33 CommentsAnime Analysis / By Scamp /

Denpa Onna and dragging stories beyond their natural end

My thoughts on Denpa Onna after 5 episodes. Because sometimes I have more to say about currently airing anime than I can possibly fit in your standard monthly roundup. Or my alternative and more precise sub-title, why it should have stopped after episode 3.

Denpa Onna is about a generic teenage boy going to live with his barmy aunt and her illegitimate daughter, who she bizarrely refuses to acknowledge the existence of most of the time. The daughter doesn’t seem too phased by this either, spending her time wrapped up in a futon and declaring she’s an alien. It is up to our wise-cracking protagonist to discover what’s going on here and snap the poor girly out of her current state.

This scenario works fairly well for the first three episodes, mainly because of how well the characters fit their roles in the story. The aunt may be barmy, a 40 year old women acting like a teenage girl, but this all acts as a sign that she thinks she’s not capable nor mature enough to take care of a kid. She’s been feeling pretty depressed at her own inability to raise a child. She hides from her weaknesses by latching onto and teasing our generic main character, a person she can finally feel some degree on control over. She got on my nerves a bit, especially when they pushed her moe-aunt quotient a bit too much, but it works well for the story.

Erio is the batty cousin, wrapped up in the futon, convinced she’s an alien. This is pulled off incredibly well due to how utterly out there she is. So much so that she might as well be from another planet for all we know. The high pitched squeal of her voice is muffled by the futon, creating this bizarre creature spouting complicated lines of dialogue that actually represent something a lot more mundane, like “go get me pizza”. What’s equally commendable about her character is how, when the futon drops off, she still holds this air of mystique. Shaft really want to go all out here, showing her hair sparkling, zooming in on her face to show what a strange looking girl this is. The futon dropping also drops her defensive barrier somewhat, but it will still take some battling to get through to the heart of the problem.

And that’s where our generic male lead comes in. Obsessed with leading the perfect teenage life, keeping mathematical track of all his interactions with his cute girl classmates, he finds himself living with this elephant in the room at home. A problem that he can’t stop himself from trying to explore, which is exactly how the story is revealed and developed. The story becomes about single parents trying to raise difficult children and how they escape to a fantasy land to get away from the harshness of reality. Our hero discovers this problem and then takes it upon himself to drag Erio out of her fantasy alien land and get her to face reality, with him on hand to help her every step of the way.

As an aside, one thing I liked about Denpa Onna was how it based the story around E.T. I rather like the idea of the modern fairy tale. A popular piece of entertainment from years ago becomes a fairy tale or a classic story to base current stories off. I prefer the modern fairy tale approach than basing your stories from Shakespeare or that bloody bible again. Erio presents herself as the same sort of creature that E.T. looks like, wrapped in the blanket and everything. I love the little twist with how they incorporated that famous bike scene. Instead of taking off into the sky into fantasy magical land, the bike crashes down and that’s where Erio comes to the realisation that she’s not living the life of an alien. It’s cleverly woven into the narrative and I respect Denpa Onna for pulling that off.

The show must go on though, and here’s where the problems begin. With the characters functions gone from the original solved plotline, the author has to continue with the story he has set up. Now it’s about Erio settling into society. Thing is, that’s not what he wrote the story to be about originally. E.T. has long since lost relevance. The characters no longer fit this new plot that he has to explore. The Aunt has regressed from pretending to be a teenager because she can’t face her adulthood, to being totally indistinguishable from a teenager, with no hints of adulthood left in her. She’s regressed to a one-joke character, merely acting as a titillation device. Erio loses her mystique as an alien, but what we get in return appears to be one of those mentally challenged girls from a Key drama. This may be the natural direction her character had to take in this story, but stripped of her alien persona, she too becomes a one-trick pony. Whatever story there was has been lost beneath a pile of pandering and moeblobbery.

What this stinks of is a story being made drag out beyond its natural length. An author who wrote a story that could span one light novel, but hadn’t considered what to write next until his publisher told him to write the next volume. It’s like a TV show made a pilot episode that had the producers roaring with laughter, but when they were told to make more, they suddenly realise they had used up the shows one decent gimmick and weren’t sure what to do with it from here on. The story for Denpa Onna should have ended on episode 3, with perhaps the main characters spiel about adolescence points at the start of episode 4 acting as a final narration over the ending credits. You might say the story hasn’t ended yet. Erio still isn’t integrated with society. I say pah, we didn’t need to see that. The story was just about generic main character discovering what was going on with his bizarro cousin and dragging her out of fantasy alien land. All the show is doing now is killing time before they can finally call it a day.

