing insulting nor offensive.
Japan has always provided many forms of media and entertainment value. We are familiar with iconic franchises and the tropes found in either manga or anime. Yes, some are characterized as either "cliched" or "stupid" yet they always had redeeming values. However, you have to be creative beyond the extent of your imagination for a series that is so stupid and ridiculous that it was given its own visual identity. Even the title would go far to make a name for itself: Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo.
Listen to this premise: In the near-apocalyptic future, the Maruhage Empire (Chrome Dome Empire in English) has taken over the world where its Hair Hunter troops shaved their victims' heads and towns in ruins. Luckily, one man named Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo has risen up to protect the world's hair and fights the empire using his nose hairs.
You're probably wondering: "Who was on drugs to come up with a synopsis like this?" This was actually created by manga artist Yoshio Sawai. Sawai started his career drawing one-shot manga panels for Shonen Jump magazine, which involved satire and visual gags. Soon after, he began experimenting by creating characters with bizarre fighting techniques, including toilet humor. The idea then struck Sawai when he decided to pitch a manga that parodied Shonen Jump's then-popular franchise Fist of the North Star. Personally, I never read or watched that series but it conceptually shares the premise: a martial artist fighting against evildoers to protect the innocent in a dystopian world. After adding a few more characters, Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo launched in 2001.
Eventually, an anime adaptation aired from 2003 to 2005 in Japan and was later dubbed into English in North America from 2005 to 2007. I remembered like it was yesterday when I tuned into Cartoon Network. There was a promo highlighting new episodes and presenting upcoming shows for their programming blocks. For their anime programming block Toonami, Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo was among the announcements. Admittedly, the name alone caught my attention. As memory serves me, the first episode aired twice and the rest of the episodes aired only once. Sadly, the show was broadcasted late at night and I tried to stay up watching it. I only managed to watch some of the episodes. All the episodes were eventually uploaded online years later, but they were only the broadcasted English versions with the Cartoon Network watermark. In terms of home media, I'll talk about that prolonged process later.
While there may be comparisons between the manga and the anime, this article will primarily focus on the anime itself. Plus, the video clips I'm sharing are from the Cartoon Network version instead of the uncut dub because Toei Animation is very protective of its properties being uploaded on YouTube.
Wild and Wacky Parody Over Narrative
Watching this anime with a straight face is no easy task. As previously mentioned, the show is about a heroic man fighting against an evil kingdom by using his nose hairs as weapons. It is unimaginable how a concept as weird as that would grab anyone's attention. In fact, even if you took that out of the equation, the story is considered nonexistent. The show focuses so much on comedy that anyone unfamiliar with anime would feel confused or exasperated as Beauty is. Sometimes, the jokes or characters would drag the pacing so long, that it is impossible to remember what happened in each episode. Not to mention that it gets formulaic or repetitive at times whether it is fighting the episode of the week's villain or an enemy becoming an ally. It would be tiring after a while with so many enemies that the main characters have to face. Granted, there are some serious villains that the heroes have a difficult time battling. Then again, other villains from certain episodes are too goofy to be characterized as "dangerous", which is why the latter would join Bo-bobo's side instead. Even when something remotely interesting is about to occur, the show brushes off aside for more comedy. With so much style over substance, it is clear that the anime is not suitable for anyone without a sense of humor.
With all that said, anyone who is an avid anime fan would know this show is a parody and is highly cognizant of it. It knows it is stupid and it knows it doesn't make sense, thanks to its brilliant fourth-wall-breaking. There's no better example than how the show literally began its first episode with a recap that is completely unconnected to the narrative and one of the characters reminds its narrator that is a pilot, not a rerun. That moment alone kickstarts the wild world we are entering. Unpredictable is the best word to describe its comedy. It is one of those shows where you have to expect the unexpected. Besides the fourth-wall-breaking, the visuals heavily drive the humor more than the story and dialogue. It delivers more laughs than comprehension. It even gives its own form of world-building on who these characters are, how they master their techniques (i.e. Hajike a.k.a. Wiggin' Out), and the locations they visit. The anime definitely pokes fun at tropes that are common in the genre: overpowered characters, filler arcs, fanservice, shouting attack names, etc. While this series was intended to lampoon Fist of the North Star, it also parodied other well-known franchises, including Dragon Ball for its "Fusion" concept and character designs. One time, Yugi from Yu-Gi-Oh! made a surprise guest appearance as a summon from Bo-bobo! ...But, he only appeared in the manga and was changed into a different attack in the anime due to obvious copyright reasons.
