Review/discussion about: Etotama
Have you ever, intentionally or not, compared yourself or another person to an animal? “He is as free spirited as a bird” or “she swims like a fish” are easy to understand because the animals themselves are, too. Indeed, you would be hard pressed to find someone who does not know some of the most prevalent creatures in the animal kingdom. It also makes more sense to relate to an animal than their equivalent, manmade devices. For instance, calling someone an airplane or a boat is not as becoming because those vehicles are autonomous; they do not choose to act the way they do. Thus, “he is as ferocious as an alligator” or “she is as harmless as a butterfly” are quick and simple approaches to describe people and the way in which they behave. Etotama is all about spirit animals – the Chinese zodiacs, to be specific – showcasing a girl as selfish as a cat fighting to achieve her dream of joining the ranks of the heavens. Although the journey is short, it highlights that while we may be similar to birds, fish, alligators, butterflies and cats, we will always be, above anything else, ourselves.
Etotama is a classic case of “do not judge a book by its cover.” It looks silly – women dressed up as cows, chickens, and monkeys – and its premise is even sillier – Nyaa-tan the cat fights other animals to become a god. However, the anime takes full advantage of each of its elements it has at its disposal, earning it success where none might otherwise have been. It is not perfect, but when it is consistent and reasonable, the narrative stands strong and proud.
The structure of the narrative itself demonstrates Etotama’s first signs of consistency. From the beginning, the anime lays out the adventure: Nyaa-tan must defeat 12 “Eto-shin” to make her dream come true. Therefore, the audience immediately knows (for the most part) that the rest of the season will consist of Nyaa-tan going paw-to-paw with each member, experiencing a spiritual journey that culminates into a resolution that befits the tone of the show. This type of narrative structure – “X must obtain all Y to succeed” – is simple but easy to understand. The groundwork is established, the goal is set, and the proceedings never feel “unfair” in the sense that the events fit comfortably within the rules and confines of the world. It also uses its breaks during episodes to maximum effect when it explains said rules. That is, extra information is provided without stealing attention away from the action, fun, and purpose of the anime. All of this leads to a narrative that is understandable and therefore capable of focusing on the aspects that it wants to because the pacing, progression, and plot derive from the structure itself.
Two aspects in particular are given the most priority: the battles and the comedy. First, in order to avoid the potential predictability and repetitiveness that also comes with the aforementioned structure, Etotama spends a great deal of effort on making each “Eto-shin” encounter unique. One battle involves stealing socks, another revolves around go-cart racing, and another still is mired in a “shogi” (colloquially, Japanese chess) motif. The battles are a byproduct of the structure and are designed to be fresh with each new reiteration, but more than this is the reasoning stems from the characters themselves. Using the same examples, Moo-tan’s obsessiveness, Uma-tan’s franticness, and Piyo-tan’s arrogance allow the previous events to occur naturally, demonstrating the anime’s awareness of the variables in its formula and the consistency of its direction. Second, the multiple fields of comedy Etotama delves into keeps it from going where it does not want to. Meta humor about future sales of the anime, slapstick with Nyaa-tan to amuse the audience, and recurring jokes like Bu-tan’s perishing are a small sampling of the types of comedy employed. The entire summary episode is even tongue-in-cheek, where it was just a ruse to cook some food. But no matter the comedic genre, the anime almost always makes sure to follow its comedic tone, even during sentimental or dire situations. Nowhere is this more evident than in the finale; it completely mocks Nyaa-tan’s whole journey, ending the show on the same note it had always been playing. In other words the direction of the comedy, like the battles, remains consistent from start to finish.
Unfortunately, Etotama does get lost now and again; as was said, the narrative is not perfect. One of the most glaring grievances is Nyaa-tan’s amnesia. It was mentioned, referenced, and discussed throughout the whole season, but the curing of it happened all at once rather than gradually, leaving the impression that the anime lacked the foresight to deal with one of its most major plot points. A missing narrative theme is also a fault. While Nyaa-tan’s battles help to develop her actual person, they do little to serve the plot. Indeed, the main antagonist is prominent only in the beginning and end, meaning the most important conflict is barely present. Consequently and simultaneously, the middle section awards small, simple, yet saturated messages that are endearing but do not mesh well with the anime’s tendency for comedy. Thus, consistency gives way, and the show must sit where it once stood.
