Tag Archives: Shoujo

Young Adult Girls as the target audience.

Horimiya – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Horimiya

 

Related: Hori-san & Miyamura-kun (old version)

Similar: His and Her Circumstances

Maid-sama

Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Comedy Romance

Length: 13 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Main couple has good chemistry
  • Great production values
  • Succeeds as a feel good rom-com

Negatives:

  • Too much time given to side couples
  • Conflict fizzles out quickly
  • Time skips to the ending

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Horimiya was the popular rom-com of the previous season, drawing attention for adapting a well-received manga and its beautiful character style. Behind this pleasant, easy going anime lies a bit of a kerfuffle over whether is it a good or a bad anime. Who would have thought this would be the contentious one of the season?

In the vein of His and Her Circumstances, this romantic comedy centres on a couple of teens with home lives they keep secret from school friends. Hori is beautiful, smart, and popular. She has the easy life. Miyamura is a feeble guy who keeps to himself. At home, however, Hori is the mother of the household, taking care of her brother and doing the chores, as her parents are always busy with work. Meanwhile, Miyamura is nothing like his school persona. Outside, he has several prominent piercings, tattoos, and is much more energetic than you’d guess. You wouldn’t recognise him if you passed on the street.

These two opposites attract and make for a good couple. When I discovered his bad boy secret identity, I expected him to be that clichéd shoujo romantic interest. You know the type – a troubled guy that’s just misunderstood and the main girl can “fix.” Pleasant surprise to find Miyamura to be otherwise. She’s a more typical character, though a well-executed one. They are the lynchpins of the story amid a rather large cast. One the side, we have Hori’s brother and parents, a dozen prominent classmates, many of them coupling up later, and more.

Horimiya, at its core, is a feel good rom-com to a fault. So set is it on making you feel good that at the first sign of drama, everything will speed up to get you back to the happy times. I’m not kidding. For instance, there is an early confrontation between Hori and the student council (a frankly forced scene to begin with). They accuse her of having forgotten some file. People crowd around, tensions rise, and then…it dissipates and we move on as if nothing happened. Another example is a point of jealousy later, setting up that “I’m not talking to you until I realise my mistake and look like an idiot before I come back to apologise” scenario. But no, it lasts, what, 30 seconds?

I’m not sure if this is a consequence of truncating the manga or if it’s meant to be this way. The rush to get to the ending in the final episode does make me think it’s the former. I would have to read the manga to be sure.

The side characters exacerbate the truncation. Some episodes, notably in the latter half, cut away to dedicate a significant amount of screen time to pairing up several of the schoolmates. Because there are so many for a 13-episode series, the time given feels both too long – we should spend more time with less characters – and too short to really feel invested in them. You might care about some, but all, unlikely. I’m sure this isn’t a manga problem.

Now, as a feel good anime, Horimiya works quite well. If you want to get away from those dangerous spirits in Jujutsu Kaisen, if Wonder Egg Priority is too depressing with all that suicide, or if Ex-Arm is making want to commit suicide, then Horimiya is the antidote. In fact, the rushing past drama discussed earlier might be a positive aspect to those wanting the pure goodness.

As for me, I’m up and down in places. I like the main couple and their chemistry. Her younger brother as well, good character. One of few kid brothers that isn’t annoying in this type of story. The schoolmates are my main issue alongside the rushed conflicts. With the students, I stop paying attention when they are the focus. It’s too uninteresting. Which leads into the conflict. Probably would have been better to not have it at all and go for pure comedy, akin to the superior Kaguya-sama: Love is War. Or you cut down on characters to make room for drama.

The visuals and music do most of the heavy lifting to me. Had studio CloverWorks not leant all effort into the production, Horimiya would have been one to pass by in the sea of seasonal anime. I like the uneven line work on the characters.

I’m on the positive side of the scale overall with Horimiya. However, I didn’t come from the manga. Fans are divided.

