Reviewby Zac Bertschy,
Sana Kurata is a celebrity on an afternoon kid's show and she's in control of her own life, but the one place she can't control is the classroom, thanks to the wicked pranks and mean-spirited hijinks of local punk Hayama, who tortures the teachers, the students and anyone else who gets in his way. Sana takes matters into her own capable (and sometimes not so capable) hands... the result? An unlikely romance nobody saw coming!
Fans have been waiting a long time to see a US DVD release of Kodocha (formerly known as Kodomo no Omocha or “Child's Toy”, neither of which is as marketplace-friendly as the abbreviated version), and now thanks to FUNimation rolling the dice, here it is. The final thing is something of a mixed bag; Kodocha didn't make it here unscathed, but in the end it's certainly worthy of purchase by anyone who loves the show or anyone interested in a light-hearted but surprisingly touching comedy-drama.
Kodocha used to be called “Marmalade Boy on Crack” back when people still knew what Marmalade Boy was (or back when people used “on crack” to describe anything hyperactive), and for the most part, that's a fairly accurate way to describe it. Basically what you have here is a pretty standard romantic comedy with the volume cranked up to 11. The characters have a surprising amount of depth; you can tell immediately they're not all stereotypes, and anyone in the show who comes too close to the land of overused shojo clichés is quickly pulled back from the brink by the clever scriptwriting. When the show isn't focusing on madcap comedy or the building romantic tension between Hayama and Sana, it focuses instead on a handful of real-life problems kids encounter, like abusive siblings, classroom popularity and whatnot. Occasionally they slow the breakneck speed of the show for a tender moment or a big reveal, and when it does happen, it doesn't feel forced or “wrong”… so, in spite of the fact that Kodocha is mostly a comedy, that it handles drama so well is really a big mark in its favor.
At the core of the show is character interaction, which is really the selling point of any shojo series, and on this level, Kodocha delivers on multiple levels. It's hard not to like most of the characters – even the irrepressibly hyperactive Sana – thanks to snappy writing and pacing, the credit for which mostly belongs to ace director Akitaroh Daichi. The drama and character interaction is at a remarkably high quality level for a show that sells itself as a high-octane comedy for little girls, which is what drew people to this show back when you could only get it on the black market, and that quality still shines through today.
As for the animation quality, for a show produced in the 90's, it's aged pretty well. The color palette used is a little washed-out, but that might be intentional given the pastel look of the show. For a series like this, animation quality isn't really all that important; we're here for the dialogue, and to that end, Kodocha excels. The music is suitably peppy when the action's upbeat, resorting to tinkly piano tunes when something “touching” is happening. Fairly standard stuff.
The dub – rather, FUNimation's localization – is where we run into problems. The subtitle track is fine, with the notable exception of the opening theme; apparently they couldn't get the rights to the original opening song and had to use the second season opening in its place. That in and of itself is no egregious problem, but strict purists will certainly have something to whine about. The dub is where we see a lot of missteps introduced; simply put, it's a mixed bag bordering on not-so-good. Make no mistake; Sana's voice is absolutely spot-on. She's age-appropriate, manic and hyperactive and can somehow, I suspect through the use of magic or perhaps illegal substances, keep up with the pace of the Japanese original. It's not so cut and dry with everyone else; Hayama sounds like he's 30, and everyone refers to him in English as “AhKEEdo”, like the martial art. The comedy relief characters, Babbit and Zenjirou, are flat-out awful; Babbit has some kind of bizarre foppish English accent-type-thing going on and Zenjirou's voice actor is simply trying too hard and coming up short. The extensive changes to the dialogue – obviously done to make the show more appealing to a mass TV audience rather than simply a hardcore otaku one who will get the ridiculous amount of Japanese culture-related jokes in this series – work for the most part, but they can't overcome the fact that the voice cast just isn't quite up to the task. Your mileage may vary, but the Japanese track is highly recommended.
So, after years of waiting, Kodocha has finally found its way to American shores, and it's a little worse for the wear, but anyone hoping to see more shows aimed at women – and more shojo anime series in general – would do well to pick up this release. Frankly, it's not perfect, but it's good enough, and much better than what it could have become.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B
+ Fun romantic comedy, should appeal to most anyone
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