New Cutey Honey
Jason Carter rates it:
Sometimes you wonder what anime you might have missed in years gone by - what old classics might have just escaped your notice before you entered fandom in a serious way. Well, ADV has come out with this line of DVDs they call "Essential Anime." Translated into English, this means either "Stuff that's too old to sell anymore at normal rates" or perhaps "Stuff that was never that good to begin with but which we can probably dump off on the unsuspecting by packaging it right and cutting the price." New Cutey Honey, an 8 episode OAV based on an old Go Nagai creation of legendary - uhm - proportions is one of the titles they are out to squeeze the last drop from.
And they squeeze very well; I admit that I nearly bought this the day before it was offered to me for review. I'd had a good experience with Devil Lady, another Nagai story based around an impressively built woman fighting monsters; might this not be worth taking a chance on? It was only $20 and featured two discs with a total of 4 hours of material; unless it was abysmal, I probably couldn't go wrong. Well, let me tell you, I am grateful I decided to save my money that evening. New Cutey Honey is well below par. The characters are largely annoying, the plot is hackneyed, the nudity is absurd, the fighting is rarely more than average, and the whole thing is ultimately pointless - as the series' later attempts at developing Honey as a person make all too clear.
This incarnation of Honey (there have been several) finds us in a place called Cosplay City. Ha ha ha. Anyhow, Cosplay City is governed by the most incorruptible and noble municipal civil servant the Earth has yet seen, Mayor Light. Yes, that's his name; I guess "Goodman" was too obvious. Mayor Light, being the leader of high principle that he is, has determined to clean up the crime wave that infests his city. Since this is anime, the crime is carried out by outlandish thugs who look like refugees from Mad Max crossbred with gangsters from M. D. Geist. These people have no respect for anyone, but the city's aspiring evil overlord, Dolmeck, is even worse. Dolmeck isn't afraid of Mayor Light, a point he proves by walking into the middle of the Mayor's press conference and basically telling him to stuff it.
This is a problem for several people, including Chokkei, the earnest young boy who serves as the avatar for the adolescent Japanese males this was marketed to. Chokkei hero-worships Mayor Light, largely because he sees him as a beacon of morality in a corrupt society. This also has personal meaning for him; his parents are professional thieves. Chokkei needs someone to look up to, and it is intolerable for him to see the Mayor threatened. Worse yet, his friend Honey Kisaragi, the Mayor's secretary, is at the podium with him when the baddies show up to play. All might have been lost if not for the timely intervention of Chokkei's granpa, an appallingly ugly old man who happens to be cyborged eight ways to Sunday. Most of grandfather's metal has combat applications, and we get to watch an entertainingly exaggerated sequence of him wiping out the street thugs that have shown up to aid Dolmcek, after which the monster himself promises a future showdown to the Mayor and then walks off. People pick themselves up and try to piece things back together, while Chokkei helps grandfather unload himself at home. While there, he sees a huge faux-classical statue depicting a beautiful woman with a sword. Grandpa tells Chokkei that this is the legendary warrior woman who saved the city when he was Chokkei's age. Coincidentally, she looks a lot like Honey Kisaragi. Could it be that the young woman has an alter ego that needs to be stirred to life? They'd better find out soon; Dolmeck is on the move and plans nothing good.
At first I took this show to be some sort of extended joke. No, that's a lie. At first I took it to be something else that had been accidentally encoded on the DVD I was sent. This was, according to the keepcase I had read in the store, a story about a "legendary android warrior woman." And here were all these ugly, stupid people (except Honey, of course) and the uglier and stupider bikers and whatnot preying on them - I was sure it was a technical problem. Then I saw how grandpa opened up a couple of cybernetic limbs' worth of whoopass while screaming his family name in the middle of every elaborately titled attack, and I decided that it had to be a parody. And as a parody, it might have worked.
But New Cutey Honey isn't any of these things, at least not primarily. It's a sincere attempt at dramatic action, and that's why it fails. The eight episodes on these two discs encompass two story arcs, and nearly all of it is a chore to watch. This show makes attempt after attempt at serious action and botches it, largely due to the uninteresting nature of the battles (Honey verses some twisted moster, time and again, with no outstanding choreography). It also tries to make a serious moral point now and then, which is undermined by its entirely childish writing. We are meant to sympathize with Honey - lonely android warrior woman fighting against the forces of darkness - but the attempts at developing her character seem to require prior knowledge of the Cutey Honey canon and are too infrequent to make much of an impression anyway. And, of course, it is decked out with all the extended and lovingly detailed nude transformation sequences anyone could want - which don't make a show great, no matter how nice they may be by themselves. There's just not enough character depth and an involving plot here. And, as a crowning failure, the whole thing goes nowhere; the 8 episodes are not a complete story - they just grind to a halt.
Technically, this show is not so much badly executed as badly designed. You can tell where the money went (Honey's bust in those transformation shots); it's a shame they didn't balance the budget a little more and try to ensure that Chokkei and his folks don't look awful. And the backgrounds aren't that nice either. Much of Cosplay City goes back and forth between looking like an ordinary modern metropolis and resembling some sort of Smurf town built of polluted marshmallows: things are are alright when the buildings are far away and all grey and lumpen when the shot calls for them to be closer together. The only real bright spot in the show is the English performance of Jessica Calvello as Honey. I remember her most recently as the voice of Kei in the Original Dirty Pair DVDs, and she shines here. Apart from that, this show is about as lackluster as it gets. Oh, one of the extras involves some of the Japanese actors reciting answering machine prompts; if that's the sort of thing you like then do buy this, since you don't deserve to have the twenty dollars you'll expend on the purchase.
I'll cut to the chase: New Cutey Honey has no outstanding features apart from its very good English lead, and a talented voice is nowhere near enough to save a bad show. If you're some sort of Go Nagai nut, you'll buy this regardless of what I say. For the rest of you: some of the individual episodes aren't boring, but I don't see any reason recommend this title to you.
Added: Thursday, February 03, 2005
Related Link: ADV Films