This is one of the few times where I went online to read opinions on a series shortly after finishing it. The manga is 16 volumes long. There are more volumes than episodes, yet both have the same end, with the final chapter released less than three weeks before the last episode. There is a significant time skip in the anime to make this happen. Of course, a lot was cut and manga readers aren’t happy. This wasn’t much of an issue for me, but I can relate, having experienced what they’re feeling in other anime. On the other side, anime only viewers are quite positive.

Seems to be that if you read the manga, the adaptation was disappointing and rushed. If you hadn’t read the manga, this was great and now you will go read the manga. I’m somewhere in the middle. I don’t have the urge to consume the manga and I thought the anime was just fairly good.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For light-hearted romance fans. Reading the Horimiya manga seems to be the true recommendation in this case.

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Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative: None

Wonder Egg Priority – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Wonder Egg Priority

 

Similar: Puella Magi Madoka Magica

Digimon

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Psychological Drama Fantasy

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Beautiful colours
  • Great animation
  • The backstory

Negatives:

  • The egg girls have no presence
  • Overstuffed with trauma ideas
  • Doesn’t feel sure about its narrative tone

(Request an anime for review here.)

Wonder Egg Priority is a story of suicide and its causes amongst young girls. While an admirable effort, it ultimately attempts too much in too little time.

Ai Ohto has been a lonely depressed girl for a long while. The one ray of sunshine she had was her best friend, who recently committed suicide by jumping off the school roof. This leaves Ai a wreck. Then, in a surreal twist of fate, she finds an egg in her dream and talking toilet paper tells her to smash it. She does so and out hatches a girl her age. That’s weird. Then come the murder goblins crashing through the school halls of this dreamscape, splattering paint wherever they go. They paint with blood, however. Behind these “Seeno Evil” monsters is a puppet master, a “Wonder Killer” monster that seems made of sacks of paint. Killing the master with Ai’s pen-turned-Keyblade frees the egg girl and she can leave this limbo.

Ai then meets the two people, er, dolls (?) behind these wonder eggs, who tell her that if she helps enough girls, she can revive her dead friend (represented by a statue in the dream world). Furthermore, she isn’t the only one cracking eggs. She teams up with three other girls of varying archetypes (quiet studious girl, pretty tomboy, and the bad girl) and they become friends.

Wonder Egg Priority may sound abstract and odd from my description above, but it is rather straightforward by the second episode. In fact, I’m not sure if it intended abstraction and failed or the creator just thought it was cool. If you’ve seen Madoka Magica (or played Persona) this anime will seem familiar, only not as grim, which is an odd thing to say considering Wonder Egg tackles suicide, abuse, rape, self-harm, bullying, and more (catalysts for the suicides). See, Wonder Egg is overstuffed with these trauma elements that it barely manages to dedicate enough time for more than a couple. In fact, there are so many instances – some character have multiple traumas – that you’d be forgiven for missing a few. I don’t suggest the execution is awful. It’s undercooked.

This isn’t an example like having a happy romance for 90% of the story before someone rapes the lead female in the finale for shock value. Trauma permeates Wonder Egg, so it isn’t out of place when we meet another abuse victim. However, it rarely has the intended impact.

Most egregious are the egg girls. Ai or a friend will hatch one, the enemies will spawn, a chase ensues, and during a moment of downtime before the Wonder Killer confrontation, Ai will get to know the girl and what lead her to suicide. Then they kill the monster and the girl is gone. You can’t expect the audience to feel invested, or truly care, when a character’s trauma boils down to a two-minute scene ahead of her departure for another girl to enter next episode.

The story does spend more time on the four main girls though, yet even then it’s too much for too few episodes. I compare this to Madoka Magica because that anime accomplishes – in terms of tragedy – what this tried to do. Madoka focused on the core character elements, boiled it down to the essentials and gave them the appropriate amount of screen time. Less is more once again.

The best episodes are in the final act when it goes into the backstory for this wonder egg experiment and the two scientists behind it. I’m sorry to say though that it has little to do with Ai and is far more engaging than her story. I wonder if they should have been the mains instead.

Where Wonder Egg succeeds most is in the visual department. This is a beautiful anime with masterful understanding of colour theory, light, and shade. Compositions often remind of the Monogatari franchise. The animation is great, never relying on those slow pans I hate so much, and is at its most fluid during the action scenes, which are more intense than expected for such a bright and colourful anime.

