The SimpsonsÂ has had similar-sounding titles before, but I'm pretty sure they've usedÂ this exact oneÂ once before. A Treehouse of Horror segment, perhaps? Oh, well, can't be arsed to look it up.
Opening credits: Maggie floats past the title as Baby New Year. Grandpa is decrepit 2013. The billboard in front of Springfield Elementary informs us that Lard Lad Donuts is "Discreetly Super-Christian". Â Bart's chalkboard reads that "Judas Priest is not Death Metal". Erm, funny, I guess? Lisa plays the harp this time, and they even include it on her bike as she hurries to the house. Nice touch. The couch gag is different this time, probably because it was drawn by Bill Plympton again - they click through various channels, which takes them through numerous strange worlds. Eventually, they end up back in the living room.
A Radioactive man comic comes to life. He is killed by the "Fossil Fuel Four", spewing nuclear propaganda and catchphrases the whole time. Bart and Milhouse read in horror. Lisa dismisses the comic book's manipulation of its fans, but the boys are suckered in anyway, as they convince Homer to take them to the next issue's midnight release. Milhouse even has his Fallout Boy costume. And don't worry - they refer to that episode. There's even a brief cameo by Harlan Ellison. (Martin, meanwhile, appears to be Captain Canada. D'aww.)
The Comic Book Guy, for once hero and master of his realm, ushers the children of Springfield into the store. The line is long, and as Homer carries the sleeping boys up to the till, they are usurped by Milo (Maurice LaMarche), owner of the other comic book store in Springfield. Incidentally, he is such a minor character that they actually have to put a footnote on the screen letting us know which episode he was from - which sounds to me like a sign that you should go off the air, but I guess that's why I'm not a network executive.
They bait each other for a bit, and Milo mentions he married his super-geeky girlfriend, Strawberry. They talk about the changing status of nerds (like, they actually get girlfriends now). Comic Book Guy is left feeling a bit down. While buying the book, Homer mentions his wife, and CBG is incredulous that a man like Homer could possibly be married. After Homer and the kids leave, he reflects on the general sadness of his life - and even sings a song.
I usually like it when the Simpsons sing, and this one was funny and clever as usual, with some good rhymes. CBG bemoans his single life, and realizes comic books don't matter to him that much these days. Milo interrupts with an abrupt tempo change, telling him how pathetic he is. CBG is left crying and vows to make a change. Luckily, Stan Lee walks in to the store at that moment. And yes, it is the real Stan Lee, in at least his second appearance on the show. (Also, he'sÂ 91? Until I saw this episode I had literally no idea. Would love to know his secret.)
Stan Lee counsels him not to let opportunities pass him by, and hangs around to watch when a pretty woman shows up. Her name is Kumiko Nakamura, and she comes from Japan. Â She is travelling through America to research her autobiographical manga - and Comic Book Guy's in it. She saw him once, many years ago, though he did not notice her. However, she still thinks he has a "great soul". Despite his shock at her fondness for him, he manages to ask her out.
He doesn't know quite how to proceed from there, though, so he asks Homer for advice. He agrees, and Marge disapproves - until he mentions that her hotness inspired him to ask Homer how to pull such a coup. She offers him some extremely dubious advice, stuffs him into a suit, and even turns the date into a double to take some of the pressure off. Time before Kumiko recognizes Homer as Mr Sparkle? About three lines.
They go to a ribhouse, where Kumiko is confused by the decorations, though I refuse to believe that there is a Japanese person out there unfamiliar with kitsch. The Squeaky-Voiced Teen (who has grown a beard and gained fifty pounds for some reason) offers them some horrendous sampler based on the fifty states. CBG is skeptical, and a smile from his date does nothing to stop his outraged nerd rant. She's thrilled of course, being the type of gal who loves it when people say what they think. CBG rises to the occasion beautifully. Kumiko and CBG are brought together by snark, which makes me wonder if FJ's going to end in some kind of mass wedding.
They have a "Happy Love Montage" as told by her manga, in which they listen to nerdy stuff (The Crucifixion of Jam Jam Bonks) and visit all sorts of cons. Soon enough, they happily tell Marge and Homer that Kumiko's moving in - sharing a bed just like Batman and Robin. Aww. She isÂ soÂ much better for him than Agnes Skinner. Yeah, remember when that happened?
While taking a housewarming present over to the Android's Dungeon, Homer runs into a nice Japanese "salaryman who could kick your ass". This is Kumiko's dad, who is not thrilled to hear of his daughter's relationship, and also has an awkward accent bordering on racist. I'll overlook it for now, because he seems like an interesting character so far.
Kumiko is marched back to Japan by her father, despite CBG's pleas to let her stay. Um, Kumiko's a grown-ass woman, why can't she decide to stay herself? I mean, I get that there's family pressure, but surely she doesn't have to walk out in the next ten seconds?
Marge and Homer comfort the brokenhearted CBG. She blames Homer for the situation and demands that he fix it. Homer takes Kumiko's dad out for dinner (along with a cameo from Kumiko's mother's ghost). Surprisingly, they find out that they have a lot in common.
Also, since suicide is high in Japan, I'mÂ reallyÂ uncomfortable with all the suicide jokes thrown in here. It's kind of disgusting and I hope someone gets in trouble for it.
They wind up getting wasted, and after indulging in some seriously dodgy wines, they wind up in a bender through Springfield's Japanese neighborhood. They begin to hallucinate. And then we get the episode's gem - a beautiful, surreal and elegant tribute to the Japanese master animator, Hayao Miyazaki. It has its Simpsonian touch, but the animation changes in some pretty subtle ways and you feel, for a moment, as if you've landed in the middle of a different work. Let's hope that if Miyazaki ever sees this, he likes it, because they did a damned good job.
A snail-Bart-and-Lisa (it makes sense in context) tell Homer and Mr Nakamura to look into their souls. Fairy Kumiko shows up and sings about how much she loves CBG. Mr Nakamura wakes up hungover and realizes what a terrible thing he's done - and how much he likes White Castle.
CBG, who apparently has a degree in chemical engineering, has gone out and gotten a "real job" to impress his potential father-in-law (though frankly, I'd be more willing to let my kid marry someone who owed a comic shop). He asks if he is worthy of Kumiko - and Mr Nakamura says no! CBGÂ wasÂ worthy, back when he ran the comic book store and lived the life he wanted. Mr Nakamura tells him to go back to the store, and soon enough the Android's Dungeon hosts a real-life wedding for the first time ever. It is a nerd dream, attended by a bunch of cosplayers (including Mr Nakamura in a robot suit, plus Milo, Strawberry and their baby) and officiated by Mr Stan Lee himself. Kumiko is in a gorgeous kimono and CBG gives a touching speech about how his bride is more important than any comic book. He closes with the immortal line - "Best. Day. Ever." The wedding is the final panel in Kumiko's manga.
Tag scene - Homer and Mr Nakamura have stayed friends, apparently, because they've gone drinking and are now hanging out at Springfield Elementary taunting Milhouse (a swan). Jimbo, Dolph and Kearney (three-headed dragon) bully him for one of his eggs, which hatches into Fire-Breathing Swan Milhouse and burns them. It makes sense, okay?
Well, it was a fun episode, and it was sure nice to see CBG get his happy ending. He's not a strong enough character to have a whole episode to himself (see: Worst Episode Ever, Season 12), but the show was saved by the excellent Miyazaki tribute. All in all, I can safely say it was one of this season's stronger offerings.