DRAWN & QUARTERED
COURTESY ADV FILMS
Plot lines make or break these anime, based on the character's quest for fame. Themes of social commentary is the saving grace for "Nerima Daikon Brothers."
Anime series tap a universal desire for fame
If there's one thing that the annual "American Idol" juggernaut has taught us, it's that there are hundreds of people out there who think they can be the next breakout star to capture the hearts of the public.
Whether they actually have talent, of course, is a completely different story. But as they sing their hearts out (or attempt to perform something that might actually resemble "singing" in their own little worlds), one gets the impression that for that one moment, they feel they could sell out arenas and stadiums worldwide just by the mere mention of their names.
Two anime series released stateside by ADV Films over the past few years prove that the desire for musical fame is not exclusive to America. Whether it's a quartet intent on making their mark by any means necessary, or a family of daikon (radish) farmers who want to build a dome for their performances, it's clear that the Japanese love good, triumph-against-the-performance-odds stories, too.
The path to becoming a hit pop band can certainly be difficult. When that pop band has a manager who has visions of profits dancing around in his head and a kooky young scientist guiding it, that path could even turn downright hazardous to one's health.
Yet that's the path that the ladies of Mix Juice -- former child star Sakura Haruno, enka singer Himawari Natsuwa, folk singer Ayame Akimo and rocker Yuri Fuyude -- often find themselves careening down in this series. Their manager, Michael Hanagata, is willing to try anything to land his group their big break (and piles upon piles of cash in the process), which leads him to form an alliance with eccentric scientist Dr. Susumu Tsukumo. Tsukumo has always believed that the 1969 lunar landing was a hoax and that the best way to get people to the moon is by using a method that takes the environment into account.
Yet the good doctor's attempts to land the ladies on the moon -- launching a rocket powered by ramune tablets and pickled plums, helium, giant slingshots -- often end up like those schemes hatched by another cartoon "supergenius," Wile E. Coyote. Only in this case, it's not Tsukumo who often feels the painful ramifications of failure, but Mix Juice.
It's a concept that certainly has potential in spots. But the problem with "Wandaba Style" is that the plot execution is so scattershot, whether the group actually makes it to the moon seems almost an afterthought with all of the side stories taking place. Hanagata's bumbling managerial skills, Akimo's belief that there are fairies floating around helping her cope with everything, the virtually random switches between competence and incompetence of Dr. Tsukumo's assistant robot, Kiku #8 -- all of them are more annoying than endearing quirks of the series.
The point where the series really starts going downhill, though, is an episode where the ladies accidentally (read: conveniently) find a time machine. They end up going back in time to the point in Tsukumo's life where he split philosophically from his mother on how best to go to the moon. After that the spirit of wonder over what method Tsukumo will use next to get to the moon disappears, and it becomes a flat-out vendetta-filled race to get to the moon first. Tsukumo has so many angsty breakdowns that one eventually doesn't sympathize with his plight, but just wants to slap him silly.
And then there are the aliens. Anyone who gets to this final convoluted plot twist in the series should be commended for being far more patient than this reviewer was. Or perhaps for being more of a glutton for punishment. Either one.
COURTESY ADV FILMS
"Wandaba Style," suffers from a weak one.
'Nerima Daikon Brothers'
And now for something rarely, if ever, seen even in the anything-goes world of anime: the musical anime comedy.
It's the brainchild of Shinichi "Nabeshin" Watanabe, director of the deliciously twisted "Excel Saga" and the deliciously even-more-twisted-and-borderline-wrong "Puni Puni Poemy." This time, he focuses on a trio -- brothers Ichiro and Hideki and cousin Mako -- and their efforts to build a dome in which their band, the Nerima Daikon Brothers, can perform. (Sure, Mako's 100 percent sexy female, but let's face it, "Nerima Daikon Brothers and Sexy Cousin" just sounds far too clunky.)
There's just one small problem: The trio is eternally poor. Daikon farming doesn't exactly bring in wheelbarrows full of cash, after all, and Mako's constant pining for a glamorous life filled with Dom Perignon doesn't help matters. Even Ichiro, the resident "pretty boy" of the group, and his role as the host most in demand at the host club where he works can't really make a dent in the financial need.
So off they go around Nerima, trying to get money any way they can, getting swindled somehow out of the money they wanted by some Evil Element of the Week, getting their money back and then losing it again once and for all because of some weird twist.
The same songs (with different lyrics) are also recycled in almost every episode. It's a given, for instance, that dancing girls will show up for a big musical number about borrowing money and that some combination of Mako, Ichiro and Hideki will appeal to the mysterious "rental guy" (actually Nabeshin, in his customary cameo) for some tool to help defeat the baddies. It makes watching this series seem like an exercise in repetition at times.
But what saves this series is its social commentary, parodying subjects that most other series and directors dare not touch. Targets include the growing popularity of Korean dramas; former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi; various Japanese TV and media personalities; the Don Quijote department store chain; and Michael Jackson. All of this is coated with the twisted humor typical in Nabeshin productions. Let's just say as an example that the first episode tackles "shounen-ai," or "boys love," anime and involves a bunch of scantily clad pretty boys and frequent cutaways to an image of a juicy hot dog.
ADV's localization of this series earns extra marks. As always, the "AD-Vid Notes" feature, in which trivia about the series pops up on screen as the episode plays, is a handy way of keeping tabs on what's being parodied where. But special kudos goes to the cast, including Greg Ayres as Hideki, Chris Patten as Ichiro and Luci Christian as Mako, who pull off the English-translated versions of the songs just as well, if not better, than the original Japanese cast.