Tuesday, June 22 2004

Anime Endings: Happy Lesson

First, an annoyance. The main character’s first name is Chitose, chi-toe-say. In the dub (and the previews that appear on other DVDs), this becomes Cheetos. Everyone calls him this, even the shy class president who has a crush on him and wouldn’t dream of calling him by his first name. Other than that, the dub isn’t wretched, but it’s not very good, either, and as usual you should leave the dialog in Japanese with subtitles.

Second, a clarification. The Happy Lesson manga is proceeding more slowly than the anime, and in a slightly different direction (even the main character’s name is different, but it’s still not Cheetos), but it was the first thing to come out in English. They released the TV series next, and just recently the first three OVA episodes, but I think the latter should be watched first, since they introduce two characters who aren’t in the manga and just show up out of the blue in the TV series. The first episode of the TV series is an alternate edit of the OVA opener, but the rest is different, and develops the cast a lot more.

Third, it doesn’t really end, because they made a second season (as yet not officially licensed for US release).

With all that out of the way, what’s it like? Well, imagine a typical harem comedy where beautiful women move into a house with a hapless teenage boy and compete for his affections. Got that in your head? Okay, now throw out the romance angle, and replace it with motherly affection. And make the five sexy roommate-mothers his schoolteachers. Add in a shy-but-stacked classmate as the real love interest, two old friends from the orphanage Our Hero lived in until recently, and (eventually) a socially-phobic mad scientist, and, as they say, “wackiness ensues”.

Yes, that’s nine females fussing over poor Chitose, but their looks and personalities are distinct and interesting, and all of them get at least a little bit of character development. Another sharp departure from the harem anime tradition is the relative lack of fan-service; the women are lushly drawn, but outside of the bath, their clothes stay on, their skirts stay down, their breasts remain ungroped, and the boys aren’t popping nosebleeds all over the place in response to a quick flash.

The plot, such as it is, that ties things together is the lovestruck classmate’s attempts to both discover what Chitose is hiding about his home life and to reveal her feelings to him. It builds up nicely as the series progresses, and ends with major achievements toward both goals, which, unfortunately, are abruptly reversed in the final scene. I had that “Bobby Ewing steps out of the shower” feeling as the writers hit reset and prepared for the next season.

It’s light and fluffy, but well done, and a refreshing take on the harem clichés. I’ll definitely pick up any additional releases in this series. But I’m kinda pissed about that last scene.