A brand new legend of Nuku-Nuku is unfolding. This time it's super hard-core!
I wasn't planning to buy the new OAV series, since I didn't care for the TV series and the OAV series has the same staff. However, from the TV commercials, the OAV series seemed to be an improvement, with a somewhat more serious story without all the pointless TV gags. When I saw the first LD for sale used, I decided to get it. The first LD comes in a box to hold all three LDs in the series, and the LDs have gatefold cases (there's only one disc, though). I was quite surprised to see that the back of the LD sleeve has text in German, English, and Japanese to introduce the series. All of the quotes (indented paragraphs with blue text) on this page are copied from the LD.
It's in the not too distant future. One day Nuku-Nuku dropped in and began to live with the Natsume family. Having lost her memory, Nuku-Nuku assumed the identity of a beautiful girl named Atsuko Higuchi. She was so beautiful and gentle, and besides, she was such a great cook that Ryunosuke, 14, was all smiles. However, after her arrival in town, a series of mysterious incidents started to happen in Maneki City - Experimental machines running haywire, roaring fighter aircraft flying low, mass destruction in the city. In every case, a mysterious girl was spotted at the scene of the incident.
The new OAV series consists of 12 episodes, being sold on three LDs and videos. This makes the series somewhat of a bargain, since you get 95 minutes on each LD for only 6,600 yen. The first LD also comes with a limited-edition box, though unlike the TV series the box does not have art by Yuzo Takada. As you can see from the paragraph above, this OAV series is a departure from the established storyline. However, many of the well-known Banneko elements are still present, at least superficially. Most of the characters from the TV show are returning, although some changes have been made to the minor characters. You should also notice that Nuku-Nuku has a new last name.
Nuku-Nuku is a very popular cat/human character, who has established her fame in OVA and on TV as an almighty android-robot. This is a brand new presentation of Nuku-Nuku, and it's the third time that Nuku-Nuku has undergone a major transformation as an animation character. The colors of her hair and eyes have changed completely. She also has grown up a little from the high school girl she used to be, and is now a young woman of 19. Accordingly, Ryunosuke is now 14 and is an impressive junior high school student, who will soon have a crush on her. The subtle emotional twists between Nuku-Nuku and Ryunosuke will be portrayed in much detail in the new series, like you've never seen before. The story develops around the main theme of a boy's first love affair. It's somewhat embarrassing to watch, but we all remember those good, old days. The new series builds on and extends the same serious cultural orientation as the preceding series toward the relationship between a human being and a robot as well as the concept of diversity and co-existence. All these expressions are downright straightforward.
When I first heard about the romantic element of the story, I thought, "No, they couldn't, they wouldn't!" Surprisingly, this turned out to be the best part of the whole series. I think the different character designs help to distinguish this series from the previous ones, so it doesn't seem weird for Ryunosuke to have a crush on Nuku-Nuku. This is also the only part of the story where the humor actually works. Luckily, almost all of the pointless gags of the TV series have disappeared. However, the style of humor from the original OAVs is absent as well. My biggest complaint about the new Nuku Nuku is that she seems to have lost her over-eager clumsiness. Now she is just sweet and naive, very similar to Kasumi in Ranma 1/2 or Belldandy in Ah! My Goddess. Her clueless cat-like behavior shows up on occasion, but Ryunosuke is the main source of humor. (By the way, I hope you realize that "diversity and co-existence" talk above is just silliness.)
Maneki City, an experimental urban community, sets the scene for the entirely new episodes of Nuku-Nuku. The exciting plot unfolds as a pursuit for a runaway military fighter android-robot gets under way. Each episode is packed with fast action and flashy visual effects, and Nuku-Nuku's fashion, which changes every time she shows up, is really something to watch.
The action part of the storyline isn't all that impressive. Some of
it doesn't seem to make that much sense, and switching between the
romance story and action story is somewhat awkward. Also, for an OAV
series the animation quality isn't that great. It's about the same as
the TV series: high-budget but not outstanding. Even Nuku-Nuku's new
transformation scene is rather lame. They do include the standard OAV
bathing scenes, though. At least office ladies Arisa and Kyoko show up
in episode 4 to provide some entertainment. My favorite bit of dialogue
(after they receive orders to go after Nuku-Nuku):
Kyoko: Aye-aye, sir!
That should tell you something about the high quality of the humor in the OAVs.
(I get the impression that the name Maneki City comes from Maneki Neko, the good-luck cat statues with one paw raised you see in stores. The high school in the TV series was named Manekigaoka Gakuen.)
The new series is directed by Yoshitaka Fujimoto ("VS Knight Lumune & 40 Fire" and "Cyber Team in Akihabara"). Plots for the series are composed by Hiroshi Yamaguchi ("Neon Genesis Evangelion" and "Cyber Team in Akihabara"). Characters are designed by Seiji Kishimoto ("Minky Momo" and "VS Knight Lumune & 40 Fire"). The all-star production team from the hit TV series is here again to work on this new project.