There are numerous differences between manga and anime worth mentioning. Before I discuss the English version, the biggest difference between anime and manga is the tone. Since I was more accustomed to its anime version, I was shocked to discover that the former was graphically violent and adult-orientated. The fighting scenes are so brutal and bloody that even characters that don't have human organs bleed! It is possibly due to the concept itself being based on Fist of the North Star to keep both the mature and violent tone consistent. Guess the joke was on us millennials.
The anime was more slapstick-focused and changed some characters to look more appealing to younger audiences. For instance, one henchman character was a pack of cigarettes in the manga and was altered to a chocolate bar in the anime. Having slapstick comedy over graphic violence actually fits into the anime's off-beat nature. Actually, when you really think about it (and I'm sure I'm not the only one), anyone without anime experience would view this show as a Japanese mix of Looney Tunes and Ren & Stimpy. In fact, some of the characters took influence from Looney Tunes. The main character always outsmarts his foes and sometimes cross-dresses while the other main character is egocentric yet kooky while craving attention in desperate or selfish matters.
The English version is an interesting case. Back when Toonami aired the show, it almost fell under the same category as any other anime at the time where they were heavily edited and "Americanized" to be more suitable for younger Western audiences without Eastern substance. The easiest example was 4Kids Entertainment where they over-sugarcoated Pokémon and One Piece by calling riceballs "doughnuts" or censoring anything adult-oriented. For the latter, it also aired around the same as Bo-bobo. But back to Bo-bobo, the English version was more ab-libbed with extra dialogue provided by the narrator, made changes to characters' names and objects, and relied on puns or wordplay. It may sound excessive to some, but it is executed more subtly than one may assume. Remember when I said this version almost fell under that category? Well, while 4Kids misunderstood the integrity of their programming for profit over priority, Bo-bobo managed to stay to the spirit of the source material rather than fully translating the Japanese version. This show was never meant to be taken seriously, so it's not only passable but credible. With all the uncut English episodes available on home media, they are worth watching over the broadcasted versions since they were edited and allotted for time constraints.
Once you get past the weirdness, this anime is a one-of-a-kind experience.
All-Out Visuals and Energetic Animation
If you think the concept alone is weird, then the artistry exceeds anyone's expectations to a creative degree. The animation was provided at Toei Animation studio known for their works for Dragon Ball, Digimon, Sailor Moon, and more. Being familiar with this company, they've always had great production values when adapting anime, in terms of character designs and action sequences. This show was no exception. So, how does one visually craft a concept called Bo-bobo? Simple: do whatever you want and let your imaginations run wild.
While some characters have a simplistic or generic anime look to them, there are key characters who have distinctive looks that visually stand out from the crowd. With the anime being a parody, there was plenty of effort and creativity put into the many characters' designs and their fighting techniques. There are so unimaginable that I dare not go into too much detail because the build-up and punchlines fit appropriately into the humorous tone. The most memorable highlight in the animation is when Bo-bobo fuses with his allies Dragon Ball-style into whatever form they become.
