The proliferation of five to 15 minute anime has opened doors to ideas that would otherwise struggle to fill a full-length time slot with gags. It’s kinda like cruising the sample aisles at Costco; sure you could go to the deli and buy a full sandwich or you can get bites of salsa and chips, smoked turkey, a brownie, veggie dip, and slow-cooked meatballs. Compared to my short-anime diet of a cat in a banana, the fraught romance of a patisserie student, and a shut-in mecha pilot trying to enjoy his katsu in peace, it’s really not that different.
Suburu Ichinose is the aforementioned pilot in GONZO‘s truly hilarious adaptation of Kei Itō and Satoshi Miyakawa‘s manga. Our hero Subaru is an intentional jab at the stereotypical high-maintenance mecha pilot. He appears aloof and temperamental, the kind of behavior viewers come to expect from the “ace pilot” type. Any number of Gundam protagonists have walked the same path (in fact, this series is a very direct parody of both Gundam and Space Battleship Yamato), but unlike Amuro Ray, Subaru is more akin to a neurotic shut-in with a pre-occupation about his nipples. Space Battleship Tiramisu spends most of its first season of seven-minute episodes focusing on an absurd gags over any kind of plot, but there isn’t a stinker in the whole bunch. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but most of the highlights are when Subaru is forced to interact with the rest of the Tiramisu’s crew.
Each character, like Subaru, is a stereotype of sorts. Shigeruko is the ship’s mechanic but she has more in common with your gossiping, hovering grandma. She writes Subaru’s name on his helmet, redecorates the inside of his cockpit with an excessive amount of doilies and messes up his DVD collection. Also aboard the ship is fellow pilot and possible James Bond villain Vulgar Hummer who is just a little too macho-touchy for Subaru’s taste. Rounding out the cast is female pilot Ligier Leroy who flies a painfully pink mecha with lobules on its metallic breasts, Tiramisu’s captain, a very aged Captain Harlock, and a conniving robot.
Several gags return throughout both seasons in an interesting ways and provide a sense of continuity but the actual plot is pretty light until the end of the first season. An intentionally obvious twist reveals that a trusted crew member was actually Subaru’s long-lost brother and Metus forces lieutenant Isuzu. Subaru attempts to reconcile with him several times but the sticking point is their opposing relationship to their father, a Gendo-type robot scientist that keeps getting fooled into clicking on porn spam links in his e-mail and Subaru’s “Universe Sense” a kind of psychic power similar to Spider-Man’s Spidey Sense. It also allows Subaru to converse with stray pubic hair. This too, is a reoccurring gag and somewhere there’s a live-action actor who had to play a pube on stage for the series’ stage play adaptation.
Season 2 spends more of its run-time focusing on the relationship between Subaru, his brother, and his dad and introduces the the Tomino-named villain Escalade Cadillac. Cadillac pushes Subaru and Isuzu together for a final battle all in an attempt to avoid his divorce paperwork. The finale is maybe the best distillation of how the series invokes common tropes and defies the audience’s expectations with hilarious results. The entire team of mecha pilots unite in attempt to save Earth by trying their hardest to overcome the impossible and encourage one another. It’s a set-up viewers have seen a thousand times in film and television and Space Battleship Tiramisu completely flips it. I don’t want to spoil the fun here, but I was ugly cackling the entire time.
Screenwriter Yū Satō cut his teeth on short-form comedy, having previously worked on the equally absurd and fun Inferno Cop, Ninja Slayer From Animation, and Space Patrol Luluco. Director Hiroshi Ikehata has a long resume of comedy works like Robot Girls Z and Magical Circle Guru-Guru and since gone on to direct the FLCL Progressive series. The writing and direction are tight the whole way through; it’s the art where the series suffers the most. Even at just barely over five minutes, the characters can veer off-model in still shots and designs get simplified to bare minimum recognition. As long as the hair is blue, viewers know its Subaru even if he’s more blob than stud. The deviation isn’t so horrendous as to be distracting, but it’s very far from consistent.
Both the first and second season home video releases include four OVA episodes a piece and they are consistently as funny as the main series entries. The first season includes key points from the perspective of Cody (Isuzu) when he was masquerading as a Tiramisu staffer that adds a whole new perspective to his previous appearances. Also the ending song is completely stupid (the lyrics are just the talented Kaito Ishikawa repeating the name of the mecha over and over) but it will get stuck in your head.
Space Battle Tiramisu is not the shiniest production but its unique humor is dead on. The short episode length means its easy to binge both seasons in a single day. You’ll have a hard time shutting it off, anyway.