Wednesday, July 21, 2004

It's summer in Japan, which means it's magical girlfriend time on-air. There are three different magical-girlfriend shows making the digisub rounds - Hani Hani Operation Sanctuary, Girls Bravo, and DearS.

Hani Hani - the full title is something like The Sun in the East, the Moon in the West, which sounds vaguely Celtic, but it's abbreviated to Hani Hani in the title sequence - is remarkably forgettable, even for a twelve-minute episode series. There's something about a post-apocalyptic world, and magic, and bishoujo falling from the skies, but all in all, I could care less about where-ever it is that the show is planning on going. About the only really entertaining thing about the digisub was the fansub group's insistence on color-coding the characters' dialog according to their hair color. I found myself more interested in the colors than the text.

Girls Bravo is yet another example of TV anime's new-found infatuation with petty self-censorship. Japanese fans are allegedly calling it "Steam Girls" because of the omnipresent, obliterating clouds of mist and steam whiting out the screen whenever the for-video-release nudity is present. It goes beyond just modesty-blanking, and makes the scenes unviewable - whiting out the entire third, or half, or two-thirds of the screen containing the naughty bits. If you're lucky, you'll get a good view of the girl's eyes; otherwise, you'll have to rely on the particular combination of knots and loops in each girl's distinctive hairstyle in order to identify who's who. Girls Bravo isn't nearly as faceless as Hani Hani, but it plays like a distillation of Hanaukyo Mai Tai and Love Hina. Our protagonist is a feeble little dwarf with an allergic reaction to women, who bully him unmercifully. I mean bully, as in blood flying, head-crushing, shockingly violent abuse. He's lucky that he's made of undestructinium, because no mere mortal would survive five minutes with the female savages that populate Girls Bravo. His best friend regularly beats him to a pulp. He's such a sad sack that I can't help but root for him when he acquires a kindly, likeable magical girlfriend who's always intent on bathing with others. The fact that she's a bottomless maw of appetite and likely to eat him out of house and home only adds to the charm of a slight but amiable show. As galfelch goes, it's amusing.

DearS, on the other hand, is a fucking riot. If you're not big on B&D fetishism, you're going to hate it with a passion. The opening theme song's refrain is, in English, "I'm your slave". It's full of cute alien girls in dog collars. A high school teacher lounges about in class in her underwear, while her class begs her to put her clothes back on; she insists on teaching English from pornographic pamphlets. (Aside from one of the students: "Why hasn't she been fired yet?") The vaguely appalled, bored looks on the faces of the female students are worth the price of admission in and of themselves. The plot, thinly and basically, is that a spaceship full of cute alien-girls crashes in Japan, and they get adopted by the Japanese when they admit that they can't fix their ship. (The notion that the Japanese would allow anybody to become Japanese, let alone aliens, is the single most unbelievable element of this whole wish-fulfillment fantasy.) Our protagonist is convinced that it's all an evil, alien plot to take over the world, and he entertains paranoid fantasies straight out of that old mini-series, V, of lizard-people hiding behind flesh-masks. He continues to fulminate about the alien plot even after he accidentally saves one of the aliens, who fixates on him due to the usual wacky series of misunderstandings, and insists on calling him "Master" where other people can hear and snicker knowingly at the pervert who makes his girlfriend wear a dog collar.

The suggestion seems to be that the aliens - called, annoyingly, "DearS" - are manufactured, natural slaves, prone to become psychologically bound to masters. I'm guessing that prior to such bondage, they're not particularly eager to have it happen, and are doing their best to hide this fact. But that's all just a guess based on the first two episodes. All, in all, it's looking like slick, irredeemable fun.

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