“Usavich” is one of those weird little animated shows from Japan that you expect to see shown on SBS after 9PM, and makes you go ooh! ah! and re-evaluate what should be considered offensive. In fact, I think it was ABC2 that showed it last year. Each episode is only a few minutes long, computer generated with vibrant colours but no noticeable dialog, and the entire series is split into 3 story arcs of 13 episodes each. In fact, without the character bios in the extras section of the DVD the story, such as it is, can be quite perplexing.
The story starts off with two anthropomorphic rabbits incarcerated in a soviet era prison that features a variation on modern Japanese ubiquitous vending machines. Instantly the title “Usavich” becomes clear – the two protagonists are rabbits which is pronounced ‘usagi‘ in Japanese, and they are in a Russian prison, and we should be familiar that typical Russian names end in the patronymic ‘vich‘: usagi + vich = usavich.
According to the character bios one of these protagonist rabbits is Putin – previously a simple and honest soviet labourer who missed a day’s work due to a hangover and was thus sentenced to 3 years jail time for being a capitalist agent. He is trying to serve out his time without making trouble. Putin is also, as the episodes progress, shown to be an incredibly skillful mechanic.
Putin’s cellmate, the overly scarred/stitched rabbit, is Kirenenko who is a former mafia boss. Or perhaps 2 former mafia bosses, twins who were blown up and then the surviving bits surgically re-assembled into a single prisoner. Generally quiet, but very dangerous when he becomes angry and goes berserk. He does not like to be disturbed and does not forgive anyone who crosses his path or otherwise “meddles” in his life. He is generally oblivious to and/or apathetic about the world around him while he reads his magazine advertising sneakers. He cares for nothing but his sneakers. He is also almost invincible as normal weapons such as bullets and clubs won’t even harm him, nor do less normal weapons have much effect. I cannot stress enough that you should not make this rabbit angry, the wrath of god at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark is only marginally nastier than Kirenenko’s anger.
The first 13 episodes shows daily life in the prison cell, with cruel and sadistic guards tormenting Putin and incautiously Kirenenko, with assorted demands of prison life and work, all delivered through the cell door, which constantly swaps out to present vending machine type appertenances for whatever the plot requires. Some include food delivery, shower, visiting hours, exercise, assorted work details – eg chicken sexing selector. Basically they never leave their cell, though they acquire a frog and a transvestite chicken (don’t ask). There is a lot of toilet humour.
The second 13 episodes is a road trip. Kirenenko spots an advert for sneakers he must have, so he breaks out of prison dragging the fearful Putin (and frog and transvestite chicken) along with him. Basically a long trip through the countryside in a stolen car with a couple of over-eager and excessively over-armed traffic police in hot pursuit. Putin shines as he constantly repairs their shot-up car. Toilet humour is still achieved.
The third story arc has our fugitives finally arrive at the city with the thirteen storey shopping center where Kirenenko’s dream sneakers are to be found. But the entire complex is run by criminal gangs under the control of the Criminal Boss who originally blew up and imprisoned Kirenenko. Each episode our protagonists explore one floor of the shopping center seeking the sneakers and becoming victims of that floor’s criminal gang, with the Boss on the top floor watching the action by CCTV. In between the death traps is toilet humour.
All in all this should be a disturbing and terrible show, but you can’t stop watching the next episode under the same morbid principle that made you watch the next Warner Bros roadrunner cartoon just in order to see if Wile E. Coyote ever got successful, or had something even more outrageous perpetrated upon him.