Reviewby Carlo Santos, May 1st 2009
Save Me! Lollipop
DVD - Box Set
Nina Yamada is an ordinary 12-year-old girl leading an ordinary life—until the day a magical jewel falls out of the sky and lands on her dessert plate. Thinking that it's a piece of hard candy, Nina swallows the jewel, and unwittingly becomes the object of pursuit in a sorcery test where examinees have to capture the "Crystal Pearl." Luckily for Nina, the first two sorcerers to catch up to her are a couple of young, cute guys named Zero and Ichii. Together, they swear to protect Nina from danger, because with sorcerers all scrambling to grab the Crystal Pearl inside her, Nina's going to need all the protection she can get!
If Nina Yamada swallowed the Crystal Pearl by accident, why don't they just wait a few days and let her digestive system do its business? Oh, but that would be logical, and in a world where magic crosses over into reality, logic is not a priority. If anything, Save Me! Lollipop is an attempt at a modern-day fairytale—equal parts magic, adventure, friendship and romance—and so deserves to exploit the same loopholes that allow wolves to eat grandmothers whole and princes to climb 50-foot tresses of hair. What it does not deserve, however, is a place in the pantheon of fairytale classics. Instead of a clever story and memorable characters, this one settles for dull execution, easy clichés, and an ending that viewers will see coming before they even finish the first disc in the set.
It didn't have to be this way, though. The series as a whole is infused with classic archetypes that should instantly appeal to the show's young target audience. A charismatic heroine, not one but two dashing young heroes, a chase-the-target premise designed to keep the plot moving, and a colorful cast of friends and foes—it's an instant recipe for success, right? Ah, but having the right ingredients doesn't help if you have no idea what to do with them. This series falls far too easily into the episodic formula of introducing new characters, having them interfere in Nina's life, and then sending in Ichii and Zero to resolve the issue. Even as late as Episode 9 (out of 13), New People just keep showing up for increasingly ridiculous reasons, like being Zero's fiancée. (Right, because a boy in his young teens is engaged to be married. Only in the magical world, folks.)
And that's not the only feat of ridiculousness on display here. Viewers can look forward to other forehead-slapping clichés like cross-dressing, a hot springs excursion, a trip to the beach, and evil magical curses that are miraculously lifted in under 22 minutes (although the body-switch episode gets some pretty good mileage out of the Nina/Zero personality contrast). Even in episodes that try to develop the characters—an early flashback about sorcerer duo San and Forte, and later on the story about how Zero and Ichii met—it's a nonstop parade of cheesy plot elements. Say hello to predictable standbys like dramatic parental death, unrequited sibling love, and the redemption of a self-loathing loner. If this sounds like reason enough to turn around and walk away, feel free. Certainly, one would not miss anything by skipping the ending, where the power of friendship saves the day, Nina doesn't choose between her two boys, and everyone gets a cheap "reset" to avoid the tragedy of losing their magical buddies.
As a quick cash-in on a second-rate girls' manga, it should be no surprise that the series' animation quality cuts corners wherever it can. As early as Episode 1, viewers will find ugly special effects, barely functional backgrounds, and the magical attacks so frequently recycled that this show deserves a carbon credit. (Watch for the particularly impressive effort where Zero, wearing his swim trunks at the beach, suddenly launches into his spellcasting sequence fully clothed. Now that's real magic!) Even the bright, supersaturated color scheme falls flat as the visuals fail to make any use of shading or contrast—it's just pastel and neon all the time, except in the flashback episodes, which swing too far the other way with too many muted tones. In fact, the only good point is the stuff that Michiyo Kikuta, the manga-ka, originally came up with: the striking costumes and character designs make it easy to tell people apart, especially in a genre that is often maligned for too many lookalike characters.
The only thing more garish than the primary-colored aesthetics might be the relentlessly hyperactive soundtrack, which relies on an obnoxious selection of pop and electronic beats through the early and middle episodes. Only toward the serious-minded finale does the music become more dramatic and expressive, yet even that is negated between each episode by ultra-bubblegum theme songs. Well, in a cliché-laden piece of magical fluff, were you expecting anything else?
Even the actors on the English audio track have trouble taking the series as anything other than a kiddie diversion. The one-note characters and lack of emotional nuance make for lots of Saturday-morning-level voice acting, the kind that fans point to as an example of why anime dubbing is evil, except it's not the dubbers' fault if the show was bad in the first place. When compared against the subtitles, the dub script drifts from the exact translation from time to time—usually to improve on a line that just sounds clunky in English—but doesn't do anything so drastic as to change the overall story. What is more questionable, however, is the swearing that occasionally shows up in the subtitles—it seems out of character that a squeaky-clean children's series that ran in Nakayoshi, of all things, would have adorable junior high girls and boys lapsing into salty language.
Although budget-conscious fans will appreciate the economy of a complete 13-episode DVD package, this frugality also extends to the extras, which consist only of textless credits, a preview of the manga, and a handful of voice cast interviews. The case also comes with a reversible cover, but that barely even counts; this product is clearly designed to contain only the series and is happy to skimp on peripheral materials.
Despite its faults, Save Me! Lollipop will surely find its audience—most of whom are about the same age as the heroine and will gladly overlook the shortcomings because cute guys and pretty colors and the fantasy of a secret magical world are more important. But there comes a time when we start to look for more in a story than just having the right genre elements in place—and that's where the series fails to deliver. Each episode goes blindly through the motions, pitting Nina against various magical nuisances and waiting for Ichii and Zero to pull her out of it with the same recycled attack sequence over and over. This one does get points for making an attempt at story depth—and then immediately has those points retracted when those attempts turn out to be cliché-riddled flashbacks. Between the poorly executed story, the cheap animation, and the complete lack of substance, perhaps the only thing that needed saving is this series ... from itself.
Overall (dub) : D
Overall (sub) : C-
Story : D
Animation : D
Art : C+
Music : C
+ Energetic, super-cute aesthetic should appeal instantly to the show's young target audience.
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