Tamaya Seikichi is a fireworks maker who dreams of making fireworks that the world has never seen- the only problem is that he lives in 1840s Edo, where such luxuries have been banned. Nonetheless, Seikichi is determined to pursue his dream, and he is only given more reason to persevere when a mysterious girl named Sora shows up and asks him to make a rocket that can reach the moon. Inspired by this unusual request, Seikichi and his friends in the Furai Row-House block band together to defy not only the edicts of the government, but history itself.
When I first heard of Oh! Edo Rocket, it hardly seemed like a series worth bothering with- despite an original sounding premise, the official website made it look like nothing more than a slightly irritating kids’ show. Once it began airing, however, I let myself be swayed by the positive opinions of those who were actually watching it, and upon trying it out, I was surprised to find out that not only was it good, but that it was one of the best series of the year.
Rather than being a by-the-book historical adventure, Oh! Edo Rocket is quite the opposite- in fact, to call this the show that has everything wouldn’t be too far off the mark. In flagrant disregard for convention and setting, the series is packed with side stories, pop culture references and all sorts of tangents and hilarious moments. On paper, it sounds like it should be a mess of attempted comedy, a slightly irritating and only occasionally funny over-the-top piece of work, but in defiance of all the rules, everything comes together to provide a genuinely hilarious and enjoyable experience. Move over, FLCL and Pani Poni Dash- there’s a new contender in town.
Just what is it that makes Oh! Edo Rocket far more than a mere Excel Saga-style hit-and-miss hash of styles and jokes? Overall, it seems as if there is no one reason- instead there are many factors that contribute to make this series so great (and dare I say it, “awesome”). For one thing, beneath all the banter and jokes, there is actually a plot going on- not just about building rockets, but one that involves space monsters, government plots and a mysterious group known as the “Men in Black”. The pop culture references are then thrown in on top of this, in such a blatantly out of place yet oddly fitting way that you cannot help but laugh at them- after all, who can’t appreciate the irony of a character who posts about each episode on his blog, or worrying how the anime’s jokes will be translated for overseas viewers?
If unrelenting humour sounds like too much for you, however, fear not, for there is also plenty of more serious content. As well as various romantic undertones between various characters, there are darker elements such as a rampaging space monster, a serial killer who targets young women (and who is an important recurring character rather than a villain of the week) and even the requisite scheming government officials. All these different elements may sound like fairly unlikely bedfellows, but Oh! Edo Rocket’s greatest strength is perhaps its ability to combine all these different aspects into one coherent whole- as best demonstrated by its OP theme, which contains both tongue-in-cheek humour and quieter, more reflective moments- all within the space of a minute and a half.
Unsurprisingly for a series of this type, there are also plenty of cast members, from the lead characters to various one-joke personalities like Genzo, a cross-dressing mathematician and scale maker whose existence no one can remember. Despite the sheer number of characters, everyone is memorable in their own way (even the unfortunate Genzo!), but the ones who receive the most development are unsurprisingly leads Seikichi and Sora, along with their ally and friend, Ginjiro the locksmith. In amongst everything else, each of them makes their own journey throughout the course of the series, all the while avoiding falling into any pitfalls that might make them clichéd and dislikeable- even Seikichi avoids turning into the typical irritating shounen lead he seemed to be from his character design.
Just like its content, when it comes to presentation, Oh! Edo Rocket has plenty of variety to offer. Backgrounds are drawn in a wood block/brush art style similar to that used in Okami, whilst character designs range from attractive ‘standard anime’ to super-deformed chibis. Whatever is on screen, it is always brightly coloured and cleanly animated, whilst the action scenes are fast and fluid. Similarly, the series’ music is a catchy mix of different styles, from the energetic OP and cheerful ED to a guitar-driven action theme and even a piece evocative of early 20th century America. All in all, it’s designed to make the best impact possible, and it certainly succeeds.
Studio Madhouse has struck gold again with this unique series- a perfect blend of comedy, drama and action that should entertain any viewer. Sadly, it seems to have been cruelly overlooked during the time it was airing, but hopefully anyone who hasn’t tried Oh! Edo Rocket can make time for it in their 2008 viewing schedules- you surely won’t regret at least trying it out.