2000 years ago the gods held a foot race to determine which of the 120 Eto-musume, Zodiac Girls, would become the 12 Eto-Shin that would make up the Zodiac. Tricked into not participating by Chu-tan, the Rat Eto-musume, Nya-tan, our protagonist and the Cat Eto-musume, missed out on her chance to be one of the protectors of the 12 regions of Japan. Ever since the first Zodiac Festival, or ETM12 as it is referred to in Etotama, one has been held every 60 years with the possibility of one of the 108 Eto-musume remaining to win the chance to be a part of the Zodiac, but in that time none have succeeded. To win a place in the Zodiac, an Eto-musume must defeat each of the 12 Eto-Shin in a battle of their choosing. Having lost part of her memory during the last ETM12, Nya-tan is determined to become a member of the Zodiac, even if she does not remember why it is important. Should you be rooting for this amnesic and exuberant cat girl?
Nya-tan is an Asshole, but Lovably so.
Not since Sabagebu!’s Momoka have I had this much fun with a character that is an absolute douchebag of a protagonist, it was glorious to watch week-to-week, never truly knowing what dick thing she was about to do next to the other Eto-musume or Takeru, the one human in the series. Nya-tan is a cat and like all cats is lazy, narcissistic, violent and fickle, but in spite of these glaring character flaws she still manages to be endearing to the viewers, mainly because she is at the center of most of the best jokes and gags that the show has to offer. She can be surprisingly nice to others, but this is almost completely for her own benefit, though as the show progresses and you learn more and more about Nya-tan and her situation you come to learn that there is more to this cat than you were first presented with. I was amazed by just how much depth they were able to give such a shallow character in a show that focuses mostly on comedy and action.
A Colorful Cast of Interesting Characters
Outside of a handful of unnamed side characters which show up from time to time, there are 14 characters in Etotama, the 12 Eto-Shin, which you can see in proper order in the gif above, Nya-tan and Takeru. With all of them being introduced in one way or another in the first couple of episodes you might fear an overload of information, but through both their solid character design and unique personalities, they are memorable and immediately recognizable. 12 episodes is not a lot of time to try and really get to know this many character, so don’t go in expecting much in the way of character progression outside of Nya-tan, but impressively none of the Eto-Shin come across as being one-dimensional. Each gets her set of gags, jokes, one-liners and eccentricities, even Uma-tan, the horse, who has a complex about being forgotten, won’t be, if this show has anything to say about it.
I will also give Etotama some extra bonus points for being a show with 13 female characters and one male, but is not a harem whatsoever. This show is focused on comedy and action, romance is unnecessary, so it is left behind. Mei-tan, the sheep, does admit at one time that she may have feeling for Takeru, but that is as far as it goes. It is refreshing to see. Don’t think this means that show doesn’t pander to its audience, because it totally does.
The Fourth Wall is Dead
If you enjoy your fourth wall alive and well, than Etotama may not be for you, as the show takes almost every opportunity it can to let you know it is self-aware, from references to which episode they are currently on, what happened off-screen in between episodes, and what it thinks the viewer wants, Nya-tan especially believes she knows what that is. Every episode contains something that can be used to bludgeon Wall-kun and of course there is the expertly done recap episode, which is where the above gif is from, rarely do you see a recap episode not only succeed in moving the story along, which this one does, but also be genuinely funny at the same time. In almost any other season, Etotama would take first place in its ability to kill Wall-kun, but there just so happens to be this other show that aired in Spring 2015, so I will have to give it second place.
The Animation in General and the 3D in Particular
Etotama is a good looking show, the colors are bright, the animation is fluid and the quality doesn’t take a dip, not even during the aforementioned recap episode. But what really stands out is the 3D animation that the show switches to when the battles between Nya-tan and the Eto-shin takes place. As you can hopefully tell from the several gifs in this review that show off the 3D animation, it is simply gorgeous, and is the best 3D animation that is trying to retain the look of 2D animation that I have ever seen, it even has great particle and lighting effects. It makes each of the battles, which are generally the climax of most episodes, a treat to look forward to. Shirogumi Inc., the primary studio involved with producing Etotama, out did themselves with this one. I looked and found that I have never seen one of the shows that they have previously worked on, but because of Etotama I will be looking for their name in the future and hoping that they are able to put this much care and attention into their next show.
