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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Yoiko: Fuuka Likes to Keep Clean

Remember the 1996 American film Jack, starring Robin Williams? For those who don't, here's the basic premise: Williams played Jack, a boy who ages four times as fast as everyone else, so that when he joins public school for fifth grade at age 10 he looks like a 40-year-old man. It was an okay movie, but the premise was certainly interesting. Well, in 1998 mangaka Yugo Ishikawa created his first truly successful series, called Yoiko (which is one way of saying "Children" in Japanese), which is also about someone who ages faster than the usual human. It ran in Big Comic Spirits magazine and ended in 2001, lasting 15 volumes. It was apparently so popular that in November of 1998, not even a year after it debuted, Studio Pierrot and Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS for short) created a 20-episode TV anime series that ran until March of 1999. Though the basic premise of Yoiko is similar to that of Jack, it naturally delivers is a very different, and hilariously amusing, way.

Fifth grade student Fuuka Esumi is going through a change: Her mother is going away on a business trip for an unknown amount of time, so she is sent to Dotonbori, Osaka to live with her Aunt, Uncle, and cousin Jiro. Naturally, Fuuka has to transfer to Dotonbori Elementary and continue fifth grade over there. Like most children her age she just wants to live a happy life with her extended family and gain new friends with the move to Tonbori. There's just one "big" thing about Fuuka: Though she's only about 10 years old she has the body of a university student, and a fairly sexy woman, at that.

Yoiko is a comedic slice-of-life story, with the anime showing what Fuuka and her new friends do during their spring and summer in the fifth grade. The basic way to describe each episode gives off a very traditional feel of the show (going to the summer festival, a field trip to the aquarium, helping each other out with troubles, etc.), but it's actual execution of these episodes that give the show a very light-hearted yet honest feel. For example, in an early episode Fuuka reveals that the fifth grade desks are too small for her, so her classmates decide to make a new desk for her. A simple enough idea, sure, until you see that the kids end up creating a room-height fortress that only gives Fuuka a desk with wheels but also allows everyone to hide in it... This is probably one of the most over-the-top moments in the show, though, but it still gives off the feeling that while the characters' are very honestly portrayed the actual actions they do can go a bit on the silly side. The best thing about this show is that it knows how to pace itself. Though it's 20-episodes long each episode is only 12 minutes long, so no episode goes on for longer than it should and it's very possible to marathon the entire show in one day like I did. And this does work well with marathoning, as long as you don't try to watch it all in one sitting; pace yourself nicely like the show does and you'll do fine.

Considering how short this series ends up being, Yoiko plays it smart and features a small main cast. There's Fuuka herself, who knows that she's different from her friends but still wants to maintain a normal fifth-grader life; Miki Kashima, a girl who becomes Fuuka's best friend and comes from a dirt-poor family (complete with spotlight scenes that push how money-less she is, the poor thing!); Kenji Amimoto and Akira Ozeki, two boys who befriend Fuuka and help her out at all times (with Ozeki being the more lecherous of the two); Ms. Saeko Noguchi, the kids' teacher who becomes a friend to them herself; and Jiro, Fuuka's perverted cousin who wants nothing more than to watch porno and one day get a girlfriend. Each of them are enjoyable to watch and in the end all of them have their moments to shine. Jiro, for example, is shown to be very perverted (he has to fight not being aroused by Fuuka at times), but also has a true heart of gold and you want to hope that one day he does get a girlfriend and gets a truly happy life in the end.

Each episode follows a general pattern in how they're composed: Opening theme, scene of Fuuka showering, episode title, the episode itself, and finally a scene where Jiro attempts to watch a porno only to fail and complain to the "God of  Masturbation". Luckily, the show realizes that this can get boring and manages to not only change it up a few times (for example, in one episode Fuuka takes a bath instead and in another it's Ms. Noguchi who's showering) but also break the fourth wall and poke fun at itself. In one episode Fuuka tells Jiro that she knows of a date he has because that's what the narrators said a couple of minutes ago, while in another Jiro decides to not explain a word pun to Fuuka solely because it would be "going too far". Then there's the one story that takes up two episodes where the kids are lost on a mountain, yet the second episode of the story still starts off with Fuuka washing herself at a small waterfall, which prompts Ozeki to ask her what the hell she's doing. The anime is obviously having a fun time and that comes through really nicely in each episode.

Aside form the over-the-top moments and general comedy, though, Yoiko also goes into fanservice and dirty-minded jokes very often. Interestingly enough, this anime makes no attempt to hide bare breasts, outside of one odd moment in Episode 19, but that's partially because a good portion of the dirty jokes come from the fact that Fuuka has D-cup-sized breasts. Nosebleeds aren't rare in this show and it's obvious that this is all aiming for a slightly older audience. Yoiko's fanservice jokes aren't quite like how they are done in anime now, though. Yeah, they are sometimes similar in execution, but in Yoiko these moments just seem naturally executed, for the most part, while anime now just likes to throw them at viewers, hoping that they'll work. Of course, this doesn't apply to every anime that does fanservice jokes now, but it's just something that I happened to notice while this show.

The director here is Takahiro Omori, who would later be more familiar with anime fans with titles like the Hell Girl series, Baccano!, and Princess Jellyfish. None of the episodes are duds, which leads to each of them being well worth watching, though this isn't a show that has an actual ending due to how it works. The voice actors all do a good job here, with Ryoko Nagata (Eclair in Kiddy Girl, Mimiko Katsuragi in Black Blood Brothers) sounding very innocent and young for Fuuka, though there are a couple of moments where she has Fuuka sounding much more adult and those moments fit in well when used. Another voice actor worth bringing up is the legendary Nobuyuki Hiyama, who voices Jiro with all of the passion of a true pervert (he did voice Genshiken's Madarame, afterall) but also is able to show off Jiro's honest and sincere moments very well. The music was done by Yoshio J Maki, with this apparently being his only anime work, and though it's nothing truly memorable it fits in great and helps bring about the proper mood of each scene where music is used. The opening theme is "Akane Iro no Omoi" by Juliana Schano, and is an appropriate soft song about cherishing the happy memories you get in life. Considering how each episode is half the length of a normal anime episode it's understandable that there is no ending theme. Finally, for a neat piece of potential trivia, veteran voice actor Shigeru Chiba was actually the sound director for this anime, which is what Chiba does for a living when not acting. At the same time, though, it also says that he's done key animation for some anime, so who really knows in the end.

No DVD cover for this show, because it never received a DVD release in Japan.  Shame.

Yoiko is a funny, heartwarming, and well-handled story of a girl who wants nothing more than a (mostly) normal life, though her acceleratedly-aged body gives her troubles that she has to overcome. The anime was definitely a fun way to spend a day's worth of watching and it left me with a nice smile on my face. It does make me want to read the manga, but it's yet another manga that isn't available in English, neither officially or through "other methods". The anime, though, is fully available with English subtitles, unofficially, so I fully recommend checking it out. Yugo Ishikawa did make another successful manga later on with Fighting Beauty Wulong, which is an all-female fighting title that did receive two anime seasons. Maybe I should check that title out, now. If it keeps a similar comedy and honesty that Yoiko has then it should be interesting to see how that mixes in with fighting.