Cutie Honey Universe
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 6 of
Cutie Honey Universe ?
I know I was pretty hard on Cutie Honey Universe last week for doing a bad job of going nowhere fast, so I can't help but feel a little obliged that this week's episode happily chucks the baggage of that pacing. The previous episodes were all setup, of course, but they didn't feel quite like setup for everything that happens here. In retrospect, it almost explains the rapid-fire introductions of all the characters and background information in the first couple episodes, as the show had to ingratiate the cast and setting to us before they quite literally blew it up and murdered everyone here.
Right, so even with obvious Go Nagai anniversary connection, any comparisons to be made between this show and the year's earlier masterpiece DEVILMAN crybaby were moot from the first episode of Cutie Honey. The artistic ambition and conceptual level of reimagining simply weren't here. But at the very least, the story structure and its shocking mid-series world-upending swerve gets called to mind here. Panther Claw's attack on Honey's school is an event from the source manga, which Cutie Honey Universe has stuck fairly close to (for better and for worse in many, many ways), so that's likely down to Nagai's personal sensibilities. But to actually see it happen after so much preceding vanilla content does make this iteration of it come of as pretty incongruous.
And after all my grousing so far, it's pretty hard to complain about something finally occurring in this story. Just on paper, this is the sort of ‘big stuff happening’ episode I really like in a show. Even with the minimal attachment I have to all the characters being slaughtered here, the events hit because they're framed in a grandiose way that at least carry a sense of importance. The villains come out of the woodwork and pay lip-service to the idea that they're done messing around, and their actual attack is decidedly unique. Their delightfully absurd panther-shaped airships and reality-warping rose explosions keep up the distinctly 70's surrealist sensibilities even with the relative modern sheen of an anime production from these days. Seeing the actual merged-into-the-walls fates of all the students hit in this attack is a hard-hitting bit of visual cleverness, even if the actual execution of some these effects still looks dodgy in places.
In fact, make no mistake, even as I was in awe of Cutie Honey Universe finally getting up off its duff and doing something, it was still Cutie Honey Universe in a lot of places throughout. The issues with tone were still present. I'm fine with the show suddenly turning serious for a big blow-up like this, but it kept inserting off-kilter comedic interludes, like a bizarrely elongated section where those lesbian teachers ascend into a fireworks display as they're exploded to death. The storytelling is also as haphazard as ever. With not much of anything going on in the past couple of episodes, there was nothing even hinting that Panther Claw had a reason to decide that now was the time to kill everybody. And the ease with which it's carried out raises so many questions. Did Panther Claw as an organization always know exactly who Honey Kisaragi was and that she went to school here? Why did Sister Jill only now decide to sanction this attack? It really does feel like the show's staff looked up and realized they were halfway through the season so something had to happen.
But it's easy to dismiss those issues when so much other stuff about this episode works just because of the clear amount of effort it's put in for the first time in weeks. We get to see some more Panther Claw villains in action, including the absurdly delightful design of Dragon Panther, and the competitive villain angle her and Snake Panther play off of each other with lends some characteristic flavor to what's otherwise a simple big bad-guy attack. A lot of little visual details present are great, from a shot of Naoko carrying her entire squad on her back to Natsuko's little comedic moment of walking around in her rock disguise.
When the visuals get serious, I'm reminded of how much I loved the direction of this show's action when I first started watching it. There are still some rough cuts throughout, but Honey and Jill finally getting the knock-down drag-out fight they've been building to definitely delivers. It's a spectacle that makes great use of both characters' abilities as well as established series elements, like that speed-line dimension. The show even makes attempts at more creative visuals, with a few well-placed instances of white silhouettes on stark backgrounds. If the show had embraced this type of visual interest before this halfway point, it might have been more interesting in general.
I found myself captivated by all of this, even as I questioned how we actually got here. Inconsequential as the character has been, Naoko's final stand and sacrifice here was well-handled. Even if I didn't care about all these people, the way Honey's reaction to their deaths was directed sold the effect at the most basic level of tragedy. And Natsuko, the only other character with serious development, also got in some good moments and was thankfully spared (for the moment) from the grisly fate of the manga version. So yeah, critically it would be pretty easy to dismiss this episode over the tonal inconsistencies, or pacing, or even basic storytelling sense. But the fact is that even with all the dissonant death and destruction on display, this was still easily the most fun I'd had with Cutie Honey Universe in weeks. It's a mess that might be too much at once, but as Natsuko says of their school as it's being bombed to smithereens “It's pretty, though.”
Cutie Honey Universe is currently streaming on HIDIVE.
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