Of course, being a television series, the character animation would be limited. However, when the comedic energy kicks in, the frame rate speeds up whenever a battle occurs or any of the characters make a facial expression. As cliched as the latter sounds, the characters' reactions are so exaggerated that they leave out a variety of emotions and facial features that leave out a laugh. Beauty and Don Patch are prime examples of having over-the-top facial animations. Speaking of battles, they are fast-paced and dynamic throughout the series. The visual humor even enhances the fighting whether one of the characters performs one of their moves or the aftermath of the attack's effect. In other words, the hero would trick his foe and outshines with a surprisingly effective or out-of-nowhere move. A kung-fu version of Looney Tunes, if you will. Sometimes, the scenery would briefly change or the show would literally interrupt the fight with its segments to confuse the opponent. Yes, this show has segments. The most notable one is "Bo-bobo Theater" where the show randomly plays micro movies. They usually are characters' flashbacks or a scenario that has no relevance to the plot whatsoever. Another occasional segment is "Bo-bobo Fortune Teller" where Japanese viewers, at the time, have finger dolls, play rock, paper, scissors with Bo-bobo, and tell their fortune in the end whether they win or lose. A cute and interactive idea, to say the least.
With the anime being more slaphappy, its art direction is colorful and appealing to give this "post-apocalyptic" future a friendlier manner to compliment the parody genre. As early as the show started, the characters visit basic-looking areas like forests and villages or festivals. Later on, the world becomes more immersive when the heroes enter the villains' hideouts. It is a clever idea that the Chrome Dome Empire has enemy block bases from A to Z. They started out as simple hideouts, but then there are visually diverse locations that leave a humorous yet threatening degree. A-Block, in particular, is an amusement park where its rides look harmless enough for patrons but are secretly traps or set-ups for the characters to battle. Sometimes, the characters would end up in different worlds or dimensions that are associated with the hero or villain's abilities. One involves a battlefield where fighters must launch at each other from cannons while avoiding bear traps on the ground. Another recurring dimension is "Bo-bobo World" where the main characters act more stupid and random than usual and its illogical nature renders their opponents powerless. Check out this clip below; it has to be seen to be believed.
Anywho, the only criticism I have with the backgrounds is that conceptually speaking, there are repetitive locations where the heroes visit that as amusement parks, including A-Block redecorated later on in the series to look different. Sure, the exceution helps them visually distinguishable in context to the story and characters. Yet, it would've helped make the areas more different than the naked eye.
The animators really made the most out of their creative energy into giving this show a visual identity.
Crazy, Chaotic Yet Charismatic Characters
What's a television show without its cast of characters? The catch is that there is a Bible-sized cast of characters and this capsule would take an eternity to talk about! Seriously, the show throws so many characters at you including one-time characters that have backstories whether necessary or not to the narrative! But, for the sake of quality and time, I'm only going to talk about the main cast, recurring characters, and villains.
If you want an example of a character that is unpredictable as the show itself, look no further than Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo himself. He is one of the survivors of the Hair Kingdom after the Chrome Dome Empire attacked his home. Swore to protect all hair everywhere, Bo-bobo rebels against the evil empire using his Fist of the Nose Hair technique. His personality is so vague that even the rest of the characters can't figure it out. While Bo-bobo has a good and caring demeanor, he would sometimes get sidetracked or even abuses his own teammates during battles. Sure, anyone without context would characterize him as an eccentric prick. In the show's defense, however, Bo-bobo is a man full of surprises. As I mentioned, he always outwits his enemies with secret or surprising attacks that are impossible to predict, on par with the show's nature. In fact, manga and anime experts have recently declared him the strongest protagonist in Shonen Jump history, surpassing Goku and other iconic characters. I couldn't agree more.
One by one, Bo-bobo would gather a variety of allies to aid him on his quest against tyranny. Beauty is a kind young lady who dreams of adventure. Though she spoofs the damsel-in-distress archetype, she is one of the few characters with logic and common sense in his topsy-turvy world. She may be considered the avatar for anyone with a straight mindset when watching this show. Don Patch is the former happy-go-lucky leader of the Hajike Gang (Wiggin' Gang in English). Similar to Bo-bobo, he is unexpectedly strong due to his Wiggin' powers and skills when fighting alone or alongside his friends. Yet, Don is more reckless and self-centered when he starves for attention and tries to hog the camera as the "main character." In other words, he's like a Japanese version of Daffy Duck. Heppokamaru (Gasser in English) is the punk boy that admires Bobobo and has a secret crush on Beauty. He is the second to sane when compared to Beauty since Gasser tries to master his Fist of the Backwind technique, which is attacking by farting. Softon is the serious and mysterious man whose pink swirled-head is not what you think it is (though the manga is guilty when comparing his design) and uses the Fist of Goddess Blabs-A-Lot. Hatenko is the cool dude with the ability to freeze enemies by "locking" them with keys and an obsession with Don Patch.
