Cutie Honey Universe
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 7 of
Cutie Honey Universe ?
After the upending events of last week's episode, Cutie Honey Universe spends an understandable time settling down and taking stock of the situation. There's a lot of serious reflection regarding Honey and Natsuko and how they might react to what happened previously. The new status quo is reflected in a new tone, as the music and mood of direction here cast a pallor over the show that it hadn't managed to achieve previously, even in its prior attempts at dark seriousness. The result is that after the hard left turn of last week, Cutie Honey Universe could now pass for a completely different show.
Of course, the series still has to reckon with whether it's a good show or not, and that's up in the air. Ironically, where the first half found its bouncy superhero-comedy tone at odds with occasional moments of dead-serious content, the prolonged attempts at drama here find themselves undercut by misplaced comedy. Most of them come courtesy of, you guessed it, Danbei and Junpei. Their gag of peeping on Honey in the bath at the beginning is pretty stock stuff (especially given the source material), but through it all I couldn't help but side-eye them with the point of “Guys, she just watched all her friends get killed!”. It's a tonal inconsistency that will probably play even worse to anyone who marathons this show. These two pop up a few more times for their same brand of ‘humor’, and it is tempered with the idea that they're engaging in their antics to bring levity to Honey's situation and keep her mind off the tragedy. In this case they're also fulfilling the metatextual role of comic relief, but it never feels fully entertaining or even sincere, to the point that the show actually has Shintaro comment on that limitation.
The rest of the episode does fine with the dramatic elements. The point that Honey is masking her grief under a facade of her normal personality is a pretty stock one that becomes apparent early. But it's communicated well through some nuances that are surprising to see from this show now. A well-timed close-up on her face during a news report on the school attack speaks to her condition well, and it all comes to a head later on when she discovers a pile of roses left in the house. Here the series turns up the surrealist imagery again to do an effective job of communicating the PTSD Honey is now rightly suffering from, and makes it the breaking point of her arc through the episode that leads to its finish.
Honey's developments are effective, but the real star of this episode (and its viewpoint) is Natsuko. The writing points out that she's suffering from similar degrees of shock as Honey (though perhaps with less guilt attached to it) but is working through it less by putting up a facade and more through trying to reach out and help her friend however she can. The big moment for this characterization comes when she finally confronts Genet after weeks of being suspicious of her. It's clever that the inherent tension between the characters that was the source of romantic awkwardness way back in episode 3 is brought back here to paint a more sinister atmosphere. It's possible that the series' already-known predilection for killing off characters, to say nothing of Natsuko's fate in other versions of the story, contributes to the genuine concern over something bad happening to her here. But if the biggest complaint I can level at this otherwise excellent scene is that it leans too hard on the works it's celebrating, that can hardly be called a bad thing.
What is a problem is that now that the show's tonal priorities have done a 180, its strengths and weaknesses are still present as well, only feeling reversed. Most notably, the background plot of Panther Claw and what exactly Jill wants with Honey is still spinning its wheels as always. However, now that we've seen that the group is capable of taking action, it makes their lack of movement and clear explanation even more aggravating. There was some decent intrigue into whatever Jill's motivation for dragging out attacks on Honey and slowly working up to getting her Airborn Element Fixing Device was. But at this point it feels like stalling for time as much as the monster-of-the-week plots of the old version of the show.
The show's questionable execution of everything it's done is also highlighted in the final scene, as Honey reveals to Natsuko that the reason for her more-distressed-than-expected reaction to the attack is that she feels responsibility. This is both out of the motivating plot-device in her body and the resulting superhero powers she tried to fight back with. The disconnect in the shocking revelation here is that is was never readily apparent that Natsuko didn't know Honey was a super-powered robot who fought Panther Claw. The writing tries to paper over this by having Natsuko admit that she was suspicious of Honey's involvement but afraid to ask, but it still stretches credulity given that Natsuko knew Honey worked with the PCIS and regularly helped her skip school to go deal with Panther Claw. Calling attention to figuring out what details Natsuko did or did not know about Honey kneecaps the drama that should be inherent in the main character opening herself up to her best friend like this.
Inconsistency has always been this show's biggest issue, and sloppiness in dramatic, plot-driven writing is honestly easier to overlook than the story just wasting time. Even if the comedy snippets aren't great, they're out the way quickly, and the show is at least as engaging as it was in the opening weeks when it looked like the plot was actually going somewhere. It does feel somewhat odd that the show wants us to take it fully seriously after so much preceding flippancy, but considering what a drag that was, I'll take it.
Cutie Honey Universe is currently streaming on HIDIVE.
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