Reviewby Maral Agnerian, Mar 1st 2003
DVD 2: Sharing the Spotlight!
Miho is an 11-year-old girl who draws manga fan-art and has fantasies about cute male idol types, in other words, a perfectly normal Japanese schoolgirl. Then she meets Pigu and Mogu, two little fairies who look like SD pastel dinosaurs. They explain to her what they are and offer her a gift of magic. This takes the form of a sketchbook and pen, which have the following abilities:
- She can draw clothing in the sketchbook and it will become real.
- She can use the pen to transform herself into an older girl - actually, to transform herself into the model/idol singer character she created named Fancy Lala.
Naturally, she's thrilled about this. She gets scouted (as Lala) by a talent agency and gets a job as a model. Then the real fun begins. She's got two lives now; she's a student and has friends and family as Miho, but she's also got the excitement of a modelling career and friends as Lala. And they tend to conflict. And her friends wonder what she's doing with that cell phone, and it tends to ring when it's very inconvenient. And she has to find places that are safe to change clothes and transform into Lala. And she's got these two little gluttons of dinosaurs on her hands who aren't trying very hard not to get discovered...needless to say, chaos ensues.
Disc 2 continues with Miho's family vs. professional life, providing interesting insight into how this little girl deals with the very grown-up entertainment business.
Episode 6 shows Lala encountering the infighting and dirty tricks in the modeling business, and she's called upon to defuse a tense situation involving Yumeno Miki, a star model with an attitude problem.
Episode 7 is a standard ghost story in which Miho finds that even as Lala she's still a kid inside, and Episode 8 is a sweet little tale which shows Miho's experimentations with the magic notebook ("I wonder if I can make things other than clothes...?"). It was a bit difficult to suspend disbelief, however, as the kitten she finds is, judging from its scale in comparison with Miho, about 3 inches tall.
Episode 9 brings us back into the full swing of Lala's world, as she is called to make her singing debut...but Miho is demoralized after hearing her voice on tape for the first time. Then, in Episode 10, her CD single is released and Miho has to deal with scheduling problems for an appearance at a record store. Here they introduce a bit of the running-back-and-forth hijinks that we're familiar with from sitcoms, but it's handled lightly and deftly and avoids being ridiculous or groan-inducing.
Miho's relationship with Taro (which is still on a childish level) develops gradually throughout the five episodes on this disc, and it's clearly going somewhere. Mr. Mystery (Fushigi-san), Miho's mysterious benefactor, shows up occasionally, but we don't really get any more information on who he is or why he's there. Miki, the rival model, is one of the more interesting characters and this disc brings her to the forefront. Miki sees Lala as a rival, but what brings her beyond a two-dimensional 'rival' character is the fact that we get to see her outside of the modeling environment, and she's a decent, normal girl. She's very fond of Miho, but feels pressure from her arrogant manager to act like a 'star', i.e. spoiled and selfish, when in the working environment. It's just another example of the realism and depth of character that makes this show worth watching.
What continues to impress me about Fancy Lala is that it keeps breaking the Sailor Moon-style Magical Girl mold. The characters are a good deal more developed than most magical girl shows -- these people actually have some depth to them. Another thing that makes it stand out is the wonderful tension of Miho leading two lives, one of which is a teensy bit out of her league. Best of all, there is no villain in this show, just comedic or dramatic problems to be overcome. This is such a relief, as it opens up many more story possibilities and allows the show to focus on the characters and their development.
Another thing that's nice about this show is that they've already dispensed with the standard magical girl transformation sequence; it's alluded to or simply ignored as just a thing Miho does before going to work. You barely see it at all in this disc; you see a flash of light from the wherever she happens to be changing, but that's pretty much it. Best of all, there's no monster-of-the-day, no evil powers to fight, and no obligatory 5-minute-long recycled transformation and attack every episode.
The art is quite good, especially for a Magical Girl series (they have a penchant for VERY simple line work and lots of cel recycling) and the music is quite tolerable (the theme song is cute but insidiously catchy, and the BGM fits nicely). And, most important of all, the comedy is actually funny! Because of the fact that half of Miho's character lives in the adult world, the humor isn't dumbed down for the kids. All in all, it's definitely one of the best magical girl shows out there, and is recommended even if you're not that much of a magical girl fan.
As for the dub, it's not awful but not great either--it's about average. I do wish, however, that North American voice actors would learn how to pronounce Japanese names. "Miho" is not pronounced "MEE-Hoeww". But I digress. Some voices are okay, some aren't, and I'd put it about on the level of the Cardcaptors dub. Surprisingly, they even dubbed Lala's CD single song, but the English voice actress is about on par for singing ability with the Japanese actress, so it isn't too bad.
Extras on the disc include a textless ending, credits, trailers and a very good interview with character designer Akemi Takada in which they reveal fascinating insights into character and story development. Especially interesting are the discussions on Miho's home-vs.-work life and how they tried to break away from the Magical Girl formula.
All in all, Fancy Lala vol. 2 is a good continuation of the story. I'm still hooked and want to see more--if you liked the first volume this is a must-see, and if you've avoided Magical Girl shows until now, you might want to give Fancy Lala a try.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A-
Animation : B-
Art : B-
Music : B-
+ Unconventional Magical Girl show; excellent character development
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