My only visual quibble is with the dream world. Yes, the gremlins and big goobers are imaginative, but the school setting is as generic as any anime school. Think of how Persona 5 turns ordinary locations into crazy realities representing a villain’s psyche. Or how Madoka has that witch magic everywhere. Do something creative. You’re in a dream; you can do anything you want and it can enhance theme and reinforce messages.

Overall, Wonder Egg Priority is a goodish anime, more enjoyable as a visual experience over a narrative one that could appeal to a decent amount of viewers. Do note that the heavy emphasis on trauma may put off some people.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. Wonder Egg Priority looks beautiful and is different from other anime this season.

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Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive:

Fluid Animation

Negative: None

Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid / Blend S / Ranma ½ – Quick Review

Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid

Japanese Title: Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon

Genre: Comedy Slice of Life

Length: 13 episodes

Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is about a drunk office lady who accidentally invites a dragon to live with her. It isn’t long before other dragons crash in as well.

There are five dragons: main dragon, little dragon, male dragon, rival dragon, and pedo dragon. Main dragon is the titular maid to Miss Kobayashi. Comedy largely comes from her incompetent but earnest attempts at being a useful maid to Kobayashi – and a strange obsession with serving her own dragon tail meat for dinner. This is typical fish out of water humour from a slice of life anime. Little dragon is just there for the cute factor.

Most characters have no point to this story. I know this is slice of life, a genre thin on purpose, yet even so, most of these characters serve little purpose. The worst character in both purpose and personality is pedo dragon. The old dragon whose job is carrying two massive jugs around answers the summons of a little magician boy. Her purpose becomes to molest him at every possible opportunity. They even called him Shouta… So obsessed is Dragon Maid with this “joke” that it will cut away from unrelated scenes to show her sleeping with this child and using him as a grinding pillow. Furthermore, she is completely pointless.

The other surprisingly pointless aspect is the whole dragon bit. Having these characters be dragons doesn’t play much of a factor outside of a shoehorned bit of plot involving the dragon emperor in the final episode. I think of Hinamatsuri with its alien girls. Sure, Hina’s character designs were uninspired but being aliens made a difference. The dragon aspect is just a gimmick.

Not pulling a “she’s actually a thousand years old” on little dragon was Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid’s greatest surprise.

The two main characters are decent fun and I like the colours and animation. Other than that, it’s a run of the mill moe slice of life comedy and those are never great.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: For moe slice of life fans only.

*     *     *     *     *

Blend S

Japanese Title: Blend S

Genre: Comedy Slice of Life

Length: 12 episodes

If you’ve heard of Blend S it’s because of the meme opening (“Smile! Sweet! Sadistic!”). It’s also the only entertaining part. This isn’t a good anime.

Blend S is a workplace slice of life series – of which there are many – filled with a cast of generic characters. The main girl struggles to find a job because despite being small and cute, her smile looks menacing. Anime, seriously, there are only so many times you can use this trope. Please, something else.

The scenarios are typical and crammed to the brim with gags, which gives the feeling that the writers don’t want you to stop and think about how nothing is happening. I don’t find it funny, so this doesn’t work for me. And the sexualisation is creepy, though not that prevalent.

You ever discover an older anime and wonder how it faded into obscurity, forgotten by everyone after the season ended? Watching Blend S reminds me of that. This anime is so dull in the face of such high energy.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Skip it. A new anime of its kind will be out every season anyway.

*     *     *     *     *

Ranma ½

Japanese Title: Ranma ½

Genre: Comedy Slice of Life

Length: 161 episodes

Today we end on a classic of slice of life comedy, an anime from a time when broadcasters wanted 161 episodes from a story that goes nowhere.

Ranma ½ is about a guy called Ranma who turns into a girl when splashed with cold water. Hot water turns him back again. His father arranges for him to marry the daughter from a long running dojo family. Akane plays the main love interest and foil to Ranma.

