Shimoneta is a light comedy that requires little thought. However, the title gives away the show’s premise – dirty jokes. The entirety of Shimoneta’s material comes from dirty humor – ranging from silly to lewd. If that kind of comedy is your thing, you’ll probably enjoy this quite a bit. If not, you’ll probably find that this anime tries your patience at every opportunity. That said, it’s probably best to think of this anime as a protest against censorship, although you need to know a ton of background for it to make sense.
Purpose: Decent. This anime’s really a nonviolent protest of the censorship culture in Japan. Of course, it tries to accomplish this in a very ham-fisted way. Some of it is actually clever – they appear to be using and abusing the censorship rules to get away with the absolute maximum they can. In fact, the cellphone that allows them to get away with dirty jokes is always displaying the “leeway” they have left to do blatantly lewd things – a total of 3 minutes of material per episode. Of course to get why this is a protest, you need quite a bit of context.
The basis of modern censorship of material in Japan comes from the current interpretation of the Japanese Criminal Code, which prohibits the distribution of “indecent” material. What’s indecent? Well, no one is exactly sure, so it’s ended up doing some odd things. The general consensus is that, at the very least, pornography had to be censored. This created some very odd rules, requiring pixelation of genitalia for “live-action” porn, and some bizarre forms of censorship in manga and other print materials that showed more or less depending on the editors. Things changed quite a bit in 2004 when, for the first time in 20 years, someone was prosecuted under the law. A hentai manga artist managed to avoid jail time by pleading guilty and paying a fine. Of course, he appealed to Japan’s highest court, arguing that the censorship violated the “freedom of expression” contained in Japan’s constitution. The court actually tripled his fine. This caused quite a bit of a panic, resulting in a sharp increase in “self-censorship.” In other words, manga artists and editors were much, much more cautious about what they published. Actually, many stores even removed their 18+ sections to be safe. This kind of thing happened again in 2013, which is right between the publication of the Shimoneta light novel and the manga. Of course, censorship is a society-wide issue, affecting even their news media. Lately, there have even been discussions about increasing the power of censorship laws in Japan, making things worse.
One other bit of context that’s somewhat tangential is related to the other focus of “sex education,” a theme rampant in Shimoneta. Right now, Japan is entering a major population crisis. Far more people are dying than being born, roughly 250,000 people a year. In fact, some estimates predict that Japan’s population will have shrunk to 87 million people in 2060, with over half older than 65. Part of it is their work/home life culture making things difficult. Well over 50% of Japanese men and women under 30 have never been married. Additionally, children born outside of marriage are quite a rarity in Japan. Some critics attribute the lack of desire for families, marriage, and children in Japan’s youth today to the so-called “clean” and “pure” (read: heavily censored) environment they were raised in.
Characters: Poor. The characters do not exist apart from their role in the anime. Predictably, their personalities are strictly determined by their response to the concept of lewdness. You have everything from excessive, to neutral, to “closeted.” Of course, any character development is restricted to incorporation or acceptance of lewdness. The viewer’s point of entry is the character that goes from “this is terrible” to “oh, it’s fine, I guess.” In addition to this, the characters are all defined by “reaction catchphrases” – ways of reacting to things that are entirely predictable. The character with the most social commentary potential, Anna, had any depth negated and then she was used as a rather blunt instrument. Instead of delicate and nuanced commentary, she became (clearly intentionally) perverted into something of an obsessive lunatic. She’s the best example of what happened to all the characters to some degree or another – turned into a ham-fisted attempt at social commentary that was, instead, a mere excuse to get away with, well, lewd material.
World: Weak. You’d think the world would be much more interesting, given the subject matter. The author didn’t really bother to expand the world in any meaningful sense. The most we got was a vague “everything is censored” and some of the related silliness. Of course, that on its own wasn’t enough to merit a Weak rating. It’s the fact that the anime started racking up internal inconsistencies that weakened the world that was built early on. Again, the world’s place was little more than an opportunity to present the dirty jokes.
Plot: Poor. What plot? The best description is things happen. Episode plots are strictly limited to finding some new way to accomplish some sort of dirty joke or behavior. It’s wrapped up in the guise of “lewd terrorism” and a vaguely-stated goal of sex education. Of course, all of those are little more than an excuse.
Storytelling: Poor. As a comedy, the humor seriously underperformed. It’s not just the subject matter I’m complaining about – many anime can use lewd material to get a point across or get some laughs. Heck, the standard fan-service/harem genres rely on that stuff. It’s the setup and presentation of the humor that ends up seriously undermining what it’s trying to do. However, even anime that use lewd humor can work if they have variety. Sadly, Shimoneta lacked that variety. Much of the humor is character-specific, relying on a particular character acting in a particular way. The first handful of times, it’s mildly amusing. However, by the end, it’s the exact same kind of gag. What really catapults it into the Poor category is the fact that they try to keep entire episodes afloat with a somewhat singular gag. They try to throw little bits of variety, without any real effect. Sadly, much of the “filler comedy” involves Anna’s increasingly obsessive antics.
Pace: Poor. Timing of the humor was a serious issue. The main problem here was that they’d often dwell too long on the gags. Normally, in an anime that’s a pure comedy, you need to keep jumping from punchline to punchline so it doesn’t stagnate. Shimoneta instead really dragged out its punchlines, turning it into the equivalent of “get it? get it?” Predictably, it stagnated to the point that much of the humor was lost.