Directors: Kinji Yoshimoto, Koji Morimoto, Nobuhiro Kondo and Shunichi Tokunaga
Screenplay: Masashi Sogo
Based on a manga by Go Nagai
Voice Cast: Emi Shinohara as Kekko Kamen; Arisa Andou as Takahashi Mayumi; Jouji Yanami as Principal Toenail of Satan; Kazue Komiya as Gestapoko; Kikuko Inoue as Yuka Chigusa; Kiyoyuki Yanada as Mizutamari Tsuyokarou; Mika Kanai as Tanaka Hanako; Mitsuaki Hoshino as Teacher Ben Kyoshi; Tesshō Genda as Shuwarutsu Negataro
Viewed in Japanese with English Subtitles
Synopsis: At the Sparta Academy, a strict system of punishment is carried out by the head master, a masked jester known as Principal Toenail of Satan. Openly uninterested in any of the male students succeeding in life, and openly a pervert alongside his sidekick and teacher Ben, he employees bizarre punishment teachers to sexually humiliate female students who fall behind in their studies, especially drop out Mayumi Takahashi who takes the constant brunt of the staff's interest. Unfortunately for the evil school staff, or fortunately for them, there's always a mysterious female figure there to protect Mayumi. A figure named Kekko Kamen who wears a mask, a scarf, boots...and completely nothing else.
As the synopsis describes, and images of either the anime, the manga or the live action films show, this is one of those franchises which could be embarrassing to talk about. Not necessarily the salacious sexual content either but its blunt, crass surface appearance and how eyebrow raising it sounds in said synopsis. And yet one should never automatically fall into the trap of "weird Japan", that phrase in various forms which dismisses this as something normal from the country. It never factors in what pop culture bizarre to Western eyes is actually mainstream in the country. It never factors in whether certain, controversial examples are actually made for a very niche, small minority, even the most offensive. That the internet has become an echo chamber that amplifies the existence of centre works that are, and will remain, obscure in regular Japanese pop culture. It also doesn't factor in how Kekko Kamen was actually a joke Go Nagai created to send to his manga editor at the time. A parody of Gekkō Kamen, a legendary superhero figure and one of the first of Japanese superhero characters, it was meant to only get a reaction out of said editor only for that person to actually want to publish it as a continuing series. Nagai is not one to have shied away from the perverse in his time. Between becoming a legendary figure in manga and anime, including his significance in giant robot stories, his first successful manga, Shameless School (1968-1972), was a sex comedy which made him a pariah of moral standards groups. However the fact that Kekko Kamen, this joke he created, managed to last for five volumes, had a 1991-2 anime for the video market, and eleven live action films, is probably something he's still baffled about to this day.
Brutally, the anime of Kekko Kamen is a chore to sit through. It never drags strangely. Four episodes, twenty or so minutes long, it passes by under two hours quickly without the pain of time being lost. Instead it's really the fatal combination of how icky the premise is and how utterly lame it all is. Even the masochist in me who likes weird, crudely made anime from this era was numbed by it. Even the masochist in me who can find virtues in works with issues in gender depictions and are in poor taste cannot find a lot to defend in this anime between the crassness on display. All four episodes follow the same template exactly. A new punishment teacher is introduced, they always torment the main female character Mayumi, and Kekko Kamen eventually steps in to save the day, usually with her nunchakus and with a finishing attack that cannot be described any more politely as nude spread legged suffocation. Even with the Barbie Doll nudity, it's a fetish anime full of ripped underwear and fan service that's off putting because it's all at the expense of the female characters. It's not kinky, where kink or a fetish really denotes participation from all the individuals male and female involved. It's not like fanservice in other anime where there's a cheek, a sense of humour, and male characters being smacked in the face and being called perverts. Its harassment and its distasteful here. Even BDSM has this sense that everyone is participating in acting out a scenario they've all worked on with the desire to enjoy it equally, even if on the surface images of it might shock outside onlookers. Here its uncomfortable, like adolescent boys who've really gotten to a weird viewpoint on the opposite gender.
It's worse because Kekko Kamen's meant to be a comedy but dies on its arse immediately. Even if you are less uncomfortable with the sexual content than I am, the comedy will mortally wound even a viewer tolerant of bad anime. It's meant to be distasteful on purpose when the first punishment teacher is Miss Gestapoko, BDSM queen from (sic) Auschwitz Academy and ranked by fully uniformed Nazis, as offensive as you can get but (actually) dumb to witness, never followed with anything similar and quietly buried afterwards. (The other punishment teachers stay with a gay bodybuilder whose muscles are the heroine's kryptonite, a female android and a stereotypical ronin samurai). The rest of the humour is meant to be light-hearted, contradicting most of its content, and very meta. Where the villains complain about Kamen not appearing with her main super heroine theme playing in the background. The humour's more painful rather than if the show took itself seriously, the only consistency funny joke the end credit songs, usually penned by Go Nagai himself, sung in earnestness by female singers and deserving a better sex comedy anime.
Production wise, it's a cheap show. As much as I reveal in this type of crackerjack, cheap OVAs from this period, with Kekko Kamen the only thing of considerable interest is composer Keiju Ishikawa's score, of its time and low budgeted but still more interesting and diverse than what's onscreen1. After that it's the various little details, the rare moments where the humour work, which made the viewing experience worth it. That the Toenail of Satan has nightmares of Kamen entering his bedroom while he's sleeping to give him permanent testicular pain, or how Mayumi's friend Chigusa Yuka can break the fourth wall, aware of the viewer and able to talk to the screen away from the rest of the cast. The rest of the four episodes are full of numerous resolved questions and illogical decisions. That barring her appearance Kamen's a vacuum and utterly useless as a heroine, only there to protect Mayumi and none of the other female students in the school who are also molested by the staff. That the Toenail of Satan and his lackey Ben come up with an un-villainous and only partially perverse method to improve grades - create a charismatic and beautiful female student who'll coach fellow students - and realise that barring Mayumi the quality of the students' test scores increase far more than if they continued with their physical punishment. That hiring a gay bodybuilder un-phased by a super heroine who uses her sexuality, whilst inspired for the villains, gets whittled down into a sexist idea of Kamen being completely paralysed by his physic and that it takes an entire episode for her to realise she can close her eyes to fight him.
Coming from someone who believes that almost any idea, no matter how bad or tasteless it is, can work if the tone or point of the premise is exactly right, Kekko Kamen is completely misguided in presentation and point. It should be, even if an embarrassing anime to show others, a light hearted comedy. Without the Nazis. Without the uncomfortable harassment fetish. Without the awful jokes. Something which, even if the idea of a super heroine who parades herself completely naked barring a mask and accessories is still juvenile, was fluffy and silly, sex comedy with a farcical edge to it. Everything that this anime never was. Considering its origins as a gag, the chance of sustaining it was virtually slim from the beginning and the anime proves it.
1) Not the last Go Nagai anime he's composed for either. Inexplicably I've seen Iron Virgin Jun (1992), which no one talks about and is just as tasteless in places.