Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Jan 22nd 2014
Sub.DVD - The Complete Series
Dr. Kisaragi is a brilliant inventor of androids. His lab is attacked by group of evil androids known as Panther Claw and the good doctor is murdered. The doctor's only daughter, Honey, is a carefree high school student whose main pastime is escaping from her strict girls-school chaperone Miss Histler. Before dying, the doctor leaves Honey a message telling her that she's one of his androids and that she has installed in her a powerful device known as the Atmospheric Element Solidifier. Panther Claw murdered the doctor for the Solidifier and now Honey vows revenge. Luckily the Solidifier allows her to take on different forms with different skill-sets, which is useful for fooling Panther Claw but most useful because it allows her to take on her ultimate form: Cutie Honey, warrior of love.
Classic is a tricky term. I've said that before. And it's not a term I like. It comes with all kinds of unwanted baggage. But sometimes you gotta use it, because some things are just classics. Like Cutie Honey. It is important, however, to remember that classic isn't a synonym for excellence. Classics are the things that endure, that wield influence, that define eras and art-forms. They are not necessarily things that are good, or even fun. Which is a roundabout way of saying that Cutie Honey is a classic, but also pretty terrible. Go Nagai's seminal magical-girl action show is an emblem of its time and full of things that herald trends to come; it is influential and very much historically relevant. It is also sloppily written, cheaply made, and only marginally entertaining.
Whether it intended to be or not, Cutie Honey was in many ways a forward-looking show. Take Honey. About five years previous Osamu Tezuka gave us a strong-minded girl who fought bad guys in Princess Knight, but where Princess Sapphire was aggressive because she identified as a boy, Honey makes no such concessions. She is unquestionably female in gender and just as unquestionably a ferocious warrior. Think about that for a bit. This was 1973. It would be six years before Ripley successfully combined those roles in Alien. Twenty years before Major Kusanagi and Ghost in the Shell. Even today, anime shows have difficulty allowing women to be as strong and independent as Honey was all those decades ago. Think about how many shows require that their superpowered leading ladies be rescued by less-than-super guys. That never happens in Honey. Not once. Her male sidekicks—she has an entire family of them—help with the small fry, but when the big baddies show up, it's Honey's strength, and hers alone, that prevails.
On a structural level, Cutie Honey popularized a form of monster-of-the-week simplicity that would later become de rigueur in magical girl fare. The evil leader who hangs back and sends a new henchman every week; the henchmen with their weirdly specialized powers and general gooniness; the repetitive transformation sequences and recital of signature lines before the climactic battle… honestly, if you swapped the sci-fi trappings for mystical nonsense and the bawdy humor for teen romance, you could be watching Sailor Moon. (On a side note, the show's basic formula is also that of the super-robot shows popular at the time, many of them created by Honey's Go Nagai. It's possible that the oft-remarked similarity between giant robot and magical girl shows traces its origin here.)
On a historical level, Honey marks a curious midpoint between the child-oriented fare of Tezuka and his epochal Astro Boy and the adult-oriented fare that would come to dominate the eighties and nineties. It has the former's simplicity and naiveté, and the latter's libido and occasionally shocking violence. The hero/villain dynamics are straight from the kiddiest of kiddie fare, but the constant nudity, comically leering pervs, and occasional casual decapitation are clearly not intended for the little 'uns.
As you might guess from that last bit, for all of Honey's strength, and even her occasional feminist undertone (that she can transform into a racer or a photojournalist could be taken as an empowering message for young 70s girls), Cutie Honey is no paragon of progressive values. Honey is frequently topless and even more frequently treated as a sex object. The show dabbles in some truly appalling racial stereotypes (the episode set in Monaco being the primary offender), and its one lesbian character is a hideous caricature with hairy legs and a mustache.
You can lay most of that at Go Nagai's doorstep—along with the show's butt-to-the-face humor, slavish reliance on episodic formula, and cartoonishly simplistic characters. The man is not known for his depth or finesse. It's most certainly Nagai's fault that we feel no attachment to the characters (with the possible exception of Honey), which renders the show's rigidly structured episodes emotionally inert—even when they're killing off major characters or permanently altering Honey's life, which occasionally they do.
If that makes the show sound less than promising, then good. Other than its iconic main character and historical significance, Honey has nothing to recommend it. It constantly relies on the inhuman idiocy of its characters to keep its one-episode plots running. Any real-life halfwit could derail a Panther Claw plot, and a mentally-impaired chimp could see through Honey's deceptions. Continuity between episodes is abysmal. One episode a Panther Claw lackey spills to head honcho Sister Jill (yes, awful names are another of the show's problems) where Honey keeps the Solidifier. The next Jill is brainwashing Honey's reporter sidekick Seiji to get the same info. One episode Seiji can't swim. The next he can. And the one after that he can't again. His father Danbei can lay waste to a horde of Panther minions one episode and be defeated with a single blow the next.
The show's stylistic quality control is about on par with that. Sometimes the Panther henchmen bleed green or blue, sometimes they bleed red. Periodically Honey will have nipples; mostly she does not. Perspective problems make characters look like they have giant hands or grossly disproportioned bodies. Even when the quality checkers are doing what they're supposed to, the animation is crude, the art unappealing, and the editing choppy and sometimes disorienting. Movement is minimal, with awful, herky-jerky, terminally low frame-rates. Action scenes are unconvincing: hamstrung by stiff movement, laden with stills, and pockmarked with repeated animation. Honey is her wonderful self and Seiji is suitably handsome, but the Panthers are laughably dorky (as their names—Octo Panther, Breast Claw—suggest) and everyone else is a crude cartoon.
One of the few things the series does right is its groovy soundtrack, spearheaded by funky jazz compositions and a truly great theme song (one of the few things, stylistically speaking, that Hideaki Anno retained for his infinitely superior 2004 remake). Also in the plus column is Tomoharu Katsumata's psychedelic direction, which borrows equally from Looney Tunes (the cartoon stylization of the backgrounds) and hippie-dippy 60s movies (the hallucinogenic trips that fill out many of his battles). It makes an advantage of the show's bargain basement budget by turning enforced simplicity into impressionistic stylishness.
It's hardly enough, however, to make Honey's repetitive journey to nowhere worthwhile. (The show resolves none of its main issues, leaving Panther Claw at large and Honey's corrosive hatred intact.) This is not a show you watch for the fun factor. If that's what you're looking for, track down Re: Cutie Honey. As for the original, it's a slice of anime history, and like many a history lesson, it's more educational than engaging.
Eastern Star should be commended for delivering the show in the first place—in its entirety, uncut, despite its limited commercial appeal—but not so much for its bare-bones release and dodgy subtitles.
Overall (sub) : C
Story : D
Animation : D-
Art : C-
Music : B
+ Interesting as an historical artifact.
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