What do you do with an artist like U-Jin? On one hand, he creates manga known for its strong adult content, and he's been censored for some of his work. If that were all there was to U-Jin, you could rest assured that his material would never be reviewed in this forum. However, despite his infamy, a lot of U-Jin's work is as much about poking fun at the losers who read his manga seriously as it is about the exploits of his characters. U-Jin Brand takes three of his manga stories and delivers them in animated form, and while the stories do contain quite a bit of adult content, there's a unique undercurrent here that's surprisingly amusing. What's more, U-Jin says a lot about Japanese society, which is unusual for shows released in the US. There are still problems with the show, some that will bother viewers enough that they may not like the show at all. That's fine, really--this show is not for everyone. Though it wasn't particularly good, it was better than my low expectations.
The first segment of U-Jin Brand follows the trials and tribulations of a young songwriter who creates hits for idol singers. He's addicted to "lady luck" deciding his fate, and he checks with his magic pencil to determine all the important things in his life. But will fate serve him when he has the chance to meet his long-lost love? The second and third stories present us with Toyama no Benbei--corporate president by day, suave seducer for hire at night. He'll make any woman fall for him for the right price--but will his clients be satisfied with the results?
Before we go any further, be prepared--there is plenty of whoopee going on in the world of U-Jin. The scenes are relatively short and reveal no more than what you'd see in an R-rated movie, but there are a few of them. It's a lot less than what can be found in other titles like End of Summer, but it's still enough of the show that it's worth noting. Now, as far as the animation goes, U-Jin is nothing special. It looks pretty much like a typical TV show that you could have seen in the late 80s in Japan, which is not bad. The soundtrack was almost non-existent from my point of view--if there was much of one, I didn't notice it. Character design was more of the same: nothing surprising, nothing unpleasant.
So why is this show worth noting at all, especially from someone like myself who dislikes most hentai and erotica? It's the attitude, plain and simple, which leads to a lot more comedy than I expected. U-Jin has actually done a surprisingly good job of telling very straightforward stories with an unflinching eye. U-Jin's men like to believe in notions of purity and naivety, but they are really just pigs led around by their appetites--even the good guys! Meanwhile, women are not nearly as easy to figure out in U-Jin's world. For example, idol singers are stereotyped as naive young girls who are willing to do whatever it takes to become stars. However, many of the women in these stories are worlds more intelligent than the men they love, and they are truly the ones in control. As Helen McCarthy wrote in the Erotic Anime Movie Guide, U-Jin often "ridicules the male audience" that his work is intended for, and that shows throughout this program. U-Jin is amused by the relationships between men and women, and shares that amusement with us, often at the expense of the men involved. A lot of the comedy here comes from situations that are uniquely Japanese, which will bring some viewers in and alienate others. Don't expect to understand Japanese culture through U-Jin, but it's more prevalent here than in a lot of other anime.
Before you think I'm gung-ho on U-Jin Brand, though, realize that I don't condone most of U-Jin's subject matter, and that some of it is more than a little disturbing. The first problem revolves around Toyama no Benbei, the protagonist of two of the stories. Although Benbei may be a seducer, from some perspectives he's also little more than a paid rapist. It's all in the presentation, and no woman complains for long about Benbei's advances, but the more you think about it, the less pleasant it is. Secondly, although U-Jin makes fun of all the losers he creates, he doesn't present any better options either. It ultimately creates a cynical view that adult relationships may be childish and selfish, but that's all there is. On the surface, U-Jin Brand is amusing, but it's ultimately unfulfilling.
There's no escaping the fact that U-Jin Brand is essentially erotica. It pokes fun at a lot of typical Japanese conventions about love and sex, which is unconventional in its own way...it's clear that erotica is a joke to U-Jin, a joke he wants to share. I would like to see U-Jin create something completely outside of the realm, because I think that he's got talents that would be appreciated outside of his chosen genre. He may decide to forever associate himself with the erotica he currently creates, which ultimately would be a disappointment--he's got more to contribute than what U-Jin Brand offers.
U-Jin Brand -- nudity, strong adult themes and content -- C+