The Despair of Kouji Kumeta

When I had a look around various anime news sites a few days to see what was going on (as you do), I came across a rather surprising announcement. In fact, I actually doubted its credibility. And really, it’s no wonder that I did. It was something that I thought would never happen – despite talks about it when the series first began its serialization back in ’98. But I shockingly had to face facts – Kouji Kumeta’s Katte ni Kaizou was getting an anime. “What’s the big deal?”, you may ask. “Surely it’ll appeal to the SHAFT fans, its fanbase will lap it up, and there’ll be more chalkboard jokes than your pause button on the media player of your choice can handle?”.

For those who don’t know who Kouji Kumeta is, his most prominent work is the darkly amusing Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, which I am a fan of it. Its social commentary, random referencing, and visually appealing artstyle along with all the self-aware characters is right up my street. That one work alone has become Kumeta’s saving grace, and is the only work anyone really knows him for. But before SZS, he had several other works which weren’t all that successful.  There was the awkward romcom about a ronin and a cabaret girl, and that stint with hockey amongst a few others which you’ve never heard, nor care about. Putting it simply, he wasn’t very successful in the world of manga. As he himself once said in an interview – he’d been creating manga for over fifteen years, and was still unknown. Having an assistant of his going on to even more successful than him (hint; he too has written a gag series, involving a butler paying back his debt) must have hit him hard, too.

His most ‘famous’ (and I use that term very loosely) series before SZS was the quirky school comedy Katte Ni Kaizou, which if I had to compare it to any other series, I would describe it as being a mix of SZS, and The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. Sounds entertaining, for those who are into that kind of thing. Kaizou was a fellow who was pretty messed up in the head, due to his osananajimi kicking him off something high in the playground when they were younger. Due to that, he entertains all sorts of bizarre thoughts – like him being a robot – and has a generally offbeat view of the world, due to his osananajimi’s dismay (of course, she has a crush on him).  It sounds innocent enough, right? It’s a pity that the series itself nearly killed Kumeta, in all senses of the word.

Having written a blog at the time, and his posts became darker and darker with each passing entry, to the point where he’d casually talk about suicide and not being able to sleep with pills. You wouldn’t think it, would you? It’s the kind of background which would alter your perception about what you’re reading. While you’re giggling about that dated comment made about a famous person’s secret habit, Kumeta himself was probably staring into an abyss. And, he didn’t even get a chance to finish it… per say. Although Kumeta said he kept pushing things along without any aim or objective, the series was finally canceled after its 26th volume. And in its final chapter, Kumeta pulled quite the shocking swerve in order to tie things up.

So… now that series is getting animated? It’s a wonder, isn’t it? After all this time (to give an example of how dated the jokes are – someone offhandedly says that the queues for the Titantic are always too long – please remember the year that movie was released, and realize what year it is now), Kumeta’s demons are being put to rest. His blogs are more cheerful, and for the guy who constantly undermined himself and thought that he’d never get any recognition or an anime in his life, he isn’t doing too badly now. SZS has proved to be as popular as an anime like that could be (with three seasons and several OVAs under its belt), due to SHAFT’s LSD blanketed take on it. I imagine that they’ve even kept close ties with, and built up a friendly relationship with Kumeta due to cosy instances shown in the anime – like his assistant (Maeda – c’mon, if you’ve seen the series you definitely know who that guy is) being shown several times in it (and not just an animated version – he himself has appeared). I can’t even imagine what ran through Kumeta’s mind when SHAFT and Shinbo proposed the idea of making KnK into an anime.



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