Welcome to Irabu's Office (TV)

I'm always up for new and interesting series that have never even crossed my mind before. And, I guess you can say that, I wanted to find something completely out of the box from what I normally review on any of the blogs I write for, including my own. Then came along a series that not only have I not heard of before, but it's probably one of the more "out there" series that I've ever seen in recent memory! It involves the most crazy of doctors, mental illness, and the most colorful and strange animation. And this series is called Kuchu Buranko... AKA Trapeze... AKA Welcome to Irabu's Office... It has a few names.

Eleven people, each of them suffering from apparently groundless physical symptoms, land at psychiatrist Dr. Ichiro Irabu's consulting room, in the hope of finding a sympathetic doctor, who listens to their troubles, gives them some pills, and with this, solves their problems once and for all. Instead, they find that Irabu is an eccentric person, with childish features and with little to no sympathy. He employs drastic and unheard-of treatments, and instead of counseling, he prefers to look at his patients' background personally. Despite his strange behavior and methods, he can always help his patients find the real causes behind their symptoms, while being amused at the awkward situations, which the patients get into by following his advice.

Irabu vs
The Medicine Seller. Who'd win, I wonder...
One of the first things people will notice while watching this series (aside from the fact that finding it legally is a pain in the butt since it's unlicensed in the states), is how utterly odd the series actually looks. There seems to be some kind of mix between animation and real world images/maybe some rotoscoping, a la Flowers of Evil. The real world pieces are used either for some backgrounds or for the patients and Mayumi in order to show real life facial expressions.... or to just show how hot and sexy Mayumi is. With the rest of the animation, it's full of bright colors and different patterns that manage to coincide with whatever the patient is going through in that episode. It's a rather interesting choice, and one that many may not find appealing. However, some viewers may have seen something similar to this before, and I'll explain why. First, the series is from Toei Animation, the same company that produced Sailor Moon, Digimon, Dragon Ball Z, One Piece, and Mononoke. That last one may seem like an odd one to mention, but hear me out. Toei is very very well know to produce many of the shows we've seen as kids or have had a hand in the distribution of others. So, right away, the animation style of Irabu makes some sense. Now here's where it gets really interesting... The director of Irabu is Kenji Nakamura. Now he hasn't done a whole lot, but he has directing credit with [C] - Control: The Money and Soul of Possibility, Gatchaman Crowds, and (DA DA DA DA!!!) Mononoke. Now, if you've seen Mononoke or Bakeneko from Ayakashi: Samurai Horror Tales, then the choice in animation now seems a bit more understandable. Irabu isn't the first time both Nakamura and Toei have gone in this kind of direction. Really the only major difference between these two series is Irabu's use of color in order to really counteract with the seriousness of the show's story.... Or at least some what serious.

More than likely, the next thing the viewer will take notice in is Irabu himself. There's actually three different forms, I guess you can call it, to Irabu: his child looking self, his young adult self, and then green teddy bear self. And, just as I mentioned in the show's summary, he's not really your ideal psychiatrist. His methods are not only strange, but he can be rather sadistic at times as well. For example, he gets one of his patients to pull some rather crazy stunts, like farting in a crowded elevator, after he is diagnosed with OCD with a side of desire to act out. But the biggest case we can see in Irabu's behavior is, what I'm calling, his fetish with seeing people get shots. Granted it's used as a rather amusing gag in every episode, but it's still rather odd and creepy, if you ask me. Then there's his child like nature, as he has a tendency to change interests in the span of minutes. In the same episode, he starts out interested in baseball and then changes his mind and decides on acting instead. He's certainly an interesting and very much an odd duck of a character. It's kind of like, Irabu has ADHD or something as he follows his shiny new toys (AKA his patients) all over the place and is capable of changing his form rather quickly. This kind of begs the question, does Irabu actually exist? There are moments where he comes and goes as he pleases coupled with his change in form, as I mentioned a minute ago. Then there's his office in the basement of the hospital as it is one of the most colorful parts of the entire series. There's also the fact that, at no point in time, is Irabu given the same life like animation treatment compared to Mayumi and the visiting patients. And let's not forget his rather unorthodox methods of treatment including those "vitamin shots" (but we'll get to that in a minute). It's actually an interesting subject to debate, but, honestly, it's best to just go with it.

Here's why I'm saying you should just go with Irabu being there, it's for the sake of the series's comedy. That's right, folks, this show is a comedy! Because the subject matter can be rather serious, since the topic of discussion is mental illness, it balances this out by turning the series into a comedy. How it manages to accomplish this is through a mix of gags (like the shot gag I mentioned before), the color scheme in animation, and really just Irabu and his personality in general. By taking on a very lighthearted approach to a, sometimes, rather dark subject, Irabu manages to turn itself into a series where learning can be fun. It's an odd concept, I know, but often times humor is a good way to learn something new, and I've honestly never been this fascinated with mental illness before. It's also important to know that the eleven stories we get to see in the eleven episodes of this series take place in a span of days and our patients actually cross paths with each other. This is signified with the use of a calendar that Mayumi tears pages off of as those days pass, with December 24th as the last day we get to see in any of the stories. This makes the series more episodic in nature like Boogiepop Phantom, another series with psychological themes to it. And, just like Boogiepop, it's characters do cross each other's paths throughout the series. In the case of Irabu, the crossing of story lines is also used for comedic effect.
A yakuza with a fear of sharp edges... Kinda funny.
Now, I've saved the big item to discuss for last because it is a rather serious topic. The series is about mental illnesses and the patients that go through treatment in the most bizarre of ways. All of the illnesses in this series are real, from OCD to Yips and even Phobias. What Irabu does is let us explore these illnesses in a rather light hearted way so as to keep from being overly serious in tone. And to help solidify the accuracy of the medical information, there is even a character named Fukuitchi that pops in via cut out doorway in order to halt the scene and explain the medical side a little further. Hell, this can be seen as a bit of a running gag as well, though it is also a rather informative one. However, there is one other thing this series does in order to keep it's comedic tone regardless of the subject. Remember those vitamin shots? Well, there's a reason for that. Every time Mayumi administers a shot to a patient, their head turns into that of an animal, and rather specific ones at that. After the shot, whenever the patient exhibits signs of his illness, his head naturally turns into his selected animal for, apparently, only Irabu and Mayumi to see along with the viewer. This is to help draw a kind of parallel between the behavior a certain animal has to whichever illness is plaguing our patient of the week. So if you have a phobia, you may end up with the head of a yippy dog. If you are a bit of a narcissist then you're a seal. Insomnia? Well, have a penguin head! By creating this parallel between the mental illness and animals, it adds to the comedic quality of the series as well as make a commentary on basic human and animal instinct. As weird and odd of a show this is, it actually does have really good commentary on mental illness. It takes those mental illnesses to extremes sometimes, but it's still a decent commentary on them none the less.

I'll admit, I never really imagined that a comedy series about mental illness to turn out this good. It was such a relatively easy marathon (minus my watching methods being a ding bat), and the humor and personality behind it just gelled so easily and fluidly. Irabu's character, as a whole, is one of the more amusing I've seen in a long time and the insanity the series has despite the dark subject matter is what kept my interest the whole way through. I'm very sad that the series is only licensed in Australia because it would be a welcomed addition to my shelf! Though, Mononoke did finally get licensed and released in the states this year so I guess anything is possible! Welcome to Irabu's Office may be hard to find, right now, but I think actively seeking it out is completely worth it!


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