Shaenon checks out a full-color manga, published by the Louvre, from the creator of Jojo's Bizarre Adventure.
Reviewby Carlo Santos, Nov 1st 2005
DVD 1: Spring & Summer
Transported by small magical bottles, Kururu, Chiriri, Sarara and Hororo are four fairies who have come this world to learn about human life. Although they live in a house with the aptly named Sensei-san, the world is theirs to explore each day once he leaves for school. With a little help from their next-door neighbor and accompanied by a flying cat mascot, the Bottle Fairies go through the months of the year learning about daily life and Japanese culture.
LaLa la, laaa la! With an opening chorus of children's voices, Bottle Fairy welcomes you to a terrifying world of pastel colors, childish antics and fake halftone dots running across the screen. Only the most stalwart viewers will survive this onslaught of 5-inch-high girls squealing and daydreaming their way through the ins and outs of day-to-day life. Is this show targeted at three-year-olds? Was it made by three-year-olds? No, it's just the next stage in the moe subculture—a scatterbrained sort of cuteness aimed at young male fans, but this time disguised as kiddie fare. No one with a self-respecting sense of taste would watch this.
Too bad they're missing out.
Bottle Fairy jumps right into the story without explaining how things got this way. It doesn't say why the fairies want to become human, why they chose to stay at Sensei-san's house, or how they traveled from the fairy world. Then you realize: this is not the kind of show that worries about explaining things. (Besides, it's all summed up in the theme song.) From a plotless premise, the series jumps into a tightly structured yet still plotless first half: each 12-minute episode covers exactly one month of the year, and the fairies learn what goes on in that month. As for the lesson plan, however—well, there is no lesson plan. Within each episode, logic and sequence disappear, giving way to stream-of-consciousness puns and gags as the fairies figure out the most human way to engage in activities like Golden Week, summer vacation, and school.
And yet, it's this inane plotlessness that makes the series so much fun. If the fairies did anything that made sense, it wouldn't be in character, and it'd be a really boring, normal show besides. Equipped with simple one-word personalities (energetic Kururu, sweet Chiriri, boyish Sarara, loopy Hororo), the fairies attack every situation with an offbeat sense of humor that makes these simple-minded jokes work. While learning how to do gymnastics in P.E. class, Hororo rolls by wrapped up in a gym mat, proclaiming, "I'm a sushi roll!" On an imaginary jungle adventure, Sarara defeats a plush snake by dressing up as a mongoose and performing a slick martial arts move. You think it sounds silly now, just wait until you see it on screen—it transcends silliness and becomes a peerless brand of zen comedy not seen since Azumanga Daioh.
The relentlessly cheerful mood of Bottle Fairy would not be complete without a palette of warm pastel colors. But don't confuse this with the garish look of actual children's shows, or the shine and sparkle of conventional magical girl series. Sharp highlights and shadows, simple backgrounds, and those fake halftone dots give it a style all its own. Lapses into the fairies' dreamworld also mix effortlessly with the real world, like when Sarara has her samurai and bushido fantasies, or Chiriri wonders about the week when everything turns gold. The cleverest touch is when human-sized items coexist with fairy-sized items, creating an amusing disparity of scale.
Big-eyed, super-deformed character designs also add to that overpowering essence of cute; watch closely enough and you'll even see that there are varying degrees of super-deformedness. It goes too far sometimes, though, like with the pedo-licious swimsuits in the August episode (the fairies even pose innocently for the camera as it pans up their curveless bodies—yikes). And if you needed further confirmation that this is a male-targeted show, just wait for the sequence with the maid and waitress outfits. Despite such wanton acts of fanservice and the simple art style, however, the animation itself rarely gets choppy, and it even ramps up to high-speed when the comedy bits call for it.
The first few chords of the theme song are usually enough to scare off anyone with an irrational fear of cute things; beyond that, the opening is pure catchiness and fun. Balancing that out is the tranquil ending theme, which changes lyrics every three episodes to match the season, and the portrait in the ending sequence changes for each month. (The DVD includes all of the six unique endings in the textless credits.) The background music, however, just ends up being repetitive when it tries to support the positive mood of the theme songs. Writing children's music without sounding childish is hard, and more sophisticated ears will have to block it out.
Geneon teams up with Media Concepts for this English dub, resulting in a range of voices the fits the personalities of the predominantly female cast. Vicky Green puts on the right kind of boyish tone for Sarara, while Jennifer Sekiguchi and Mia Bradly both take a soft approach to Hororo and Chiriri. (The way to tell them apart? Chiriri just sounds sweet; Hororo's also a little slow.) The only weakness is Mari Daniel as Kururu, whose attempts at being energetic sound forced. The script sometimes drifts from the original translation when it comes to phrasing, yet a lot of the "Japanese-ness" is retained in the dub; -chan, -san and -rin honorifics come up often, and some of the puns still use the actual Japanese words along with a supertitled explanation. In most cases it's because there's a visual gag to go with the wordplay, and there's just no way to convert that to an alternate joke in English.
So, if you're committed to protecting the unquestionable sanctity and artistic perfection of Japanese animation, then please, feel free to run the hell away from Bottle Fairy. But, if you can take things with a grain of salt and appreciate this unique form of whimsical, wide-eyed humor, then get ready for the fairy invasion. So what if it's part of an increasingly commercialized, fan-driven trend and targeted at guys? Surely it doesn't take a particular demographic to realize that, when your animal mascot nearly gets beheaded in kendo practice, that's the kind of funny you can't find anywhere else.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : C-
+ Disarmingly cute, with an offbeat, whimsical sense of humor.
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