Reviewby Theron Martin, Feb 1st 2006
DVD 4: Moving and Shaking
A minor crisis develops for child star Sana and her “enemy” Akito when they discover that Tsuyoshi's parents are getting divorced, but meeting Tsuyoshi's father also explains a few things. Things get complicated further when matters of the heart – especially Aya's – arise. Later, summer break and a summer trip offer new opportunities for fun and adventure, but even the high-spirited Sana approaches them with some trepidation, as her mother's declaration that she intends to write her book about the two of them and see it published by the end of summer weighs on her, for it means revealing their “secret,” one that even Sana's manager Rei can't seem to worm out of anyone. As her relationship with Akito grows, a new threat appears on the scene for Akito: Naozumi Karomura, a bishonen young actor who co-stars in a commercial with Sana and seems to know an awful lot about her.
Is “hyperactive” a strong enough word to describe Sana?
At its heart Kodocha is really just a standard but well-executed shojo series, one replete with love triangles, romantic rivals, uncertainties about the future masked behind cheery behavior, and all manner of ordinary domestic problems; in this volume, the issues are a friend who must change his name because his parents are divorcing and concerns about family secrets coming out. If one looks beyond the overcaffeinated enthusiasm of Sana and other silly little tidbits (what's up with Sana's mother's hair?), a real story which packs surprising depth can be found. The true appeal of the show comes from how well these serious parts are intermingled with, and balanced against, the zaniness. Too much energy can wear thin after a while, but Kodocha wisely uses the serious content as breaks to prevent Sana's behavior from becoming excessive. It can take a newcomer to the series a while to get used to this kind of pacing, but give Kodocha 2-3 episodes and it's likely to draw you in.
For all the merits of the more serious content, though, it's Sana's antics which are the true star. Imagine the energy of an entire elementary school classroom bottled up in one person and you more or less have Sana. Her portrayal walks a fine line between being entertaining and annoying, but thanks to skillful direction the former is most often true. (And given that this series dates to 1996, who would Sana grow up to be? Excel from Excel Saga, of course!) The dry, even-tempered, and “dangerous” Akito makes for a great contrast, allowing for the two to play off each other very well as their relationship develops further in this volume. Enough other goofy supporting characters hang around to assure that things always remain lively even when Sana isn't spazzing out, singing/rapping, or twirling so fast she can't stop. The highlight is the principal who looks like one of those life-sized round-bottomed punching bags that are designed to bounce back up when hit, while the white bat Babbit wears out his welcome real fast. (Although the running gag about how his emblem appears on just about everything in the series continues to be amusing.)
The artistry in both character designs and background is pretty basic, with common shojo stylings and color schemes which favor flat pastels for a light, inoffensive feel. While the art is done well enough to suit the needs of the series, it won't impress anyone used to recent digitally-enhanced productions. The same can be said of the animation: basic and loaded with short-cuts but sufficient to support the visual gags. By comparison the opener and closer look rougher still, although the dancing cast is a nice gimmick. The series fares better on the musical front, though, as its peppy opener and pop-themed closer bookend a musical score which does an excellent job at supporting the mood and energy of each episode; even the rap-flavored beats for Sana's songs are well-used.
FUNimation has a long-standing tradition of using English dub scripts that are more interpretive than accurate, and Kodocha is one of the more extreme examples of FUNi's “reversioning” efforts. The script keeps the original plot and characterizations intact in the episodes, but that's about it, and completely rewrites the “Next Episode” spots. Granted, more leeway than normal has to be allowed here because it would be nearly impossible to make a reasonable script that stayed accurate at the speed at which Sana operates, and the songs obviously had to be completely rewritten to be workable, but the changes are more than needed. The dub script also fails to pick up a few lines of voice-over by Sana in one particular scene in episode 15, which is a big omission since the voice-over wraps up a piece of the story which began in the previous episode. Beyond that it is a smoothly-flowing and well-written script, just not a particularly accurate one.
The unenviable task of tackling Sana's fast and varied vocal styles fell to Laura Bailey, who reuses a bit of her Tohru Honda voice from Fruits Basket but generally does a brilliant job of interpreting Sana into English, especially the rapping parts. This is a performance worth checking out even if you don't normally watch dubs. Jerry Jewell's dry, acerbic delivery for Akito does make him sound much older in English, but it's a nice complement to Sana and adults do comment on Akito's surprising maturity in these episodes so that's not out of line. Amongst supporting performances the brightest star is Chris Sabat, whose take on Principal Naru Naru outdoes the original seiyuu. Other supporting roles are adequate to good in both accuracy and performance quality. Overall it's a dub certainly worth watching if one isn't bothered too much by the lack of accuracy in the script.
FUNimation rarely skimps on extras, so this volume offers a few substantial ones in addition to company trailers. The Actor Commentary is rather inane and pointless, but the first part of an interview with director Akitaro Daichi is more satisfying. Also included is one of the shorts of the computer-animated Mr. Stain on Junk Alley, which will soon be available in a separate collection. Trust me, you'd be missing very little by skipping this! Regular FUNi DVD features, like being able to switch between the English and Japanese credits on the opener and closer using the Angle button on your remote, are also present, and thankfully FUNi has dropped their long-standing practice of providing “dubtitles” when the Subtitles option is turned on during the English dub, thus allowing a viewer to read the original subtitles which watching the dub.
Kodocha is an easier series to jump into the middle of than most, as it introduces itself at the beginning of every episode, so this not a volume worth considering just for those who are fans of the series so far. If a hyperactive romantic comedy flavored with a bit of dramatic content and some real depth sounds like a fun view to you, or you've been following the series so far, then the fourth volume of Kodocha is well worth your while to check out.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B+
Animation : C
Art : C+
Music : B+
+ Lots of energy, more depth than may be initially apparent, great lead dub performance.
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