I’m not the biggest fan of anime comedies. It’s not because they’re bad (though the shouting joke delivery can be grating and repetitive). It’s also not because I have no sense of humor (though that doesn’t make it easier). It’s mostly because I often feel like I’m missing out on the joke. Comedy is really dependent on cultural codes and language. Anime is Japanese; I’m an English-speaking American. We can meet halfway on the goofy visuals, but I’m not going to get every pun and punchline. It’s frustrating, the last feeling I want to have when I want to laugh. I’m more satisfied watching non-anime comedies, so why bother with the anime ones?

And for the Reverse Thieves Secret Santa project, what did I get? Shin Mazinger Z and two comedy recommendations. Shin Mazinger Z was a lock until I realized I didn’t have the time to watch a two-cours series. I’ll still watch it over vacation, but that unfortunately starts after the Secret Santa review is due. That left me with two comedies: Hyakko and 2×2=Shinobuden. I went with the latter on a coin flip. Did it change my mind on anime comedies as a whole? Well, no. But it was a nice attempt.

2×2=Shinobuden is a comedy about perverted ninjas. The jokes are either (1) perverted, (2) about ninjas, or (3) some combination of the above. This helped me avoid the cultural barrier because body humor is universal, and I’ve watched enough Naruto to be an expert on ninjas (though seriously, watching Naruto helped). The skits aren’t very tight, but they launch enough jokes to secure a few hits per episode. It helps that the animation is very pretty and expressive. Ufotable didn’t quite hit the fluidity of Kyoto Animation’s Lucky Star or Nichijou, but since 2×2=Shinobuden was made in 2004 as opposed to 2007 or 2011, I’d say they did an impressive job. 2×2=Shinobuden is also funnier than both Lucky Star and Nichijou, so there’s that, too.

Still, my biggest problem with 2×2=Shinobuden is that there is nothing substantial in it. The only anime comedies I really like are ones where there’s an ongoing conflict I care about. For example, in Arakawa Under the Bridge, I wanted Recruit to buck his old, unhappy life, and accept that it’s okay to be unconventional. In Detroit Metal City, I wanted Negishi to pick between his bland boy-band pop songs and his ridiculous antics as Krauser II. Okay, the latter didn’t happen, but the conflict between his two selves kept me hooked. 2×2 Shinobuden had no interesting conflict. It was a collection of kooky ninja characters doing kooky ninja things in two unrelated fifteen-minute segments per episode. And while 2×2=Shinobuden never reached Joshiraku levels of cultural divide, I can’t say every joke resonated with me.

So 2×2=Shinobuden ended up exactly as I pegged it from the start: “not bad, but not my thing.” That said, I really have to thank my Secret Santa. I haven’t completed that many anime, but all the obvious series for me are listed on the obscure sections of my MAL. My Secret Santa picked three quality series that were not on my list. More importantly, they picked series I wouldn’t have been interested in otherwise. No spoilers, but I kinda screwed up as a Santa. My Secret Santa delivered the neat opportunity I was hoping for. I would definitely be interested in doing this again.