Thus cometh the invader, the fearsome Squid Girl! Oh wait, actually she looks twelve and keeps getting distracted from her invasion goal with other random tangents with the family that runs a cafe on the beach. She has tentacles for hair, she spits ink, and her hat seems to be actually part of her head. It's Squid Girl!
The premise of Shinryaku! Ika Musume (literally Invade! Squid Girl) is fairly simple: she is a squid girl from the ocean who arrives on a beach in Japan with the intention of invading the human world. Of course, she’s nearly as naïve as she is confident. For all her bravado and scheming she happens to be quite a typical young girl with a good heart. This is, actually, an important point as it allows the show to (occasionally) manage some more serious and heartfelt moments. Underneath the zany antics is a story about acceptance and family as the titular character becomes a part of the family running the beach café she initially attempts to “invade". But, even so, a lot of that falls to the wayside in favor of silliness.
Each episode is typically split into three separate self-contained stories. Other than characters and some other brief progression of relationships and time, very little carries over from story to story. On the whole, it is quite random and aimless, but that's okay since the point is to just find excuses for weirdness and comedy. On the other hand, though, it does make for some rather rushed endings as it attempts to cleanup in time for the commercial break to start the next mini-story. On the plus side, this keeps the pacing usually pretty steady, with rarely much idle time.
As far as style and production, it follows probably the most pure and typical anime style there is. While it only occasionally has opportunities to shine, it is very well animated and effects are all quite good. Sound work is good, voices are good, it's very well done. There’s lots of little polishes here and there, like the slight changes to the ending sequence usually incorporating some aspect of what happened in that episode. But while it seems to have had quite a good budget, it is incredibly generic and typical. It is safe. While it is nice to see interesting art sometimes, I suppose I can't knock this show too much since it really isn't trying to be different. It's just trying to be funny and amusing and easy to watch. And as far as that goes, it certainly succeeds.
But as much as I enjoyed it, laughed, and generally had a swell time, it was fleeting and insubstantial. The lack of an engrossing plot or anything made it difficult for me to watch more than an episode or two at a time. Sometimes that kind of simplicity is okay but still… it felt like a lot of effort for what would basically only ever aim for simple laughs, predictable characters, and little to no concrete development even after two dozen-episode seasons.
Especially troubling because there were some glimmers of potent storytelling. The second season finale, some of the lessons on family and friends, but most of all a first season episode (number six I believe) where Eiko has a dream where she finds a miniature Squid Girl and keeps it as a pet. This short is told entirely without dialogue, with the visuals choreographed to a lovely piano piece that is part curious, hopeful, content, and sad. We watch her as she is timid and fearful, growing to trust her new owner, as they spend time playing or just being there when she gets home. We see Eiko’s life unfold through the ups and downs, but there’s little pet Squid Girl to cheer her up through the rough times and cheer and squii during the good. We see time roll on until the day Eiko passes away in bed, old and gray, leaving her lifelong friend behind. It’s the kind of beautiful, sentimental little audio-visual piece you don’t expect a show like Ika Musume to do.
In the end, as much as I enjoyed the ride, there weren’t enough really good mini-stories like the pet Squid Girl one to make the show anything more than a passing fancy. You’ll laugh, you’ll admire the solid visuals and competent production, and you’ll probably say it was pretty good. But you’ll probably also wholly forget it after a month or two. A big factor, too, is the surprisingly weak cast outside of Squid Girl herself. The show is at its best when it’s exploiting her various squid qualities (spits ink, tentacles, that sort of thing) or her lack of common sense about the human world. But as amusing and cute as she can be a lot of the time, she is surrounded by boring uninspired co-stars.
While the two shows have little in common as far as tone and target audience, I feel like Yuru Yuri is in much the same camp as this show: it’s easy to watch laughs with occasional glimmers of excellence, but mostly just well-produced and enjoyable sit-com fluff. Once you’ve met the various characters they basically just have them do their thing each episode: Squid Girl is always headstrong and naïve, Eiko is always the straight-man, Chizuru is always kind-yet-frightening, Sanae is always getting nosebleeds — Hell’s bells, it really is just like Yuru Yuri…
As of this writing, you can watch both seasons of Ika Musume for free on Crunchyroll.