Maesetsu! Opening Act – Episode 1

By: Vrai Kaiser October 12, 20200 Comments
Fubuki lecturing a downcast Mafuyu. subtitle: Yes! Because 90% of a comedian's training consists of reflection!

What’s it about? Mafuyu and Fubuki are a manzai double act, as are their friends Rin and Nayuta. Their dream is to make it as professional comedians, but Mafuyu can’t even land a joke on stage at her sister’s high school festival.

Comedy is harder than drama. There’s more risk in whether it can hook and hold an audience, its content ages at a much faster rate, and while bad drama can become comedy, bad comedy is lethally dull. It takes a true expert to portray someone who is bad at their art while conveying it in an entertaining way to the audience—it’s what makes works like This is Spinal Tap so beloved and rarely successfully emulated.

Mafuyu gesturing in a panic to Fubuki. subtitle: Our gags, our punchlines, our tempo.
I know you know what jokes are! HOW DID WE GET HERE.

If you were going to make a show about struggling stand-up comics, you would probably want to make sure that the rest of the show was very funny to contrast their ineffective set. The audience could then, perhaps, translate all the characters’ discussion of comedic theory into an understanding of how the non-diegetic jokes work. This would make for a fascinating conversation between form and narrative, and be as educational about the form of comedy as any hobby-adjacent anime could hope to be.

Anyway, it took me two days and no less than four separate attempts to make it all the way through Maesetsu’s 24-minute first episode.

I’m genuinely saddened by this fact, as I’ve been a fan of stand-up comedy since I was small. I got genuine pleasure out of the moments when the characters were sitting around talking about adjusting their timing and whether Mafuyu’s terrible bit could be salvaged in a “grows on you” way, and I’d love to learn about the specifics of manzai versus universal rules of comedy. Unfortunately, series composer Machida Touko (whose robust filmography includes several episodes of Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju, among others) is back in full Lucky Star mode, and it is exactly the wrong approach for the subject matter.

the four leads on stage playing imaginary instruments.
These characters are nineteen. NINE-TEEN.

I was not someone who ever “got” 2007’s Lucky Star, which took the “schoolgirls hanging out” success of 2002’s Azumanga Daioh (which I adore) in a much more moe and reference-heavy direction and spawned about a million imitators. It’s possible that people who got on with that series will have much more luck with the very sedate, unhurried conversational style on display here, but beyond my personal taste it also just feels like a bad fit for the material.

As I mentioned above, there’s no meaningful disjunction between Mafuyu’s failed bit and the rest of the episode’s comedy—while one is an impression-of-an-impression and the others lean more toward pun work, they’re all delivered with that same tone and pace. There’s no sense of our four main characters having different comedic styles or interests, which might be because this first episode is so overstuffed with characters that there’s no time to give even a meaningful snapshot of characters outside of Mafuyu. Even her comedy partner Fubuki is only characterized through how she helps her friend, which feels like an odd choice for an ostensible ensemble show.

Fubuki putting her hand over mafuyu's
I can’t even give enough of a shit to rise to the bait.

The designs are the final nail in the coffin. While it would annoying that these 19-year-olds look about 12 in most cases, to an almost parodic degree, it would be possible to brush off in most cases. But Maesetsu introduces a dramatic undercurrent specifically about the characters being young professionals worried that they haven’t yet broken into the business yet, and it’s hard to take that fear seriously for even a minute when I feel like I should be holding the cast’s hands whenever they cross the street.

While there’s a good idea about young women comics trying to break into the industry, like SHIROBAKO for comedy (I have no idea whether the manzai scene is as viciously punitive toward marginalized genders as American stand-up, but if so this show does not seem likely to bring it up), in practice Maesetsu is a hobby anime that feels crammed into its formula with no regard for the needs of the content. Give ‘em the hook.

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