by Theron Martin,

The Wallflower

DVD 1 - Lesson 1: My Fair Bishonen

The Wallflower DVD 1
Blowhard Ranmaru, money and food-obsessed Kyohei, ladies' man Takenaga, and girly Yukinojoh are four indescribably handsome teenage guys who find themselves in an interesting predicament: their landlord has agreed to eliminate their rent if they will turn her niece Sunako, who is coming to live with them, into a “proper lady” – but if they fail, their rent triples. Naturally the guys accept the challenge, but they soon find themselves in over their heads when the exceedingly weird, creepy, and antisocial Sunako appears and makes it clear that she would rather hang out with her macabre room dressings than have anything to do with the “Creatures of Light” (as she describes the guys). Sunako, it seems, has a serious complex about being ugly which has caused her to withdraw to the Dark Side and variably appear scary or beautiful while alternately acting as a recluse or sociopath, behavior which complicates matters at school, during a school festival, and at a photo shoot in a supposedly haunted house. The guys, meanwhile, struggle to find a way to bring out Sunako's good side, even occasionally at personal risk.

Manga-ka Tomoko Hayakawa's kooky take on standard shojo “reverse harem” story structures storms onto the small screen and demands your attention, thanks in large part to a snappy adaptation by noted anime director Shinichi Watanabe. The same man who guided all the wackiness in projects like Excel Saga, Puni Puni Poemy, and Nerima Daikon Brothers exercises his comic touch to the fullest here, crafting a gloriously ridiculous anime version that, in any fair evaluation, surpasses its source material. Not only does it fully capture the essence, tone, and style of the original manga, but by animating the characters and events and giving voice to them it enlivens and energizes the production to a degree that the printed version could never achieve. It may get carried away at times, but even in its most extreme moments the first volume proves to be an unexpectedly fun view.

A big part of the success can be attributed to a neat twist on a standard central concept. In this gross variation on the “turning an ugly ducking into a swan,” the duckling in question has not only taken a rather extreme reaction to dealing with rejection, but has a rather odd world view and a capacity to occasionally show a beautiful look out of a normally drab appearance, one which she does not, apparently, accept that she has. Her antics alone could almost carry the show – one scene in episode one involving her chopping up a fish is priceless, as are her scenes in the host club in episode four – but no good anime comedy would depend on a single character to carry the weight, so she has been surrounded by numerous extreme, one-note characters who generally exist only to exploit one joke theme or another. The cookie-cutter guys have their moments, too, especially in the way girls and women go utterly ga-ga over them, but the show is nothing without Sunako.

For all of their raucous fun, comical exaggeration, and over-the-top antics, though, the first five episodes do occasionally strike serious notes, ones which, even more surprisingly, actually fit in amongst the humor without feeling incongruous. At heart Sunako is a seriously insecure girl who has let one disastrous experience with a boy shape her whole persona and world view, and every so often the depth of that psychosis, and the efforts of some of the guys and classmate Noi to try to get her to cope with it, show through with startling sincerity. The moments never last for long, but are impossible to overlook and avoid the cutesy approach you might normally expect.

Nippon animation has retained the basic designs of the original manga while significantly improving on the quality of their renderings, producing character designs and costuming still rich in distinctive shojo styles without being overkill. Most importantly, they have duplicated the full range of Sunako's variable appearance, albeit with muted Goth overtones in her “beautiful” moments. For those not familiar with the manga, that means that most of the time Sunako appears in a chibi or heavily modified visual form, with only occasional glimpses of her true pretty face. Other characters also often get reduced to chibi appearances, and vague outlines used for crowd shots are not uncommon. Vivid coloring, good background art, lots of visual gimmicks, and solid animation all contribute to a look which may not be the greatest but nonetheless precisely hits the mark for what the series wants to do in a given scene.

The musical score has as much fun as the content does. Heavy rock themes mix with chamber music, jazzy beats, and more eerie/ominous numbers to form the staple, with the sound nimbly switching to adapt to the current scene. Each episode opens and closes with rock themes by singer/composer Kiyoharu, although the graphics for the opener are not the same ones used for the broadcast version of the opener (which is included as an Extra).

Whatever one might say about the way ADV does dubs, they have never been deficient when it comes to hamming it up, and here they make the most of a golden opportunity. Chris Patton, Greg Ayres, Vic Mignogna, and the less-well-known Josh Grelle tackle the roles of the guys with great gusto, as does everyone else in the cast, especially Jessica Boone as Noi. Newcomer Hannah Alcorn (this and Magikano are her first significant roles) holds her own as Sunako, giving her a slightly raspy voice which smoothly captures Sunako's various moods. While not terribly tight, the English script should generate no significant complaints, with the level of vulgarity varying slightly in both directions in between scripts and explanations for some exclusively Japanese terms occasionally worked in; “takiyoki” is alternately referred to by its proper name and as “octopus balls,” for instance, in a clever compromise with avoiding on-screen or translator notes.

Aside from the aforementioned original broadcast opener, Extras are limited to mundane entries like clean opener and closer.

The big question that lingers at the end of the volume is whether or not the series can maintain its initial strong push. The original manga was very up and down on its entertainment value, and this kind of hyper-overreacting can quickly wear thin if the creators aren't careful. The writing, so far, has minimized its reliance on rehashing the same tired old territory (although the cross-dressing jokes do get old by the second time around), but can it keep that up? For now, though, just sit back and enjoy the show.

Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B+

+ Lots of entertainment value, amusing concept, never dull.
Some jokes and behaviors may soon wear thin, if they haven't already.

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Production Info:
Director: Shinichi Watanabe
Series Composition: Haruka
Screenplay: Haruka
Episode Director:
Mamoru Enomoto
Naoto Hashimoto
Hideki Hiroshima
Yuuji Kanzaki
Makoto Tamagawa
Tomio Yamauchi
Hiromi Mizutani
Yasuharu Takanashi
Original creator: Tomoko Hayakawa
Character Design: Yasuko Sakuma
Art Director: Yumi Kudou
Chief Animation Director: Yasuko Sakuma
Animation Director: Yasuko Sakuma
Mechanical design: Tetsuro Aoki
Sound Director: Hiroyuki Hayase
Director of Photography: Jun'Ichi Takeda
Shinsaku Hatta
Jun Togawa
Takashi Watanabe

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Wallflower (TV)

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The Wallflower - Lesson 1: My Fair Bishonen (DVD 1)

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