Wednesday, 20 June 2012

もえたん/ Moetan

First impressions, 14.7.2007: And now something that’s extremely cute and very silly indeed. Step forward, Moetan, with yet another adorable Tamura Yukari performance!

Final thoughts: Several times now, I’ve brought up Moetan as an example of a terrible, terrible anime. But it’s not quite so clear-cut – Moetan is terrible, but it’s kinda meant to be. It’s a parody of magical girl anime – and most of the parody becomes simply doing the same unsavoury things, but very much exaggerated. While this creates some very silly humour, it also means that ultimately, Moetan is getting its audience from the same tropes it mocks, while making them much, much worse.

Based on comedy study aids for Japanese students learning English, the title is a backronym – ‘Methodology Of English, The Academic Necessity’, which of course is a clumsy excuse to be able to use a word that combines ‘moé’ and the oft-used moé version of ‘-chan’, ‘-tan’. The book is full of magical girl parodies and direct references to other series, and the anime follows suit – with a whole lot of ecchi lolicon fanservice.

Our story revolves around Nijihara Ink, a 17-year-old who looks and acts like a preteen. She has a crush on her classmate Nao-kun but is not very good at studying. When she meets Ah-kun (short for Arcs), the magician banished from the magical world and trapped in the form of a little duck for perving on little girls, she is granted the ability to transform (in very pervy transformation sequences that make Ah-kun drool) into Pastel Ink, magical girl and English teacher extraordinaire. Of course, she has a rival, the similarly loli-ish Sumi-chan, given her powers by the little cat-mage Ka-kun, and Alice, the young idol who has a history with Arcs in the magical kingdom.

Though only 12 episodes aired, one of them a recap (seemingly because episode 6 was too explicit even for late-night anime, arguably having more overt imagery than episode 8, which is boldly stated as pure fanservice), Moetan struggled to get past its initial premise. Early episodes set up the exposition and the rivalries, and then Moetan doesn’t really have anywhere to go until the one episode where a dark force threatens the magical world and the girls must battle it – which could have been strung out but was thin enough as it was. Thus, you have episodes of cute girls doing cute things (Ink gets ill and the others care for her), silly romance (Ink’s perfect date with Nao-kun goes awry) and even one episode that opens with the anime staff discussing how stuck they are and that everyone just wants fanservice, so they basically go ahead and get everyone naked over and over again, in bathrooms, bathhouses, anywhere – with the flimsiest of excuses.

After their mini-epic battle, the girls are depowered but continue trying to do their jobs as magical girls in cosplay, which is quite sweet. The series ends with a daft throwaway side character becoming the new mage sidekick and turning Nao’s little sister into the next mahou shoujo.

None of it really works well, and it’s all a long way from original. The potential gimmick – learning English – was relegated to gags centred on poking fun at the anime industry at the end of each episode. Thus Moetan carves out its niche by just going to greater extremes than anything else. I wrote that after the ruling on late-night anime corrupting the youth made the extremes of perversion had to be toned down would probably lead to Kanokon being the most perverted thing ever to appear on late-night TV anime, but that was before I saw Moetan’s greatest extremes – and I think this pushes more boundaries, getting very, very close to the line where it would have to be classed as porn, falling short only in that it doesn’t draw details but opts for Barbie-doll anatomy. It really succeeds when it is directly parodying – there’s a parody of Jigoku Shoujo that works perfectly – but too often it’s just a general mishmash of Nanoha and Saint October-type fanservice that nudges and winks and says ‘Look how stupid these shows are’ – while doing it all far worse in the name of comedy.

The series would probably have benefited from (a) not exaggerating Ink’s design quite so much – if she was more Madoka and less Bincho-Tan, if she didn’t always look like a parody image with no nose and no real features, probably it would have been easier to identify with her (though that comes with the source material) and (b) wholeheartedly going into parodying the epic storyline by taking it seriously but subverting it at key moments. A big joke where a whole episode, even two or three, had to be taken seriously only for a big payoff of bathos at the end would have worked, and while the DVD-only episode 13 comes close by having a non-dramatic death and recasting Nao as a megalomanic with ambitions that echo those of the main character once he grows up in Bokusatsu Tenshi Dokoro-chan, but it needed to sustain and break its serious mood rather than keeping undercutting it with gags – especially if they have to be fart jokes – as out-of-place and unfunny here as they are in something serious like Korra.

I’ll always remember Moetan as an extreme. But not one that worked. It was a silly parody, one that occasionally raised smiles, but definitely not one to recommend, or that I would ever rewatch. Would I be tempted by a season two? Well, perhaps – but after all those jokes about how clueless the anime production committee were and how few people it pleased, I very much doubt that’s going to happen.

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