So while the cover for Etotama might appear off-putting, what lies within is a tale (and tails) that manages to be more worthwhile than at first perceived.
Without a doubt, Etotama’s highest feat is in the art and animation it offers.
More specifically, the CG work is some of the best – if not the best – in the medium. In fact, it would not be a stretch to consider Etotama the king of CG in anime, the shining figurehead that all subsequent shows should look up to. The worlds shown are not only vibrant but purposeful, since each world coincides with a specific character’s personality. Dora-tan’s world is an icy plain that matches her cool persona, Usa-tan’s all-over-the-place décor goes along with her quickness, and Shima-tan’s is a forestry jungle that follows her tiger qualities. But it is not just the art itself but theactual animation that is so surprising. The choreography of the fights uses: slow-motion segments, diverse abilities, explosions, easy-to-follow camera operations, and fluid attack patterns that, taken together, create a set of battles that are executed wonderfully. The cartoony depiction – where the characters go into “Pretty Mode” or “chibi” stature – aids the entire process because the unrealistic portrayals gives leeway as opposed to a realistic setting where exact movements would be required. Overall, the CG art and animation in Etotama deserves nothing less than the highest of accolades.
As if the CG were not enough, the two-dimensional aspects are strong as well. The character designs are quite detailed, with each zodiac accurately representing their respective animal. The animation of common interactions, balls of light, and body movements is easy to spot. Lastly, while Takeru’s abode is the main location visited, the show is not afraid to go to other areas, like the local café, parts of the city, and different spots of the heavens.
These aspects are not as strong as the CG (that is difficult to do in this context) but at the minimum they are “icing on the cake.”
In a show like Etotama, where the prominent cast is quite large – more than twelve characters – it becomes inherently difficult to develop them in a meaningful manner because resources are spread so thin. The anime stumbles into this pitfall, with little growth seen from anyone besides Nyaa-tan. Arguably, Nyaa-tan’s development is poor at best; she goes back to being who she was after remembering everything rather than learning from the entire experience. However, the characterizations are, like the story, taken advantage of as much as possible, leading to its theme on people being nobody else but themselves.
When the characterizations are looked at superficially, it is somewhat easy to discern that the characters and their personalities come from the zodiacs they represent. That is to say, the zodiac symbols symbolize the characters – their actions, their mannerisms, and so on. A quick example would be Chuu-tan the Rat. Rats are dirty and gross, with the connotations of being conniving and sinister, which is exactly what Chuu-tan is: the evil villain of the show. Another example is Usa-tan the Rabbit, who is quick on her feet and fast in the game of business. One more is Shima-tan the Tiger, tomboyish in attitude, rough when dealing with others, and incredibly powerful. While some are a bit more difficult to classify – Mei-tan the Sheep is a nurse because wool covers, protects, and warms others, “healing” both body and mind – each and every “Eto-shin” has some connection to her respective zodiac sign.
But there is another connection, one that is not so superficial. Interestingly, each symbol also forms a dichotomy; each character has traits that are the opposite of their chosen zodiac. Using the same examples once more: Chuu-tan becomes the most pure of the bunch, Usa-tan’s weakness is her heel (a “rabbit’s foot” is considered a lucky charm), Shima-tan is teased about being the most womanly and sexiest due to her good looks, and Mei-tan gets “sick” after the “love bug” bites her. Again, this type of dichotomy can be seen with each character, not just the ones listed. These twists are minor, but because they are so ironic, they improve the base and symbolic characterizations further since they help to give a new and different angle to view them with.
