Ima, kore ga hoshiin da! - Environmental Hoopla!

Jul 19th 2002


In recent years, the environment has become the center of a lot of different show and movie plotlines. With the increasing idea of globalization as well as the fact that there really aren't any clear bad guys, the environment and the state we humans have put it in seem to be ripe for new and unfortunately un-original plot lines. Whether through a bizarre mix of political correctness or simply a new area of thought to explore, environmental issues are here to stay.

For North American audiences, the first major pro-environmental animation came in the form of a little gem called, Captain Planet. Sure, you've all heard of it, and many of you probably actually saw this little piece of globalization/political correctness propaganda. It got a lot of initial press before even airing when rumors ran rampant that Tom Cruise was set to voice Captain Planet, and Whoopi Goldberg would voice Gaia. Well, despite the lack of celebrity credential, the show lasted quite a while, expounding the virtues of playing nice with those different than you and the joys of recycling. It played on Saturday mornings, while that was still considered the primetime to reach children, later moving to afternoons on TBS as well as getting played to death on Cartoon Network.

The environmental message it carried eventually moved to the big screen, shrouded by techno babble and animation wizardry in animated films such as Titan A.E. and Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. Sure, both are considered box office failures, but the allure of the environmental storyline continues despite those perceived failures.

The Japanese story weavers aren't strangers to environmental issues and storylines. Many series and movies have come out centered around the idea of unifying the people of Earth and protecting the environment. Most plots deal with the aftermath of environmental destruction, and try to serve as warnings of what can/will happen if things don't change now. Blue Submarine No. 6 describes a future where the sea creatures of the Earth have rebelled against the humans, and now the humans are the ones near extinction.

Of course, many stories stay closer to home, describing a world we are more familiar with. The upcoming release, Arjuna, describes a world very similar to our own. A young girl finds a new calling during a near-death experience, and must use newly acquired powers to protect the Earth from environmental disasters. At Anime Expo, many of the creators behind Arjuna, including Shoji Kawamori, described their vision for the show. Aside from the obvious want to entertain the public, they felt that they should create a story to help viewers think about their own lives. Mr. Kawamori created the show around the idea of near-death experiences, and the powers that people could attain from them. The basis of the storyline is a greater power seeing the need to protect the Earth passes on power to those near-death and returns them to life.

While some shows play the environmental message very clearly others play it down focusing on either comic elements or traditional story clichés. Tokyo Mew Mew, airing currently in Japan takes on this particular style. The story focuses on an 11-year old girl, named Momomiya Ichigo, who is normal in everyway. She's flighty, hyperactive and hopelessly in love with the school hero, Aoyama. To win the heart of Aoyama, she finds out he has an interest in endangered species. She invites him to see the local Red Data Exhibit (Red Data lists information about Endangered Species) and have a typical awkward date experience. While at the exhibit, Ichigo is chosen by a pair of mysterious men to become part of an experiment.

While separated from Aoyama, Ichigo has an unusual dream where she sees one of the endangered cats she saw in a picture at the exhibit. The cat is taken into her arms, and then becomes a part of her. From here, the show takes on the flavor of a typical magical girl series: magical transformations, silly catch phrases and all. The show is definitely going for the cute strings, with Ichigo's mannerisms and way of talking. After joining with the cat, Ichigo begins to exhibit many cat mannerisms, including new agility, a sort of cat sense and the overly cute habit of ending sentences with nyan.

While there is a focus on endangered species (each of the other magical girls takes on characteristics of other endangered animals) this setting seems strictly done for story focus. Of course, as the story develops, the focus may begin to harp on the environmental backdrop.

Initially, both stories seem very different, with Arjuna focusing on deeper darker aspects of environmentalism and the nature of human spirituality. Tokyo Mew Mew on the other hand feels lighter in nature and plays more towards laughs. They do share in common the thread of environmentalism, which will always be in the minds of the public. Episode 1 of both shows start with a speech about the particular environmental topic they are centering around. Arjuna carries that speech further in episode 1 with the near-death experience the title character has. Tokyo Mew Mew sets it aside and focuses on Ichigo and her seemingly normal life. Towards the end of first episode, both shows focus on the new found powers of the girls as they defeat the first villain they encounter.

At the end, different roads seem to lie in front of each series. Arjuna feels as if it will get darker, with more hard-hitting issues, while Tokyo Mew Mew seems headed for more light-hearted adventures. Time will tell, as the public will be drawn to each title for different reasons.

Arjuna is already headed to North America, with episode 1 being handed out as freebie at conventions Bandai is attending. Tokyo Mew Mew has yet to be licensed, but with the growth of magical girl titles in North America is sure to find its way here.

In the future, expect the environment to remain a constant theme in entertainment. As populations grow and pollution continues, it will continue to be on the minds of many. Of course, what makes something successful when passing a message hinges on the delivery of the message. For those trying to push a hard agenda, hitting viewers over the head will make them ignore the message. Keeping things entertaining, while remaining subtle with the message, is a difficult thing to do, but will have the fans lining up for more. Of course, at some point, the fans will grow tired of this repetitive message, and move on to other forms of entertainment.

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