PAPAN-GAPAN!: For me, Patalliro is a ‘grower’ not a ‘shower’ - it’s an acquired taste but in my opinion it’s one that’s worth acquiring because it’s a weird little gem that deserves more love.
Phew, it’s hard to even know where to begin with explaining Patalliro to those who haven't seen it. It was absolutely ground-breaking for its time for being the first ever shounen-ai on Japanese TV. I would say it's a psychedelic adventure involving a Japanese, gay James Bond and a wacky, time-travelling ‘Scrappy-Doo type’ prankster dictator who solve apocalyptic diamond theft mysteries. It has the charm of those classic shoujo shows where all the tropes were established.
STORY: This show is weird and wacky but in the best possible way. You never know what’s going to happen especially because there are even unexpected sci-fi and supernatural elements that crop up like time travel. Speaking of Patalliro’s time travelling, if you aren’t using it to hook up with yourself then you’re clearly not doing it right. It’s largely episodic with recurring plots like the Plasma robot family saga, diamond thefts or attempts on Patalliro’s life. Some of the standout episodes are the ones focussed on side characters, especially the ones involving Zachary (who’s a fabulous esper that Patalliro torments) and of course, Robbie (which is my favourite episode of the series - *my heart breaks*). It’s a wild ride: there are trips to revolutionary France, gigantic chickens and acid-spewing dinosaurs but the characters and running gags keep the whole tone consistent and enjoyable.
At its core, Patalliro is a spy story (I think…) with most of the episodes revolving around clever plots to assassinate Patalliro or to steal his diamonds. The mysteries are usually solved by Patalliro himself who’s quite the sleuth but it’s Bancoran acting as the Japanese gay version of James Bond that does most of the grunt work. That said, there are gags, shenanigans and antics galore so it’s a gentle reminder not to take this too seriously. What makes comedy successful is a highly subjective thing but I’ve laughed many times at this show despite the fact that a lot of it’s comedic chops come from puns and references that non-japanese people will never be able to understand.
CHARACTERS: All the things I found mildly off-putting became the things I ended up loving about this show - most notably Patalliro the main character himself. A character that shouldn’t work but ultimately does for the following reasons:
If you find him annoying I wouldn’t blame you in the slightest - he is, but he’s also meant to be. It’s part of his character, it’s the impetus for a number of storylines and plot points. It makes sense with his upbringing and position.
What’s great about this show is that it has moments showing a much more endearing side to Patalliro that makes you start to like him. That like turns to really like and by the end of the series, you love the little weirdo and his bizarre antics. When it comes to the crunch, he’s a nice guy really and despite his selfish whims, he really does care. There are some genuinely touching moments that flesh out this typical gag anime character into someone more well-rounded.
Another reason that Patalliro as a character works is that he’s balanced and countered by the other characters in the show. His constant bickering with Bancoran and Maraich and their almost violent but playful disdain keep Patalliro in check.
Bancoran is my absolute favourite. He’s so dashing. I’m a sucker for chivalry and even more so when the chivalry is in favour of boys' love. Some of the best escapades involve Bancoran and his bishounen-killer ways, bewitching every young attractive male and even the unattractive ones (I’m looking at you Patalliro). I’m not that I’m blaming them, who wouldn’t fall for Bancoran? Mariach getting violently jealous is always a fun gag and their romance was one of my favourite parts about the series.
ART: While the aesthetics of Patalliro may be off-putting to some, for me - it’s probably its biggest selling point. The whole thing is gorgeous to look at as long as you’re open to old cel animation styles. Some of you will roll your eyes at this but to me, there’s a richness that you get when it’s all hand-drawn that’s so delightful to watch. It’s very stylised in both its backgrounds and character designs and I just love it - so much so that I’ve even bought a couple of the animation cels. The whole thing looks like a mix of an Aubrey Beardsley painting and an Erte fashion drawing. I hope whoever drew the curtains and hair for this anime was handsomely paid because they’re stunning. The colour palette is a vibrant technicolour and while it’s not for everyone, it’s utterly eye-candy to me.
MUSIC: The OST might be called cheesy or dated by some and it is but it’s also undeniable that it’s perfectly suited to the style of the show. It reminds me of those old seventies detective shows like Charlie’s Angels or classic Bond films. I think it’s fun, vintage and charming. The pseudo-seventies porn music that starts every time Bancoran begins to seduce a bishounen is a particular highlight.
OVERALL: Honestly, I don’t have many problems with this anime. Of course, there are some episodes that are stronger than others but that’s the same for any series. The biggest problem with this anime is that for many people there are SO many deal breakers acting as barriers to general enjoyment: it’s art style is bizarre, the animation is very old, it involves shounen-ai romance, it’s full of Japanese puns, it’s weird and often very surreal. If you can get past all that, you’ll come to love it but I imagine that for most people, it’s just too much an oddball.
I’ve tried hard not to fanboy too much in this review but I think it’s very apparent that I’m obsessed. Hopefully, that will convince some of you to give this a try because it saddens me to see how underwatched and underappreciated this anime is. As I’ve said, it’s hard to recommend: it’s weird, it’s old, it’s gay but for those of you willing to jump those hurdles, it’s enchanting and in my opinion, a really special show well-worth your time.
The biggest question Patalliro leaves us with is: Who really DID kill Cock Robin?!