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Title: Sushi Oji!
Genre: Cracky comedy
Episodes: 8 (+ 1 movie, unseen)
Cast: Domoto Koichi (KinKi Kids), Nakamaru Yuichi (KAT-TUN), and about a million guests I recognise from other series such as Yamashita Shinji, Kato Natsuki, Ichikawa Yui and Narimiya Hiroki.
Plot: Ranma 1/2 meets Yakitate!! Japan meets Prince of Tennis. With fish. Yo, Sushi Oji!


Maizu Tsukasa (Koichi) has been called 'Sushi Oji' (Sushi Prince) since he was a small boy, when he demonstrated a remarkable aptitude for preparing sushi. He followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather before him - but no longer, as they were both killed when he was a mere ten years old. Not by drowning, as you might expect from two men who worked on a boat, but by being speared by a giant fish. A giant CGI fish with really creepy eyes. The moment you see this flashback, you'll know just how crack-filled the series is. Tsukasa is unfortunate enough to make eye contact with the fish as it robs him of his only remaining family, and the resulting trauma gives him Fish Eye Phobia. If he sees the eye of a fish (providing the eye is round) he goes completely nuts (as does his hair) and attacks everything in sight, including fish, buildings, and any people unlucky enough to be in the vicinity. Not only can he demolish buildings singlehandedly but he can call up storms - useful talents, if only they could be controlled.

Family trauma aside, Tsukasa is a fairly nice guy - a bit on the clueless side, at times, and not half as cool as he thinks he is, but he's got a decent heart and he's not afraid to work hard for what he wants. And boy, does he have to work hard. At the start of the series, he refuses to have anything to do with sushi and he's focused solely on learning Jinnenryou, a martial art that seems to involve a lot of impersonating animal poses but ends up being more like something out of Yuu Yuu Hakusho. (Which is appropriate, given what happens to Tsukasa's hair when he sees a fish eye.) And just as in YYH, Tsukasa has a sprightly elderly lady as a master. When she passes on, however, his training continues with a local sushi chef, Okudaira Kurage (Yamashita), who happens to be a master of the same art. Too bad for the anti-sushi Tsukasa, but sushi and martial arts go hand in hand in this series, and you can't master one without the other. Apparently.

Anyway, Tsukasa's got a long way to go before he masters either, and after a brief involvement in local politics and a sushi battle he wins more by being thoughtful than anything else, he hits the road with his Jinnenryou manual (an amusing list of things he has to do to master it, including playing air table tennis and striking a cool pose in a high place) and Kawataro (Nakamaru), one of Okudaira's employees. Initially, he's on a quest to improve his skills (both sushi and martial arts) by training with specialists all round Japan - mostly people with bizarre appellations. Along the way, he makes a lot of friends, helps a whole bunch of people, and encounters a number of pretty girls, most of whom either prefer Kawataro or some completely unexpected guy. Not even former reporter Umi (Natsuki), who reappears for the last few eps to cheer him on, falls for Sushi Oji.

As Tsukasa moves around Japan, he battles sushi chefs from Ginza Ichiyanagi. The 4th generation head of the Ichiyanagi family wants Tsukasa out of the world of sushi forever, for very personal reasons, and he'll stop at nothing to achieve this. (What I love most about the battles, aside from the improbable moves and their wacky names, is the way the stats for each competitor are shown on the screen. Is this series based on a shounen manga, by any chance?) For the sake of avoiding spoilers I won't get into Tsukasa's issues with Ichiyanagi, but suffice it to say that Tsukasa ends up in Ginza (in Akihabara, initially, as he doesn't realise that there is more to Tokyo than Ginza!) for what turns out to be a truly moving final battle with someone whose existence he wasn't even aware of at the start of the series.

I started watching 'Sushi Oji!' only because Nakamaru was in it and it looked like it might be entertaining, but I'd have kept watching even if Maru had only been in the show for ten seconds because it made me laugh so hard - though there were many sweet, and some bittersweet, moments as well. There's plenty of slapstick and visual jokes (watch Tsukasa and Okudaira at the traffic lights sometime), some wonderfully random dialogue (watch Tsukasa try to get some sense out of his teachers as to their choice of meeting place) and all the enjoyable shounen manga clich├ęs you could ever ask for. I can't say much about Nakamaru's character because he goes in a surprising direction near the end, but I love that he's part in awe of Tsukasa's skills, and part in awe of Tsukasa's plain, country-boy ignorance.

I know the show wasn't particularly popular, and I admit the first episode was not as riveting as the rest (masculine culture built around perms...well, that explains a lot about recent JE hairstyles), but I'd definitely recommend giving it a chance if you're in the mood for a good laugh. Or a good cry, as the final episode has some real tearjerker moments.
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