Review for Mahoromatic: Complete Collection (3 Disc)
This summer, MVM are bringing Mahoromatic - Something More Beautiful to the UK, the second Mahoromatic series that chronicles the further adventures of one boy and his fembot. I didn't feel too inclined to dive right into the deep end; my only prior exposure to Mahoromatic was when I flicked through a dog-eared manga at my local library. So I took advantage of a convenient sale and grabbed hold of the original Mahoromatic - Automatic Maiden series, still available in this country with ADV colours on the sleeve, re-released last year as a handy three-disc collection, and one of ADV's final releases in the UK. This way, I'll at least have some idea of what to expect when the first volume of season 2 is released by MVM in June.
Mahoromatic is sort of part Evangelion and part Love Hina, unsurprising when you see that studios Gainax and Shaft produced the anime. It's set in an alternate world, where aliens invaded in the 1980s, and a group named Vesper created combat androids to protect the world from the insidious menace of Saint. Following a successful tour of duty, one such android faces the end of her existence. Mahoro has just 37 days left to live if she continues to fight, but if she shuts down her combat programming, that will be extended to 398, and given her exemplary service, her commanders offer her the choice as to how to live out her life. She decides to live out her last days, serving a young orphan named Suguru as his maid. But there is a reason why Mahoro has chosen Suguru.
All twelve episodes of Mahoromatic - Automatic Maiden are presented across three discs from ADV.
1. In An Hydrangea Garden
Suguru Misato is a middle school student with a problem. He lives in an absolute tip. Since he was orphaned, cleanliness hasn't been his strong suit, and he's finally been convinced to hire a maid. And as a budding young pervert, there are one or two positives to having a woman about the house. He isn't expecting the android Mahoro though, who makes an instant impression when someone tries to hijack the school bus and she comes to the rescue. Mahoro is a hard worker, and quickly manages to clean the pigsty that masquerades as Suguru's house, but surely getting into the bath with him to scrub his back is beyond the call of duty?
2. Lady Teacher Saori, Age Twenty-Five
Suguru may be a pervert in training; he may have worries that now Mahoro has hacked her way through the trash to clean his room, she'll find his porn stash and give him a lecture (Mahoro thinks that perverted thoughts are wrong). But Suguru isn't a patch on his hard drinking, busty teacher Saori, who fully intends to give Suguru as complete an education as is possible. With rumours flying around school about Suguru's new maid, jealousy is imminent, and soon Mahoro and Saori are competing to see who will share Suguru's bath, and who has the bigger breast size.
3. How Shallow The Grave
It's a hot summer day, sweltering, sultry, and Mahoro is having trouble staying awake, and unconsciously calling forth baby chicks? Nevertheless, it's July and the school holidays are looming, and Saori insists on spending dinner and bath time at the Misato house. When the boiler explodes, they wind up having to visit the public baths instead, and with the Mahoro Saori rivalry in full swing, Suguru has time to reflect. July 20th is the anniversary of his father's death, but as his friend Sakura notices, Mahoro's presence has brought Suguru out of his shell somewhat. Suguru decides to invite Mahoro to the family grave, but Mahoro isn't telling him something very important about her past, and how it relates to his father.
4. I Will Shoot Him Through The Heart
It's still summer, and it's still hot, so it's time for all good anime girls to don their bikinis and head to the beach, where young boys can have nosebleeds. It takes a little persuading to convince Mahoro, but it takes no convincing at all for Saori to invite herself as a 'responsible' adult. It's normally fun to go to the beach, but this time there is a giant mutant robot crab monster on the loose, and it's on a rampage attacking and removing every swimsuit in sight. This time it's really fun to go to the beach…
5. 634 Of 8 Is Doing Fine
Back at Vesper, there is a debriefing about the crab monster incident, with some understandable concern about this new perverted development in enemy behaviour. Fortunately, Mahoro has sent them a postcard, or rather an essay describing her new life to take their minds off things. It turns out that Suguru and his friends have recently had a Fright Night, by way of sneaking into school after dark, and investigating a couple of ghost stories. Actually it was a chance for the girls to ditch the boys, then sneak back, dress up and scare the hell out of them (although not as scary as Miss Saori skinny dipping in the school pool after dark).
