Reviewby Theron Martin, Jul 9th 2007
A year ago Honey Kisaragi died in a traffic accident, but thanks to her uncle's innovative use of nanotechnology controlled by the I-System, Honey was brought back to life as the Soldier of Love, the super-heroine Cutey Honey. An office temp worker with a ravenous appetite for rice balls by day, in her off time the shape-changing Honey finds herself embroiled in a string of battles with the terrorist organization Panther Claw when they kidnap her uncle to help their leader, Sister Jill, gain immortality. As Honey tries to sort out what is really going on and battles the occasional colored Claw foe, she finds herself teaming up with loner police detective Natsuko Aki and supposed journalist Seiji Hayami, who seems to know quite a lot but is also fun to hang out with.
Live-action adaptations of anime series, whether made in Japan or elsewhere, have a long-standing and well-deserved reputation for being consistently awful by American standards. Even those that do prove at least mildly entertaining (such as the live-action Sailor Moon) typically still require viewers used to American production values to considerably lower their standards to be able to appreciate it. Thus it is with no small amount of surprise – nay, even astonishment – that I can actually give this one a favorable review and recommendation.
Oh, it's certainly not a masterpiece. For all its charm it is still cheesy as hell and suffers from cheap special effects and ridiculous costuming, but unlike so many of its ilk it does not try to pretend that it isn't cheesy. It instead makes the campiness an integral part of its substance and lets the actors ham it up appropriately, thus allowing even the sillier moments to flow smoothly within the context of the show rather than feeling forced. It also never lets the silliness interfere with telling a story and, shockingly, actually even achieves a couple of moments of true emotional resonance. In many ways the approach here resembles Joss Whedon's handling of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series in the U.S. in the mid-'90s, and the result is the same: a campy show that is tremendously fun to watch despite its low-tech flaws, can get serious when it needs to, and is not as lame-brained as it might appear at first.
But why is this one so much better than its kin? One word: pedigree. Cutie Honey may be the creation of the legendary Go Nagai (who has a brief cameo – he's the driver of the car that Honey lands on in one late scene), but the live-action version was directed and co-written by none other than Hideaki Anno, who also has a significant supporting role as an office worker in Honey's office. Under Anno's skillful guidance the story stays simple but ever-present and effective as it spins a tale about the value of love and establishing relationships, and the negativity of hate, without ever feeling trite. It wouldn't be an Anno production without some visual innovation, and here he uses special effects to give hyper-powered action scenes a cartoonish look, occasionally intersperses the live-action footage with animation, and stages remarkably convincing action scenes given the overall cheap look. In a couple of places his special effects do truly fall apart (especially in one scene involving the Tokyo Tower), but most of the time they are about on par with a typical Sci Fi Network made-for-TV movie.
Part of the credit also can certainly be attributed to the casting of the lead role. Cheery, expressive, athletic, bright-faced Eriko Satoh completely delights as Honey, giving her character an honest-feeling vivaciousness and spirit of fun while still handling well the action scenes and at least muddling through on the occasional serious moments. Most importantly, she has the figure and build (she's 5' 8”) to fit the role and look great in the costume – but considering that she is also a swimsuit model, that shouldn't be surprising. Her acting chops may not be the greatest, but nobody else in the production is going to dazzle you with their acting ability, either. Something like this doesn't require good acting to be successful, however; as long as the actors can load up their performances with sufficient pork content and look good while doing it, the production will succeed, and for the most part Cutie Honey accomplishes that. It is another sign of Anno's skill that he is able to work around such deficiencies.
An appropriate soundtrack also plays a key role in contributing to the movie's success. Often playful, occasionally lightly jazzy, even sporting classical music at one point, it plays up the focus aspect of each individual scene without being obtrusive and deftly switches to more serious tones when needed. It sports a couple of remarkably good insert songs (the first one originally sung in English) whose qualities become even more meritorious if one actually pays attention to the ridiculous lyrics and an animated opening theme which harkens back to the '70s feel of the original Cutie Honey animation.
English dubs for live-action foreign films have as much of a tradition for badness as live-action adaptations of anime, but NYAV Post has actually produced a solid effort here. Most of the dub cast members have at least a fair amount of experience with anime dubs, and they turn in performances which fit with the characters, resemble the style of the originals, and at a minimum equal the caliber of the original performances. (Which, admittedly, isn't saying much.) Some quibbles may be made over variances in translation between the subtitles and English script; “Nat-chan” for Natsuki becomes “Natty,” for instance. The dub does, however, correct some annoying echo effects present in places in the Japanese soundtrack. Even if you would normally never think of trying the dub on a live-action foreign movie, you should give this one a chance.
The regular version of the DVD includes both 2.0 and 5.1 tracks for both languages. Extras include movie and teaser trailers and a 23-minute “Making of” featurette which provides behind-the-scenes footage and clips from a news conference. A special edition, which includes a classic metal Cutie Honey lunch box, is also available.
The movie is supposedly more faithful to the original Cutie Honey series than any other content since, so fans of the franchise are sure to appreciate this one. Any familiarity with the franchise and its characters is not required to make a fun viewing experience out of this one, however, as the story is straightforward and self-contained enough that the movie stands on its own. All that is required to enjoy it is a tolerance for cheese.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : B-
Art : C
Music : B+
+ Musical score, nowhere near as bad as it could be.
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