Episodes of Ranma ½ follow a rather repetitive theme of Ranma fighting someone with martial arts over some misunderstanding or jealousy, a lover spat with Akane, and some gender swapping hijinks. It doesn’t go much of anywhere. The core premise is alright – I have no particular objections there – but episode after episode of mid-level comedy, repetition, and a story that makes one step of progress per twenty episodes is dull. As mentioned earlier, Ranma ½ comes from a time when stations wanted longer anime. They try out a few, find the ones that stick, and play them forever. If you could get the audience interested, you expect their return to your station every week. This anime isn’t meant for the binge viewer. That is true of many older anime. However, many still have reason to watch them today amongst the modern series. Ranma ½ doesn’t hold up.

One final note – avoid the dub. It’s not from a time of quality dubs, but worst of all is the fact that one actress didn’t record using the same equipment. Background noise accompanies her every time she speaks. It’s like teeth against a chalkboard.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: For classic slice of life fans only. At 161 episodes long, Ranma ½ is only for the diehard.

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Sailor Moon – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon

 

Related: Sailor Moon R, Sailor Moon S, Sailor Moon SuperS, Sailor Moon Sailor Stars (seasons 2-5 – included in review)

Sailor Moon Crystal (remake – review further down)

Similar: Cardcaptors

Little Witch Academia

Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy Romance

Length: 200 episodes (5 seasons) & 3 movies

 

Positives:

  • Villains are on theme
  • Knows its target audience
  • Crystal: less filler

Negatives:

  • Several minutes of repeated animation each episode
  • Original Japanese and first dub aren’t good
  • Villain of the week structure throughout
  • Chibiusa
  • Crystal: adopts the manga’s shortcomings

(Request an anime for review here.)

My interest in revisiting Sailor Moon piqued with all that I had heard about the edits and censorship of the original dub. I had seen a fair amount of scattered episodes as part of the morning cartoon block for the “big three” – the original big three of Pokémon, Dragon Ball Z, and Sailor Moon.

What was quite few years ago now, I tried the Japanese version to see it unaltered but I couldn’t make it more than two or three episode before I had to stop. The acting was bad and the audio quality was so tinny that it was an uncomfortable experience. Usagi in particular was a cheese grater on my eardrums. With an intolerable original track and a censored dub, that seemed it. However, Viz Media swooped in, snatched the English rights to the franchise, and re-dubbed the whole thing, including the movies, with higher fidelity sound effects as well. Add in the remastered visuals and this is a worthwhile revival. Viz gave Sailor Moon the Funimation One Piece treatment, which I’m sure is a delight to fans.

Before I dove into the remaster, I tried the Japanese to be sure – yep, still bad – and watched about a season’s worth in episodes of the old dub to establish a baseline for the remaster. I’ll talk about the old version first.

Wait – the premise! I forget that no matter how popular a series, someone will know nothing about it. Sailor Moon follows crybaby middle schooler Usagi (called Serena in the old dub) who receives the power to transform into the titular magical girl. Four other Sailor Guardians soon join her fight against evil creatures (more guardians join in later seasons) – the smart Ami as Sailor Mercury, the popular Minako as Sailor Venus, the disciplined Rei as Sailor Mars, and the strong Makoto as Sailor Jupiter. The two cats Luna and Artemis guide the girls in their missions. All of the girls – and many villains – have different names in the old dub for marketability reasons, which are usually similar to the original (e.g. Rei = Raye, Ami = Amy).

If you were to watch the old dub without knowing it was censored, you wouldn’t notice much wrong. This isn’t like One Piece, where it’s obvious that that pirate is supposed to have a gun to someone’s head, not…whatever that is. The Sailor Moon edits are mainly in dialogue, which is easy to blend in – renaming steamed buns to donuts was a stretch though. When a male cross dresser already looks like a woman, it’s as simple as changing a few words here and there to say it was always a woman. The most infamous edit is the relationship between Sailors Uranus and Neptune, changed from a lesbian couple to cousins. Everyone has heard of this change, so when watching the remaster, I was most curious to see what all the fuss was about.

