I’m going to make a gross generalization and state that most pornographic titles are intended for perverts, starring perverts. That’s not to say you have to be inherently perverse to enjoy pornography, but the purpose of porn is to titillate and, for the most part, it serves a specific purpose. I’m not exactly sure what the point of Ryutaro Nakamura’s series Colorful (not to be mistaken for the recently released movie directed by Keiichi Hara) is, exactly, but I might classify it as “starring perverts, for everybody else.”
Colorful isn’t really for everybody, because it is unquestionably tasteless. Based on a manga by Torajirou Kishi, it ran for 16 episodes-worth of surreal, perverted, comedic shorts that aired during TBS’ late night variety show, Wonderful. Nakamura (whose name you may recognize as director of two of the late 90s’ most widely respected anime titles: Serial Experiments Lain and Legend of Crystania) crafts a bizarre anime experience centering around the awkward, and sometimes illegal, exploits of a group of extreme perverts.
Take Steve, an American exchange student living in Japan who devotes his free time to taking upskirt videos via water reflections, in the hopes of capturing what he calls “the upside Mt. Fuji.” Then there’s the rest of the crew, who aren’t any better. The high school P.E. teacher obsessed with the body of his star athlete, Yamamoto. The shoe shop employees who use mirrors to catch a glimpse of customer’s underwear. The guy who huddles by the bathroom door listening to his female friend urinate and lovingly caresses the toilet after she’s gone. The high school students obsessed with the way their female English teacher, Ms. Pamela, says her L’s and R’s.
In the world of anime pervert stereotypes, none of these guys are particularly cutting edge, but that’s not really the point. The show’s shtick is to show these losers try to get a glimpse of the female form, only to be denied and instead be subjected to physical pain and/or horrendous embarrassment.
It’s a one trick pony to be sure, and aside from some surreal scenarios later in the series (one of which involves a giant high school student walking out of Tokyo Bay, offering the local perverts quite literally the biggest opportunity for panty shots in their life), it doesn’t deviate much from the formula. The episodes are short, at roughly five minutes each, and it’s easy to see how it was formatted to fit within the context of another show. The formula begins to wear thin after continued viewings, so this isn’t a show I’d recommend marathoning, although it is short enough you could knock through it in under two hours.
The citation-less Wikipedia article on Colorful claims that it was divisively received, with people considering it “…either wildly funny, or tasteless and depraved.” I would posit that it’s actually both; a fundamentally stupid series about stupid perverts that works remarkably well in its short format, but wouldn’t be worthwhile in a longer form. Tasteless as it is, there are probably hundreds if not thousands of anime titles that feature a token pervert character, and as such Colorful isn’t going to be that shocking to someone who’s seen a fair amount of anime. Despite the characters being ridiculous perverts, there’s no attempted rape or extreme depravity here.
About halfway through the series it begins feeling like the staff is getting a bit bored with their formula and they begin branching out into weirder fare, like the giant high school girl mentioned above, or the episode where Steve’s visiting friend from the United States discovers what a complete creep he is. There’s a Wonder Showzen-esque curvature to the production, where at first they revel in their formula (Wonder Showzen‘s being a kids’ show for adults, starring kids) then get bored and begin experimenting with how bizarre they can get without anybody noticing.
It should go without saying that as much as Colorful is about perverts and Adult Situations, with plenty of animated crotch shots and cleavage, none of it is particularly titillating. The art style is simple, lacking in detail and flat, rendering anything that could be construed as “fan service” relatively innocuous. But then Colorful aired during a mainstream variety show, so something tells me the intended viewers weren’t your typical anime fans looking for some ecchi.
Despite being produced at the very end of the 1990s, Colorful proudly wears its 90s heritage on its sleeve. In particular, short interludes consisting of random animated clips (politicians talking, wrestlers wrestling, girls dancing in 90s club clothing, etc.) are done in the style best described as the concert scene from Macross Plus meets the visual design of Wired Magazine’s early years. Abundant Photoshop filters, digital effects and intentional pixelization make it endearing and perhaps a little nostalgic for those of us who grew up in the 1990s.
The visual style combined with the short format makes it reminiscent of something MTV might have aired late at night, and while MTV’s formatting might have moved on by the time Colorful was released in the U.S. in 2003, an MTV-like demographic is probably what Colorful needed. It is unmistakably anime, but despite having plenty of classic anime elements, it would probably have a better chance with “mainstream” viewers than typical anime fans. The pervs would want something more perverted, the comedy fans would want something with a bit more baka, and everyone one else would just think it’s tasteless and gross.
At Colony Drop we occasionally discuss anime titles that can be watched by non-anime fans, anime titles that stand on their own not just as good anime, but as good film or television. Colorful might not fit in with most people’s perception as “good,” and unlike a Miyazaki film I sure as hell wouldn’t show it to my parents, but it’s made with a cleverness that far exceeds its tasteless subject matter, a cleverness and surreality that are more deserving of regular viewers rather than introverted anime fans.