Mike wonders aloud which anime would be a good fit for the prestigious Criterion Collection.
Reviewby Zac Bertschy, Jan 14th 2004
DVD 1: I Will Protect the Peace of Japan
The Ground Defense Force's chief of staff is in a bind! His department needs more funding, so he comes up with a new gimmick: training his eight year old granddaughter, Mao-chan, to become a special officer. Mao-chan's charge is to eliminate the ‘cute aliens’ that invade Tokyo. Along with her friends Misora and Sylvie (eight-year old officers of the Air and Sea defense forces, respectively), Mao-chan will fight the good fight and protect the peace of Japan!
There must have been a race between anime production houses in Japan to see who could come up with the most asinine show ever. Production I.G, having produced Earth Defense Force Mao-chan, has to have won the competition (although the more recent Bottle Fairy might be worse). Now that Geneon has unleashed Mao-chan on to an unsuspecting public, you can expect a sharp increase in dentist bills and psychiatric ward self-admissions.
Let's get one thing straight: if you're a girl ages three to six, you'll probably love Mao-chan, and rightfully so. It's adorable and mostly harmless as entertainment for children. If you have small children, you may want to consider this as worthy entertainment. They won't learn anything from it, but they'll probably love watching little girls bonk kittens and bunnies on the head over and over again. Here's the problem, though: Geneon isn't marketing this to children. Mao-chan has “buy me, otaku!” written all over it. Premium reversible packaging, a 29.99 price point, a Japanese-language option and a special edition collectible lunchbox are all hallmarks of “cute show for adults” positioning. Sure, the kids might like the special edition doodads, but we all know who these products are being sold to. Simply put, this needed to be sold as a show for children.
Mao-chan has been designed from the ground up to be as obnoxiously cute as possible. Created by Ken Akamatsu, the ‘genius’ behind Love Hina, the entire show oozes saccharine from every orifice. The basic story of each short episode is the same: Mao-chan or one of her prepubescent friends gets assigned a ‘cute alien invader’ to take down. A bunny or a kitten or a little bat or something else, trapped inside a vending machine toy capsule, falls to earth, and promptly gets bonked on the head. Repeat ad nauseum. The truth is, it's an old joke by the end of the first episode, and the screenwriters seem to be relying on the ‘adorable’ production design to keep people distracted from the fact that they've written a repetitive, unfunny train wreck of a series. Yes, we get it, it's cute. Remind me again why we're supposed to continue watching this dreck?
The problem is, shows like this a routinely excused by fans as being ‘light and fun’ and are apparently totally impervious to criticism because they're ‘just supposed to be cute’ and nothing more. Anyone who criticizes these shows for being lame and obnoxious are attacked and characterized as joyless sticks in the mud who can't appreciate something for what it's supposed to be. Bad anime is bad anime, folks, regardless of the director's intent. I submit that this attitude is dangerous; swallowing poorly-written, obnoxious, lazy garbage like Mao-chan just because it's ‘supposed to be cute’ is the same as eating a steak covered in bacon and cheese just because it's ‘supposed to be good’. That steak will probably give you a heart attack, just like Mao-chan will probably make your IQ drop a good 50 points if you sit through the entire disc.
From a production standpoint, Mao-chan is handsome. The character designs are much closer to Akamatsu's signature (read: only) style than the Love Hina anime series, which many fans complained was too far from the original manga look. There are several visual references to Love Hina throughout the show, including plenty of turtles and a Narusegawa look-alike character. Mao-chan and her friends are animated with flair and fluidity by Production I.G, and the episodes, while short, feature mostly impressive animation. The soundtrack is excessively simple and seems like it's just some guy messing around on a piano; it's a sparse score anyway, punctuating only the transformation sequences and a few key action moments.
The dub, directed by the same woman who mangled the English version of Love Hina, is unbearable. I have a message for English dub directors: if a character has a strange speech pattern in Japanese, please, for the love of all that is good and holy, don't try and emulate it in English. English speech patterns aren't similar to Japanese speech patterns at all and one does not translate to the other. The result always sounds horribly awkward. You're obviously reaching for ‘purity’ points by making the character say “I say that, yes I do!” after every sentence, but it just sounds awful and lame. The Misora character, like Kenshin in the soul-crushing Rurouni Kenshin dub, says “I say!” after every other line. The voice actress performing this role isn't capable of making that sound believable at all. The other voices are obnoxiously high-pitched, straining to sound as cute as possible. There's nary a decent voice in this dub; it's a complete disaster. Of course, switching to the Japanese will result in obnoxious Japanese voices so high your ears will ring for several hours after hearing it just once. You can't win. The solution? Don't watch Mao-chan.
Mao-chan will undoubtedly be forgiven by a legion of fans who claim that it's just 'innocent, cute fun' and that critics are being ‘too harsh’ by characterizing it as an insipid exercise in stupidity for fans with horrifically low standards. Mao-chan is lame, offensively unfunny, repetitive, and worst of all, mind-numbingly dull. Geneon's other saccharine series, A Tiny Snow Fairy Sugar, at least has endearing characters and the occasional decent story. All Mao-chan has is pain. Unless, of course, you're a toddler.
Overall (dub) : D
Overall (sub) : D
Story : F
Animation : A
Art : B
Music : C
+ Decent animation.
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