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  1. cuc
    Posted May 13, 2011 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

    You are correct in realizing the way light novel publishing generally works: the author publishes a first volume (sometimes first serializing it in a magazine), and then is given greenlight to write sequels if it sells well, thus Vol 1 of a light novel series is generally a relatively self-contained story. This is exactly what had happened with Denpa Onna’s first few episodes.

    But be a little patient. My sources say Vol 2 of Denpa Onna is its best story, and its (new) main conflict isn’t centered around Erio.

    • Scamp
      Posted May 13, 2011 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

      …I swear, you guys make this too easy for me. Might as well trot out my old favourite line then



      • Posted May 14, 2011 at 6:51 am | Permalink

        actually that’s how most manga works in general, at least with beginner mangaka making their debuts with one-shots in magazines.

        many one-shots i read never got serialized ;(

  2. Nebulous
    Posted May 13, 2011 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

    I kinda agree, yet disagree at the same time. Yes Denpa Onna has run its small “uniqueness” to the ground after 4 episodes. However, I would disagree that their was much there to begin with to run down in the first place. It seems to me that most of the “deepness” that you see has been concocted by your own mind in order to defend the show’s horrendous use of stock character types, and appeal to fanservice.

    “haft really want to go all out here, show­ing her hair spark­ling, zoom­ing in on her face to show what a strange look­ing girl this is.”
    This line made me lol. I’m still laughing at how ridiculous the idea is. Shaft wanted some fanservice, so they decided to give us a full look at the prepubescent girl’s body, with her clother half falling off and her face with bits of cheese like she’d been bukake’d. My interpretation is much different you see.

    Your entire paragraph about the aunt too is a sign that you are reading too much into this. The aunt acts like a retarded teenage girl, because that’s her character. There’s no deep explanation, her talk and actions are heavily laced with sexual innuendo, intended to excite the viewer. They hit from two sides, the loli (aka pedo) viewer loves the naive, world unaware, flat chested little girl, and they hit at people with a love of more busty women with the cougar; older, eager, sexually experienced woman. That’s all I see.

    Then we have the resolution which certainly hit me as one of the stupidest morals a person can give in a show. Is the MC a psychologist? What kind of retarded person meets a person with severe psychological problems and then decides that they can fix all their problems by throwing “the truth” at them until they “come to their senses”? Really? Even if she didn’t have psychological problems her belief in aliens was certainly a coping mechanism, that the MC decided to crush because he knows better than everyone else. I wouldn’t be suprised if she had become depressed and tried to kill herself – now that would be some storytelling.

    “Modern fairy tale”

    Yep, just turn up to school and weird, beautiful women will throw themselves at you. Certainly a fairy tale for the modern age.

    • Scamp
      Posted May 14, 2011 at 11:01 am | Permalink

      Well aren’t we wearing our cynics hat today.

      I would point to the E.T. story woven in as a sign that the author had far more on his mind than just mindless pandering. Once you go down that path, you realise how much more there is to this.

      But at the same time, yes. There is a lot of mindless fanservice harem pandering. I’m not saying it was exactly a masterpiece beforehand, but it had a good story behind it all that I liked a lot

  3. Jeff
    Posted May 13, 2011 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

    They need to get to the wincest before they call it a day. Really though, they still need to cover how Erio got amnesia, and where she disappeared to for a year or whatever.

    • Scamp
      Posted May 14, 2011 at 11:03 am | Permalink

      Why do we need to know though? We were fine in Death Note not knowing what the Shinigami world was really about, beyond the glimpses we got, because that’s not what the story was about. We’re fine without learning the true reasoning behind what makes the angels in Haibane Remnei, but again that’s fine because that’s not what the story is about

  4. mcm38
    Posted May 13, 2011 at 7:00 pm | Permalink


    I tought it should have stopped at the end of the part, where he brings her to a night shop. I could immediately guess it was going to become b*llsh*t in the end. These kind of anime rarely make it far.
    Why the heck does a ‘normal’ teenage boy go along with a freaking request of a crazy/psychologically disturbed cousin? Even tough he’s curious abou it, he wouldn’t go as far as accepting such a crazy request/order.

    • mcm38
      Posted May 13, 2011 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

      Oh I didn’t mean it in the way of romance anime. These kind of slice of life anime.

  5. Hogart
    Posted May 13, 2011 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

    I agree that this show is utterly generic Shaftness, and had very little to come down from. I think it’s dragged along all the time, and that three eps was way too much. One would have been able to get it’s point across. But hey, that wouldn’t sell DVDs.

    I just hope cuc is right, though, because if they’re saving the best for last then it might turn out to have been worth sticking with. But eps 4 and 5 haven’t been very promising.

