Popotan vol. 1
Mike Toole rates it:
Popotan is very pretty and brightly colored. It's shiny and cute. It boasts reasonably nice animation and memorable character designs by Akio Watanabe, who also did such fine work on Nurse Witch Komugi. Unfortunately, there's a pretty short limit to the amount of quality you can reasonably fit into a series like Popotan, because it was created specifically to sell DVDs, tiny figurines, and other merchandise to introverted adult men. It's a seiyuu vehicle with origins in a pornographic PC game. Yep, Popotan is that kind of show.
Popotan is about three girls, Ai, Mai, and Mii, and their magical Christmas-themed house and attached shop. Wait, make that four girls, because they've got a pallid, dour, possibly robotic maid named Mea, and in stuff like Popotan, that counts as a girl. Anyway, these girls, who can most easily be distinguished by cup size, travel the countryside of Japan in their house, which seems to be able to teleport from place to place like the TARDIS from Dr. Who. The show is about the quartet and their unusual encounters with a variety of regular Japanese people.
Ai, Mai, and Mii have some sort of crazy magical powers that allow them to communicate with dandelions (the title, Popotan, is a play on the Japanese word for the flower, tanpopo) and cure AIDS. I am totally serious. Over the course of this first DVD, the three ladies and their maid get to deal with a curious schoolboy, a friendly schoolmate of Mai, a sick little girl, and a ghost. It's a simple and sometimes insultingly stupid show that's really all about cute, one-dimensional characters and copious amounts of nudity.
Ah yes, nudity. "Why do we all have to bathe at the same time?" Mai irritably asks in one episode. The obvious answer is that they all bathe together to simultaneously satisfy as many of the audience's fetishes as possible. After all, why settle for ogling Ai, a voloptuous big-sister type, when you can also have the athletic Mai, slender Mea... oh, and let's not forget Mii, the ten-year-old!
More than anything else, Mii encapsulates just what's wrong with Popotan. She can simply be referred to as a Lolita, a la Nabokov's famous story. She's a character carefully engineered to appeal to Japanese (and, indeed, western) fans with a 'lolicon'-- a Lolita complex. She flounces around chattering in baby-talk (thanks once again to the frightening pipes of Haruko Momoi), dresses as a magical girl for no particular reason, and while there's nothing overtly sexual about the bath scenes, the mere fact that she appears in them in such detail give the show an almost unbearable air of prurience. It's not inherently creepy, necessarily, but the target audience makes it creepy.
I haven't even touched on the mascot character, a ferret named Unagi. During the episodes, the thing does little but spit out cute-sounding variations on 'Una!' Its true horror is revealed during the next episode trailers, when it turns into a terrifying, ill-dressed little girl. In a sequence thar recycles the exact same animation every episode, Ayako Kawasumi turns in a hideous, shrieking, embarrassing performance as the character.
Visually it's a pretty show, and it's not without potential, but overall Popotan is frustratingly dopey and indulgent. The story meanders along mostly just to string the various bath scenes and wacky hijinks together-- the only genuinely interesting plot point is an entirely too brief depiction of abandoned rural Japanese villages, a genuinely interesting segment that's far too brief. The characters keep bursting out laughing like they're in a goddamn Mentos commercial and not a crummy cartoon. More than perhaps any other show I've seen, Popotan illustrates the problem with building a series around almost nothing but fanservice-- it makes for great eye candy, but that doesn't add up to quality entertainment. Even with problems of its own, Mahoromatic is a lot more clever than this series.
The best thing I can say about Popotan is that it left me no choice but to get creative when thinking about the plot. Since the ladies are constantly on the movie, I'm figuring that their Christmas tree shop is a failure and they're on the lam, fleeing from angry creditors. Mii speaks largely in onomatopoeia not because she's being cute, but because she has brain damage. Mea likes to pig out on junk food when the others are out not because this casts her otherwise sour personality in an amusing light, but because hey, she's bulimic! There's only one problem: I have to make shit like this up, because the show just won't go there. It's too timid and vapid.
Added: Wednesday, December 29, 2004
Related Link: Geneon Anime