The Japanese are a curious bunch at best. I realize that for a large portion of you, that’s akin to saying the sky is blue, my skin is white or I’ve said a lot of rather awkward and uninformed things about racism and gender. But I can only ever really leave it to the Japanese to use the same broadcast network and the same medium to produce works that vary as wildly as HighSchool of the Dead, Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt, KissxSis and Shinryaku! Ika Musume (which, for all of you English speakers out there, literally translates to “Invade! Squid Girl“). I have seen works this past anime season that do nothing but the minimum amount of escalation on the last year’s works: one more nipple there, a little less steam here, a little closer to out-and-out incest all over. Squid Girl, oddly enough, is set at a restaurant on the beach and doesn’t have a lick of fanservice.
Squid Girl focuses on a girl who happens to have several attributes of a squid. She can spit squid ink, she has ten tentacles which she can use for a variety of everyday purposes, she can glow in the dark like a firefly squid. She also speaks in perpetual squid puns. Quick lesson on Japanese: every sentence ends with the verb. You can also add an auxiliary verb, roughly meaning “to be” at the end of a sentence when you want to be polite. Samurai, showing selfless dedication to their duty, would end their sentences “de geshou” (someone correct me if I’m wrong). Geso being the Japanese for “tentacle”, Squid Girl ends every sentence “de geso”. In English, this translates to a whackton of squid related humour, but that’s sort of the point. She also vows to invade the surface world as vengeance against mankind for polluting the ocean. She proves… inept to say the least.
This is because she meets the cheerful Aizawa family: sisters Chizuru and Eiko and younger brother Takeru. They own the restaurant on the beach, and after destroying the wall to their restaurant during a tentacle demonstration, Squid Girl is forced to work as a waitress to pay off her debt. From this premise come twelve episodes of the most delightfully light and fluffy anime I’ve ever seen. Squid Girl, being born in the sea, is almost entirely ignorant to the ways of humans, and assumes she’ll only have to conquer “about a thousand” of them. Eiko, the younger and brasher sister, corrects her on this vocally. Takeru is perpetually sweet and happy, interpreting all of Squid Girl’s moodiness toward him as her way of playing. Chizuru is quiet, traditional, makes the food, looks after the restaurant and is all-around pleasant. Unless. You mess around. In her store.
Squid Girl is a slice of life series, relying on new characters and then character interaction to carry most of its episodes. There’s Sanae, Eiko’s best friend who has a cripplingly intense crush on Squid Girl. Gorou, the local beach lifeguard with a crush on Chizuru (perhaps he hasn’t seen her with her eyes open?). Cindy Campbell is a scientist from America, convinced that Squiddie is an alien, whose colleages Harris, Clark and Martin each graduated top of the class from MIT. Ayumi Tokita is forced to dress up as Squid Girl by her father, a rival beach restaurant owner. Nagisa Saitou is a new employee at the restaurant, and is the only person scared of Squiddie. Kiyomi Sakura is a middle school girl who lives across the street from Squiddie who she makes friends with after a prank gone wrong. These characters, their attitudes toward Squid Girl and their antics all form the plot of at least one segment of three per week.
Other segments are filled by Squid Girl’s discoveries about the surface world, including a particularly adorable episode where she first encounters an umbrella. She mistakes it for a weapon, learns to do several tricks with it and is endlessly amused outside of the store in the rain. She isn’t inside the store because she was bugging Eiko. Another such episode revolves around her discovery of an old tube of Eiko’s lipstick. I never knew that a segment of an animated series could be so intensely focused on lipstick before, but I guess you learn something new every day.
The highlight of the early series is segment 5.C, alternately translated as “Won’t You Keep It?” or “Wouldn’t having a pet be squidtastic?”. It is one of the most unexpectedly touching and whimsical stories I have ever seen, positing an alternate universe in which Eiko finds MiniSquid in a jar on the beach. She takes her home and keeps her as a pet. Their interactions with each other are lovely in the most out of character way for either character, becoming a simply stunning tale of love between a woman and her pet. The entire sequence is conveyed without dialogue, aside from MiniSquid’s squidtalk. It’s like the first 10 minutes of Up but with pets. Wonderful.
The main appeal of Squid Girl is the adorableness of its heroine. This has led to quite a few corners of the internet dismissing it as moe crap. Moe is the Japanese media phenomenon of weak-willed, submissive women with large breasts, glasses, injuries, maid outfits and other things to make them artificially girly or cute. The main appeal of moe women is not being able to outclass the men who admire them and wish to have them in real life. Squid Girl and its heroine are cute, certainly. You’d be hard pressed to find a cuter series if you tried. But that’s not the cloying, artificial cuteness of a moe series or moe characters. It’s the legitimate cuteness that comes with naïvité, enthusiasm and a never-give-up, never-say-die attitude. Squid Girl has all of these things, the love of her friends and the ceaseless wonder of discovery. It’s the fact that, technically speaking, she’s the villain in this work that makes it all the more funny and cute. FOUR STARS