DRAWN & QUARTERED
Anime ‘Kodocha’ dials up screwball volume
Child actors, it could be said, can have pretty screwed-up lives. While there might be exceptions -- then again, who knows when Hilary Duff or that kid who saw dead people in "The Sixth Sense" will fall off the wagon? -- it's a given that today's young stars will be tomorrow's Z-list stars of wonderfully stimulating reality-TV fare like "Breaking Bonaduce."
It's with this in mind that we consider Sana Kurata, the main character in the anime and manga series "Kodocha" (also known as "Kodomo no Omocha," or "Child's Toy," in Japan).
On the surface, Sana seems like your typical hyperactive, excessively cheerful sixth-grader who stars in TV shows and other productions with the Komawari actors group. Sure, her family might have its quirks -- she often refers to her manager, Rei, as her "boyfriend and pimp," and her mom, a best-selling author, has a chipmunk living in her hair -- but she seems like an upstanding young gal overall.
So when a group of boys in her classroom, led by the brooding Akito Hayama, run roughshod over her teacher and make life a living hell, Sana takes it upon herself to correct the injustice and restore order.
But it's when Sana decides to blackmail Akito with a rather revealing photo -- just as he was blackmailing his teacher by doing the same -- that the gears are set in motion for a series of events that turn her world topsy-turvy.
Namely, her sworn enemy becomes her cherished adolescent crush.
"Kodocha" is just that way -- a series that delights in throwing screwballs every now and then to keep its audience on its toes. It's not just another coming-of-age romance; it's a coming-of-age tragicomic romantic romp that balances comedy and drama rather well.
What author Miho Obana does in this series is create a world where nothing can be taken at face value. Akito, for example, might seem like a tough, emotionally detached boy, but that's only because his mother died shortly after giving birth to him. His father is always at work, and his sister has turned against him, giving him the nickname "demon child" because she feels he killed her mom. It's when Sana actually starts paying attention to him that he starts opening up to her.
Much of the main cast is the same way. Rei cares for Sana because she helped him at a low point in his life, but there's also a dark past that he's trying to keep hidden. Tsuyoshi, Akito's friend, might seem like a nice boy with an unrequited crush on Sana, but he has his own emotional demons. And Sana's mom writes a book about Sana's past that sends the media, and their lives, into a tizzy. It all builds up to a climax that threatens to wipe the perpetual smile off Sana's face forever.
Yet for all its complex drama, there's always a lighthearted undercurrent present. Whether it's seeing what elaborate headdress Sana's mom is wearing, or Akito drawn with cheetah ears or antennae, or even having characters comment to the author, Obana always seems to find ways to wink at her readers and say, "Hey, this is all in fun."
This fun makes a great transition from the printed manga page to the screen, as the anime adaptation takes the characters and dials up their personalities to 11 ... million. Sana in particular becomes an unbridled ball of energy, whether rapping into her portable voice synthesizer or speaking several million words a minute. (You have to give credit to Japanese voice actress Chisa Yokoyama for being able to keep up the pace.)
It's a bit of a shame that all this energy doesn't make a full transition into the English dub script by John Burgmeier. Many of Sana's puns and malapropisms, as well as her overall quirkiness, get lost in a script that seems to focus more on keeping the general feeling of a scene intact instead of nailing all of the particular nuances that were in the Japanese version. It works in some areas but not in others.
A note on the anime's domestic release on DVD: Due to licensing problems with the original series' first opening theme, "7 O'Clock Report" by TOKIO, Funimation used the series' second-season opening sequence and deleted all references to the song in dialogue and the background soundtrack. The effect can be somewhat jarring in some parts of the original Japanese audio track, where some jokes and entire episode preview segments go silent.