Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
Yukinari Sasaki is an undersized high-schooler who's so wimpy that he breaks out in an allergic rash whenever girls get close to him. Imagine his surprise, then, when he falls into the bathtub and emerges in another world—next to a very pretty, very naked girl named Miharu who causes him no ill effects. Miharu follows Yukinari back to Earth, but she brings him more pain than pleasure as she struggles to learn the local customs. There's more trouble ahead as Yukinari has to deal with Kirie, the irritable girl next door who keeps finding him and Miharu in compromising positions, and Lisa, a practicing demon-summoner who insists that Yukinari is her soulmate. To make matters worse, Lisa's ragingly heterosexual older brother Kazuharu keeps trying to grope Kirie and kidnap Miharu. Could Yukinari's life get any worse?
Maybe my opinion of Girls Bravo is a product of that curious American mindset where Violence Is Okay, But Sex Is Not. Maybe the FCC's attempt to moralize entertainment has finally invaded my brain, to the point where Girls Bravo looks fine when it goes for slapstick but is terrible when it makes attempts at "sexual comedy." Maybe in some cultures it's funny and entertaining for a girl to spontaneously undress while a guy is having a meal, or for her to suck suggestively on a banana.
Or maybe Girls Bravo really is that bad.
Any series that opens with a naked girl in a steamy bath is a warning sign in itself. It's a banner that says: "Watch out! This show may offend anyone with a healthy attitude towards the female gender!" It wouldn't be the first time in anime history that a spineless everyman has found himself romantically involved with a beautiful alien/goddess/Chobit/whatever. What makes Girls Bravo different is that it pushes the concepts of harem anime into absurdity. Miharu isn't just a naïve girl with a scant understanding of men—she comes from a world with a 90% female population. Yukinari isn't just a timid guy who gets awkward around women—he becomes physically ill. Although he starts out as the harem protagonist everyone loves to hate, he's so pathetic that you just start to pity him after a while. Even side characters like Kazuharu Fukuyama take their character types to ridiculous levels (his "allergy," which is revealed in Episode 2, is remarkably appropriate). Applied correctly, such offbeat ideas could make for a delightful poke at the genre, but here it becomes just another cringe-fest of exposed boobs and wanton pantyshots.
It doesn't help either that Girls Bravo is so devoted to its episodic formula. Although there are some comedy ideas that could be downright brilliant if they were allowed to unfold naturally, they're shackled into the story pattern instead. Kirie walks in on Yukinari and Miharu somewhere around here… Miharu starts getting herself into trouble right here… and then the three magic dots on her head save the day right about here. The only sparks of creativity come in the physical and visual gags, which often earn genuine laughter with their clever timing and over-the-top violence. However, some of the stuff that's supposed to be funny—like Miharu orally exploring a banana—is just plain embarrassing, if not sickening, to watch.
While some harem shows have taken the bishoujo aesthetic to new heights of craftsmanship, Girls Bravo looks plain compared to its genre counterparts. The characters all share the same wide-eyed look and unsophisticated designs, and they're set against flat backgrounds that have no feeling of a modern urban setting. If the measure of a harem show is based on how good the girls look when undressed, well, this one has ways to go before the anatomy gets anywhere near sensuous and appealing. There's more to an attractive bishoujo than big boobs. Really. Meanwhile, the limited animation quality makes for some uneven action scenes, but it works to the advantage of the visual gags—some of the best laughs come from animation shortcuts like implied off-screen action or super-simplified motion. There's some good potential for comedy here, but like the story, it's constantly hampered by the show's other qualities (or perhaps, lack of quality).
As is customary for a romantic comedy, the light pop soundtrack is as melodic and unobtrusive as possible, with the occasional foray into the symphonic. Although not particularly innovative, there's some good use of acoustic guitar, piano and strings to create a mood. And just to prove that comedy is not limited to the verbal and visual, one of the soundtrack pieces is a bizarre parody of Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" that turns a love scene from schmaltz into silliness. It's as if the production staff is saying, "Yeah, we know that none of this makes sense, so we're laughing too." The theme songs, meanwhile, are the typical cutesy fluff that introduces and concludes every show of this type.
Although the English dub is nothing to poke out your ears with, it suffers from a lack of variety and character. Michelle Ruff sounds appropriately sweet as Miharu, and Lulu Chiang brings plenty of energy to Kirie, but their voices are too close in timbre to help differentiate between the two characters. The best way to tell them apart is in their delivery, which is more difficult to listen for. Yuri Lowenthal, playing Yukinari, has an easy job being the one lead male, but he settles for voicing a generic teenage boy rather than the intensely effeminate character that he's meant to be. After all, these characters are lively exaggerations of harem anime stereotypes—shouldn't their voices be more, well, lively?
Girls Bravo offers viewers an ultimatum at the beginning of the show: "If you can't tolerate naked moe girls in the bath, you can stop watching. Right now." Most people will probably take that advice, but those who dare to brave the harem antics and shameless fanservice will find exactly what they expected. In fact, it might even be less than expected, with the character designs being a few steps behind their contemporaries and the story being no more than a repetitive sitcom. Girls Bravo has moments of promise as a screwball comedy, but as a whole, it falls victim to the same flaws of every other harem anime. Heck, it's enough to make people allergic to the genre.
Overall (dub) : D
Overall (sub) : C-
Story : D
Animation : C-
Art : D
Music : B-
+ Occasionally shines with physical comedy and absurd humor.
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