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Thursday, September 02, 2010

The Reports of the Adventures of Squid-Sensei


Adventures of Squid-Sensei.

"Sensei" is an honorific stuck on the end of Japanese names the same way "san" is, and is used to address a teacher, e.g. Squid-sensei.

Darryl Knickrehm is an American independent film maker in Japan who has, like almost anyone not transferred to Japan by a company, taught English in Japan - in his case, in Kobe. So he knows what life is like as "Dariru-sensei," a life prone to the naive misunderstandings, prejudices, quirks and well-meaning but embarrassing questions and observations - not to mention frequent reluctance and apathy - of the typical English conversation student in Japan.

Knickrehm has taken the panoply of odd experiences - his own and others' - and turned them into cartoon art in the form of "The Reports of the Adventures of Squid-Sensei."

There are few English-language rags in Japan that don't have some sort of satirical say on the country through a typical, routinely English-teaching, foreigner, and which inevitably all sound like jokes told one time too many. To be honest, I was expecting more of the same when Knickrehm approached JapanVisitor with his work.

However, I was (admittedly somewhat reluctantly) tickled by The Reports of the Adventures of Squid-Sensei. There aren't that many episodes yet, but perhaps it's the claimed "Totally honest, 103% true accounts of life teaching English in Japan"-ness about it that helps give some life and odd-colored (sometimes off-colored) sparkle to material that in lesser hands could easily end up as lame. The cartoonist implicitly trusts his material. He leaves life in the eikaiwa (English conversation) classroom almost unembellished, letting it speak for itself.

Squid Sensei is a genuinely freaky looking English teaching squid with a decidedly phallic mien who exudes the imperfectly subdued tension of having to make a living and getting unspeakably bored and frustrated by his job. For me the most refreshing thing about him - in that I've simply never seen it in the genre before - is that he cusses, admittedly in graphic symbols, but refreshingly - and right in front of the students. That alone made me laugh. That's three out of ten already. (Plus one more for looking so old sci-fi freaky.)

The remaining six points could well be earned by the dry slapstick of the scenarios, the great drawing (that, significantly, is lavished only on Squid-Sensei himself - the students remain, perhaps significantly, replaceable virtual stick figures), and the take-it-or-leave-it tone that has nevertheless has signs of craft behind it and a genuine desire to be heard.

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