A few questions for the director of Occult Academy, Silver Spoon and of course, the smash hit series Sword Art Online.
Reviewby Theron Martin, Sep 10th 2005
DVD 1: Rocket to Stardom!
Himawari Nastsuma is a construction worker by day, singer of Japanese classics by night. Ayame Akimo is a ditsy folk singer surrounded by fairies only she can see. Yuri Fuyude is a rock singer too hard-edged for her own good. Sakura Haruno is a former child star relegated to making money by selling her undergarments on the Internet. Individually they have had little recent success, but they have been brought together by “Genius Manager” Michael Hanagata to form the all-girl band Mix Juice, which will do anything to attain success. That even includes allowing themselves to be shot off into space to have the first concert on the moon. . .
Into the picture steps Dr. Susumo Tsukumo, a billionaire boy genius scientist dedicated to devising creative ways to launch people to the moon without having to rely on conventional polluting methods of propulsion. With the assistance of Kiku #8, an artificial satellite who looks strikingly like a cute girl, he develops creative ways to propel her and/or Mix Juice, his new test subjects, into space. Will this be the big break the girls (and their manager) are looking for? Or is it just another disaster in the making?
Wandaba Style is a free-wheeling, fun-loving series so audacious that it's nearly impossible to watch it without your jaw dropping at some point. Its first volume (mostly) works as comedic entertainment because it stays utterly dedicated to its stupefying wackiness and avoids beating jokes to death. Take it seriously for even a moment, or give even an ounce of consideration as to how ridiculously improbable many of the situations in this first volume are, and it will lose its entertainment value. Stylistically it resembles Puni Puni Poemi quite a bit, though it also heavily pays homage to the popular British series Thunderbirds and borrows from the classic console game Super Mario World at one point. “Depth” and “character development” are not words that could be associated with the series so far, but at least its characters are all distinct, likable, and full of entertaining quirks as they muddle their way through one silly situation after another. One of them is even a single-wheeled talking scooter with a stuck-up tone, named Ichirin (which literally translates as “one wheel”) of course!
The artistic styling resembles Excel Saga and Puni Puni Poemi even though a different company (Wonder Farm) and different designers were used in the production. The design for the manager is clearly a take-off of Nabeshin from those two titles; many of the others bear distinct resemblances to characters taken from a host of other titles. Designs for the girls are generally cutesy and appealing, though in this volume they do not appear in the costumes shown on the cover and in the opener. No actual frontal nudity appears in the volume, and indeed the series' efforts to keeps its characters adequately covered up at times becomes a running joke, but the first four episodes are still liberally sprinkled with fan service. Colors are generally very bright and background art is only as well-defined as it needs to be, while the animation heavily uses gimmicks and short cuts. Overall these are nowhere near top-quality visuals, but a series like this doesn't need to be in top artistic form to be effective.
The opening theme, “The IJIN-DEN Tensai no Housuku” (The Legend of a Great Man, The Law of a Genius) sung by Mix Juice (i.e. the seiyuu for the main female characters), might remind some viewers of the B-52s with its retro ‘50s/’60s dance flair. It is so catchy that it will ring in a viewer's head long after the series has been set aside. The closing theme, which is set to concept art pictures of Mix Juice, is similarly styled but not quite as memorable. The soundtrack in between is a light-hearted mix which ably supports the campy, fun-loving spirit of the show, especially the “Wandaba” chants whenever Dr. Susumo is preparing for a launch, and the song sung by Mix Juice in one episode is a pleasing pop number.
Comedy series normally have to be allowed quite a bit of leeway in translation because some things which sound funny in Japanese instead sound awkward in English, but the script in this one remains surprisingly close to the subtitles. Only one sequence in the second episode, where the girls and their manager get into a rhyming scheme, is significantly different, and a song in a later episode isn't translated at all. This is probably at least partly because Wandaba Style, unlike series like Excel Saga or Puni Puni Poemi, does not use puns as a significant component in its humor. The dub itself works only because ADV Films did it. This is less a testament to their quality control or production ability than it is an acknowledgement that ADV is the only American company I can think of with a stable of voice actresses appropriate for filling the key roles. Monica Rial, Kira Vincent Davis, Nancy Novotny, and Lucy Christian are all ideally-suited to the temperaments of the Mix Juice members, while Hilary Haag is an excellent fit for Kiku #8 and Jason Douglas is dead-on as the manager. While Dr. Susumo was voice by a male seiyuu in Japanese, Tiffany Grant turns in a nearly unrecognizable but still capable performance in that role. Collectively the performances capture the exuberance of the series, which makes the dub a delight to listen to. This was the first ADR directing job for longtime English VA John Swasey (who also voices a couple of minor roles), but he handled it well.
Because the American release is produced by ADV, it contains all the extras one has recently come to expect from them: company previews, clean opener/closer, production sketches, and ADR Outtakes. In this case the latter are all playful alternate dialogue bits rather than accidental screw-ups, and most of them are pretty funny. Also included is Wandaba Factoids, a narrated commentary on some facts in the series which contribute to jokes but may not be familiar to American viewers, such as how archaic the measurements used by Dr. Susumo are. Rounding out the extras is an audio commentary for the first episode featuring Swasey, Douglas, Grant, and Christian, which has enough informational and entertainment value, and flows smoothly enough, to be one of the better recent examples of such features.
Wandaba Style is not a series which should be looked to for any informative content about space or the music business (or anything else, for that matter), nor should any hidden meaning or agenda be looked for in it. It is a series which must be accepted at face value, but those that can do so will find a fun and reasonably entertaining diversion. Not everything about the series works, but enough does click for the first volume to be worth a look if you're seeking mindless entertainment.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B-
Animation : C+
Art : B-
Music : B
+ catchy opening theme, silly fun
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