Pile of Shame
Full Moon O Sagashite

by Justin Sevakis, May 27th 2014

Full Moon o Sagashite

I often joke that I love shows about children suffering. I usually mean that as a joke: anime usually involves young protagonists, but too often their concerns are superficial: being the best at a game, or a sport, or a martial art. But no struggle is as universal nor as intense as the fight for survival, to keep going even though you may not live to see another day. With adult protagonists, that makes for some really compelling stuff. But when it's a kid's life at stake, the struggle can be nothing short of heart-rending.

Mitsuki is a little girl, living with her very traditional grandmother. She's obsessed with singing, and with a certain boy that she vows to meet again once she's a singer. She also has a cancerous polyp in her throat that makes singing harder and harder. Her doctor, the stunningly handsome (of course) Dr. Wakaouji, insists that she should have surgery, but Mitsuki refuses, fearful that she might lose her voice (and, due to the polyp's location, the doctor can't guarantee that won't happen).

One day Mitsuki is visited by a pair of bumbling shinigami (angels of death, as I like to call 'em, who of course can turn into plush stuffed animals), who, in shock that she can see them, accidentally spill the beans that she only has a year to live. Unfazed, Mitsuki tries to run off to an audition, despite it only being for girls 16 and up. One of the shinigami, Takuto, takes the initiative to turn her into temporarily into a cancer-free 16-year-old, with the hope that she'll be able to die without regrets. Of course, she gets into the audition and immediately blows everyone away. Before she knows it, she has a singing career!

Full Moon o Sagashite is a rare kids' show about a girl's fight for survival. Its subject matter, cancer and death, is so deeply unpleasant that I'm hardpressed to come up with another kids' franchise that features it prominently. That its main character Mitsuki's very survival is at stake is blunt and up front. And yet, it's not about any of those things as much as it's about her ability to juggle her alter ego life -- the one where she's a new talent doing pop-up concerts at shopping malls -- with her real life, where she's expected to literally be at home in bed. It's easy to read the former as a fantasy that the real Mitsuki lives in, to give her peace while the disease slowly overtakes her.

See what I mean? This is is such a superficially bright and cheery show, and yet with even the slightest bit of thought it's suddenly the saddest show ever made. And that's without going into the equally tragic back stories of the shinigami, her hot doctor, her love interest, and her dead parents. It's like some weird genetic mutation of Fancy Lala with Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia. By about 20 episodes in, the show completely drops the charade of being a cute magical girl show and dives head-first into pathos. It's kind of amazing.

Despite being from the early 00's, the show looks very late-90s in appearance, perhaps due to the smaller budget that's normally allocated to shoujo fare. The screen is filled with things bright and happy, with vivid colors and pretty people. The musical score is perhaps the most memorable thing about the show, from the toe-tapping rock opening "I❤️U" by early-00's girl rock band The Scanty, to the stunning songs performed by Mitsuki's voice actress Myco, and her band Changin' my life. Director Toshiyuki Kato hasn't directed many series of note; The oddball comedy Level E is probably his best known work (he does a lot of episode direction and storyboarding, however). The show is for fairly young girls, so most of the depressing visuals of a struggle with terminal illness are not shown. Mitsuki never loses hair from chemotherapy, never becomes disturbingly gaunt or violently ill.

The ending of the series is a disappointment. With Arina Tanemura's manga still going, the show had already diverged quite a bit from the original, and so the writers came up with an alternate ending that sort of ended up in the same place. While the final resolution is a foregone conclusion, the road it takes to get there is pretty convoluted -- filled with poor writing and not one, but several deus ex machina. I'm also not fond of some of the grown-man-totally-wants-little-girl twists thrown in, but those are in the original manga too.

Having published the manga in English, Viz released this show back when they were still releasing everything as single volumes. Like so many shoujo shows, it did not fare well on DVD. After 7 volumes covering just over half of the series, Viz gave up, and threw it on the pile of shows they've never finished releasing (something they're getting much better about not doing, these days). For a while the show was available streaming, but it isn't available anymore, perhaps hinting that the license has expired. I have no idea if it was dubbed in its entirety, or how the dub turned out, but like most Viz shows of the era, it's an Ocean Group/Blue Water Studios dub. Apparently the prominent songs are not dubbed, which is disappointing, but probably due to a music rights issue.

Ultimately, Full Moon is an imperfect, but ambitious piece of storytelling. I found it extremely compelling -- you'd have to have a heart of stone not to -- even if it takes some turns towards the end that don't really work. The highly unusual and frankly, risky combination of saccharine shoujo fluff and stone serious realism don't always blend well, and sometimes the tonal shifts can be jarring. But the end result is unusual, and it makes you think. It so defies the expectations of every genre you could possibly place it in that you can't help but appreciate it. I hope that someday it gets a proper, complete release Stateside.

--

One sad footnote: in a sick twist of irony, both of the vocal talents behind the show's angels of death passed away themselves last year, both of them still quite young. Chieko Honda, who voiced Meroko, passed away in February after a long cancer battle of her own, while Yasuo Saitou (Takuto) was tragically killed in a traffic accident last October.

This might be the saddest article I've ever written about anime.

Japanese Name: FURUMUUN wo Sagashite (満月(フルムーン)をさがして)

Media Type: TV Series

Length: 52 x 24 min.

Vintage: 1991-1992 (first series), 1995-1996 (second series)

Genres: Magical girl, musical, drama, fantasy

Availability (Japan): The entire series was released as 13 single volumes. They appear to still be in print, and are easy to find. Cheap by Japanese standards too. No English though.

Availability (English): Viz's DVD release petered out at vol. 7, which covers through episode 28. The first five discs are plentiful and cheap (you can tell they couldn't give them away), while volumes 6 and 7 are nearly impossible to find.


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