I reviled "Cyber Team in Akihabara" almost as much as the Nuku-Nuku TV series, so this is hardly an "all-star production team" in my opinion. Rather, they seem to be willing to churn out anime without regard for artistic integrity, as long as it generates soundtrack sales for producer and distributor King Records/Starchild. Case in point, the DASH! opening theme by Megumi Hayashibara reached the top ten on the Japanese singles chart. While scriptwriter Yamaguchi seems to have some good ideas, it apparently takes a superb director like Evangelion's Hideaki Anno to translate them into quality anime. Director Fujimoto is in my opinion one of the worst directors working today, but unlike his other shows that I've seen, the direction in DASH! is only mildly annoying. Also, the later episodes seemed to show some improvement, with some of Nuku-Nuku's cat-like behavior returning, so that may be a good sign for the rest of the series.
It's got everything needed for a successful animation series-science fiction content, pretty cat/human figures, beautiful girls, love story, lots of mysteries, and the meaning of life. With these elements combined, the ultimate Almighty Cat Woman Nuku-Nuku series is here at last.
This staff seems determined to answer a question that nobody seems to have asked: what if Nuku-Nuku were different? Most people like the old character just fine. While the DASH! OAVs are a vast improvement over the TV series, they still cannot touch the originality and genuine humor of the original Banneko OAVs. The new romance element adds an entertaining twist, but Fujimoto's lackluster direction is unable to combine the disparate plot elements (romance, comedy, action, drama) into a cohesive story. If you enjoy light romantic comedies, then you might want to check this series out. I personally found it enjoyable enough that I plan to buy the rest of the series. However, if you are a fan of the original Nuku-Nuku OAVs and you are looking for more of the same, the DASH! OAVs are likely to disappoint you.
I finally watched the second LD, and my thoughts on the series haven't changed. As I hoped, some of the annoying parts from the first LD disappeared, and there was only one instance of really bad directing. There was also only one time when I burst out laughing, too. These middle episodes seem to be sort of filler between the introduction and conclusion of the storyline. There was not much humor, plot development, or surprises. The four episodes are entertaining but certainly not groundbreaking. At least these episodes blend the romance and action elements of the plot better than the first four. The LD is worth having if you like the first four episodes, I suppose, but I'm hoping that there's something better in store for the series finale.
One thing I just noticed about Ryunosuke while watching the new anime. As is true for many young boy anime characters, Ryunosuke's voice is by a woman, Kazue Ikura. (She is also the voice actress for Kaori in City Hunter, among other roles.) This was fine when he was a little boy, but now that he's 14, he doesn't sound that masculine. I guess his voice hasn't changed yet.
The third and final volume has now been released, containing the last four episodes of the OAV series. The staff really outdid themselves this time; I was really impressed. There's still nothing groundbreaking about the series, but it is quality anime all the same. For me, a satisfying ending is an essential element of any good anime series, and DASH! did not leave me disappointed.
As with the previous two volumes, the Mode-3 release is available on a single CLV laserdisc in a gatefold sleeve, and I think this release has the best cover art of the three (though the picture on the limited edition box that came with Mode-1 is also nice). Extras on this particular release are no-credit versions of the opening and ending themes and a few television advertisements for the OAVs. There is also a mail-in card to receive a present (mobile phone strap and "Print Club" stickers) if you bought all three OAV releases, for those in Japan only I'm sure.
I was a bit nervous when the giant robots showed up in episode 9. However, the staff wisely avoided the cheap gags so that there was even some drama to the episode. It was a far cry from the cheesy transforming washing machines of the TV series. All four of the episodes had a very sober tone, and director Yoshitaka Fujimoto seems able to handle this style much better than comedy. All of the disparate plot elements -- the battles with Mishima's robots, the romance with Ryunosuke, and Nuku-Nuku's forgotten past -- were all pulled together for a surprisingly cohesive finale. I can't comment very much on the plot since I didn't understand all the details, but it seems to have a bit of depth. The fact that I actually have to be careful not to reveal spoilers here proves that there is some substance.
Of course, there were still some problems. For an OAV series, the animation quality wasn't all that impressive, though it is certainly better than a lot of TV shows. (I noticed some weird artifacts during blue backgrounds, but I'm not sure if it was due to the source or the laserdisc encoding.) The music is also lackluster with the exception of the groovy opening theme. While I agree with the decision to keep things serious, I missed the humor of the earlier episodes, though Arisa did provide some comic relief.
Overall, I was impressed, and I'm glad to know the money I spent on the laserdiscs was not wasted. While the DASH! series isn't in the same league as shows like Cowboy Bebop, not many shows are. It provides some entertaining action and romance and manages to tie it all together with an intriguing and dramatic storyline. This is not the same Bannou Bunka Neko Musume series that made Nuku-Nuku a favorite character of anime fans. However, those willing to accept a different interpretation of the Nuku-Nuku story should check out DASH!.
In my review of the first laserdisc, I said the staff seemed determined to answer a question that nobody had asked. It now seems as if that question was, "What if the original action-comedy story was remade as a romantic drama?" Surprisingly, the answer is worth finding out.
All screen captures on this page come from the OAV opening credits, grabbed off LD using a Snappy (thanks Fred). The Snappy was giving my trouble, though, so I only have a few pictures so far. The LD covers were taken from the Starchild web site.Bannou Bunka Neko Musume DASH! is Copyright © Yuzo Takada / Banneko DASH! Production Committee