Everyone needs an obsession or two. I don’t know how people get by in life without at least one. Well, that’s not totally true. I’m sure there are some dull folks out there who are content to work, watch prime time TV, have kids, and then raise them to work and watch prime time TV. But I don’t think I could do it.
I really shouldn’t knock prime time TV because one of my obsessions happens to be the Japanese comedy show ガキの使いやあらへんで！！ (Gaki no tsukai ya arahende!!) Technically it doesn’t run during “prime time.” It airs Sunday nights during the odd block 22:56-23:26, so it’s more of a late show, but their 絶対に笑ってはいけない罰ゲーム (Zettai ni waratte wa ikenai batsu game) special runs in the primest of Japanese times: New Year’s Eve from 6:30 until (the technically impossible?) 24:30.
My latest Japan Times Bilingual page column “The annual pain and pleasure of punished comedians” (solid headline—props to my JT editor) introduces the batsu game special and why it’s so great. It’s probably underrated compared to Kōhaku, but not by much and definitely not by its main demographic (elementary-school-aged boys).
I have two personal connections that sparked my obsession with the batsu games.
I first visited Japan during the summer of 2002, and I have vague memories of seeing the “Matsumoto Rangers” on a news program during the wee hours of the morning while I was suffering from jet lag. Wikipedia confirms that this did indeed air during that summer, but I think I arrived earlier than July/August, so I’m not sure I was still jetlagged…I might have seen a replay at some point. At any rate, it stood out and was funny, even if I didn’t really understand why it was happening.
In 2006 I traveled down to Kyushu with a couple of JET buddies during the holidays, but I made it back up to Fukushima for New Year’s Eve, and another JET buddy and I spent it in Kitakata eating and drinking and flipping back and forth between the fights and the batsu game. It was the police batsu game, which was the first special to air on New Year’s Eve.
These two connections cemented my obsession, and I’ve since tracked down and watched most of them. A lot of material is available on DVD in Japan. If you live in other regions but are Internet proficient, you should be able to find the other episodes. Many of them are available on the YouTubes these days somehow (and fanboys/girls have even subbed them).
I’ve written previously on the blog here and over at Neojaponisme about the batsu game. Most of the YouTube links are dead on those posts but should be relatively easy to track down. I recommend watching at least the 24時間耐久鬼ごっこ (24-hour Endurance Onigokko) (Youku, Youtube) and the 絶対に笑ってはいけない24時間警察 (You must not laugh 24-hour police) (Youku, Youtube). They are classic classic moments in modern Japanese comedy.