Anime Review: Tonkatsu DJ Agetaro

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Hey everybody! It’s time to (chill out…) for one more anime for Anime Short Features Month! To recap, we embraced otaku culture of the mobile generation in Hackadoll, relaxed with comfort food and a smooth beverage in Wakakozake, and explored one of Japan’s most treasured art styles combined with the nation’s most contested historic periods in Sengoku Chojyu Giga. This time, we are bringing together different cultures in urban Japan in Tonkatsu DJ Agetaro.

I actually think this is one of the most creative anime short features that gives us a different flavor of a slice of life. I may have a bias toward the setting given where I live, but urban life hardly gets represented in anime, especially considering how many of these shows take place in Tokyo. But this series also combines two things that aren’t always seen together. Who knew that fried cooking and disk jockeying had so much in common?

The animation and music melds perfectly together for one funky anime short. And if nothing else, this series always gives me a craving for some tonkatsu.

Writer

Forget bacon. “I want some tonkatsu.”

Tonkatsu DJ Agetaro is about the show’s titular character Agetaro Katsumata, a Tokyo teenager whose family owns a local restaurant that specializes in fried foods. As is tradition for sons to take over the family business, Agetaro is groomed to become the 3rd generation owner. But Agetaro is bored with learning how to make tonkatsu (fried pork cutlets) and constantly being drilled by his father to become a hard worker.

But one night, Agetaro was sent to deliver an order of tonkatsu to a regular customer, who was out at a club. When he got there, what he had seen, heard, and felt would — as many an anime go — changed his life forever. As he witnessed the foreign DJ Big Master Fry play his tunes, he instantly made a connection to his father. Seeing the worlds of fried cooking and disk jockeying come together, Agetaro found his calling.

DJ

Mind blown.

Agetaro is very lucky to have exposure to different cultures in Tokyo, but the intersections of his own identity isn’t without conflict. Agetaro may have a loving mother and father and a down-to-earth little sister, but they come from a working class neighborhood. Their humble family business is small, and as a good Japanese citizen, Agetaro is expected to continue that business when he grows up. Given that social context, it’s understandable that his father disapproves of his changing lifestyle as a DJ, or that Agetaro is always being yelled at to work harder.

Father

Okay! Geez!!

But with the fast-paced lifestyle of a densely populated microcosm like Tokyo, cultural norms and practices are always changing, and old businesses like their family-owned restaurant must compete with new ideas in order to stay relevant! Agetaro also comes from a young generation that would rather escape from a boring traditional life in favor of something he will enjoy, and becoming a DJ was his way out.

Agetaro is motivated to become the first Tonkatsu DJ, one who can fuse together a variety of music genres and fried foods. But that road isn’t without so many bumps along the way, given that he doesn’t know the first thing about being a disk jockey! So with the help of one of his shop’s distributors, the local record store owner, an entourage of neighborhood club goers, and his mentor on hard times DJ Oily, Agetaro learns from his urban community what it takes to survive in this profession.

Agetaro learns the rudiments of old school tunes, inspired by jazz, disco, and hip hop from generations before him. By opening himself up to these sounds, Agetaro becomes well versed in the traditional world of urban music, complete with a super cheap stereo. But when Agetaro has a gig at the club, he must come up with his own track that flows together and sets all kinds of moods, from up-beat energetic tunes to slow, serene ones that settle the crowd in for relaxation.

Combining the music with techniques he learns at the family restaurant, Agetaro creates his own style with traditions from both worlds.

Fusion

Well… at least what he knows about each so far.

Although Agetaro does his best to fuse together the two seemingly different ideas, his road to becoming a Tonkatsu DJ gets more bumpy when it comes to competition. Although there is much room for him to improve, Agetaro is always steps behind the most popular new age (not necessarily the genre) DJ Yashiki.

Yashiki

This guy…

Cool, calm, and probably doesn’t care much about anyone else, Yashiki is the star of the current generation of DJs, and he’s not giving that title up that easily. Even at a young age, Yashiki works very hard at his gigs, and has proven to be a classy businessman too. Naturally Agetaro sees Yashiki as his biggest rival if he wants to aim for the top as a DJ.

And to top off all of the changes in his fast-paced life, he’s also interested in the cute stylist apprentice, Sonoko Hattori? Hey, if life is already going to be rough as it is, putting all this together, might as well go for all of it!

I actually think that Agetaro and Sonoko are a very workable couple in anime. Sure, Agetaro is kind of a dork, and given Sonoko’s ties as Yashiki’s personal stylist, she appears to be way out of his league. However, every time these two meet, Sonoko is always noticing Agetaro’s charm, and thinks his style is fresh and amazing. Sonoko’s relationship with Yashiki is purely professional, and admits that she makes a lot of mistakes that make her feel inadequate sometimes, just standing next to her employer. Agetaro may feel like he and Sonoko are worlds apart, but they surprisingly have a lot in common.

Agetaro’s world is changing fast in his night career, but if he has any chance at competing with DJ Yashiki, he must find a team of DJs of his own. And with that comes Agetaro’s crash course in the music of a new generation.

E. Dong Myeong is a Korean resident in Tokyo, who specializes in combining EDM and Pponjak. Although Agetaro knows very little about Korean culture, the two find a way to combine both their talents through music and dance.

Ikenosuke Matsumata is the hit DJ from the next town over. Although intimidated by him, Agetaro earns his respect by mastering techniques of their local tonkatsu shop and combined that with his playlist.

The DJ partnership Amakala is very popular with young Tokyo residents like Agetaro’s sister Koromo. Satomi Amano adds a sweet tone to her mix, while Shiori Karai adds a little more spice. Agetaro is charmed by these girls’ flavor in music, but Agetaro must find out his own flavor.

Tonkatsu DJ Agetaro creatively fuses together the worlds of fried foods and disk jockeys. I found it to be very entertaining, and looked forward to seeing how far Agetaro would grow in such a busy environment like urban Japan. Many anime shorts are simple enough either in appearance or story, that I often find their run times appropriate given the content and budget. But if I had to make a choice, I do wish this series was longer. I don’t mind keeping the solid, flat animation style or the overplayed soundtrack given all the different styles that Agetaro learns. Those visual and audial elements give this show a lot of character. But I think the story is one worth telling, and I would be interested in seeing a little more about each of the side characters, even if that creativity has to step out of the manga that this series is based on.

Finally, I would like to express that Agetaro is one of my favorite shonen protagonists. He’s not too sure where he wants to go in life, but he’s constantly thinking about how he can bring together his two communities, whether it is through food or music. He wants to break away from old traditions, but deep down, I also believe that he still longs for his strict father’s approval. And even though he’s kind of a dork or otherwise too easy-going for his own good, he does work hard at his craft and is more intelligent than you may expect.

Watch out, Yashiki. My body is ready for the Agetaro generation!

So if you want to feel the fusion of fried foods and music of an urban anime that moves across worlds, watch Tonkatsu DJ Agetaro!

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