Pile of Shame
by Justin Sevakis,
The Pile of Shame… Anyone who's been collecting anime for any length of time has one: that giant pile of stuff you've been meaning to watch, but you've never quite gotten to. Now years have passed, and it's sitting there collecting dust, waiting for you to take a moment and give it a shot.
I've been an anime hoarder now for almost 20 years. I've watched a metric ton of anime, but there's a vast amount of it I've simply never seen – some of which even got American releases. A lot of it is obscure and almost completely unknown to American fans. Some of it's ancient, some of it's not that old… and I'm sure some of it is really really good. But I wouldn't know. I've never seen them.
In this bi-weekly column, I'll finally get a chance to reach into the pile and pull out a show, sight-unseen, and give it a look-through. Some of it will be good, some of it will be absolute dreck. I'm pretty sure that, if nothing else, it'll be interesting to peruse the catalog.
For our inaugural column, I'll take a look at an obscure shoujo vampire show that, I was surprised to discover, seems like the gender-switched cousin of Urusei Yatsura.
Tokimeki Tonight was a supernatural comedy shoujo series that ran for over a decade in Ribon magazine. Created by Koi Ikeno (better known among American fans for her next series, Nurse Angel Ririka S.O.S.), the series followed the teenage girl Ranze Ito, daughter of a vampire father and werewolf mother.
Initially, Ranze is thought to be entirely normal – a disappointment that causes her parents to fight constantly (or at least every time there's a full moon). But Ranze isn't particularly bothered by any of this: the girl has a strong sense of her own self-worth, and never really questions her parents' love. She's a happy, headstrong girl.
In fact, she's so headstrong that upon transferring into her new school, she immediately falls for the school bad boy, Shun Makabe, and doesn't hesitate to cozy up to him. Despite his claim that he's not interested in seeing anyone at the moment, he enjoys her company, a fact that plays poorly with his existing female hanger-on, a bratty daughter of a yakuza boss named Yoko Kamiya. Girl-fights ensue.
While fighting with Kamiya in the girls' room at school, something unusual happens. As it turns out, Ranze IS something special after all: a shape shifter. Whatever she bites, she can turn into. She sinks her teeth into Kamiya, and after a puff of smoke, Ranze is shocked to find herself looking exactly like her nemesis. After an unfortunate evening spent with Kamiya's overly-affectionate yazuza dad, she learns that sneezing will turn her back to normal.
Needless to say, Ranze's family is delighted. Ranze herself is a little shocked by all of this, but soon discovers that her powers can be a whole lot of fun. She shape-shifts into the (male) school nurse, and proceeds to inform Kamiya that she has a horrible disease, then spazzes out like a groupie after she gets to touch a bare-chested Shun. (Shun, seeing the school nurse get way too excited, is appropriately freaked out.) Later episodes have Ranze's family introducing her to the Demon World, the family's land of origin, which is predictably weird and full of manipulative people who don't make a whole lot of sense.
Directed by Tatsunoko veteran Hiroshi Sasagawa (Speed Racer, Yatterman, Time Bokan, and many others), the show featured early work by then up-and-coming director Tomomi Mochizuki (House of Five Leaves, Ranma ½ TV Series 1), and several others. Animation was produced by the well-known studio Group TAC, which sadly went out of business only a couple of years ago. It's got that soft-edged, slightly raggedy look of a medium- to low-budget early 80s TV series, which is one I've grown to love.
The whole thing reminds me very much of Urusei Yatsura. The most obvious similarities lie in the character designs, which share that same cherubic big-head/tiny-body cartoon look, as well as the early-80s hair and fashion. But the similarities go much deeper than that: the spastic sense of humor, the childishly likable characters that run around and make a mess, but seldom do any permanent harm… even the character interactions are similar. Kamiya, after all, is an obnoxious rich foil to Ranze's unfocused teenaged horniness – essentially a female Mendou.
But more importantly, the characters aren't just archetypes, they have really interesting, fleshed out personalities. Shun isn't just a bad-boy jock, he's a nice guy who's trying his hardest to put up with an increasing amount of craziness around him that he really just doesn't understand. Kamiya is a spoiled little girl who's frustrated that she can't get what she wants. Even Ranze's family is interesting, from her werewolf mother who turns into a violent terror every full moon (gee I wonder what THAT symbolizes!) to her well-meaning punching bag of a vampire dad.
If one could call Tokimeki Tonight a knock-off of Urusei Yatsura, it's a particularly charming one. The circular nature of the storyline is more fun than frustrating. Even the filler side-stories (featuring such scenes as Ranze, Kamiya and Shun as cavemen) are fun to watch, and don't outstay their welcome. If anything, Tokimeki's short running time prevents the jokes from getting old, or the premise from getting stale. Its strong-willed and smart female characters also make it feel a little less dated than many other shows of its era, even if its art style does it no favors.
Unfortunately, I've never seen the whole TV series. In fact, despite its availability on DVD in Japan, nobody has ever subtitled it, legally or otherwise, and the series is all but unknown to American fans. Only a fansub of two compilation OAVs exist. One concentrates on the first half of the show, including Ranze's starting at high school, meeting Shun and Kamiya, and discovering her powers; and the other concentrates on later episodes, where Shun gets introduced to the oddities of the Demon World, often with Ranze in tow. It's a perfect introduction to the show (and features some amusing short side stories), but it's not entirely satisfying.
Update: There has apparently been a recent effort to fansub the show, and as of this writing they've managed over 20 episodes. Thanks to everyone in the forum that updated me!
Old forgotten shoujo sitcoms, even ones with supernatural elements, do not make for a bestseller among American audiences, so I'd gauge Tokimeki Tonight's chances at an American DVD release as being less than zero. But for fans that know Japanese, the import DVD set is still in print.
Tokimeki Tonight was a nice little surprise: a thirty year-old comedy that's still funny, with a setup that's still plausible and interesting, and animation that's still serviceable. There's nothing particularly remarkable about it, but as far as anime comedies go, it's decidedly one that stands up over time. When most current anime comedies are just a recycling of decades old clichés, what more could we really ask for?
Anyway, intentional comedy aside, the ending theme song is a catchy little number with an unfortunate Engrish title: “Super Love Lotion.” Yeah.
Japanese Name: ときめきトゥナイト
Media Type: TV series
Length: 23' X 34 episodes
Genres: Comedy, supernatural, shoujo, romance
Availability (Japan): 6-disc DVD boxed set (in print)
Availability (English): Not on your life. But most of the show has been fansubbed.
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