Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Cutie Honey: The Classic Collection [Hardcover]
Honey Kisaragi is an android created by her father, the great scientist Dr. Kisaragi, created to house his secret technology, which also enables her to transform into the warrior Cutie Honey. To keep her safe from the machinations of the nefarious organization Panther Claw, Dr. Kisaragi sends Honey to a remote girls' school, but even that is not enough to keep Panther Claw at bay. Honey must master her transformative powers and defeat Panther Zora, Sister Jill, and all of their minions, no matter what the cost in Go Nagai's classic magical girl/science fiction manga.
Cutie Honey is an important series on several fronts. Not only does it lay down a few of the basic rules that later magical girls would follow – most specifically the naked transformation scene trope, which gets ample reuse in both tame and more Honey-like fanservice formats – but it also raised the bar for what kinds of fanservice mainstream manga could get away with. In our current climate where nipples are routinely not drawn or are the cause of censorship, Go Nagai's story is full of bare-breasted babes and the occasional penis, and while the story itself has some outdated elements, it's fascinating to see how much modern fanservice and campy sci fi manga owes to Nagai's transforming heroine.
Whether or not you consider Cutie Honey to be a magical girl, her story also does fit a lot of the particulars of the genre. Not only does Honey transform (and, in fact, have multiple transformations, like Wedding Peach's two-fold transformations or the powers of magical idol girls, like Fancy Lala), but she also has the specific mission of eliminating a threat to the world at large. In her case, that's Panther Claw, a mysterious evil organization made up of oddly-animalized women and men dressed like Pink Panther extras under the leadership of Panther Zora and her minion Sister Jill. Honey was, in fact, created in order to house and protect her father's amazing invention, the Airborne Element Solidifier, which is what powers her transformations. Panther Claw naturally wants to use the device for evil, so Kisaragi gave it to Honey instead, so that she might become a force for good in the world. Thanks to both the A.E.S. and her android body, Honey is a veritable superheroine, her secret identity known only to her would-be beau Seiji.
Despite the clear roots of many modern series and genres and the relatively progressive fanservice (this was originally published in the early 1970s, simultaneous with the anime), Cutie Honey does feel dated in ways that may not sit well with contemporary audiences. Much of the humor is derived from people touching Honey without her consent; one memorably uncomfortable part involves Honey disguising herself as a statue so that Seiji's brother and father don't recognize her. The two of them immediately begin molesting her, licking the “statue's” breasts and groin. When Honey begins making sounds, the two of them continue, commenting on the “lifelike” qualities of the “statue.” There's also a lot of gags to the effect that lesbians are unattractive women, with most of the clearly gay characters at Honey's all-girls' school looking distinctly masculine or being predatory towards girls like Honey or her roommate Natsu-chan, who are considered feminine and pretty. (In one scene Honey “defeats” the lesbian character by showing her how undesirable she is via a mirror.) While elements of these gags do remain in contemporary manga, that doesn't take away from the fact that this feels very prejudiced and outdated in its usage of them in an extreme that we don't often see any more. It's important to remember that the series does date to the 1970s, but be aware that it may not work for modern readers because of it.
The story itself is a bit jumbled, although still fun. Most of the hardcover volume is Honey fighting off Panther Claw, ultimately leading up to a confrontation with Sister Jill herself. The stakes grow increasingly higher as the story goes on, with the death of Honey's father kicking things off and Panther Claw's attempts to find out who Cutie Honey really is (or at least, where Honey herself is hiding) leading them to ever-greater heights of destruction, culminating in a very dark couple of chapters three-quarters of the way through the book. The series could have ended there, but Nagai continues on in much lighter fare, with the final chapter introducing some of the elements viewers of the anime are familiar with, such as Honey's trademark “sometimes I am ___, sometimes I'm ____, but really I'm____!” speech. These last chapters do feel like Nagai attempting to bring the anime and manga to the same page, and while it's fun, it also feels a little shoehorned in.
Two essays in the back of the book make for an interesting extra. In the first, Nagai himself recounts the process of creating Honey, including where her name came from – an old American television show called Honey West (1965-66) about a female private detective, based on the novels by G. G. Fickling. He explains as well that he thought the name was something Americans called girls because they were sweet, which is interesting both in the context of the character and in that many women of the early-mid 20th century were actually nicknamed Honey for their honey-colored hair. The second, longer essay is by novelist Hirayama Yumeaki (whose novel the 2004 film Cursed was based on), discussing what Cutie Honey meant to him as a teen. While that mainly boils down to “boobs,” it's still an interesting read.
Cutie Honey doesn't hold up quite as well as Devilman in its original form, but it's still an important piece of manga history and campy good fun. Its humor is the main thing that dates it in terms of writing, but if you can get past it, this is further proof of Go Nagai's influence on modern manga.
Overall : B
Story : B-
Art : B
+ Origin for a lot of contemporary manga tropes, fun sensibilities to balance out the darkness, gorgeous release
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