A Viewer’s Guide to RobiHachi: Getting Started
I watch a lot of anime these days. After a long day spent concentrating on scientific journals, technical manuals, and academic textbooks, I need light and easy entertainment to help shut down the mental processors. Of course, my overactive brain doesn’t settle down without a fight, so I usually start recognizing references and parodies inserted in the show. Or to put it more accurately, I start looking for them.
My current anime of interest is RobiHachi [ロビハチ], a TV series directed by Shinji Takamatsu. On the surface, it’s a gag anime filled with contemporary and pop cultural references. But what may not be obvious to Western viewers is the story and characters are inspired from an illustrated book series titled Tōkaidōchū Hizakurige written by Jippensha Ikku and published during the late Edo Period.
On the official RobiHachi website, Director Takamatsu explains the connection between the anime and book series. Takamatsu has plenty of experience working with historical material from his time as chief director of Gintama. This popular and long-running gag anime is filled with characters, locations, and events from the Meiji Restoration, in particular, the Bōshin War.
The basic storyline of Tōkaidōchū Hizakurige follows the misadventures of Yajirōbei and Kitahachi, two men making a pilgrimage to the Grand Shrine in Ise. They travel via the main highway connecting Edo to Kyōto, the Tōkaidō Road, stopping at several of the 53 official post-towns along the way.
This buddy road trip tale was a huge hit when the first installments were published in the early 1800s. Over the centuries, the story has been adapted for theatre, storytelling, film, and now, anime. The two characters are so well known that the Japanese term yajikita—notice it takes the first syllable from each character’s name—has become a general term for a pair of comical idiots.
The anime flips the original names around to give us Robby Yarge and Hatchi Kita.1 And yajikita becomes RobiHachi. The robotic bunny JPS-19, or Ikku as Robby usually calls him, is derived from the author’s name, JipPenSha Ikku; Ikku literally means “1–9“. The mecha robot Hizakuriger is named after the series’ short title, Hizakurige. The Tōkaidō has moved to outer space as the Galactic Highway and the post-station towns have become planetary outposts.
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- For those who read Japanese, the English subtitles and lettering in the animation do not match the romaji or phonetic transliterations. For example, Robby Yarge would be Robii Yaaji [ロビー・ヤージ] and Hatchi Kita would be Hacchi Kita [ハッチ・キタ].