Cutie Honey Universe
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 10 of
Cutie Honey Universe ?
It might be unfair to accuse Cutie Honey Universe of being derivative, given that it's making a conscious effort to closely adapt a formative manga from the 1970's. Honey already dealt with the deaths of all her classmates and friends via stoic withdrawal, so now that she's lost Natsuko, she's going in the other direction in reaction to her trauma. Yes, our heroine is throwing herself headfirst into recklessly fighting any Panther Claw goons she can find, fighting more for revenge of lost love than the love itself. Weirdly, the episode at first frames all this action as business as usual for Cutie Honey, down to her classic catchphrase and cutesy expressions. If the placement of all of this is supposed to make us feel like her going through the motions rings hollow, then it succeeds, but perhaps to the detriment of the audience's lingering investment.
Trying to intersperse everything the show had done before with this self-serious reflection and tragic development for Honey kicks the tonal issues this show has always had into overdrive, and not just because about three-quarters of the characters that drove those antics have been killed off by now. I mean, this episode isn't half-bad by CHU standards. Honey's barely-restrained facade makes use of the decent character acting that has powered her slipping development through the past few episodes. There's a confrontation with Seiji early on that looks good and moody, and I quite like Honey's line admitting that she wants to overdo things. And once the newly heroic split-off Tarantula enters the picture, she and Honey manage to explore all that built-up grief in ways that are handled respectfully, even if I ended up not quite agreeing with the actual resolution.
But then the show just will not stop attempting to add levity in places where it really isn't welcome. Danbei and Junpei are the easiest to single out, (how come they got to live while just about everyone else was killed off?) but their by-now benign antics are merely incidental to the other shenanigans the episode keeps dragging in. The most egregious point comes right in the middle, with the fight against the tiny Tarantula and Dragon Panther. It's carrying into a symbolically serious moment, as Honey grapples with coldly killing her foe while her remaining friends look on, before Tarantula stops the whole scene cold to go into a comedic sketch where they argue about Honey's good points versus Sister Jill. As with other places where it feels like the show knows its misplaced jokes aren't landing, they actually have Seiji turn to the camera and remark on how lame this is. If they really felt that way, the shouldn't have put it in at all.
This type of thing pops up a couple other times throughout the episode, mostly feeling like it's being used to chew up runtime. We also get a prolonged scene of Tarantula using her web-disguising powers to provoke more annoying antics out of Danbei and Junpei, so even the material here is repetitive. The best gag is honestly the shortest one: the laugh-out-loud sight of Dragon Panther's gigantic form just chilling in the family's living room. That's the type of oblique absurdity a series rooted in this classic style can trade on effectively.
Tarantula's transformative abilities are at least demonstrated for reasons other than cheap jokes, as she talks about Natsuko with Honey then assumes their dead friend's form as a way to facilitate closure. The show actually does a better job selling Natsuko and Tarantula's connection here than they did when Natsuko was alive, but the real issue is the uncertain healthiness of Tarantula's chosen method for comforting Honey. There is a sense that Honey has to work through her pain as rapidly as possible in order to accept that Natsuko is actually gone, but in practice it comes off almost like Tarantula unintentionally tormenting the poor girl who's already been through enough. The episode plays this scene off like it all ended well for Honey's psyche in the end, so at least it works within the confines of its own goals, but the tone and execution still rubbed me the wrong way.
In terms of more concretely bad writing, it's baffling that Tarantula fails to tell Honey that Genet is actually Jill. There is a faint implication that some mental block is still present in the split-off ‘heroic’ black Tarantula that prevents her from betraying her former master, but with that being the only excuse they give for not following through, the episode would have done better not to bring the subject up at all. This Genet identity subplot has been dragged out longer than it ever needed to be, and at this point it just comes across as a lazy way to keep the dramatic irony up in the face of all logic. Keeping the ruse going when Natsuko, Tarantula, and now even Dragon had multiple points to drop the information for our heroes just comes off as farcical now.
The serious looks at Honey's deteriorating psyche and how others step in to support her are about all that Cutie Honey Universe does well this week. Everything else, from the misplaced comic relief to the uncomfortable resolution of those psychological issues to the amateurish writing keeping pointless parts of the plot still going is a misfire. So maybe it is unfair to call the show out as derivative, but it certainly deserves to be criticized for having little in the way of success with its direction or story this week.
Cutie Honey Universe is currently streaming on HIDIVE.
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