Haiyore! Nyaruko-san – H.P. Lovecraft Meets Akiba!

H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937)

It seems that the Old Gent is appearing just about everywhere these days, with the deities and grimoires of the Cthulhu Mythos being summoned from their blasphemous, non-Euclidean outer dimensions to make appearances in episodes of such standard television fare as South Park (where Cartman befriends the cosmic entity and trains him to, among other things, destroy Justin Bieber) and Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated (notable for Jeffrey “Herbert West” Combs voicing the character “H.P. Hatecraft”). Of course, Lovecraftian inventions cropping up in unexpected places is nothing new, as famous fiction and comic writers like Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, and Mike Mignola have been borrowing from H.P.’s lore for years, and metal bands such as Metallica and Black Sabbath have paid tribute to the Mythos as well. Of course, the Necronomicon of Abdul Alhazred is practically an essential text in the library of anyone dabbling in the dark arts these days.  Not only that, but an entire book could be written on the subject of Lovecraft’s influence on the world of film, and in fact, one already has: Andrew Migliore and John Strysik’s excellent The Lurker in the Lobby: The Guide to Lovecraftian Cinema.

While the Providence writer’s influence has long been felt in the West, more recently his works seem to be cropping up in more unexpected places, more specifically, Japanese anime. The aforementioned Lurker in the Lobby covers some little-known works of J-horror like Marebito (Takashi “Ju-on: The Grudge” Shimizu, 2004) and Uzumaki (Higuchinsky, 2000, based on the manga by self-professed Lovecraft fan Junji Itō), and even an adult animated OVA entitled Mystery of the Necronomicon. While the former two films successfully draw more on the atmosphere and general themes of Lovecraft’s work, the latter merely uses names, characters, and the infamous Necronomicon as little more than glorified props to support an otherwise lifeless story. However, one thing is certain: Lovecraft’s scope of influence is certainly not limited to the English-speaking world.

Cover of the first light novel volume

In fact, Lovecraft’s works have been available in Japanese for decades, introducing to a whole new audience the works of an author who was woefully underappreciated during his own lifetime. A major factor behind the permeation of the Mythos into Japan’s geek culture was surely the seminal tabletop RPG Call of Cthulhu, first published by Chaosium in 1981. Despite the infiltration of Lovecraft literature and spin-off materials generated by the game, it seems that, like the followers of Cthulhu, Japanese Mythos fans have been lurking in hiding in the secret places of the Earth, waiting until the moment when the stars are in their proper alignment so that from its accursed place in the sunken abyss will rise…Cthulhu Co., Ltd. R’lyeh Land, the most popular theme park for Mythos deities this side of Fomalhaut??!?!

Yes, I could only be talking about the latest and one of the most delightfully bizarre incarnations of H.P. Lovecraft’s beloved universe of cosmic horror: Haiyore! Nyaruko-san (Crawling Up! Nyaruko-san)! Originally a light novel series written by Manta Aisora with illustrations by Koin, the series has spawned no less than two manga adaptations, two animated OVAs, and an animated television series currently airing in Japan, directed by Tsuyoshi Nagasawa.

It’s your typical story of boy meets alien or otherwise non-human girl, girl falls in love, numerous other beings get involved resulting in inevitable chaos, rinse, repeat.  This formula has been seen before…a LOT.  In fact, ever since Rumiko Takahashi’s Urusei Yatsura, there have been numerous adaptations of the “magical girlfriend” theme involving sexy non-humans (who still always look very human, for some reason) with a penchant for dull, everyday-Joe high school student in Japan (who may or may not have a heretofore unknown past involving other worlds).  Urusei Yatsura worked, as did other later shows that borrowed a similar formula, such as Tenchi Muyo!  However, it also fell flat on several occasions, as any superficially grafted formula is wont to do when lacking the strong characters to back it up.

So what does Nyaruko-san bring to the table?  Well, the basic alien girlfriend formula is in place as Nyaruko (voiced by Kana Asumi), a Nyarlathotepan (yes, the deities of Lovecraft are apparently races of alien beings now) working for the Space Defense Agency, rescues high school student Yasaka Mahiro from a Night Gaunt attack, revealing that Mahiro is the target of a galactic criminal organization and she has been assigned to protect him.  Of course, Nyaruko falls head over heels for Mahiro and ends up living in his home, a matter which is complicated by the later arrival of Kūko (voiced by Miyu Matsuki), a female Cthughan who is madly in love with Nyaruko, and Hasuta (voiced by Rie Kugimiya), a “loli trap” and member of the Hastur race who is completely smitten by Mahiro as well.  The love triangle between Nyaruko, Kūko, and Mahiro forms the core romantic thread of the story as Hasuta tags along for the ride, but what really carries the show from mediocre to highly enjoyable is the frenetic pacing and humorous references that sometimes fly by so fast that you might miss them if you blink.

Not as reliant on the typical situational humor drawn from the awkward scenes that are bound to occur when a boy and several girls/boys infatuated with him live under the same roof, the show is more heavily focused on (self-) referential humor and various parodies, consistently breaking the fourth wall as well.  The Mythos references are obviously there, with the predictable Lovecraftian vocabulary (unspeakable, blasphemous, unnamable, etc.) being used for laughs, along with puns that may seem somewhat esoteric to English-speakers, such as Nyaruko’s amphibious vehicle the Nephren-car, and the Cola of Cthulhu from R’lyeh Land, as well as that theme park’s Innsmouth mascot.  (The latter pun is only detectable when Innsmouth is spoken in Japanese pronunciation, as “mouth” is the same as “mouse” = Mickey Mouse.) Sanity points are also frequently mentioned in reference to the RPG. Nyaruko-san doesn’t limit itself to Mythos humor, however, with everything from Pokémon and Mobile Suit Gundam, to Back to the Future showing up in rapid succession.

Otaku culture is also a major theme in the show, as Nyaruko informs Mahiro that Earth’s entertainment, including Japanese anime, manga, and games, are highly valued commodities on the galactic market. BL (Boys’ Love), gaming console wars, and other Akiba-related topics often form the key plot points of episodes, with hilarious results.  Almost always managing to maintain a playful tongue-in-cheek approach without falling victim to its own stereotypes, Nyaruko-san is an enjoyable romp through a unique and entertaining world.

So is it in any way true to Lovecraft? Perhaps not, but one thing is clear: the creators certainly knew a thing or two about H.P. and his universe, and weren’t afraid to take some (extreme) creative liberties and have some fun with the gods and monsters of the Cthulhu Mythos.  While there has been no announcement of an English release for the novels or manga, the animated TV series and OVAs are being streamed by Crunchyroll.  So if you like your Lovecraft light, fun, and sprinkled with a liberal dose of chaotic humor, you might just be able to wrap your tentacles around Haiyore! Nyaruko-san and what are certainly some of the cutest Cthulhu characters yet to be seen!