  6. Posted May 13, 2011 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

    Interesting to see different opinions on this show. If the natural end was episode 3, this series is going to get painful by the end o the season. I have only watched one episode so far, so I’ll continue to read commentary to see if this turns out to be as much of a disaster as that implies.

    • Scamp
      Posted May 14, 2011 at 11:05 am | Permalink

      I’m not even sure if I can be bothered to watch until the end. I never bothered to finish Rainbow from a few seasons ago either because that should have ended on episode 13

  7. luffyluffy
    Posted May 13, 2011 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

    I dropped this back in episode 2

    “Oh, when I hold my hands above my heads I get dizzy!”

    Nope, dropped.

    Fuck it. All I need is Tiger & Bunny this season. Everything else could turn into shit, which is mostly is, and I wouldn’t care.

    • mcm38
      Posted May 13, 2011 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

      Stein- kun and C- chan are still hanging in there though.

      • luffyluffy
        Posted May 13, 2011 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

        Mikuni is quite sexy, but he can’t carry it. C is mostly crap.

        And I’m not watching Steins;Gate.

        And Blue Exorcist pissed me off in episode 2. Those fuckers, that was the best character.

      • fathomlessblue
        Posted May 14, 2011 at 3:48 am | Permalink

        Really Luffy? I’m personally loving Steins Gate, you should give it a(nother?) chance. Agree about C though, I’ve just dropped it. I tried, but I couldn’t find anything to hook me in that show whatsoever. Ah well…

      • luffyluffy
        Posted May 14, 2011 at 4:14 am | Permalink

        … Is it really all that good?

        Like, what’s it even about? Time travel right? Something about jello bananas.

      • fathomlessblue
        Posted May 14, 2011 at 4:30 am | Permalink

        Well it’s hardly the greatest thing I’ve seen but out of all the shows this season it’s probably my fave, alongside Ano Hana. And yeah, time travel is the main plot. Much better than C and Blue Exorcist at any rate.

        It’s a pretty slow series, but definitely great at slowly building up the plot, mystery and suspense. It depends if that’s your thing though. Worth a look I guess, although to be honest it might be a series better left marathoned than watched weekly, but I’m not that patient a guy.

      • luffyluffy
        Posted May 14, 2011 at 5:58 am | Permalink

        If I watched Shiki weekly, I can watch this weekly.

        If I got some time to kill tomorrow before Doctor Who, sure.

    • Scamp
      Posted May 14, 2011 at 11:05 am | Permalink

      I’m watching 11 shows this season and the best of them is Steins;Gate. What on earth have you been waiting for?

      • luffyluffy
        Posted May 14, 2011 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

        It’s funny when you think Stiens;Gate is better than Tiger & Bunny

        Sadly, all anime is just something to tide me over between new episodes of Doctor Who… am I reaching the burn out?

  8. Posted May 13, 2011 at 11:53 pm | Permalink

    I caught up with all of the the episodes yesterday.
    So while everything is still fresh.

    This story gives off very strong harem vibes… I haven’t seen one guy in the show apart from the main lead, if there has been one and I haven’t noticed might be because I found myself skipping over the scenes where Erio is on it.

    At the beginning the most interesting character, also the most mysterious and the one who wants to keep you watching. Kind of remind me of Nino, (She being from Venus and having a different personality from the rest…. also extremely adorable). So being that the most interesting part about the show, well you kil the alien you kill the interest.

    The only mystery left is the missing memory and maybe some more alien stuff, I’d like to see the show driving towards that way, I don'[t want to see more of the other girls (including the aunt because god!! She is a scary one)

    I’m crossing my finger for that to happen, because I really like Erio and I want to see her shine in all her sparkly mysteriousness… the male lead… well he should have more male friends… or rivals. Being on a harem seems kind of lonely ironically.

  9. Posted May 14, 2011 at 1:52 am | Permalink

    Unfortunately, they really couldn’t keep the momentum of the first story going. The only thing that keeps me coming back is knowing that Meme will do something absolutely ridiculous just to fluster the stuffy Makoto.
    While I understand that some setup is required for things to get into motion, there are good ways to transition into it. It’s up in the air right now, but I’m following it more tentatively than before. While it hasn’t screwed up to the degree that HanaIro has, it could go downhill pretty damn fast.

  10. Posted May 14, 2011 at 3:32 am | Permalink

    I personally liked the episode 4 and 5 but I do get your point that the series has gone a bit downhill. Still I do trust that there is more to this series than moe so I’m gonna stick for the whole season.

    And for the aunt, no I do not think she has regressed to a one-joke character. The way she acted in episode 4 and 5 only increases the fact that she’s still that old woman who can’t face that she is getting old. I’d say this is just her in a a more normal state (what?). I’m sure the aunt will get more time later on.