6. Moon, Flowers, Feeling Of Autumn
When a weird giant bug thing attacks a passenger plane, Vesper begins to wonder if Mahoro isn't vulnerable from attack by Saint, deactivated from combat mode as she is. Fortunately she has a sidekick to protect her, Slash. But for Mahoro, the cybernetic talking panther is useful to baby-sit Suguru's dog, while they all go to the Hiryu Summer Festival. Mahoro has been invited to perform the traditional Dance of the Dead.
7. The Maid, Chased By The Past
The first day of the new school term coincides with a prison escape, and a careless getaway driver is a sign of impending disaster. It's heading straight at Suguru and his friends, except that a strange, elegant man steps in at the last minute to save the day, with android like powers. It turns out that Mr Ryuga is their new science teacher, and he's showing an unusual interest in Suguru, or rather his maid, Mahoro.
8. The Owner Of The Perfect Heart
Suguru is getting worried about Ryuga, and more concerned that Mahoro isn't telling him everything. With Ryuga interested in Suguru, and vice versa, everyone else is worried that Suguru may be turning gay. It's got his teacher Saori particularly stressed, seeing a marked decline in Suguru's appreciation for her feminine physique. To top it all off, Suguru's only gone and invited Ryuga to a barbecue. Of course Mahoro knows who Ryuga is, why else would she challenge him to a duel?
Mahoro is stressed over the impending duel, trying to reconcile the life she now leads with the warrior she used to be, and is generally suffering from nightmares of war. How better to deal with it than to go on a date with Suguru. A day out to a theme park seems perfect, but they haven't counted on Saori, who insists on following them to stop any possible depravity that she can't be part of. But the real reason behind the date becomes obvious when Suguru asks Mahoro what really is going on with Ryuga, and she tells him the truth, or at least part of it.
10. The Fate As A Warrior
As Mahoro makes her way to the duel, she's in mind of her past as a combat android, created with a nine-year lifespan, from Saint technology, and put to work battling the Saint invasion force. As she learnt more about the world that she fought for, she found a mentor in Commander Misato, Suguru's father.
11. My Important Person
Suguru wakes up to find Mahoro gone, leaving him a sorrowful note and a carefully prepared meal. Mahoro is facing Ryuga at last, and while she may not be comfortable about victory, she is certain that he won't threaten Suguru again. Besides she has an ace up her sleeve. Suguru corners Slash about Mahoro's whereabouts, but the panther isn't immediately forthcoming with details.
12. At The Scenery I Dreamed One Day
It turns out that Ryuga has an ace too, and now he's really peeved. Mahoro is losing badly, and now hallucinating about going on a picnic. Will Suguru show up in time to save Mahoro? And what can one little boy do against an alien android?
Mahoromatic gets a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer, which is as clear and sharp as an NTSC-PAL conversion usually gets, relatively free of ghosting, and smoothly animated. Actually it is a tad softer that you might expect, given that it's from 2001, when anime was still being drawn by hand, rather than on a computer. There is something of a rough, filmic quality to the show that is completely absent from modern productions, but it is also one of the earlier television anime to be made in a widescreen format, although it doesn't significantly benefit from the wider scope. It's a pretty straightforward comedy anime, with simple character designs and fairly standard animation, and then one of the action scenes kicks in and you can see some of that GAINAX magic, fluid and expressive action, and with the sort of quirkiness that infuses shows like FLCL and would later show up in Gurren Lagann.
You have the usual anime choices of DD 2.0 English and Japanese, with optional signs and subtitles. I went with the Japanese track as always, and found it more than acceptable, if a little typical for comedy shows of the period. I had hoped for something better from the English dub, as this is actually a Geneon show in the US, dubbed by Bang Zoom Studios and not ADV (whose comedy dubs I do not appreciate), but this is a show that is getting on in years, and the English dub is also showing its age. It's not Love Hina bad, but it certainly pales against modern efforts.
All three discs are presented in an Amaray style case, with two discs on either side of a hinged central panel, and the third disc at the back. The sleeve is reversible, with the episodes listed on one side with a raunchier image, while the default front cover is a little chaster, with the blurb and specifications on the back.
