I’m starting to realise that ‘favourite and forgotten’ isn’t the best title for this project. What about anime that are popular but not critically well received? What of cult hits that are remembered by the elite but never penetrated the more casual anime fan’s shell of ignorance? What of something like Hare+Guu? It’s an old Favourite of mine, but I’ve since Forgotten a lot about it. It’s rather well ranked on MAL, particularly for an anime over 10 years old, but nobody talks about it anymore. I should just call it “anime I wanted to watch that will just so happen to be in order of their release dates starting from 2000″, although that isn’t quite snappy enough.
I saw Hare+Guu fairly early on in my anime fandom, and thought it was the funniest thing ever. It’s set in a jungle with a young single attractive mother and her stressed out son, doing jungle stuff. Things start to go a bit haywire when the mother decides to adopt a cute little pink haired girl into the family, for no real reason beyond shits and giggles. Guu is a…well, in nerdy prat terms, she straddles a line between chaotic good, chaotic neutral and utterly incomprehensible. The spends most of the series goofing off in the background, dropping sly comments about proceedings, goading characters into actions, and then doing various other magical acts simply because she can. If Guu was doing all these weird and wonderful things just for the sake of it, the series would get old very quickly (actually it does get old anyway, but bear with me on this). It keeps things fresh for the most part by having her actions effect the main family story that makes up the backbone of the series.
Rewind back to the premise for a second. It’s about an 11 year old boy living together with his young single mother, specifically at a period when the man who got her pregnant originally has re-entered her life. The emotional heart here is Hare caring for his mother and not feeling comfortable with this man coming back into her life. In turn, there’s his mother’s love for her son and trying to deal with his insecurity about it being his fault for being born that she had to leave home in the first place. Then there’s his father, who probably goes through the most remarkable character development of the lot of them. He starts with bleached white hair and perving on all the women in the village. But when he meets Weda and her son, he’s forced to face what his freewheeling younger self did. Then there’s Marie, who is just some little girl in the jungle village. She ties into the family story too. She’s got no parents of her own, gets envious that Hare has a mother, and goes through occasional bouts of depression because she has no adults looking after her. She tries to get Hare’s mum and dad back together because she likes to see herself as their surrogate daughter.
The trick here is these characters wouldn’t push through with their respective stories if it wasn’t for Guu prodding them, putting them in various scenarios where they have to face their feelings about their families. Through whatever weird and wonderful thing she does, it usually results in the characters understanding each other that much more. It’s questionable as to whether this is intentional. Half the time it seems like Guu does this stuff because she wants to make Hare an even bigger stress ball then he usually is. But enough of these story developments happen directly as the result of Guu’s actions for me to believe that she does it intentionally. Besides, it makes a better story that way.
So the emotional story part of Hare+Guu is pretty great, surprisingly so for something that’s supposed to be a ridiculously goofy comedy. The comedy part though really isn’t as funny as I remembered. Guu is still great. She still has all the best lines and reaction faces. Plus the general weirdness of the show is still funny, what with those fucking bizarre Pokute things just chilling about in the background as they always did. The rest of the characters don’t really hold up their end of the bargain. Marie is all right, and Hare’s dad has a few good lines, but the rest tend to be funny for their first appearance and then stop after that. The teacher who sleeps through class, the village leader with the massive ball of chest hair, the neurotic bodyguard and his gun-fetish. Even Hare’s mum and her drinking and slacking get old way too quickly.
Hare is where the show falls down the most. He’s the ‘straight man’ so to speak, but in that irritating Japanese way of being he yells “WHY ARE YOU DOING THAT CRAZY THING” at everything that happens. This wasn’t so bad at the start of the show while all the characters around him were still funny because they were only just introduced. But the more it went on, the more frustrating his yelling became. Firstly because the show simply ran out of things to do around the halfway point, so just started killing time by doing ‘filler’ episodes. Technically you shouldn’t have ‘filler’ episodes in a comedy like this, but the show was at its best when Guu forces the characters to move the story along. When she’s doing weird stuff for the sake of it, the humour suffers. Add this together with the all the jokes the series had getting old anyway, and you have a huge chunk of the show being incredibly tedious to get through. They could have cut down the series to half its length and it would have been much better.
I still genuinely like the core story. It ends on an emotional high that is a perfect wrap to the development of the mother/child relationship, as well as solving the biggest mystery hanging over the series from the start. That ending probably coloured my impression of the show with a much rosier tint than it would probably have ended up with. I also love that they do all this within this completely ridiculous comedy format. It never makes light of the fact Hare’s dad impregnated his mother when she was young and innocent. It’s still played for jokes, but in a way that still pays respect to the enormity of his actions. It’s exactly how comedy should approach more serious subject manner like this. Plus when it does skirt the line on the more serious stuff, it’s much funnier anyway because the comedy has that edge to it. I can see why the passing of time left me feeling very positive about the show, because it’s really easy to forget all the boring nothing episodes. But christ almighty some of them are a real chore to sit through.
So yes, while I still like Hare+Guu, it won’t be anywhere near my top anime of 2001.