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Pile of Shame
Handsome Girl

by Justin Sevakis,

Handsome Girl

When I was in high school, I loved the show Marmalade Boy. A lot. In fact, I wrote an article about it! A perfectly addictive confectionary of chaste teenaged yearning and romance, and undiluted raw crippling angst, I lost many an evening to the adventures of the lovelorn protagonists that just couldn't stop breaking up with their absolutely perfect future spouse in some misguided attempt to protect them, all while ludicrously attractive romantic rivals circled the two like vultures.

So it's understandable that I was more than a little excited to hear that another manga series by Yoshizumi Wataru had been adapted to anime. This time, her earlier work, Handsome Girl, got a one-shot OAV treatment. Prominent VHS fansubbers Tomodachi Anime (who first gained prominence with Marmalade Boy) subtitled it, and I devoured it. It was 35 minutes. I watched it all without thinking about it, more out of a mania to consume any and all Marmalade Boy-related media I could get my hands on, and honestly I don't remember having any reaction to it at all, other than, "burp! Next please!"

A while back, some modern fansubber found an old Laserdisc (or perhaps there's a DVD somewhere -- I couldn't find one), and remastered the fansub for the digital age. And it's actually kind of an interesting piece of animation. It clearly is a short part of a much longer story (the manga runs 9 volumes), but doesn't feel all that rushed or abrupt. The animation is quite nice, and the music, while still being treacle-flavored early 90s J-pop, is catchy and well-produced for the era. Shoujo manga were getting a lot of promotional one-shot OAV adaptations at that point, and Handsome Girl is one of the few that were released on Laserdisc (most were just VHS), so existing copies still look pretty good today.

Mio is a 14-year-old teen actress and model. Her friend Aya is a pop idol. Both have burgeoning careers, but somehow find time to hang out and go to school together. One day, Mio's ire is raised when, out of nowhere, some guy tells her she's a crappy actress. It turns out that guy is Ichiya Kumagai, the 16-year-old director of Aya's latest music video. The video is a stepping stone: next, he gets to make a feature film, and he wants Mio to play the lead!

Mio has mixed feelings, of course. Being in a movie is exciting, but she's not sure about Ichiya -- who now turns apologetic and tries to explain that he just wanted her to be better for his movie. But the wheels start turning and things are going well... until the producer gets cold feet and pulls the plug on the mostly-completed film. There's only one scene left to film, and it's a dangerous stunt... and only Ichiya can pull it off! Mio is concerned for his safety... a little too concerned.

The story is pretty flimsy, but it's easy to follow and the characters are mildly interesting I guess. The problems I now have with Handsome Girl aren't the normal ones I would expect to have with a short shoujo OAV. My problem is this: It's premise is just too stupid.

I realize the manga started in 1988, right when Japan's bubble economy was such that stupid money was being flung in the direction of every half-baked media project out there. But... seriously? I mean, I know the Gainax guys were pretty young when they got the money to make Wings of Honneamise, but they were at least in their 20s. This kid is barely out of middle school. Can you imagine an adult actor having to take direction from someone who's not even old enough to live by themselves? Or an executive deciding to spend millions funding a feature film and handing the keys over to a teenager who has never even made a music video before, and has no script?

Indeed, the show (and presumably, the manga itself) knows so little about how movies are made that I don't think Wataru did any research whatsoever. Crews are made up of a small group of friends. The director himself is doing dangerous stunts. Nobody is holding a boom pole or recording any audio. Ichiya's advice to Mio about her acting is ludicrously vague and meaningless. Mio has no idea that she's even being cast in a movie until a press conference happens on TV and her manager wakes her up to tell her the news. There are only a couple of lights and no craft services. I bring all this up because other parts of the OAV are rendered pretty meticulously! Aya's concert is a pretty realistic and detailed idol concert, complete with crowd barricades, headsets on the stage musicians, and lighting grids.

I am not the target audience for Handsome Girl. The target audience is comprised of pre-teen girls, dreaming of glamour and cute boys and having an awesome career and super fashionable clothes. I am a 33 year old man working in the entertainment industry who went to film school and dreams of fully funding his Roth IRA and applying for a mortgage. The very idea of a 15-year-old getting corporate funding to direct a feature film (and, more or less, pulling it off) is so far beyond the world I know that he could very well have an extra face where his penis should be, and the story would be no less believable. (And possibly better.)

Despite fairly high marks for most of the rest of the show, and a decently involving (if not exemplary) romance, I just can't get past the ridiculousness of its premise. Maybe that's on me, I don't know, but I simply know too much about this subject to be able to deal with a show that can't be bothered to do even basic research into the "careers" of its characters. It's just too frustrating.

Japanese Name: ハンサムな彼女 (HANSAMU na Kanojo)

Media Type: OAV

Length: 37 min.

Vintage: 1991

Genres: Shoujo, romance, action

Availability (Japan): Laserdisc and VHS releases are out there, but no DVD that I can find.

Availability (English): Just fansubs.

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