Cutie Honey Universe
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 1 of
Cutie Honey Universe ?
How would you rate episode 2 of
Cutie Honey Universe ?
The 50th anniversary of Go Nagai's career is seeing several revivals of the manga artist's work this year, with Cutie Honey next up on the remake block in the form of Cutie Honey Universe. Honey's reinvention is less notably radical than last season's DEVILMAN crybaby, however. Universe sticks much closer to the distinctly 70's-style framework of the original story, to the point that you'd be forgiven for thinking this first episode was just a middle episode from some older show.
To some degree, this does work in Cutie Honey Universe's favor. Part of the appeal of classic superhero stories was how easy it could be to just drop in on them and be able to follow what was happening. The basics of Universe's first episode are easy for anyone to pick up on. There's a group of villains called Panther Claw, they want a device that Honey has, so they send monsters to draw her out and fights happen. The exact explanations for everything aren't necessary when we're just focusing on a cool fight.
With that in mind, when the fights in Cutie Honey Universe get going, the show is easily at its strongest. Some great toe-tapping music kicks in, and the direction is willing to sacrifice some model detail for a sense of free-flowing energy. There are clever touches like Honey's various uses for her boomerangs or the way that speedlines represent an actual physical place where some of the monster confrontations happen. The last fight in the second episode concludes with a finishing slash so dynamic that it actually slices through the moon background and leaves it that way for the duration of the episode, with Honey's cheeky wink afterward making you wish the entire show could be as fun as these bouncy battles.
These frenetic fights are the best part of the show basically by default, since the rest of these opening episodes are disjointed and uneven. The first episode, in spite of technically working as an ‘introduction’ in media res, still goes overboard by showing off too many elements. Most egregious is probably Honey's escape from the school, where she runs into virtually every single supporting cast member, showing off their quirks before getting left behind. Then more characters get piled on, to the point of seeming redundancy. Sure, I enjoy the idea of a dynamic duo of delinquent detective girls, but the audience still has to question if Honey really needs four different police detective characters following her around at crime scenes. The tone of its first episode indicates that Cutie Honey Universe wants to be a colorfully wild thrill-ride, but this shotgun approach comes off more jarring and overwhelming.
As such, the show's insistence on including heavier dramatic moments also has a hard time blending with this candy-coated cornucopia. Episode one features a surprisingly quiet moment with Honey over a dead guard, while the second episode briefly entertains the domestic-violence-fueled origins of its Monster of the Week. Mixing light and dark elements in a show like this is nothing new, but it's pointedly less seamless in this case. It's simply jarring to go from a broken woman preparing to burn the body of her abuser to seeing her transformed into a cartoon monster version of The Noid who throws stock villain taunts at our transforming superheroine. The presentation smacks of the show trying to shoehorn mature elements into this story, lest we worry we're watching something for kids.
That shouldn't even be a problem, given how happily Universe integrates that trademark Go Nagai fanservice. Honey of course strips when she transforms, and by the end of the first episode, nearly her entire costume has been shredded. There's also an amusingly amorphous lesbian sex scene and some outrageous implied BDSM ‘punishment’ for Honey's friend Natsuko from a matronly disciplinarian. Given some of the elements at play here, it feels weird to call most of this content ‘good-natured’, but that really is how it comes off. Honey's clothing damage is never accompanied by sexualized shame, and even Natsuko's bondage moment is tempered with the humor of its over-the-top reveal and the implication that she's secretly into it. At any rate, explicit content remains on a level that fans would expect from Cutie Honey, not as unsafe for work as Devilman crybaby but definitely belonging to the same mold.
The first episode is lacking due to its structure problems, but it still has enough compelling story to be interesting to watch. Most intriguing is Jill's undercover role as Inspector Genet and the mystery surrounding her exact scheme (and how surreptitiously killing her own underlings might factor into it); it's by far the most attention-getting part of the story so far. Episode two also settles down to properly explain Honey's backstory, though even people unfamiliar with Honey's specific origins can guess at her scientist dad's motivations to create and contractually-obligated death. Maybe that's why the first episode saw fit to just jump into the action; this is a story we've seen in many places for many years.
That's the hardest part of Cutie Honey Universe to evaluate so far. Unlike the viciously experimental DEVILMAN crybaby, this series is sticking very close to its 70's superhero framework, and its insistence on cramming in as many elements as possible in just two episodes already has it threatening to burst. The problem is that with so little time devoted to each bit so far, the show come across as vague and disconnected in execution. Given the energy of its fight scenes, the series could potentially ditch half the supporting cast and the misplaced dark dramatic elements and focus on showing off Honey's different combat forms to become a better show. It will remain to be seen if its priorities can settle down in any specific direction, but for now, its inability to focus makes Cutie Honey Universe seem more dated than any of its character designs or fanservice style.
Cutie Honey Universe is currently streaming on HIDIVE.
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