Nanbaka: Because Comedies Need Tragic Back Stories, Apparently

Nanbaka is a prison comedy series. The manga was originally written by Futamata Shou. In late 2016, Satelight began airing an anime adaptation. You may remember them as the studio behind Heat Guy J & Sousei no Aquarion. So, how does this one compare to their other works I’ve reviewed? Let’s take a gander.

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Story:

Nanba is, supposedly, the world’s most formidable prison. With the toughest guards, the most inescapable perimeter, the sparkliest design and the finest dining and recreation services. We follow four prisoners, Juugo, Uno, Rock & Nico, who have escaped from prisons all over the world as they go about their lives and make trouble for the guards. Insert shenanigans here.

The biggest issue with this series is that it attempts to blend zany, really over the top comedy, with some more serious back stories and an underlying plot about a certain character having serious enemies who may well pose a threat. This results in a pretty significant case of tonal clash. Then we have the humour itself. Honestly, it doesn’t work a lot of the time. A lot of it is based around the characters being stupid or something over the top and random happening. I’ve talked about this before with a different less than good comedy, but randomness isn’t funny. A good zany, absurd comedy will have some internal logic that will be largely consistent, being bent on rare occasions for a jape. Pure randomness is what you get when an eight year old tries to make up a joke. “So, a guy walks into a pub and asks the bartender for a pint. The bartender says, ‘I can’t serve you. I’m a cockatoo.’ And the guy looks up and notices that he is.” And it’s not funny but you give them a pity chuckle because they’re eight. Problem is, this was written by an adult who should know better.

That being said, some of the goofs based around characters acting like idiots are pretty funny. There are times when those get executed well. I’ll give it credit on that, it does have some funny bits.

Characters:

The major inmates in this series can all be described very simply. They have a tragic back story and very little personality. Now, I have maintained that a comedy doesn’t need deep, complex characters. It needs characters with strong dynamics who can play off of one another really well to deliver the laughter. However, the whole tragic back stories element and the more serious stuff the series tries to do arguably makes this a series that should have more complex characters. Even putting that aside, the character dynamics are pretty underwhelming and don’t generally lead to good comedic moments. A lot of the side characters suffer from one joke syndrome. Take the Warden. Her joke is that she has a crush on Hajime, the guard in charge of our protagonists, and people misinterpret her intense gazes.

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Art:

The art isn’t very good, to put it nicely. While I will give it credit for having unique character designs, the backgrounds are pretty lazy. Additionally, Satelight made the perplexing decision to put everything in sparkle vision. I’m not kidding, the entire bloody anime is sparkly. Now, here’s the thing. Sparkle vision can work when used in certain circumstances for comedic effect. Fullmetal Alchemist is a great example. However, putting everything in constant sparkle vision doesn’t have any comedic effect. Instead, it just hurts your eyes.

Sound:

The cast in this is perfectly passable. I can’t call them brilliant in this, or even good, but it’s also one of those series where the acting can’t make up for the lack of characterisation. The music was handled by Fujisawa Kenji and it’s all right. Which may actually make it the strongest element of the series.

Ho-yay:

There’s a bit. We have the gay stereotype character voiced by Kimeru. Juugo also mentions liking both guys and girls, and there are reasons to believe he was serious.

Final Thoughts:

Nanbaka is a pretty weak comedy. It suffers from tonal problems, humour that falls flat more often than not, constant sparkle vision and dull characters. That being said, it does have its funny moments and I can’t really say it was bad. If you’re a fan of randomness and comedy stemming from characters being morons, you might enjoy it. For me, the final rating is going to be a 4/10. Next week I’ll look at Osomatsu-san, which will hopefully be a better class of comedy.

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