Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
For reasons that no one outside of the sniggering screenwriters can fathom, Mizuho's grandfather insists in his will that Mizuho attend his mother's all-girls alma mater. Some makeup and a padded bra later, Mizuho and childhood friend Mariya are admitted to Seio Girls' Academy where the innocent lambs of the student body immediately begin flinging themselves at their new “big sister.” Within twenty-four hours Shion, the most popular girl in school, has uncovered Mizuho's secret, and within days of that Mizuho has become so popular that s/he's the leading contender for “Elder,” an institutionalized position for the academy's ideal “elder sister.” Just to keep the sniggers coming, Mizuho must also contend with an overly-affectionate ghost and his own lustful instincts. Holy cross-dressers, it's hard being a man.
Before the opening lyrics even start, before the first squealing girl pierces your eardrums like a powerdrill to the brain, and far before the series' cynically contrived premise makes itself known, you already know you're in for serious pain when the opening credits proclaim in proud pink letters that the series' original creators go by the vaguely obscene name of “CaramelBox.” And for three cruelly unimaginative episodes afterwards it's one long slide into a torturous hell of girls' school tripe where not even humor or romance can pierce the veil of pain.
The hollow dread of those glowing pink letters becomes a sickness in the pit of the stomach when the opening lyrics begin (in clumsy English): ”Please come with me, amen/I'll give you anything my love/Never failing days/My heart full up/So love, love, love.” The sickness in the stomach deepens when the cross-dressing premise becomes clear, and by the time the squealing starts and the series hits its harem stride, it has grown to full-blown nausea. The first extended montage of cute girls swooning over how totally fabulous Mizuho is comes early in the first episode, and is only the first of many scenes calculated to drive viewers screaming from the room. Each girl introduced is more strident than the last, until the inhuman squeaking of the sadly wasted cast has become an aural assault only surpassed in sadism by the sickening subservience and single-dimension blandness of their personalities.
And so it goes, through the obligatory election to the position of most desirable lesbian partner, various “innocent” sleepovers, and the winning of the affections of a variety of girls who just happen to fit into pre-fab fetish molds. Breaking up all that heart-breaking drama are limp-noodle stabs as SD humor that provide relief by separating the torture sessions with blessed oases of boredom. Relocating the focus of the traditional Catholic girls' school tale from the guileless “little sister” (a la Maria-sama and Strawberry Panic!) to the masterful “elder sister,” in addition to flip-flopping the sexes and populating the supporting cast with dewy-eyed mewling babes, further taints the already suspect proceedings with a sour edge of exploitation.
The Catholic school setting, as always, serves merely as visual spice. The school itself is located in some alternate universe where the sun always shines and garbage walks itself to the dumpsters. The other visuals do little to alleviate the tedium, clinging like death to a palette of hazy pastels and leaning heavily towards shiny, pretty but nondescript backgrounds. The girls are all limpid eyes, tiny faces and dainty, hovering hands, given to prancing about in scraps of undies and bending over to provide detailed glimpses of panties and cleavage. Anything too complicated gets the still-image fix, and while not everyone's heads are encased in hair-shaped helmets, movement, including hair, is kept to a minimum. What there is of it tends to be simple and low on intermediate frames.
Toshimichi Isoe's pretty but blundering score is utilized with horrifying immaturity—the heavenly-descension organ backing one character's dramatic entrance is hilariously misguided—in stark contrast to the beautiful sensitivity of his work on Kashimashi. The opening song is plain awful, while the ending sequence is more remarkable for its SD designs and its blissful signaling of each episode's end than for its generic song.
The introduction of the ghost in episode four does shift the series a step in the right direction—away from harem complications and towards the mystery of why Mizuho was forced into drag—pushing the series to giddy heights of tolerability, but by the end of episode five it shows every indication of falling straight back into the cruel embrace of squealing rom-com clichés. Mariya and Sh>ion's eventual competition over Mizuho's affections is as inevitable as the effects of gravity on parachuteless sky-divers, and the effect on viewers is likely to be the same.
Overall (sub) : D
Story : D-
Animation : C
Art : B-
Music : C-
+ Pretty-ish art; improves somewhat as it goes.
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