Monday, August 21, 2006

I picked up a pile of closeout-cheap DVDs in a just-before-opening raid on The Best Anime Dealer On The Circuit, dashing in and out quickly during the Con. That best dealer on the circuit? BuyRiteDVD, although they never, ever identify themselves as such. In fact, the only thing I've ever seen them post in the way of signs are these "$5 DVDs!" banners, which I do admit, is pretty nifty advertising, because - hey! $5 DVDs!

This year, they also had el cheapo box-sets. I went to the con looking for cheap Fancy Lala DVDs, after picking up a very cheap first volume of said Fancy Lala at a local Dollar General. BuyRiteDVD was selling the Fancy Lala brick for $15. Dude.

I should be ashamed to admit publicly that I bought & watched this series. For those not up on the details of Japanese girl culture - and I don't claim to be an expert, but - "Fancy Lala" is a sort of Japanese Barbie doll. I'm watching the anime equivalent of Barbie and the Magic of Pegasus. Or more accurately, Barbie Meets Jem. (How is it that they never did any sort of Barbie: Rock Star cartoon? Is it just that Amazon is letting me down, and I really ought to be searching elsewhere for my examples? I don't know, I'm allergic to polyurethane pink. I've spent more time semi-googling for Barbie crap than I wanted to already, give me a break, imaginary audience!)

Right. Back on track. Fancy Lala. It's an exemplar of the "magical idol" sub-sub-genre of mahou shoujo or "magical girl". Instead of prepubescent little girls transforming into various roles of adolescence and adulthood (traditional "magical girl", like Minky Momo) or into a fighting-hero (like Sailor Moon or Wedding Peach or any of dozens of similar bishoujo sentai), "magical idols" are little pre-pubescent girls who use their magery to become disposable entertainment figures, aka, in the Japanese parlance, "idoru". Nobody ever recognizes just how inappropriately childlike and callow these fake idols are, because one of the primary points of idolhood is the coy affection of aspects of childhood by adolescent or just barely post-adolescent girls who are themselves not all that far from the longed-for-state of innocence. If you haven't seen Perfect Blue yet, this is the point at which I urge you to go and see it, because it'll explain more about the "idol" industry than I could in fifteen paragraphs of tedious otaku blather.

Anyways, "magical idols". There are a lot more of these titles than you'd think. Fancy Lala is probably the best of the bunch, if only because it doesn't spend as much time on the main characters dreams and aspirations as is usual. In fact, the protagonist, Miho, never really wanted to be an idol at all. She wanted to be a mangaka, a comic artist. She gets the usual magical-pets and magical-tschoktes, turns into her grown-up self, and goes wandering around one of the trendier sections of Tokyo, where she's scouted as a model by a shoe-string production team who've just lost their model & were in desperate straits. One thing leads to another, and thus the accidental idol star, "Fancy Lala" is born.

But this accidental beginning isn't just contrivance, it is also theme. Miho's story is one of giri, of obligation and acquiescence. She goes through a lot of adventures more because it's what she's expected to do, or because of prior promises, prior obligations, and the natural logic of prior successes.

I suppose I'm making it sound a great deal more dreary and unpleasant than it actually is, so I should row back a few strokes at this point. Only about half the episodes are concerned with ldol-industry romping about. The show finds plenty of time for ghost stories, her school-friends, neighbors, and relatives, and all sorts of goofing around. Combined with the show's retro-Eighties charm - the character designs are by Akemi Takada, who was pretty old-fashioned even by the standards of 1998 - is a solid run of good writing and fine animation, by television standards.

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