Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Jun 8th 2011
Full Moon O Sagashite
Episodes 1-13 Streaming
Like many a girl her age, Mitsuki Koyama wants to be a singer. Unfortunately she's too ill to sing, and anyway her autocratic grandmother won't let her out of the house, much less attend an audition. That's where her life stands when she is visited by a pair of Death Spirits named Takuto and Meroko, who inform her that she'll only be standing for another year. That tears it for Mitsuki. If she only has a year to live, she's darned well going to be a singer before then. That she's only twelve and needs to be at least sixteen to enter any kind of respectable audition doesn't faze her. It does however prevent her from getting into an audition. Takuto, contrary to established Death Spirit etiquette, decides to give her a helping hand, gifting her with the power to transform into a sixteen-year-old. And so begins Mitsuki's meteoric rise to pop fame.
Viz began releasing Full Moon o Sagashite on DVD several years back, but abandoned the project, one assumes because it underperformed. But fear not, like Monster and several other less deserving titles, Viz is rescuing the show from limbo via the miracle of streaming video. And well they should. Full Moon is one of the best series that the magical-girl-transforms-into-an-older-version-of-herself-and-becomes-a-pop-singer genre has to offer. Not that the field is that crowded.
Or that you can really tell from these episodes. The key to the series' lasting appeal is its self-contained, well-built emotional attack, none of which is apparent this early in the series. Mitsuki's condition—she really is dying—and Takuto and Meroko's complicated relationship with her provide some dark and often highly sentimental undercurrents, but by and large these early episodes are more remarkable for being bright and light than emotionally fraught. It is very much a children's show here: simple in its plotting, unashamed of its life lessons, and blindingly optimistic in its outlook. There's a certain undeniable appeal to that. It's nice, occasionally at least, to lose yourself in a world where hard work and skill always pay off, where everyone is essentially good, innocence is rewarded, and every problem can be resolved in 23 minutes. It may be a fantasy (and I'm not talking about the Death Spirits and magical transformations here), but it's a seductive and, yes, an uplifting one.
Of course, part of the reason every problem can be resolved in 23 minutes is because the show avoids confronting any of Mitsuki's big problems. She dodges having to explain her situation to Oshige, her feisty manager, or Wakaoji, her physician and substitute father, thanks to Meroko's magic (and Wakaoji's convenient slowness). More magical hijinks allow the series to skirt the issue of her grandmother's hatred of music, and even Mitsuki's impending death is pushed aside by her immediate immersion into the world of pop stardom. Similarly, the series will touch on Wakaoji's ties to Mitsuki's deceased parents or Takuto's past human life, only to back quickly away. That dance, around and between big hairy emotional issues, is part of the series' charm. It spikes the show-biz fluff with unexpected pockets of sentiment—some quite potent, as when Wakaoji makes a revealing pilgrimage to the grave of Mitsuki's parents—and keeps Mitsuki's magical journey supplied with elusive dramatic hooks. Unfortunately, it also confines these opening episodes to one-off tales of pop-idol living. A pattern is quickly established—Mitsuki will meet some contentious newcomer, feel insecure, and eventually win them over with the purity of her heart—and rarely deviated from.
The task of keeping things fresh, particularly in later episodes when the series abandons even Mitsuki's evolving career for magical rock/paparazzi nonsense, falls mostly to the characters. And for the most part, they're up to it. All you need to know about Mitsuki you learn when she discovers that she's dying and instead of moping she heads right out to pursue her dream. She's a vivacious, hugely sympathetic presence only somewhat marred by a tendency towards wallowing in insecurity. Takuto adds the requisite romantic tension (just a touch), while Meroko's well-intentioned but disastrously wrongheaded meddling pumps life into even the most moribund plots. Strangely, though, especially for a series aimed at young girls, it's the adults who steal the show. Mitsuki's snoopy housekeeper is a riot. Wakaoji is hilarious when trying futilely to understand Mitsuki, but more importantly is just a great guy. And Oshige is a rare female role model to really get behind: a smart, funny career woman whose strength of character requires no posturing to support it.
Their interactions aren't exactly the stuff of classics, but they do consistently entertain, adding flavor to some fairly bland stories. They're also the series' visual highlight: attractive, attractively arrayed (oh, the frills!), and frequently so cute that you want to squeeze them like SD teddy bears. Takuto and Meroko's amusingly un-cute animal mascot forms are a particular treat. There's some Generic Anime Face Syndrome going around, but it isn't enough to really rankle. More problematic are the simplified backgrounds and lousy animation. The series is crammed with under-illustrated settings and bad CG assists to even worse movements. Anything more complex than linear movement across the screen tends to come across poorly, and shortcuts are the rule rather than the exception. Thanks to eye-catching colors it rarely looks ugly, but it is certainly no artistic triumph.
As a series about the music industry, music is very important to Full Moon. Not the score itself; that's kept simple and straightforward: a handful of catchy themes, recycled when necessary. No, what's important are the pop songs. There're only two of them so far, and they're repeated so frequently that your fondness for them will have a serious impact on your enjoyment of the series. Which is to say that a weakness for shamelessly sappy pop ballads (and shameless emotional appeals using them) is a must.
Full Moon's strength isn't really characterization, which while fun isn't terribly deep. It definitely isn't plotting, which isn't just repetitive but also rife with gaping holes (Mitsuki is singing so that her missing love Eichi will find her, yet she's magically altered and sings under an assumed name—how does that work?). Rather, it's the patient construction of big ol' melodramatic show-pieces from seemingly innocuous feel-good fluff. Of course, it's so patient that even thirteen episodes in it's still just innocuous feel-good fluff. Good fluff, though, and not without its own melodramatic sting.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : C
Animation : C-
Art : B-
Music : B+
+ A sweet, sentimental tale of magically-assisted pop stardom; strong adult cast; big hints at big emotions to come.
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