How ‘The Inbetweeners’ was the closest we got to anime-style sitcom humour

Recently I was reading a newspaper piece on the state of British cinema, and came away with a fascinating tidbit about how the two Inbetweeners movies were up there as two of the most successful purely British (ie. not international co-productions) films ever at the UK box office. Not some homely rom-com for the ‘silver’ cinema goers. No – the lewd and rude Inbetweeners – two films that had their origins in a TV show.

And it got me thinking about how in many ways, the success of The Inbetweeners films, and the very state of their existence, recalls the anime market – where cinematic outings of TV shows are ten-a-penny. I mean, when was the last time you saw a cinematic movie outing for a TV show? There was talk about a Doctor Who or Downton Abbey movie for ages – and they never materialised. And yet, the Inbetweeners got TWO! And it ended up being super successful – so why didn’t movie outings of TV shows become more of a thing?

On paper, The Inbetweeners really does have a lot to lend itself to comparisons to anime. The schoolboyish humour – only a short hop away from anime’s endless sex comedy fan-service outings. The highschool setting and highschool characters that importantly, felt realistic to British audiences. It was self-insert viewing at its finest – even if you were older than the Inbetweeners lads, you could remember back to your own school days and cringe along with them.

With its combination of slapstick and the continual sexual tension of ‘will they get their end away?’ – The Inbetweeners felt like the comic flip-side to a post-Skins world of unbridled youth sexuality. It understood teen audiences better than they knew themselves, striking so close to home that no show since (except perhaps the excellent Fresh Meat) has quite matched to the same degree.

And it even had its rock-poppy little opening theme – just like anime; a ‘soundtrack-to-your-life’ energy that rooted itself in the twee indie-pop lad culture of the late 00s, but went beyond, speaking out in the voice of the musical obsessions we all harbour in our youths.

Every time you watch an episode of Ranma, or more contemporaneously, something like Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto, we see the same scriptwriting and directorial trends that made the Inbetweeners a joy at work. The art of the sitcom perfected, but told in a quasi-realist manner that goes beyond the nadir of middle-class ‘at home with the family’ offerings that plagued British TV in the earlier half of the 00s.

The Inbetweeners worked because it spoke to youth. It reminded the older generations of youth. It was youth. Anime is youth. And somewhere, I believe, it caught a magic that I feel Western television would do well to try and recreate, soon. When it comes to script-writing, anime has a lot at fault with it at the moment – lazy ‘tell instead of show’ expositional slog-fests hashed out cheaply and boringly. But when it nails it, as any teen anime fan will tell you, it speaks to youth in a way so rarely done in Western telly.

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