Some of his teammates are reformed villains he encounters on his travels. The most redeemed baddie is Tokoro Tennosuke (Jelly Jiggler in English). After living a boring supermarket life, this gelatinous man joined the Chrome Dome Empire as A-Block's general. But, after being defeated and purchased by Bo-bobo, Jelly Jiggler became his long-running friend. He can be very humorous whether he demands to be eaten or tries using his "lucky" handkerchief. Other former foes include the often ignored "cute mascot" Denkagu Man, the self-proclaimed "Wiggin' King" Rice, the loyal tour guide Suzu, and the hypocritical Torpedo Girl who attacks anyone making a joke (despite joking around on occasion) and has an obsessive crush on Softon. We also get gag characters like the legendary King Nosehair and the undercover Serviceman who gives the term "fan service" a whole different meaning.
Even when the series had a formulaic run with the heroes fighting a mix of odd and formidable henchmen, there have been dangerous villains that put up more of a challenge. The main antagonist is Tsuru Tsurulina IV (Czar Baldy Bald IV in English). Out of sheer honesty, he doesn't appear as prominently as in the show alluded to him. In fact, without spoiling, Baldy Bald IV acts more like a punchline to a joke in spite of his authoritative status. On the brighter side, there have been a handful of villains that make up for it. These consist of Bo-bobo's jealous and former childhood friend Gunkan (Captain Battleship in English), the violent scissor-wielding warrior OVER, the wealthy tycoon Halekulani, and the cruel art collector Giga.
What helps match the quality of the over-the-top tone is the voice acting. Yes, the characters are difficult to decipher but the actors really have a lot of charisma to give their roles strangely charming personalities. Nostalgically speaking, many of the voice actors have previously worked together on the Digimon dub and each one naturally matches their character with ease. Richard Epcar's deep, masculine voice encompasses Bobobo's machoness. Kirk Thornton has a wide range of vocal deliveries when he "wigs out" as Don Patch. The late Philece Sampler carries her sincere nature onto Beauty yet goes the extra mile when reacting or spectating the madness. The most noteworthy actor is Michael McConnohie as the Narrator. Out of all of the characters, the Narrator provides more ab-libbing in the English dub as opposed to the original version. Conceptually, it sounds intrusive and would ruin the mood of certain scenes. In terms of execution, his voice helps remind the audience that the show is self-aware and brings out huge laughs on how meta or his presence would interrupt the story, much to the characters' dismay.
It is quantity over quality for sure. However, these crazy characters found a way to keep the viewer entertained throughout its entirety.
A Genuine and Splendorous Soundtrack
If you listen to the soundtrack without any context, the music alone is a godsend and catchy to listen to. When you watch an episode of the show, the soundtrack is wholesomely effective to the show's goofiness. It knows how to play an optimistic, dramatic, lively, or suspenseful mood.
The show's opening songs would even sum up this anime in a nutshell. The first OP is Wild Challenger by Jindou. Its rock n' roll music and rapid-fire visuals are so enthusiastic and fun that they will leap you off the edge of your seat. From episode 33 onwards to the end, the second OP is Baka Survivor by the Ulfuls. Unlike the previous song, it lacks vigorous energy but stands out on its own merit, thanks to the solid lyrics, showcasing the cast, and a motivational yet self-referential message of pulling through during the toughest times. On a side note, when Cartoon Network aired the show, it played "Wild Challenger" as its only intro while "Baka Survivor" would briefly be heard on occasional episodes. Heck, their credits sequence is where they took the "Baka Survivor" opening with a blue filter and a different song over it.
