Crayon Shin-chan article published in Animerica Extra Vol. 4, No. 4, March 2001
This article was written by and is copyrighted to Patricia Duffield and may not be reproduced in part or whole without permission.
So far, In Depth has focused mainly on epic sagas and character-driven series, stories which have beginnings, middles, and (for those which have ended) endings. Like most industrialized countries, Japan also has its fair share of comic strips, episodic stories in which characters never really age. Currently at 27 volumes, Crayon Shin-chan is such a comic. Often compared to The Simpsons, Crayon Shin-chan focuses on the antics of Shinnosuke Nohara, a precocious preschooler whose outlook on life is amusingly unique.
This is not the sort of series for people who are easily offended. Set in author Yoshito Usui's hometown, the distant Tokyo suburb of Kasukabe in Saitama prefecture, the comic paints an exaggerated, hilarious picture of modern Japanese family life. The Nohara family is nuclear: an unindustrious salaryman, a bargain-hunting housewife, a spoiled boy, and, more recently, a manipulative baby girl. With a five year old title character, there's regular toilet humor and nakedness --just two of many qualities which make Shin-chan as controversial as Bart Simpson is in the U.S.
As a little kid, Shin-chan can get away with outrageous behavior and make blunt observations about his world no adult would dare voice aloud. His uninhibited nature and frankness are qualities which make him such an enjoyable character. Besides youthful misadventures, like applying mom's lipstick to the dog or using the stove to light fireworks, most of the series' humor comes from Shin-chan's often obtuse observations of everyday experiences from his own distinctive (skewed) viewpoint. When Shin-chan and his friends meet an untalkative business man saving space in a park for his company's cherry blossom viewing party, Shin-chan concludes the man has been fired from his job. Falling snow makes him think of shaved ice desserts, so he puts out all the containers in the kitchen to collect it. He plagues the local bookstore ladies by flipping through girly magazines alongside adult men and becomes disgruntled when they refuse his offers to buy such "picture books." It's this obnoxious innocence which makes some parents afraid to let their kids watch the show, let alone read the books. It's this amusing irony which keeps the adult audience coming back for more.
Although almost everything Shin-chan does frustrates someone, he's not always intentionally annoying. Sure, he has an affinity for exposing himself and is primarily motivated by his id, but he does occasionally act upon higher impulses. Once when he was home alone and it began to rain, Shin-chan tried to bring in the laundry. The result was his mother's clean clothes went sailing away in the storm's high winds ...but he does try to be helpful!
Crayon Shin-chan's funny, unflattering, five year old perspective of everyday life made it an immediate hit, and it has remained so ever since. The equally popular TV series has been running since 1992, and is nearly 400 episodes in length with four beautifully animated feature films. With a wealth of talent behind it, the TV show takes Usui's odd, short comics, seldom more than a few pages long, and expands them into ten to twenty minutes of animated humor. Shin-chan's character is brought to life by the remarkable Akiko Yajima (Relena - Gundam Wing), who makes his voice, with its odd, easily recognized drawl, as distinctive as his personality. Irony, slapstick, and endless puns are balanced with occasional moments of thoughtfulness and clarity. If you want an amusing way to gain some cultural insight and learn everyday words no Japanese class will ever teach you, this is a series to try.