Squid Girl Review
The Japanese have a somewhat complicated relationship with the sea, and with good reason. The island nation is under constant imminent threat of one day disappearing entirely behind the waves. Recent natural disasters have emphasised its precarious position, seismic activity generating tsumamis, leading to potential nuclear meltdown, the depths of the sea throwing up bizarre and never before seen species of creatures onto its shores in the aftermath, creatures like Godzilla and Giant Squid Monsters causing incredible devastation. I may be straying from fact into fiction in this description, but one sea creature that Japan at least doesn't have to worry too much about is Squid Girl!
Turning up on the beach one day, Squid Girl has appeared as an emissary of the sea. With deadly tentacles of power, reach and precision stretching medusa-like from her blue hair, Squid Girl is heading up an inkvasion of the Earth and she's going to make mankind suffer for their pollution of the seas. Time to get kracken. As the sole member of the invasion force, she may however have underestimated the amount of man-power (or squid-power) required to overthrow and rule 3.4 billion people, even with the assistance of the few disciples she gains on the beach, so in the meantime she settles for using the Lemon Beach House food shack as a base while she plans her operations for world domination. Which is fine with the two Aizawa sisters, Eiko and Chizeru, who run the café, as long as she helps out serving customers and supplying them with black squid ink for their spaghetti dishes as payment for the hole she has put in their wall.
And, basically, after this set-up in the first episode, that's about as far as Squid Girl's plans for inkvasion go in the entire twelve episodes of the series. Each of the episodes is moreover broken down into shorter adventures, usually three sequences in each of the 20-odd minute episodes, which doesn't really allow for great development of continuity for the overall premise. Rather the episodes are more along the lines of knockabout comedy routines featuring the colourful and eccentric characters that populate the beach and visit, or even work in, the Lemon Beach House. There's Nagisa, who is unwarrantedly terrified of Squid Girl; Sanae, a young fangirl who has an enormous crush on "Squiddie"; Goro the good-natured musclebound lifeguard; Cindy the US paranormal researcher and her three scientist colleagues who believe Squid Girl is an alien and want to conduct experiments on her; and there's a few other minor figures who pop up now and again. There's also the intense and violent Eiko and the deceptively easy-going mystery that is Chizuru to contend with. Plenty of material, in other words, for lots of fun incidents, accidents and misunderstandings, but not much in the way of global destruction and domination.
Squid Girl, as you can probably judge from that description then, is very much a kids' anime series. Squid Girl herself is really nothing more than an irritating, precocious, attention-seeking 7 year-old - with tentacles. She's inquisitive, jealous, wants to be taken seriously, has odd ideas about how things work, doesn't react well to being ill or being stuck in the house on a rainy day. It's hardly the stuff of world domination, is it? Other episodes - other than those dealing with the weird characters on the beach - relate to her drawing skills, her sports ability playing baseball, encountering "demon" dolls called Johnny and Depp, finding umbrellas an object of fascination and her discovery of make-up. "Looks like Squid Girl's got an interest in makeup", one of the sister's says. "Whatever else she is, she's still a girl". Indeed. In fact, she's more Girl than Squid.
Sometimes she does use the powers in her tentacles - and the effect is terrifically animated, it must be said - but mostly she is just irritating. As Eiko also observes in episode 12, when Squid Girl loses the abilities of her tentacles, "Without your special powers, you'll be nothing but an annoying brat". Sorry, but even with them - since they are hardly employed for anything more than to show that she has special talents - Squid Girl is still an annoying brat for most of the episodes. To compound the problem, you should be warned that the word "squid" becomes an all-purpose verb that Squid Girl finds suitable to use freely for any occasion, along with other fishy puns. It's ink-redible. Does this get gilly annoying? You'd better squidding believe it.
To be fair to Squid Girl however, I'd have to admit that I'm probably not the target audience for the series. As a kids' show, it has plenty of variety and entertainment, the three-adventure episodes tailored perfectly even for those with limited attention spans. And, since it's not an American show, it doesn't feel the need to wrap everything up with a nice, neat moral lesson learnt, but remains good cheeky fun. It's also nicely drawn - the character designs are simple, but super-cute, and the animation itself is quite good, particularly, as I say, when Squid Girl stretches out her tentacles. On the other hand, there's nothing new here, and it doesn't really make the most of its fishy world-domination theme or even its ecological premise, settling instead for cute-annoying-kid fun. If you have kids aged 9 or under, this isn't a problem (although the 12 certificate might be), but if you're considerably older, Squid Girl is hardly going to impress.
Squid Girl is released by Manga Entertainment as a two-disc set, containing twelve episodes. The discs are each dual-layer DVD9, in PAL format and encoded for Region 2.
Overall, the series looks reasonably good in Standard Definition. The image is clear, bright and colourful and if there are some evident instances of colour banding and perhaps some breaking-up of lines, these are minor and may even be display-dependant. There's really nothing to trouble anyone here. The audio tracks, in Japanese and English, are both Dolby Digital 2.0 and both are more than adequate. The English dub is actually pretty good, the voices well cast to match the originals, but you might find the annoying brat aspect of Squid Girl a little too overbearing when it's in an American accent. Subtitles - the series authored by Madman - are yellow (yuck). Both the subs and the dub use the fishy plays on words, but to differing degrees - there's just so much potential for twisting words and sentences to include ink, gill, squid, carp and kracken - so you aren't missing out on all the "hilarity" of that whichever option you choose.
The Extra features contain the standard Textless opening and no less than six Textless closings for the minor variations during the series. A one and a half minute Interview with Hisako Kanemoto gets the voice actress' view of her character and she can also be seen creating a Squid Girl hat in Hat Folding - proving that origami is not yet a lost Japanese art - and signing posters. The best thing here is the two four-and-a-half OVA Mini Episodes, which have well-animated fun with a mini Squid Girl, with a nice punch-line at the end.
I'd have loved to see Squid Girl make more of its premise of an emissary of the seas incompetently trying to dominate mankind instead of being a cute-kid comedy, but then the series clearly wasn't made for my age-group. Younger viewers, who would be able to recognise and relate to Squid Girl's cheeky dominating self-importance with the addition of the fun tentacular twists and fishy puns, would however probably find the series rather more entertaining.