For its ending songs, there have been a couple of nice side dishes to the soundtrack. From episodes 1 to 19, Shiawase by Mani Laba is a sweet melody that leaves out calm and positive vibes, considering that the title is Japanese for "happiness." It is also soothing seeing Beauty watching the night sky while the characters pass by till Bo-bobo sits next to her in the end. That scenario is admittedly heartwarming to watch. Kirai Tune by Freeform plays from episodes 20 to 32. Out of all the ending songs, it is the least memorable. I'm saying it's not a bad song by all means. But, given the context of the show, it feels out of place and sounds like it should be played for another anime. I'll give the ending scene credit that it is kind of cute seeing the gang relax and having a picnic together. However, the final ending song H.P.S.J. (Hip Pop Step Jump) by mihimaru GT really starts cranking up the beat. It is the most tuneful number I've heard in any anime. Nothing visually ends an episode of the show where all the characters put up a show for the audience to sing and dance. It is so upbeat that the characters themselves really get into the song.
Once in a while, the characters would break into song but are mostly short for comedic purposes. One specific episode involved a character that has supernatural yet silly singing abilities that took the majority of that episode to defeat the villain of the week.
For a show that goes off the rails with illogical humor, there's surprisingly polished music that makes fans and non-fans go off the rails with excitement.
Sadly, the anime ran for seventy-six episodes and ended on a cliffhanger. I won't spoil what happens, but all I can say is that the story was starting to become direr when a powerful force stepped in and made things darker than what our heroes anticipated. The pacing felt like this was going to be their most epic battle yet. After that, the show got canceled.
To this day, there has never been an official confirmation on why the anime ended. In Japan, the manga sold well, it spawned a sequel and a series of video games developed by Hudson Soft. The closest Bo-bobo has ever appeared in video games outside of Japan was being a playable character in the crossover fighting game J-Stars Victory VS. The manga was also commercially successful in the U.S. and gathered a strong cult following. Some assume that the ending was planned that way to relish in on the parody aspect. That could be a strong possibility. However, it is believed that, despite its popularity among children, Japanese parents complained that the show was "too violent" and led to the show's shortcomings. That is honestly hard for me to believe since the original manga was more violent than what the show provided. If that's the case, other anime like Dragon Ball Z or One Piece would get a pass on how violent their shows are. Hypocrisy at its finest.
Even though the show ended, the manga continued from then on. Upon reading the chapters afterward, I was honestly impressed by how much depth the characters developed and how intense yet humorous the battles got. I honestly wished this show kept going. But, those chances of a revival and reunion are highly slim, since a couple of the actors have retired or are no longer living.
Overall, I think this anime holds up well, regardless of how idiotic this premise is. The story would be hard to follow for anyone with so much randomness and padding thrown at them. Then again, as a satirical anime, its visual humor, imaginative and zealous animation, fascinatingly outlandish characters, and unbelievable glorious music, this show proved to be a special breed in Japanese animation. The best way I would recommend this series to anime fans and those that enjoy either parodies, slapstick comedy, and lighthearted fun.
Bo-bobo had quite a difficult journey on home media than in the show itself. The first nine bilingual episodes were originally on DVD licensed by Ilumitoon Entertainment, but the rest of the releases were canceled after a distribution deal ended. In 2012, S'more Entertainment released all the episodes on DVD in two separate 4-disc volume sets. Despite having all the episodes in both Japanese and English, the Japanese version lacked subtitles due to production costs, and the scripts PDFS had to be downloaded via computer DVD drives. But then in 2018, Discotek Media bought the licensing rights and launched the series on SD Blu-ray set. It is the definitive home media set for anime fans and collectors out there. Not only does it provide subtitles for the Japanese track, but it also bonus features that include a Japanese-exclusive recap episode, featurettes, and commercials for Bo-bobo media. Better late than never, as they say.
Who knew that a show that could be so weird, stupid, and random could lead to something this unexpectedly funny?