All three discs have static menus and jacket pictures, while each episode ends in a Satellite Poem
Disc 1 offers the usual textless credits, as well as 7 images in an art gallery, and trailers for Mazinkaiser, Najica Blitz Tactics, New Cutey Honey, You're Under Arrest: The Movie, and Slayers Gorgeous.
Disc 2 gives you 30 seconds worth of Japanese TV commercial, 8 minutes of Promo Trailers, 7 more images in an art gallery, and trailers for Neon Genesis Evangelion Platinum, Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi, Azumanga Daioh, Last Exile and Generator Gawl.
Disc 3 offers 7 more images in an art gallery, trailers for Last Exile, Chrono Crusade, Gad Guard and Get Backers, and there is the voice actor commentary, which isn't a commentary at all, rather a 6-minute interview with the voice actors behind Suguru and Mahoro, Ayako Kawasumi and Fujiko Takimoto.
Well, the plan was to watch Mahoromatic - Automatic Maiden to get me up to speed with the story, and to enthuse me about the forthcoming second series from MVM. I may be caught up with the plot, but enthusiasm remains worryingly lacking at this point. Mahoromatic isn't all that great a series, although a lot of that simply has to do with age. It's a comedy romance from 2001, and despite it being one of the earlier examples of widescreen anime; it's seriously beginning to show its years. It's very much an older, slapstick silliness style of comedy, the sort of hijinks that you would see in a Rumiko Takahashi show like Urusei Yatsura or Ranma, and lacks the tongue in cheek irony, or slight edginess of more recent comedy shows. Also, it's very much a show of two halves, comic and serious, and while the relationship mayhem ensues, there's also a darker edge to it with Suguru's tragic background, and the war between Vesper and Saint. The thing is that there is no attempt to really fuse these two halves into a single whole, It all feels piecemeal and loosely connected, and I found it hard to really empathise with the characters.
On the other hand, if Mahoromatic: Something More Beautiful is like this first series in one respect, then it ought to do well for MVM. I compared it to Love Hina early on, and this is in fact accurate if you mean Love Hina the manga, as opposed to Love Hina the TV series. Ken Akamatsu's manga rarely make it to television without being toned down in the nudity and sex comedy stakes. Mahoromatic definitely errs on the perverse side of things, with copious female nudity, provocative comedy situations, and of course the prerequisite busty teacher with an unhealthy interest in her student. There's robot combat action as well from time to time, so with sex and violence taken care of, it seems that Mahoromatic ticks all the Daily Mail 'ban this filth' clichés to guarantee a goodly number of sales.
Mahoromatic is funny, and I do admit to being entertained with the juvenile antics. There's a pleasant sort of innocence to the humour, despite its overtones of sex and naughtiness that is appealing, much in the same way that Benny Hill was once upon a time. There is also just enough of an edge to the story, both with the war back-story, and Mahoro's countdown to deactivation (which she keeps hidden from Suguru) to keep it interesting on a character level. But, the switch from ribald silliness to angst ridden war seriousness is always jarring, and the way that the balance shifts as the series ends is disappointing. Not only do we go from comedy to seriousness, but the pace of the show shifts as well. With Mahoro's introduction to Suguru's world, the show starts off at a zippy pace, telling quite a few stories as the series progresses. But when we come to the close of the series, the duel with Ryuga takes centre stage for the last four episodes, with the events of around 48 hours spread out across the final disc. We begin with Suguru and Mahoro trying to briefly escape from the inevitable by going on a date, which is probably the series' last pure comedy episode. It's then followed by a flashback episode that stretches things out for another 20 odd minutes, and while it is interesting to learn of Mahoro's past, it would have been better placed earlier in the run, rather than feeling like a stopgap here. The duel itself then takes up the final two episodes. I did feel that Mahoromatic did leave us on a somewhat negative note.
If the second series is going to appeal more strongly than this first, it will have to find a better balance between the show's lighter and darker elements. But there's no getting over the way that the show has aged, and the fact that there are plenty of other similar shows out there, where a wimpy, nondescript teen male somehow finds love and happiness with a girl that most sane people would consider out of his reach, but who kindly waits on him hand and foot anyway (and stares at him really creepily while he eats the food she spent hours cooking). For instance, Ah My Goddess is sweeter, gentler, and in my view funnier, but it doesn't have the boobies and the comedy paedo teacher. The decision is yours.