There’s a mysterious door in the floor of five-year-old Ami’s room in her family’s new home. It leads to Animal Yokocho, or AniYoko, a parallel universe inhabited by talking animals. Three of the animals pop out of the door every day to play with Ami: Kenta, the high-strung bear; Issa, the gentle panda; and, Iyo, the playful, deranged rabbit. They do things differently in AniYoko:
In some episodes the animals “help” Ami with her homework or introduce Ami to the AniYoko versions of various activities and pastimes. Other episodes are just plain strange. Frequently a fourth visitor from AniYoko drops in, Yamanami-san the horse, who runs the AniYoko black market, provides miscellaneous services and generally adds to the confusion.
Most of the humor is based on incongruities, absurdities and clashing personalities. While children Ami’s age might enjoy a dubbed version (should one ever be made) for its sheer silliness, older children and adults will get more out of the show.
Here are a couple of excerpts that would probably fly over the heads of most kindergarteners:
Kenta: We’ll tell you the truth, then. However …
Kenta: You better not regret it. The truth is this world isn’t real but a dream the grown-up you is dreaming after becoming exhausted from working overtime and falling asleep on a commuter train. To prove it: The scene always takes place inside this house. And no other characters have appeared besides us. And we’ve only heard your papa’s and mama’s voices and have yet to see them appear!
Ami: No way. That’s horrible. It can’t be true.
Iyo: It’s true. To prove that you’re dreaming, see: (strikes Ami with folded paper fan). It doesn’t hurt when I hit you.
Ami: It hurts!
Iyo: Huh? That’s odd. How about this? (strikes Kenta)
Kenta: Ow! What does hitting me accomplish?
Ami: Oh. It wasn’t true.
Ami, Kenta, Issa and Iyo are trying unsuccessfully to sleep on Christmas Eve so Santa will come and bring presents. Ami reads stories to the animals to help them feel drowsy.
Issa: What are you going to read?
Ami: Let’s see … “The Mystery of the Missing Sandwich.”
Iyo: I know that one.
Ami: I’m going to start then. “There lived a family of bears.”
(Issa and Iyo start snoring.)
Kenta: They’re already asleep!? Fast!
Ami: “One day, the family of bears went for a picnic in the forest. They brought yummy sandwiches in their picnic box. Once noon came, they opened their picnic box and found the sandwiches missing!”
Kenta: Where did the sandwiches go?
Iyo (wakes up): The Earl of Sandwich ate them, right?
Ami: You’re not supposed to say that.
Iyo: “Sandwiches were named after me. By law, I have the right to eat all sandwiches in this world.” That’s what the Earl of Sandwich proclaimed. And the court ruled that the Earl of Sandwich did indeed hold that right.
Ami: Next, “The Mystery of the Missing Pizza.”
Kenta: Something’s missing again?
Ami: “There was a shop that made tasty pizzas. However, one day, every last pizza in the shop went missing.”
Kenta: I got it! The Earl of Pizza ate them!
Iyo: Wrong. The pizzas, topped with mentaiko ((marinated roe of pollock)) and other stuff, started losing sense of their own identity and wanted to get back in touch with their roots, so they went back to Italy.
Kenta: I’m never going to fall asleep!
Some of the jokes are beyond me:
There are fifty-one pairs of half-length episodes, of which the first eighteen have been fansubbed. Animal Yokocho is episodic, and there is no continuous story arc. It’s acceptable for all ages, despite the occasionally surprising vocabulary. Like most farcical series, it’s best appreciated in small doses.
Update: I uploaded the opening of Animal Yokocho to the video weblog.