What a letdown! This relationship is so tame that most kids would have no idea that they’re a couple. Censors overacted over nothing. Not to mention they are some of the least interesting characters in the series.

The only thing I like about the old dub was making Luna a bossy older woman like a British governess, reminding me of Professor McGonagall, which is always a good thing. Alas, it is not true to the source material, so it must go.

Enough of the old; let’s begin on the new.

Sailor Moon uses a villain of the week structure for 95% of its 200 episodes. The henchmen descend upon Earth like Rita’s cronies from Power Rangers, each tapping into a vice, theme, or activity often associated with girls. It was a good idea to make the subjects relevant to the target shoujo audience. Usagi and her friends care about jewellery, dating, friends, exams (begrudgingly), dancing, clothes, marriage, fitness, and so on, and so does the shoujo audience. Also, notice how they make the characters seem more mature by giving them activities and interests for girls a few years older than 14. This plays to a girl’s fantasy of looking up one age group. A villain’s plot will generally involve corrupting the good quality of a person and turning it against the girls. For example, a tennis student becomes hyper-competitive to the point of destruction. This is a good angle to take rather than summoning some monster to fight each episode. It feels more relevant. Sailor Moon R does away with this until the variations return in later seasons.

The main Sailor Moon S villain is hilarious. Mad scientist over the top but also has to do regular things like shop, but stays in mad scientist character. Direct quote, “That took longer than I thought. So hard to find a good gluten free snack these days.”

One early plan involves stealing people’s love (a strange, human concept) by hosting a late night radio show where women send in secret confession love letters, in return for a corsage that drains the energy and love of the woman who wears it. Having some evil handsome villain reading saucy letter on air is so corny. Quite nostalgically charming. However, there is only so far this format can get you and let me tell you, it grows tired well before the first season is over at episode 46.

Much of season one goes something like this: introduce theme, escalation, girls transform, Usagi throws tiara, and win. Oh, let’s not forget the useless Tuxedo Mask who shows up to spout some platitude before he buggers off. That meme of “My work here is done!” “…But you didn’t do anything,” is too accurate.

Is season two any different? Well, the Guardians do receive a new attack each, which they will use every episode right after they transform. Several minutes of each episode is repeated animation sequences: transformations, catch phrases, and special attacks. The more Guardians that join the series, the more time we lose to these animation sequences. Nice animation, sure, but it’s the same thing over…and over…and over…and over.

Sailor Moon only deviates from the formula for the first few and last few episodes of each season, where the entire plot occurs. The final season, Sailor Stars, does have a little more going on than the others. Not much more. One thing to note is that the finales are largely the same. A cataclysmic phenomenon will blanket the world (a.k.a. wherever the girls live) and all seems lost until Sailor Moon uses a super move to reverse the effects. Repetition is the name of Sailor Moon’s game. Each season may introduce new Guardians and new villains, but like the animation, there are levels of recycling here that no environmentalist could hope to compete with.

So, do I recommend Sailor Moon? It is dated in many ways by today’s standards. There is the animation, of course, and the formula, but then we have the power progression, which consists of being handed new powers without effort, and the character work. Take Usagi and Mamoru’s (Tuxedo Mask) relationship. This romance spans almost the entire 200-episode runtime, yet jack all happens. The relationship only exists because the story tells us they’re destined to be together. Creepy age gap aside (excused by the whole destiny lark), nothing about Usagi would recommend her to this guy. Meanwhile, he has the personality of dead wood.

I had hoped that the introduction of Chibiusa (Usagi’s time travelling future daughter) would mature Usagi, that realising she has the same maturity as an infant makes her grow up. Alas, this would deviate too much from the formula.

As for the rest of the Guardians, most viewers would expect more depth from the full cast. They are better than any run-of-the-mill high school anime cast found today at least. Sailor Jupiter is my favourite of the group, as she is the most well rounded in terms of humour vs. seriousness, contributes her part without overshadowing others, has brains unlike Usagi, and I like her personality. They aren’t bad characters. However, the rigid formula for each episode means that we can never truly explore these people because the villain of the week has to show up at this point, everyone has to transform at that time, and all must go back to normal before the credits roll.

