|An old pic, but just remove the goatee|
Born in 1956 in Osaka, Susumu Ueda graduated from Kyoto City University of Arts & became a full-time composer in 1982. Ueda would find a small bit of world renown in 1998 when he (& Shin Sugimoto) composed the official song of the Nagano Winter Olympics, "Winter Flame". Ueda's main job, since 2005, is acting as conductor & host of various concerts, from his yearly "Memorial Concerts" dedicated to the memory of the Great Hanshin Earthquake to his "Requiem Project", which he launched in 2008 in remembrance of those who have died in various disasters & to promote peace & hope; he also hosts various musical activities in the areas affected by the Tohoku Earthquake in 2011. Ueda has also composed music for various commercial products as well, such as J-Dramas like 1 Liter no Namida & Dai San no Miss. This is also applies to anime, though Ueda's catalog there is relatively small.
If you've been reading this blog for a while, then you're familiar with how much I enjoy the Ring ni Kakero 1 anime. One part of that series that I enjoy the most, however, is in fact the music, which was nearly all composed by Susumu Ueda (minus some tracks in Season 1 done by Marina del ray's Kacky or Psychic Lover's Yoffy). Creating an OST that sounds definitely old-school but without sounding dated, Ueda's tracks for RnK1 are simply outstanding, & I'm sad that the only release of the show's music is for Season 1 in 2004, because there are some excellent songs in later seasons (especially Seasons 3 & 4 from 2010-2011). I've also covered the Yugo the Negotiator anime from 2004, which was another anime with music done by Ueda; it's admittedly not quite as instantly memorable as his work on RnK1, but still solid work. Finally, I've also reviewed the 2012 movie Asura, in which Ueda worked alongside Norihito Sumitomo & Yoshihiro Ike for the soundtrack. Aside from those titles, there are only four other anime that featured Susumu Ueda soundtracks, and while I'll get to Shadow Star Narutaru & Re: Cutie Honey eventually, I want to focus first on what are likely the most obscure titles he has ever worked on. Yes, even more obscure than Ring ni Kakero 1... So let's get ecchi.
Everyone's got to start somewhere when it comes to anime, and for some people it's by being a part of a project that may not be looked at with a lot of respect. Sometimes it's by working on hentai, using a pseudonym comes down to the individual, and sometimes it's by working on something very, very dirty. The same is true of Susumu Ueda, who composed and/or arranged theme songs for two hentai, Zoku Koihime & Itoshi no Kotodama, while doing the soundtrack for an OVA produced by Misty Moon & animated by Chaos Project (Step Up Love Story, the Utawarerumono OVA) from 2001-2002. Hentai studio PinkPineapple does seem to be attached as well, but is nowhere in the credits; similarly, Ueda does not list this OVA anywhere on his site when it comes to his anime work. Adapted from the two-volume Young King Ours seinen manga by Iketeru Futari's Takashi Sano, Usagi-chan de Cue!!/Bunny on Cue!! is a three-episode OVA that may not be porn, but is still ready & willing to "bare all" when it comes to women's chests... Maybe. Is there more to it than just that, though, and can Susumu Ueda's orchestral prowess raise it even higher?
Haru Matogi is a high school student who wishes to become a vet who can hear the "voices of the animals". He takes care of the rabbits on the school's roof, but when he hears that the school's female delinquent, Mikami Inaba, is fighting Chou Benten from a rival school on the roof, he dashes in to make sure the rabbits are safe. Haru's arrival distracts Inaba, who's tackled through the rabbit pen, & off the roof, by Benten's lacky Dekao. Seeing little rabbit Mimika falling as well, Inaba grabs her to cushion her fall, only for a bright light to suddenly appear. The end result is that Inaba & Mimika have become a "merged being", with Inaba's body now sporting long rabbit ears & a short rabbit tail; the ears release a shortwave that makes everyone around her think nothing's odd (minus Haru & his friend Miku, who saw the merge happen). Mimika is the (seeming) dominant personality, with Inaba only appearing when danger arises. The merging of these two beings will bring to light a dark secret of the city, & the very reason why the two merged will makes Haru wonder who really is in control: Inaba or Mimika?
