Three typical slice-of-life girls arrive in the big city. There’s Himawari, the confident blond sporty one, Tsuyukusa, the sleepy-eyed, dessert-loving blue-haired one, and Tsutsuji, the reddish-pink haired one who is so normal she’s special, as befitting an MC. Only, what’s that beneath their hats? Horns?! Oh yeah, they’re oni or the demon-monsters of Japanese folk lore, and they’re on a mission from the oni king himself to dispel the bad rap against oni that persists among humans. Things like the stereotype that oni enjoy nothing more than eating humans. You know, just little stuff. Anyhow, our MC is quite worried about being around so many humans, as she fears that they will be afraid of her, even though oni are now somewhat integrated into human society. Enter cute little girl who is indeed afraid of her. Can Tsutsuji and her friends dispel the little girl’s fears and win her over? To help them on their quest is a small mascot pirate bear who provides them with large tiger-striped boxers that possess the magical ability to transform them into anything they choose. Only, that’s all they do: no powers or abilities come with the transformation; it’s just a costume change. Let the cosplay extravaganza begin!
Based on the description alone, Onipan! could easily get off on the wrong foot: first off, it’s categorized as being short-form, which usually means about two minutes and can spell viewer disinterest, but the episodes are actually nearly fifteen minutes, so it’s more of a long-form short-form, with plenty of time for character development. Indeed, the dynamic between the three, clearly distinguished friends shines through in this first episode and it’s a lot of fun! They’re going to make a great team for this impossible task. The second potential strike against the series is the whole concept of magical underwear, which implies copious panty-shots. But wait! This is not at all that kind of series, as signalled by the hilariously large, outdated style of the item of clothing in question (think 19th century knickerbockers, but in animal print, or as Hima says, something her grandfather would wear) and no ecchi angle to the art whatsoever. It’s pure childlike comedy.
So much for clearing up potential misunderstandings, but this series has a few pluses going for it as well, the first being the quality animation Wit Studio brings to the table. Admittedly, there is some noticeable CG during the parkour chase scene (did I forget to mention that?), but it’s not too distracting. There’s also room here to read this series metaphorically, as the oni might be permitted and even welcomed to an extent in human society, but they seem to work all the menial service jobs, and are still treated as alien beyond the limits of the big cities. In other words, their experience mirrors that of immigrants in Japan. But what’s probably the most engaging about this series is the foundation of folk lore and the elements of traditional Japanese life that it is built on, with references to classic tales of the blue and red oni, Momotaro, and Hachiko the faithful dog. In other words, it’s pulling on quite a rich pool of storytelling that viewers with an interest in Japanese history and Edo era culture will enjoy, despite it being set in the present day. On those grounds, I’m confident that this one will be the slice-of-life/ comedy favorite for me this season!
Onipan! can be streamed on HiDIVE.