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One of the most famous, if not the most-famous work by Gilbert and Sullivan, The Mikado, or, the Town of Titipu opened in 1885. The story of its conception was dramatized in the 1999 film Topsy Turvy.
In a quite fictionalized version of Japan, Nanki-Poo, the son of the Mikado (the Emperor) wanders the streets as a Wandering Minstrel. Meanwhile, a hapless tailor named Ko-Ko has been saved from the chopping block and appointed High Executioner. Instructed to execute somebody before The Mikado returns, Ko-Ko happens upon Nanki-Poo, who is suicidally in love with the maiden Yum-Yum. Seeing an opportunity, Ko-Ko decides to help Nanki-Poo have his death wish and to be with Yum-Yum. Hilarity Ensues.
- Accidentally Accurate: Although Gilbert didn't know it at the time, KO KO is an actual Japanese name.
- Affably Evil: The Mikado, who is rather calm when he threatens to boil his son's supposed killers in oil.
- "I'm not a bit angry."
- All There in the Script: Peep-Bo, the third of the "three little maids from school"; Pish-Tush
- Anachronism Stew: Modern productions tend to be updated with current references, especially prevalent in "The List" song.
- This version of "Mi-ya Sa-ma" features a refrain comprising most of the modern Japanese mega-corps
- A recent version with Alistair Mcgowan rhymed Mikado with the supermarket chain Ocado.
- Beauty Equals Goodness: Yum Yum: beautiful=Good, Katisha: Ugly=Evil. However this trope is lampshaded and parodied as well. Yum Yum ask why she's the most beautiful woman in the whole world "Can this be vanity? No!". As for Katisha, although she is genuinely bloodthirsty and cruel, her loneliness makes her sympathetic ("Hearts do not break").
- Black Comedy
- Blue Blood
Pooh-Bah: I am, in point of fact, a particularly haughty and exclusive person, of pre-Adamite ancestral descent. You will understand this when I tell you that I can trace my ancestry back to a protoplasmic primordial atomic globule.
- Bowdlerize: A couple of N-word references are generally now re-written in "I've got a little list" and "My object all sublime."
- Christmas Cake: Katisha, a very old maid, pines for Nanki-Poo.
- Cool and Unusual Punishment: "A More Humane Mikado" is made of this.
- Evil Sounds Deep: The Mikado and Katisha
- Pooh-Bah, likewise, is always cast as a bass or a baritone.
- Evolving Music: The eponymous list from "I've Got A Little List".
- Every Man Has His Price: Pooh-Bah would be insulted if you offered him a bribe, and mortified at the prospect of working for a salary. However, as a man of high moral principles, he is grateful for every such opportunity to practice self-abasement.
- Flanderization: When the Mikado was originally played by Richard Temple in 1885 he was a slightly sinister "suave and oily" reserved monarch with just the very lightest touch of the maniac in the background. By the end of the 1920s, however, Darrell Fancourt had turned him into a maniacal tyrant complete with a flamboyant evil laugh. G and S fans are divided as to which was the better approach.
- Gallows Humor: Plenty.
- Grande Dame: Katisha.
- Hope Spot: "There should be...but there isn't."
- "I Am" Song: "If you want to know who we are", "A wandering minstrel, I", "Behold the Lord High Executioner", "Comes a train of little ladies", "Three little maids from school" and "Miya sama". Yes, six of them, quite possibly a record.
- Inherently Funny Words: The names, some of which seem to combine this with Getting Crap Past the Radar.
- "I drew my snickersnee..."
- Insane Troll Logic: How the crisis is averted in the end.
- It Gets Easier: Parodied when Ko-Ko announces that he can't execute a human being just yet; he'd planned on starting with a guinea pig and killing progressively larger, more intelligent animals until he got there.
- Judge, Jury, and Executioner: Technically, Ko-Ko, although he's upstaged by Pooh-Bah who is the "Lord High Everything Else."
- King Incognito: Nanki-Poo.
- Lawful Stupid: The Mikado agrees with Ko-Ko, Pooh-Bah, and Pitti-Sing's explanation that the execution of his son Nanki-Poo was a complete accident, that nobody should have been expected to deduce his true identity through the disguise, and that they were, after all, carrying out the Mikado's orders that somebody be executed...but that the three of them should still be subjected to "something lingering, like boiling oil" for the crime of murdering the Heir Apparent of Japan. He even regrets having to do so, stating that there is nothing that he could do about it.
- Local Reference:
Ko-Ko: The fact is, he's gone abroad.
The Mikado: Gone abroad? His address!
- List Song: Ko-Ko's "I've got a little list."
- The Long List: When they say Pooh-Bah is "Lord High Everything Else," they mean it.
- The list in "I've Got a Little List" isn't really that little. This is sometimes parodied by having it reach the floor when unrolled.
- Loophole Abuse: Flirting was made a capital offense, but everyone tries to find a way around that. Notably, this explains how Ko-Ko became Lord High Executioner: He was promoted to the post after being sentenced to death, but since he can't cut off his own head, and since nobody else can be executed until he is, everyone is free to indulge in flirting!
- Medieval Japan: Kind of. The setting was inspired by popular interest in Japanese art, but Word of Gilbert explains that it's a pretext for satire that's actually directed toward contemporary English institutions.
- Nightmare Fetishist: Katisha sings a whole song about how awesome thunderstorms, tigers, earthquakes, and volcanos are.
- Many people during the opera express bloodthirsty glee at the prospect of executions (well, executions that are not their own).
Katisha: And you won't hate me because I'm just a little teeny weeny wee bit bloodthirsty, will you?
Ko-Ko: Hate you? Oh, Katisha! is there not beauty even in bloodthirstiness?
Katisha: My idea exactly!
- Patter Song: "I've got a little list."
- Also, "A More Humane Mikado," which is actually more demanding in the patter.
- The second half of "I Am So Proud."
- Political Correctness Gone Mad: The 1907 revival was cancelled for six weeks due to a state visit by Prince Fushimi Sadanaru. It backfired spectacularly when the prince expressed a desire to see the show.
- Punny Name
- Runaway Fiance: the male version.
- Shout Out to Shakespeare: Hamlet's reference to Polonius as a "king of shreds and patches" is borrowed:
"A wand'ring minstrel I,
A thing of shreds and patches!"
- In the recent Australian Opera production:
"Friends, Shogun, Countrymen! Lend me your ears!"
"Nanki-poo? Nanki-poo? Wherefore art thou Nanki-poo?"
- Tenor Boy: Nanki-Poo
- Tomboy and Girly Girl: In some productions of The Mikado Pitti-Sing is played as a tomboy to Yum-Yum's Girly Girl.
- Wandering Minstrel: Nanki-Poo's disguise
- Lampshaded in the song "A Wand'ring Minstrel I."
- Why Do You Keep Changing Jobs?: Being "Lord High Everything Else" creates some internal conflicts for Pooh-Bah:
Pooh-Bah: "Of course, as First Lord of the Treasury, I could propose a special vote that would cover all expenses, if it were not that, as Leader of the Opposition, it would be my duty to resist it, tooth and nail. Or, as Paymaster General, I could so cook the accounts that, as Lord High Auditor, I should never discover the fraud. But then, as Archbishop of Titipu, it would be my duty to denounce my dishonesty and give myself into my own custody as first Commissioner of Police."
- The solution? All of these officials need to be paid off with very considerable bribes.