Just from reading that synopsis, it's easy to tell that this OVA series can be pretty silly, and it is. Quite honestly, though, that's kind of the intention here. There's a lot of silly absurdity to be found in Usagi-chan de Cue!!, but it's all done with unbridled fun. For example, Benten always wears a headband, which changes the message written on it constantly to fit the moment. Then there's Dekao, who continually comes back each episode as a large & more menacing "Cyber Dekao" cyborg (yes, you read that right), which is just the right amount of absurdity, personally. There's also the obvious fanservice to be found, with panty shots aplenty, multiple sights of bare breasts, & the always "reliable" breast bounce. Mimika is madly in love with Haru, always jumping on him & pressing herself onto him with no sense of self-control, often to the annoyance of Miku, who also harbors feelings for Haru due to them being childhood friends. The first episode even has a trio of super-muscular men on the beach (yes, there's a beach scene in the first episode) who kind of remind one of Adon & Samson from the Cho Aniki series, just showing how purposefully ridiculous everything can be. Of course, there is also the concept of the merged beings, with Inaba/Mimika not being the only one. There's also Koshka, who merged with a cat & is working for the villains who wish to put an end to Inaba/Mimika; Benten is also a dog being. In fact, the very concept of merged beings is explained in the last episode, but kind of gleefully done so in such a basic fashion that it almost comes off as Takashi Sano telling people not to think about it too much. On a basic level, this is an extremely silly, & maybe even stupid, OVA series, but it's no doubt a lot of fun.
Yet, among all of the fanservice-filled fun, there is more to it than meets the eye. First, for a title that showcases bare breasts often enough during its OP sequence, the actual product is surprisingly tame. The first episode only shows breasts in one early scene, the second saves them for the climax only, and only the last episode actually shows them often; even then, it's done so in a matter-of-fact fashion, with little titillation there. In fact, the raunchiest the OVA ever gets, with images that only barely indicate sex being done, come from Miku's imagination after hearing Mimika brag that she & Haru slept together (which was, in reality, completely innocent). Again, this OVA has the fanservice, but it's interestingly respectful in that regard, only rarely going "all the way". It also doesn't tease, like so many series of this ilk tend to do nowadays; it's either clothed or bare, with no steam or convenient environments to be found.
Second, the story itself is actually, against all expectations, well told from a character perspective, giving the final product a lot of honest heart & emotion. For example, while Haru technically has a small harem (Miku, Inaba, & Mimika), all three of the girls have actual, relatable reasons for why they like him: Miku is the childhood friend who's grown to care for him deeply, Mimika simply wants to repay him for all the love & care he gave her when she was a rabbit, & Inaba truly appreciates how he treats her as a person, as she came from a hateful & cold family. Inaba's reasons for caring about Haru are in fact the big reason for the merge happening, making her the real main character, even though she only appears in a large way for the last episode. In fact, the last episode really does a magnificent job at showcasing how this whole ordeal changes both Haru & Inaba as people, which is something I certainly did not expect to see happen.
|Man, compiling images just isn't easy, huh?|
Even Benten quickly becomes someone you care for a little bit, honestly. He's simply a "loyal dog" to his villainous master who wants nothing more than to please him, yet is treated like crap because his best is never good enough. While he's never truly a heroic character, you do want to see him succeed in some fashion, oddly enough. The same is kind of true for Koshka, too, though her development is only really shown in the last episode. As for the villains, the mysterious "Shadow" & masked "Mystery Man", they get next to nothing aside from purposefully vague appearances where they're being evil. In fact, while they provide the antagonism for the story, they really aren't important in the overall picture; they're simply the means that advance the story & put the focus back on the other characters. While Usagi-chan de Cue!! is by no means a hidden gem of storytelling, there is amazingly that little bit of extra character, heart, & emotion to it. In fact, it even does the concept of a male lead having a kind-of-sort-of-harem better than most titles in that very sub-genre do. Haru may be somewhat milquetoast, but at least it's understandable why the girls that do have feelings for him actually want to be with him.
