Reviewby Theron Martin,
DVD - Complete Collection
Three sisters with unusual abilities and their maid live in a large house perpetually decorated for Christmas and sporting a Christmas wares shop, but the house and its occupants have a curious habit of periodically displacing in space and time. Ai, the oldest and flightiest of the trio, can communicate with flowers; Mai, the high school-aged tomboy, can fly; and Mii, the young magical girl enthusiast, can use her “magic” to heal people. All are served and protected by Mea as they journey across space and time talking to “popotan” (a play on the Japanese word for dandelions) to try to gather clues towards their quest to find a certain person. Along the way each of the sisters makes many new friends, but as they eventually learn, making such friends and then suddenly leaving them behind when their house moves on can have lingering consequences. Eventually one tires of their journey and all have problems with a man named Keith, who seems to know an awful lot about them, but once they reach their goal the answers they find there are less than satisfactory. Is there a way for all of the sisters to live happily ever after?
Why would Sentai Filmworks bother to “license rescue” this onetime Geneon title? The answer comes early and often: plentiful fan service. Only one episode passes without finding some excuse to show the sisters, Mea, and/or their female friends in the buff and with full nipplage showing; most commonly this happens in bath or hot springs scenes, although see-through nighties or simply walking around with inadequate clothing also have their turns. Producer SHAFT was even kind enough to stock the series with a wide enough variety of bust types to suit all tastes: Ai is the busty one, Mai and Mea are the self-consciously modest-sized ones (though despite all the flat-chested jokes, they do actually have figures), and Mii is the lolicon bait, with other female characters running the gamut in between. Undergarment shots, breast-size jokes, and groping abound, and one implied sex scene is even thrown in for good measure. Heavy fan service is always a proven seller, and Sentai doubtless found this one to be a bargain since they did not have to do any production on it beyond the disk menus and packaging, so in cases like this the quality of the content does not really matter much. . .
. . .Unless you have to review it or have no interest in the oodles of fan service, of course. Then the lack of quality matters.
The first few episodes are, in a word, awful. The name of the series is the sisters' playful corruption of the Japanese name for dandelions (“tanpopo”), which for reasons inexplicable to Western viewers get the feature treatment in this series; dandelions are more commonly regarded as a weed than a flower of any esteem here in the States, so the series' fascination with them will doubtless leave many American viewers (especially those whose home life involves yard maintenance) scratching their heads. Nothing else in the first few episodes makes much sense, either. Where the sisters get their powers, why they are on their journey in the first place, why they possess certain other traits, who the mysterious woman that they seek actually is, what that space station-like thing which appears in the sky every time the house move actually is – none of this is explained early on or in any of the later episodes. Even the fact that the sisters are actually on a journey and looking for a certain someone is not immediately apparent. The writing tries to force in some slightly deeper content involving the way the sisters' presence inspires some people they meet for the better, and does have an occasional funny moment with the magical girl stuff, but most of the early content is lamely-written and poorly-executed. The supposedly cute bits at the end of each episode where pet ferret Unagi turns into a girl to do the Next Episode lines do not help.
Surprisingly, though, the series eventually draws itself up from the dregs where it started. The first signs of this come at the end of episode 5 when one of the sisters accidentally gets left behind, an occurrence which allows the series, for the first time, to show that there is more going on here than is initially apparent. The resolution of that mini-arc leaves lingering questions which get dealt with again as the second disk of episodes begins and the consequences of the sisters' past actions start appearing. A shoddy episode involving a Shinto shrine and young shrine maiden getting the Christmas treatment almost dumps the series back on the rubbish heap again, but it recovers itself enough to carry through an actual plot in the late episodes. The writing still has its problems at that point, as it forces through some developments a bit too quickly and shallowly, but the last two episodes delve well enough into the dynamics between the sisters and concerning their journey that they are actually watchable, even solid. As bad as the series is at the start, it is distinctly better at the end.
The normally bland and innocuous musical score also hits full stride in the final episode or two, transitioning from an afterthought to a surprisingly effective support for the lightly emotional content. The catchy opener and less remarkable closer remain constant throughout. The artistry is more consistent, producing a solidly mediocre look which emphasizes the fan service and skimps on background/setting refinement. The girls all have fairly typical based-on-a-bishojo-game looks, complete with fanciful outfits and slick renderings that are not sufficient to completely avoid a “generic” label. The animation is even less impressive.
Also failing to impress is the Ocean Group-produced English dub. Most of the principal English cast members also did key roles in the dub for Galaxy Angel but generally did a far better job there. Some of the problem can probably be attributed to directing, as evidenced by several instances where voice actresses halt in mid-sentence to synch better with the lip flaps, but some of the main cast members also took a while to settle into the roles. Nicole Bouma's Mai is too loud and abrasive early on, while Nicole Oliver's Ai goes overboard to the opposite extreme. These and some other roles do improve as the series progresses, although Anna Cummer never sounds entirely comfortable as Mea. Male performances in the supporting roles are generally stronger, but overall the dub is on the weak side.
Sentai Filmworks is releasing this title on a pair of disks included in a normal-size DVD case. The only noteworthy Extras are the clean opener and close on the first disk.
Ultimately Popotan is one of the many anime titles which relies on its fan service like a crutch. In this case all of the nudity may help the series limp through its weaker parts and hold viewer interest until it reaches the stronger ones. If frequent nudity is not your thing, though, then look elsewhere.
Note: The ratings below reflect more an average of widely-varying quality than a consistent representation of quality.
Overall (dub) : C-
Overall (sub) : C
Story : C
Animation : C
Art : B-
Music : B
+ Solid later episodes, lots of nudity.
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