Golden Boy

Have you ever enjoyed something that was bad for you? As someone who's always been heavy, I have on occasion tried to lose weight, and so I often look at nutritional information on restaurant websites. It's scary when you find out, for example, that only 3 of the 25 varieties of Dairy Queen Blizzards come in at under 500 calories -- and that's in the small size. Some of the "large" Blizzards clock in at 3/4ths the calories someone is supposed to have for a whole day. Delicious? Yes. But good for you? Not even close.

This is the closest analogy I could find to describe Golden Boy, a 6-episode OVA series from 1995-1996 that is the Japanese equivalent of a Judd Apatow film. The show is funny throughout and occasionally uproarious. I laughed at it more than I have most other anime comedies. Yet it also revels in sexual perversity and exploits most of its female characters. When I wasn't laughing, I was usually uncomfortable, and that's not a good sign. Had it lasted only an episode or the raunch level eventually subsided, I might be able to recommend it (as I did when watching only the first episode, as my original review shows.) But nearly three hours of this was too much for me.

Golden Boy is the story of Kintaro, a "student of the world." He completed all the necessary courses for a law degree but never actually graduated. Instead, he hopped on his bike and started touring Japan, taking odd jobs and learning everything from computer programming to noodle making. Kintaro is an insatiable perv but also amazingly kind-hearted and sweet. In every scenario, Kintaro has to overcome his natural urges to become the best swimmer, boyfriend, or animator he can be, depending on his study that day. But boy, does lust ever get in the way of learning!

If Golden Boy were simply stupid, I could easily dismiss it. However, it's not. Many of the gags are quite funny whether or not you enjoy sex humor. This is made especially true by the English dub which features Doug Smith as Kintaro. Apparently this was his first major dubbing job, and while otherwise he is pretty unaccomplished, he nevertheless demolishes the standard set by the already funny Japanese version. Both versions have their own laughs; the sub and dub aren't exactly on track together, but the dub sacrifices minor issues on translation to keep things funny, and it works. For me, though, I heard Smith's Kintaro and never looked back.

However, there are two elements that bothered me about the show, both of them content-related. The first one is not controversial, and that's the fact that episodes 1-3 and 4-6 are mirrors of one another. Episodes 1 and 4 involve Kintaro having to prove himself to a woman in authority over him, by the end showing that he is the master and she the student. Episodes 2 and 5 are the most sexual, and each involves a woman seeking to take advantage of Kintaro only to find themselves wanting him in the end. Finally, episodes 3 and 6 are softer stories where Kintaro helps a woman in trouble not so much because he's in lust with her but because he's a nice guy. The circumstances are different, but they play out closely enough that I saw the parallels pretty easily. Of all the episodes, the last one is my favorite -- it's not as dirty-minded, it features Kintaro in an anime studio (reminiscent of the great Animation Runner Kuromi), and it wraps up by tying all six episodes together nicely -- so it's not like the parallels ruin anything. They just make the whole less interesting to watch...once you've seen the first three, you know what's ahead.

But what finally makes the show one I can't recommend is its overwhelming focus on not just sexuality but exploitation of women. I have given good grades to a couple of thematically similar shows before -- off the top of my head, I think of Ebichu Minds the House -- but in those instances, the shows themselves haven't degraded women, not in the same way. Kintaro is truly a sweet soul who never actually sleeps with anyone, and while his thoughts are perverse, his actions are mostly honorable (with a few exceptions). But most of the women here aren't people. They are nipples and butts and sundry other body parts. I've seen plenty of fan service in my time, and there's worse out there by far...but over the course of the whole, it grated on me. At the end of the day, the show has a different perspective than Kintaro. He likes women and does the right thing by them most of the time, but the camera does not.

Golden Boy has received good reviews across the Internet, so you can take my review with a grain of salt. You know what you're looking for in your anime, and if this sort of thing appeals to you, you will find it loaded with funny moments and a character for whom you can easily root. But just like with those Blizzards I mentioned above, a little goes a long way, and while you might not see any danger in the world of fan service, I do. I'm to the point in my reviewing career where I just can't recommend a show that I wouldn't tell a friend to see. Are my personal convictions getting in the way? Maybe. But if Roger Ebert (a regularly self-acknowledged agnostic) can bash Sex and the City 2 and Kick Ass for their morally unsound attempts at entertainment, how much more so a pastor give a hard time to an anime that is hilarious but morally a zero?

Golden Boy -- profanity, strong sexual language, situations, and concepts (though no actual sex) -- C+