On the technical side of things, one thing that is worth noting is that this OVA series actually looks pretty good. Even though Chaos Project is a supporting studio mainly, & director Toru Yoshida's only other directorial works are Demon Fighter Kocho & Variable Geo, this project looks pretty good for its time. It's nothing groundbreaking, mind you, but by no means is this a budget production; maybe that PinkPineapple money helped out. Fight sequences look good, the fanservice is blatantly obvious but not to "shoving it in your face" levels, and there is the occasional amusing visual joke tossed in at times, too (just see what Dekao is referencing in the last episode). One big part of why the series looks good, though, is because of the character designs by Takahiro Kimua (GaoGaiGar, GUN x SWORD), which adapt Sano's original designs very well & feature a nice variety of faces & reactions from the characters; this is extra true for me, as I'm just a big fan of the way Kimura draws characters. I also find the Mickey Mouse gloves that suddenly are worn by Inaba/Mimika once the merge happens amusing, as they weren't there to start with. As for the music by Susumu Ueda, it's by no means his best work from his entire catalog, but it's still very fitting & admittedly catchy while hearing it, utilizing some fast, rock beats with the occasional slower-paced song; no real orchestral pieces, however. The real gem of the music, in fact, is the opening theme, "Mou Ichido Energy" by Mayumi Gojo, which has a fun, upbeat sound to it, and the jazzy orchestral sound of the chorus is simply mesmerizing; it's just a song that quickly stays in your mind. The ending theme, "Omoi Anata ni" by Kaoru Morota, is a simpler ballad that does its job well enough, complete with Sano-drawn images of the main females. I'd want to really credit Ueda for these songs as well, as he did help make them, but he only handled the arrangement for both.
The main voice cast is small, which I think is to the OVAs benefit, honestly. Again, while Haru looks to be the lead, the real star is Inaba/Mimika, who are voiced by Kaoru Morota (a.k.a. Aya; Chelsea Rorec in Tokyo Underground, Chiaki in Demonbane). Being from Osaka, Morota is a perfect fit for a tough delinquent like Inaba, making her easily likable immediately, though she does just as impressive a job at being the higher-pitched & bubbly Mimika. Haru is performed by Kenichi Suzumura (Lavi in D.Gray-man, Okita in Gintama), who also delivers a good performance; nothing outstanding, but still easy to like. Miku is played by Ayako Kawasumi (Saber in the Fate franchise), who pulls off a nicely variable performance, mixing together caring, jealously, & outright anger when faced with Mimika's overt advances towards Haru. Possibly the second-best performance, though, is from Ryusei Nakao's Benten, which sounds very familiar to those who are used to Nakao's more iconic roles like DBZ's Freeza or Bleach's Mayuri. Finally, Koshka is voiced by Michiko Neya (Hsien-Ko in Darkstalkers, Talho in Eureka Seven), who actually doesn't utilize a ton of cat-influenced verbal tics (i.e. adding "-nya" at the end of sentences) until the last episode, which is surprisingly appreciated. The minor characters are rounded out by Mitsu Senda (Shadow), Taiten Kusunoki (Dekao), & even Jun Fukuyama has an unnamed role in episode 1.
|Trust me, this is the least dirty of the three covers...|
As indicated by the cover image above, Usagi-chan de Cue!! is a ecchi OVA through & through, based on a manga by a man who's best known for a seinen manga starring a complete pervert (& has also done some hentai on the side). That being said, this OVA isn't some lowest-common-denominator product that aims solely to deliver fanservice & nothing more. Sure, the fanservice is very much there, but compared to a lot of what would come later on this title is pretty tame in that regard, and even then there's a surprising amount of heart & honest emotion from the characters here. The story itself is mostly fluff & is nothing more than a way for stuff to happen & advance, but when you focus on the characters, especially Inaba, you realize that there's actually something substantial to be found here. Come into Usagi-chan de Cue!! for the silly absurdity & fanservice (which showcases a surprising amount of decency), but stay for the engaging characters & how they all come to terms with themselves.
Hmmm... Maybe Susumu Ueda did help give ecchi some sense of class. I could always be wrong, though.