Classic Sailor Moon is best when seen in the context of its release – a girls’ cartoon meant for one episode each morning. The repetitive nature wouldn’t feel so bad there. To watch it today, in the binge sphere? Not a chance. Only powerful nostalgia can tempt viewers into these 200 episodes.

Sailor Moon Crystal

Sailor Moon Crystal is the recent remake of the franchise, promising to stick close to the source manga. This has resulted in a near polar opposite adaptation of Sailor Moon that is possible while remaining recognisable. The ~40-episode seasons are now 13 episodes each (fourth season will be two movies) as all filler falls to the wayside.

For those wanting a better main plot – the Usagi and Mamoru thread – without padding, then Crystal is better. However, the manga, and therefore this adaptation, do a poor job with the supporting cast. The old anime filled its seasons between openers and finales with standalone stories often focused on a side character. One episode might show us one of Jupiter’s hobbies (the episode’s villain relates to this hobby) and in the process, develop her further. Next episode, we’ll see what Venus is up to with a guy she crushes on (99% chance he’s a villain in disguise). These episodes improved on weak parts of the manga despite being formulaic and non-canon. By returning to the original blueprint, Crystal loses a quality of the original in exchange for a faster pace and more central focus.

The other notable change when staying truer to the manga is the art. Crystal, in terms of design, is closer to the original art except with a new paint job. It does not look good. I don’t know if it’s just me, but Usagi’s tiny mouth with fat lips (relative to the size of her mouth) and giant eyes creeps me out. The director also loves close ups of her face, making me recoil each time. Then we have the shading. If it looks like someone did it in MS Paint for a DeviantArt OC, then please don’t use it. There is also the general lack of cinematography. Season 1 doesn’t feel storyboarded, as if they went from one shot to the next without planning. And let’s not forget the crime greater than anything a Sailor Moon villain could have dreamed of! The CG transformation sequences. How did anybody look at those rubber puppets pirouetting on screen and say, “Ship it!” without a hint of irony? Furthermore, these sequences see almost as much use per episode as in the original, so I must ask, why not dedicate the appropriate resources?

Crystal’s art does improve in time with a big leap forward for the third season. Gone is Usagi’s devil mouth. Gone is the MS Paint highlighting. And gone are the CG transformations. Crystal should have looked like this from the start. Many manga styles simply don’t translate well to animation.

If I were to pick just one adaptation to watch, I would pick neither – one is too long and repetitive, the other is quite an eyesore, and neither has anything I consider brilliant. But if you twisted my arm and I had to watch one, it would be Sailor Moon Crystal. Brevity makes all of the difference. Or I would watch just one season of the original – Sailor Moon S, most likely. I find them to be overall around the same quality.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For young girls and nostalgia. You need something as strong as nostalgia to draw you into Sailor Moon in this era or you can recommend Sailor Moon Crystal to young girls (they won’t care about the art issues).

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Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative: 

Repetitive

Fancy Lala – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Mahou no Stage Fancy Lala

 

Related: Fashion Lala: The Story of the Harbor Light (spin-off)

Similar: Magical Angel Creamy Mami

Searching for the Full Moon

Kodocha

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Comedy Drama Music

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Holds up well
  • Good lessons for little girls
  • Music is good in both English and Japanese
  • Doesn’t fall into formulaic magical girl episodes

Negatives:

  • Not cautious enough about a lone girl in the entertainment business

(Request an anime for review here.)

You probably haven’t heard of Fancy Lala – I hadn’t until this came in as a review request – and for good reason. If I gave you these two pieces of information, what does that tell you: “magical girl anime” and “1998”? Yes, it matches Fancy Lala, but also matches a titan of the genre, Cardcaptor Sakura. They didn’t just release in the same year. They came out in the same week. And Cardcaptor Sakura eclipsed the anime we will be looking at today.

Fancy Lala is about a third-grade girl with an imagination larger than life. Miho has a chance meeting with two little fairies (more like dragons) who give her a magical pen and notebook. Anything she draws in the notebook becomes real. Furthermore, the pen can transform her into the blue-haired teen Lala from her sketches. It isn’t long before an agent discovers her, convincing Lala to become a model and singer. Thus, Fancy Lala is born.

