Reviewby Theron Martin,
DVD - Complete Collection
Kei Kusanagi suffers from episodes he calls “standstills,” which can put him in a veritable state of suspended animation when exposed to certain kinds of stressors. One such incident in middle school cost him three years, hence leaving him at an actual age of 18 even though he passes for 15 at his high school. That proves useful when he gets involved with Mizuho Kazami, his pretty new homeroom teacher, whom he accidentally learns is actually a half-human, half-alien observer from the Galactic Federation. Kei ends up having to secretly marry Mizuho to protect her secrets and keep them both out of trouble when they are caught in a situation which makes it seem like they are having an illicit relationship – and that means moving in with her, too! They have to keep the marriage a secret from everyone, though, which becomes problematic when Kei's posse of friends – wannabe-girlfriend Koishi, tall Kaede, sharp-witted Ichigo, and guy friends Hyosuke and Minoru – starts poking around and, in some cases, takes romantic interest in either Kei or Mizuho.
The series still commonly-known under its original Japanese name Onegai Teacher is an original anime production from director Yasunori Ide and scenario writer Yousuke Kuroda (Hellsing Ultimate and Mobile Suit Gundam 00, among many other prominent titles). It first aired in Japan during the Spring 2002 season, and later on various Animax-affiliated networks worldwide, and was first released on DVD in the U.S. in 2003 by Bandai Entertainment. While calling it one of the defining titles of its time would be a huge stretch, it was enough of a hit on both sides of the Pacific to spawn manga and light novel adaptations and a sequel anime (Please Twins!) and regular American rereleases up through 2006. Those rereleases are now fairly expensive if available at all, so Right Stuf opted to license-rescue it under their Nozomi Entertainment label earlier this year. Hence we now have a brand-new, economically-priced DVD rerelease.
This is not a dramatically revamped release, however. While the menu screens are in 16:9 aspect ratio, the actual episodes are still in the original 4:3, and weirdly, the opener always looks fuzzy compared to the much sharper pictures in the episode content. The English dub (more on this later) is the original one from the initial Bandai Entertainment releases, and the Extras – clean opener and closer, commercials for the series, three music clips set to scenes from the series, the “Marie Love Theater” animation short, and a preview and promo clip for episode 13 – are all ones seen on previous releases. In fact, missing is the Design Gallery seen in previous releases, though the OVA episode 13 is included. Both language tracks are done in the digital 2.0 likely used on previous releases.
Exactly why the series was popular is not hard to understand, as its core concept is the realization of a common adolescent fantasy: winning the heart of, and/or lusting after, a pretty/handsome young teacher. (In fact, the first volume of the original DVD release acknowledged this by borrowing the Van Halen song “Hot For Teacher” as its subtitle.) It also satisfies the popular Alien/Magical Girlfriend trope, although that is just a secondary consideration. Contrary to the initial impression it gives, though, it is neither a harem series nor really even a true romantic comedy. Although a love triangle does form between Kei, Mizuho, and Koishi, one of the other girls in Kei's group instead hooks up with one of the other guys and the third girl never expresses romantic interest towards him even though they do come to a mutual understanding. The comedy aspect, though sporadically present, is usually subsumed to the romance elements rather than a part of it, to the point that calling this a romantic drama with some sci fi and comedy elements would be more appropriate.
But does it work that way? The series is very hit-or-miss in that regard. More so than most series, it depends heavily on some huge contrivances, including the dodge it uses to get around the impropriety of the student-teacher relationship and the nature of the “standstill disease,” which would be called a psychological condition if not for its peculiar physical effects. Mizuho falling for Kei is only thinly-supported and the later stages push too hard to generate crises where there really aren't any. The appearance of Mizuho's mother and little sister in the middle episodes also offers nothing beyond stereotypical comic relief. However, the series does much better when looking at how the relationship between Kei and Mizuho gradually develops and how the relationship dynamics amongst Kei and his group of friends evolve over time. It plays key moments where pairs must settle on being a couple or not straight, as well as the heartache which can result from even a gentle rejection, which gives them greater and more realistic impact. And when we finally learn exactly what traumatic event was the trigger for his standstills, it is definitely no joke and grants a certain logic to the nature of the standstills.
The series is, for the most part, not really a fan service title, either. It definitely has some shots of Mizuho's cleavage and both her and the girls in swimsuits, but nearly all of that is pretty mild. Unlike more recent fan service-focused titles, though, the series never quibbles over whether or not its couples are actually having sexual relations. In fact, the OVA episode is quite blunt about this, and one mid-season episode even deals with the fallout from one of the couples having a spur-of-the-moment fling.
Overall, the artistic effort by studio Daume (Shiki, Le Portrait De Petite Cossette) is nothing special. Character designs are clearly-defined but also rather ordinary except for Kaede being unusually tall and Mizuho's killer figure. Background art is heavily based on actual Japanese locations (specifically Lake Kizaki in Nagano and its environs) and provides some nice detail. Drawing quality is nowhere near as crisp as in higher-end series from more recent years, although the richness of the coloring is more competitive. The animation effort is respectable for a series of this nature, with fewer stills than might be expected, but still nothing special. Also watch for a cameo by the Shin Getter Robo vs. Neo Getter Robo OVA and a Titanic parody in a movie theater visit in one episode. Oddly, the artistic merits take a dramatic nose dive for the OVA episode, with character designs being cruder and frequently having problems staying on-model; consider the Art grade to be a whole letter grade lower for that episode.
The musical score is a mix of synthesized numbers and gentler piano numbers. Though weak early on, it does gradually improve and more consistently offers pleasing support to the dramatic moments late in the series. The synth-driven, upbeat opener “Shooting Star” by KOTOKO is a decent but also fairly generic song most notable for the way the prologues smoothly segue into it. Closer “Sora no Mori De” by Mami Kawada is a softer, more melodic number which is a nice song but seems a little too gentle in tone for the series.
Bang Zoom! Entertainment's English dub is not one of their stronger efforts, even for the time period in which it was dubbed. The weakest point is unquestionably Julie Ann Taylor's laconic interpretation of Ichigo, which comes off as dully monotone, but several other voice actors sound a bit stiff at one point or another, as if straining to get the timing right on lines. On the plus side, Sandy Fox is absolutely dead-on to the original Japanese performance of Mizuho's sister Maho in terms of pitch and delivery style (for better or worse) and the English script sticks pretty close to the subtitles. Interestingly, the voice actress for Kaede was changed for the last three episodes, although this has little impact since she has few lines through those episodes.
Considered as a rerelease, this new offering is entirely for those who are being newly-exposed to the series or never got around to picking it up back in the day. Considered on its content, it is a mildly entertaining series with occasional strong points and some storytelling aspects which offer a different feel than most current romantic fare.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C+
Animation : B-
Art : B-
Music : C+
+ Has some story elements that are atypical compared to current fare, value-priced rerelease.
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