So you might be thinking, I can do this math, there are 12 episodes and 12 Eto-shin, so I get to look forward to one of these fights each episode, right? It is also mentioned in the first episode that if Nya-tan loses even one of these fights that she is out of the running, so they can’t have much tension can they? Lucky for all of us these battles aren’t usually fights, as I stated during the introduction to this review the Eto-Shin get to decide what the battle is and they have complete freedom to choose how they want to test Nya-tan, or if they even want to battle her at all. So, yes, there is not a lot of tension in the battles, as you know Nya-tan is going to win somehow, but they are still incredibly entertaining. It helps that they range from a game of extreme fetishist keep-away, especially violent rock-paper-scissors, surprisingly serene Shogi, martial art based kick-the-can, and a rocket-powered Mario-kart style race, bananas included. These battle really are a high point in each episode.
For some strange, but very enjoyable, reason the female announcer for each of the battles says all of her lines in a fantastic form of Engrish. I love those small touches.
Chu-tan, our antagonist, is rather boring for the first nine episodes and is probably the least fleshed out character in the show, up to that point. Most of what we get from her in the first three-quarters of the show are the occasional appearance where she will scowl a lot, pose in a badass manner, talk about how she hates Nya-tan and will see the cat clan destroyed, and then leaves until the next time. Luckily, with the majority of the focus on comedy and action, the drama being lacking does not hurt all that much, even if it is revealed later to be the catalyst for the whole story. Chu-tan eventually does get her time to shine, but not till the last three episodes, where the origin of the conflict between her and Nya-tan is explored and why it is that Chu-tan hates Nya-tan and not the other way around, as Nya-tan was the one tricked all those years ago.
Our one and only male character and our one and only human character, is also our least interesting. Takeru’s personality boils down to being an all-around nice guy and he is so chill that not even a cat girl suddenly appearing out of his floor and licking his face causes him pause. He mainly acts as our primary avenue for exposition, as the other 13 characters have all known each other for thousands of years and know how everything works, so just about the time that you are starting to think, wait what’s going on?, to yourself, Takeru will throw out one of the questions you are most likely contemplating. His other main purpose for being in the show is supplying Nya-tan with Sol/Lull, which is derived from positive human feelings, and is the power source for the Eto-musume. He is basically a battery, something the show itself mentions and makes fun of, as Dora-tan, the dragon, tries to take advantage of this when she starts an impromptu auction among the Eto-Shin for his possession. Takeru’s saving grace, in all of this, is his ability to make some rather great observations and the occasionally necessary heart felt speech.
A few questions I have about Takeru that are left unanswered: Why is a high school kid living in a house all by himself in Akihabara? Why is he moving all of his stuff by himself in a hand cart through the city? Does he not have human friends? Where is his family in all of this? And how on earth is there possibly a house for rent in Akihabara that only cost 30000 yen a month? I don’t care if there is a hole in the living room that usually transports you to the realm of the gods and comes with a ton of house guests, that is crazy cheap.
A Rough Start
The worst thing that Etotama has going for it, other than the fact that not enough people watched it, is that the first three episodes are rough, really rough. This is in terms of story telling and exposition only, so don’t worry the animation, characters, comendy and action are all good from the start. Because of this I was strongly considering dropping the show before the fourth episode aired, I am very glad that I did not. I may just be slow on the uptake, but Etotama does a pretty horrendous job of setting the overall tone and direction of the show in the early going, which left me wondering what exactly it was that I was watching. Seriously, WTF? Did I miss some exposition somewhere along the line? This was exacerbated by the show and creators actively trolling the audience several times, something they continue to do throughout the series, one of which was epic in scale. If you have watched the show and know what I am talking about here please do not spell it out in the comments, don’t think this should stop you from mentioning it, just keep it vague.
Having gone back and watched the first few episodes again in preparation for this review, I can happily state that they are considerably better and just as enjoyable as the rest of the show upon a second viewing, but it is not enough to keep this out of the terrible section. Only after having watched 11 episodes was I able to fully enjoy the beginning of this show. That is not something I would recommend as a path to successful story telling. Context matters, so I should not have to wait that long to receive it.
Going by the polls that both Richard Eisenbeis and Stanlick posted earlier this season and what discussions I have had this past season, Etotama is in my opinion the most criminally underrated and under watched show of Spring 2015. In spite of a few flaws and a rocky start, this show is an absolute gem and, sadly, going by how its disks are selling in Japan, this is probably the only season that we will get, so make sure to watch it.
Etotama is adapted from an ongoing manga published in Dengeki Daioh, written by Takashi Hoshi and Touru Zekuu and illustrated by Hiroma Hino.
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