  11. fathomlessblue
    Posted May 14, 2011 at 3:41 am | Permalink

    In keeping with the E.T. references, I love that Erio’s dad was apparently called Elliot. So that’s what happened to him. Mind = blown.

    I’m still enjoying the show, although I hate how it’s presented as an amalgamation of recent Shaft shows; the Bakemonogatari presentation (only overly moe, less text and with a more blatent harem), the spacy mysterious female lead from Arakawa, the shiny-legged baby-fat loli-baiting of Vampire Bund…

    I do agree Denpa Onna’s lost one of it’s biggest selling points, but I also respect it for not dragging the alien element longer than need be. You may disagree, but as long as the story is still moving to a resolution for Erio to heal her wounds and come back to the world of the living (and currently it still is), as well as the main mystery of her disappearance still unresolved, then I’d say the show hasn’t run it’s course yet.

    Guess we’ll see if the story does get any closure by the end or if it devolves into a shitty harem that drags the plot out a la Arakawa. I personally it’s still think it’s on the right track. Barely.

    • Scamp
      Posted May 14, 2011 at 11:10 am | Permalink

      Bakemonogatari is its closest relative, but Bakemono worked because it kept to a fairly similar formula with each arc that built up the same overlying story. Arararararararagi helped girls because he’s just that nice and that builds up his personal harem…ummm, that doesn’t sound like much praise for Bakemonogatari, but that works rather better than it sounds.

      Anyways, the problem with Denpa is its lost the original purpose for its characters and now doesn’t know what to do with them. Hence they’ve reverted to shallow titillating stereotypes

      • fathomlessblue
        Posted May 14, 2011 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

        I hear ya, although to honest I viewed all the female characters, other than Erio, as shallow harem types from the beginning. When Meme acts a flirtatious idiot 90% of the time and a confused, insecure mother the rest, I don’t think she’s covering up her pain and weakness with a peppy mask, I just think she’s a halfwit that has brief moments of lucidity. I’m sure she was intended to be conflicted as you’ve pointed out, but I’m just not feeling it. The story and dialogue just isn’t string enough to convince me. As for the rest of the girls… other than the harem angle they’re all pretty nonexistant. I’m definitely not looking foward to the spacesuit wearing loli from the OP.

        Erio’s the only character I had hopes for, although I agree she’s gone overly dere dere in the last few eps. I’m hoping a decent story can emerge from Denmpa Onna as theres definitely potential. Still, that’s definitely unfounded optimism on my part.

        ps. I saw that Metanorn podcast some days back. Do you really think this has a worse OP than Hanasaku Iroha? I mean Denpa’s is pretty awful, like a six year old overly trying to be cute, but Iroha’s sounds like someone trying drown a bag of cats. Maybe that’s just me.

  12. Posted May 15, 2011 at 6:35 am | Permalink

    I like that the story is moving onto Erio reentering society. The reason the hikikomori phenomenon has become such a problem in Japan is largely because it is nearly impossible to get a job even after you’ve gotten your emotional baggage together. So then, facing this impenetrable wall of a society that neither needs nor wants you back, the motivation that you finally gathered will just evaporate and send you right back to square one.

    Welcome to the NHK touched on this, but it was focused on the problem and at a complete loss for a solution. Denpa’s solution seems to be ‘find a crazy old lady to give you some part-time stuff,’ which probably isn’t much better.

    The show’s main problem is still its shallow characterization. It seems like they can’t make his classmates interesting no matter how hard they try.

  13. 3242
    Posted May 15, 2011 at 10:49 pm | Permalink

    I wait for the thursday where it turns out the guys whole familly on his fathers side actually are aliens.
    Or when it turns out erio was abducted by aliens.
    Either or.

  14. Posted May 16, 2011 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

    That’s why I’m not watching more until I finish my post. I don’t know what more there could be.

    Although now I realize I need to start giving OVAs a try.

  15. Posted May 21, 2011 at 1:57 am | Permalink

    I agreed that Denpa Onna is heading to a realistic conclusion. Personally, I like how it deceived me–I also speculated whether Erio is whether extra terrestrial or not. Then, I re-watched the first five episode and realized that it never really showed something beyond extraordinary, that’s why I felt like I was deceived by that Erio delusion–but I mean this in a good way. Now that it was already revealed that Erio is really an earthling, I like how Denpa Onna features some slice-of-life vibe and some societal issues.

  16. Posted May 27, 2011 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

    I really liked first 3 episodes and now I watch the series believing, after all there will be some aliens (after Level E I still got my ‘alien switch’ on)

    On the other hand, now it is a story about NEET coming back to society and that’s cool too. I mean, in Welcome to NHK! the story stops at the moment Satou gets job and that’s all. Here we get more detailed look into what is needed to come back.

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