The first thing that strikes me about Miho is what she considers “cool”. Get this, right, she has the power to create any clothes she wants. Anything. So what does she draw? A transparent raincoat. Except it’s not even a raincoat. It’s a plastic wrap. Then we have her stage name, Fancy Lala, of all names. And I love it. I love how nonsensical her imagination is. This is what a nine-year-old would come up with. The brilliance of Miho is that she feels and thinks like a little girl, not what an adult says a little girl is like. I remember this one kid from primary school who said that if he were a billionaire, he would have a McDonalds at his house so he could eat there every day. That was the grandest thing he could think of. Miho captures that child mentality.

There isn’t as much fanfare as you would expect when she discovers the power. She’s rather casual about it, though I suppose transformation magic isn’t far out of the ordinary for a kid full of imagination.

The episode to episode story reminds very much of Clark Kent/Superman from the Lois & Clark TV series, except with modelling and school drama instead of dastardly villains. Lala has a photo shoot today, but oh no, Miho has to do something with her school friends at the same time! There’s plenty of transforming back and forth, Miho pretending to have arrived just as Lala left, and all that fun secret identity stuff. She notices how differently people treat Lala from Miho. The story strikes a good balance between real Miho plot and the Lala work plot. While she’s trying to make it as a model and then as a singer, she also has school events, family conundrums, and personal issues.

The one real gripe I have against Fancy Lala is how it handles the entertainment industry. Now, I know this a cartoon for little girls and not Perfect Blue; however, no one questions why a teenager never has her parents with her at any photo shoot, film set, or performance. You don’t want to teach kids to go into entertainment alone. The closest thing we have is an agent that tries to force her to work for him, from whom she flees, but then the woman she does join is also a stranger. She could be a trafficker for all Lala knows.

Apart from that, this anime has many great lessons to teach young girls. It explores the power of imagination, but tempers it with reality, talks about divorce, emphasises the importance of hard work and becoming someone people rely on, to name a few. When I first started Fancy Lala, it reminded me of Searching for the Full Moon, a similar anime I had seen long ago (in that, a girl with cancer can transform into a teen singer). Turns out it was inspired by Fancy Lala. This reminiscence was not a positive, for Full Moon was atrocious and taught some horrible life lessons. I expected to have much the same here – wish away your troubles, hard work doesn’t matter, and all that idiocy. Thankfully, Fancy Lala proved me wrong before long.

As a brief side note, Fancy Lala itself took from another series, as is the case with all art, called Creamy Mami, the anime that invented the idea of using an anime to promote idol singers. Fancy Lala’s twist was adding an actual story and drama.

Is it fair that Cardcaptor Sakura pushed this anime into obscurity? No, not in the slightest. Fancy Lala is the better anime. I like Cardcaptors well enough, but this not only avoids a formulaic structure each episode, the characters have more depth and the life lessons are far stronger. Fancy Lala has an ending I would not expect of the magical girl genre. It is a poignant end that leaves the audience with the best message of the series, while instilling inspiration and joy.

Art – Medium

The art is notably aged, but it holds up well and cel animation always has that textured beauty to it.

Sound – Medium

It shouldn’t surprise you to learn – considering the genre – that a first timer, an idol with a short-lived career after the series, voices Miho/Lala. Her acting is alright, better than one would expect. She’s here for the singing talent. The OP screams ‘90s magical anime. The dub actress is similar, whereby her musical ability is stronger than her acting. She’s fine in that regard as well. They did a good job translating the songs.

Story – High

A little girl finds a magic pen that transforms her into a teenager, soon becoming a model and singer. Packed with good lessons, escapist fun, and some nice music, Fancy Lala is a strong offering from the magical girl genre.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: For young girls. I like Fancy Lala. Do I recommend it? Not quite. Not unless it’s to a child or an adult who has fond memories of being the sort of child who would have loved this anime, ready for a comfort trip back in time.

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Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative: None