Ask John: What Is Kochikame?
I had never really heard of Kochikame before but it attracted my attention because Toei released a crossover special of One Piece and DBZ and it featured the main character from Kochikame. When I looked up Kochikame I was surprised – the series has been around since the 1970’s, has had over 100 manga volumes and once had a tv series that reached nearly 400 episodes! That made me curious because a series that is able to last that long usually has something special going on for it. Yet, I’d never heard of it before in the American fandom which is very odd for a current popular Shonen Jump series. What I’d like to know, John, is 3 things…. What is it about Kochikame which makes the series so special to Japanese fans? Why have American fans paid so little attention to this series? And what are your personal views on how receptive Americans fans might be to a release of this show?
The two most popular genres of anime in Japan that typically fail to reach America is any significant degree are anime for young children and Japanese domestic comedies. In the later category, certin shows such as Mainichi Kaasan and Crayon Shin-chan have gotten some official American release, but titles including Atashin’chi, Fujilog, Gokyoudai Monogatari, Nono-chan, Chibi Maruko-chan, Jarinko Chie, Moeretsu Ataru, and Sazae-san remain practically unheard of in America. Kochira Katsushika-ku Kameari Koen Mae Hashutsujo, “This is the Police Station in Front of Kameari Park in Katsushika Ward,” falls into the later category. Creator Osamu Akimoto’s ongoing “Kochikame” manga premiered in 1976. A 373-episode TV anime adaptation aired from June 16, 1996 until December 19, 2004. Two anime feature films were released in 1999 and 2003. An 8-episode live-action TV series aired in 2009; it was followed up by a 2011 live-action motion picture. In the same way that Shigeru Mizuki’s Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro has become an integral part of Japanese culture and been enshrined with a series of 134 bronze statues located in Sakaiminato City, Tokyo’s Kameari bus terminal is surrounded by a number of Kochikame bronze statues.
Kochikame is beloved among Japanese viewers comparable to the way The Andy Griffith Show might be beloved to Americans. Kochikame is a laid-back, lighthearted gag comedy about neighborhood policeman Ryotsu Kankichi and his co-workers. “Ryo-san” is neither dumb nor brilliant. He may be, at times, just a little bit crude, but like a bull in a china shop, he means no harm. In effect, he’s an ordinary guy who tries to shirk responsibility, goof off, and lounge around, yet he’s also the first to step forward to help when necessity calls. He’s a favorite character for Japanese viewers because he’s an everyman, a character that every Japanese viewer can imagine as the cheerful but slightly oafish police officer down on the corner who knows everyone in the neighborhood by name and keeps the peace in his own fatherly fashion.
Thanks to the fact that the 1999 first anime movie was released on Japanese DVD with optional English subtitles, I’ve watched that film in addition to a small number of untranslated TV episodes. Kochikame is a Japanese domestic comedy, so it addresses and appeals primarily to modern, ordinary Japanese sensibilities in the same way that typical American live-action sitcoms like The King of Queens and Mike & Molly appeal to ordinary contemporary American viewers. Kochikame is certainly accessible and comprehensible to foreign viewers, but foreign viewers may not appreciate the show quite as much as Japanese viewers do. Kochikame is particularly amusing to Japanese viewers because the show parodies the conventions and ordinary daily characteristics of Japanese urban society. What seems like simple slapstick comedy to foreign viewers comes across as satire of familiar social etiquette to Japanese viewers. Behavior and dress that seems foreign to American viewers looks comfortable, reassuring, and nostalgic for Japanese viewers. In effect, American viewers can only perceive Kochikame as a mild-mannered domestic gag comedy, a show that’s moderately amusing but not engrossing, addicting, stylish, or “cool.” Japanese viewers, however, relate to the show and perceive its characters as eccentric extensions of their own family. The anime series’ opening animation is a bit faster paced than the show itself is, as the series relies heavily on dialogue & character conversations, but the opening alone amply proves reason why Kochikame isn’t especially popular in America. The slice-of-life show has none of the stylish young characters nor the crisp art design that typically attracts foreign viewers to anime. Kochikame is really a domestic Japanese sitcom for mainstream Japanese families, and it just happens to be animated.