Nyaa-tan the Cat follows suit, having symbolism and dichotomy of her own. As a cat, she is shown to be quite selfish and carefree, doing whatever it is she feels like doing. Yet, unlike a cat, she is actually the most selfless, handling duties all over the world while being concerned for everyone around her. Since Nyaa-tan and the other cast members each follow these ideas, it begs the question: what about Takeru? As the (literal) odd man out, it is not immediately clear how he fits in among the other characters, let alone what he symbolizes and what sort of dichotomy he holds. But after watching the show, listening to his speech on imperfection, and accepting him being the “Human” zodiac, the beauty is that he does not fit because he is not supposed to. Symbols and dichotomies do not define Takeru because he, and by extension the other women, is more valuable than that. He might have traits like a dragon or a monkey or a horse, or he might have traits that would seem uncharacteristic. But at the end of the day, people are who they are and nothing more. Furthermore, since Takeru represents all of humanity in the context of the anime, this interpretation has more weight because it does not apply to just himself but all people. This might explain the missing character development; people do not necessarily have to turn or change into someone else because sometimes it is not needed, sometimes people are who they are, and that is okay.
Development or no, this theme – people are not symbols or dichotomies, but simply themselves – is nicely captured through the characters, giving Etotama yet another leg to stand on.
Etotama’s weakest area is the music it incorporates. The opening theme has fun bits in the beginning and middle, and the end can be somewhat catchy, but the vocalist does little to instill emotion or prepare the viewer for what is to come. The ending theme, however, does well due to the sheer number of singers involved. With a new zodiac being included with each subsequent episode, its power only increases. Plus, like the dichotomies previously, the mellowness of the piece contrasts with the anime, helping to ease the audience out of each episode after the craziness contained within them.
The rest of the soundtrack contains background pieces that more or less serve their purpose. Uppity tracks for the fun times and piano tracks for the sad ones, as well as other arrangements to fit the occasion. Nothing noteworthy, but nothing grating either. The voice acting can be seen the same way: average outings all around. The exception, of course, is Rie Murakawa as Nyaa-tan who gave a fantastic performance as the rambunctious, lovable, and “boo-boo” spouting cat god.
In order to like this anime, one has to like Nyaa-tan. Luckily, I really liked her. She was the star of the show, always putting a smile on my face with her fun, cute, and endearing antics. Something I still quote to this day is one of her lines from early on in the series, where she says “got it” in a sly voice after pretending to defend Takeru from everyone else calling him a “Sol/Lull battery,” which was just a ploy to get said “Sol/Lull” from him. Nyaa-tan was incredibly vibrant and hilarious, and I will always remember the laughs she got out of me.
I am giving Nyaa-tan a lot of praise, but laughs were also had with many of the other characters as well. Uma-tan’s apologizing because she felt it was her fault the other zodiacs were always forgotten, Piyo-tan’s memory loss after three steps yet still having negative emotions towards Nyaa-tan, and Uri-tan’s vocal tic (“desu, desu”) were all funny, with each character having their moment in the spotlight. However, the only gripe I have is that there were too few interactions between everyone. Due to the “zodiac-of-the-week” format, Nyaa-tan would have comical, one-on-one skits, but this left little time for the other zodiacs to have relationships between each other. Still, what the anime gave never disappointed.
That is Etotama, a show that does not disappoint. It has some flaws in its story and music, but the rich CG, the thematic cast, and the nice amount of entertainment it dishes out mostly make up for the tiny missteps it has along the way. While the anime might not be as strong as an ox, it accomplishes what it wanted to be all along: itself.
Story: Fine, consistency in its narrative structure, battles, and comedy are a boon, but mishandling of key plot points and overall theme are evident flaws
Animation: Great, a shining example of CG art and animation for anime
Characters: Good, symbolism, dichotomies, and a theme on people being nobody but themselves
Sound: Fine, okay OP, good ED, average soundtrack, average VA work with the exception of Rie Murakawa providing a fantastic performance as Nyaa-tan
Enjoyment: Good, Nyaa-tan was hilarious the whole way through, the rest of the cast was funny as well, but not enough non-Nyaa-tan character interactions
Final Score: 7/10
Thanks for taking the time to read my review. If you want, take part in the discussion below! :3