Okay everyone! That’s the bell! Take a seat and pull out your notebooks! Since we already covered Kindergarten in our review of “Hanamaru Kindergarten” a while back, the first stop in our “Back to School” month has us in Elementary School. “Kodomo no Omocha” [Shortened for this review to “Kodocha”] is a show that takes your typical Elementary School kids and give them anything-but Elementary school problems! But, does it get heavy-handed? Does “Kodocha” succeed in combining comedy with drama while adding liberal splashes of singing? Get ready to take notes, because First Period with Samurai-Sensei is about to begin!
Warnings and Notable Objectionable Content: Considering the drama that is integrated into the series, “Kodocha” is remarkably clean with no notable objectionable moments or issues. In fact, this might be the first show that I can recommend for all age groups, but of course, your mileage may vary.
Series Availability – Sadly, “Kodocha” has been discontinued by Funimation Entertainment earlier this year, so you will be EXTREMELY hard pressed to find any offline copies. The only place I know of that has it is Fry’s Electronics and even then, its only the second season. Finding it online for streaming is even harder.
Story Premise – “Kodocha” is a 102 episode anime series based off a now-completed manga created by Miho Obana. For the purposes of this review, we will only be focusing on the first 52 episodes because Funimation only licensed and dubbed these episodes, dividing them into two 26 episode “seasons”. The series focuses on the love-hate relationship between Sana Kurata, our energetic, bubbly Elementary School celebrity student and Akito Hayama, the stoic lone wolf character with a troubled past. Akito starts out as a troublemaker with his rag-tag group of flunkies, causing trouble in the classroom which, of course, our main heroine will have NONE of. After a few random misadventures of discovery, Sana uncovers the secret of Akito’s past; his mother died in the process of giving birth to him [Childbirth…sheesh, what a killer…I mean does ANY anime mom survive the process?!] and, in her grief, Akito’s sister Natsumi treats him rather harshly, blaming Akito for his mother’s death, and showing absolutely no love for him. His father works long and late hours and is thus unaware of this treatment. Upon learning about his “Crazy Stew Family”, Sana, already busy juggling her career as a TV star, occasional stage actress and student, takes it upon herself to reform Akito and bring the Hayama family back together. As the series goes along, the story drifts between different situations that plague our characters and how each of them handles it–from things as small as school-yard crushes and misunderstandings to large issues like child abuse, abandonment, divorce, and death. “Kodocha” is an excellent example of balancing comedy with drama. It takes you to the BRINK, but it never pushes you all the way over, if that makes any sense. The story has a very interesting flow to it, giving all the characters a chance to shine and tell their tales without seeming rushed or forced. As far as the ending goes…well…that’s tricky. You see, Funimation Entertainment only licensed and dubbed the series up to Episode 52, which is only the end of the first season in Japan. The series carries on well beyond that in both the manga and the anime, showing our characters in Junior High school. That being said, based on the material given by all legal and proper means, the ending for “Kodocha” as released is good. It does feel strange that the “Last episode” has a flashback, but the last few minutes makes up for it to a point. [24.5/25]
Characters – If there’s one thing that can be said about “Kodocha” it’s that, for a series being focused on elementary begins and ends with Sana Kurata, a 6th grade actress and TV star. Sana is the prime definition of a genki [Energetic] girl. She has an almost limitless supply of energy and an infectious cheerfulness that is guaranteed to make the viewer smile. Add to that the fact that she is known to break into song at the drop of a hat and one would THINK that she is just too annoying to deal with, right? To that I say OBJECTION!!! [::slams hands on desk and points::] Sana is so much more than her outward appearance. The tragic events of her life are well hidden by her outward facade. I’m not going to get into spoilers here, you’ll have to see that on your own, but once you learn them, you’ll see exactly why Sana is really a tragic character; perhaps one of the most tragic in the series. However, even with all that goes on in her life, Sana’s positive outlook on life and her upbeat attitude keeps the show from getting heavy-handed. Akito as our male lead is the perfect counter to Sana’s hyper-emotions; he maintains a calm and cool demeanor while still possessing the emotions and feelings of a child his age. The only way I can describe it is that Akito has an immature maturity. Speaking of maturity, Sana’s filthy rich award-winning essayist mom Misako, is one of the best mom’s I’ve ever seen in anime; she supports and loves her daughter deeply, but she is completely comfortable with letting her find her own way, make her own mistakes, and suffer the consequences of her actions. Rei Sagami as Sana’s live-in manager and boyfriend [Yes, I said “boyfriend”…no, it’s not like that. Just watch the show to find out…] is an awesome character with a complex backstory just like all the others. Finally, our Emcee is a little white fourth-wall obliterating bat/rabbit called Babbit. He acts in many different roles in the series, and keeps things from getting TOO dramatic or emotional. For being an anime-original character, Babbit sure integrates himself well into the series without feeling like a 5th wheel. As a whole, all the characters of “Kodocha” are so loveable and multi-faceted and makes the story all the more interesting. [25/25]
Animation – “Kodocha” was animated back in 1996, so it would be expected and forgiven that the animation style would look dated.”Kodocha”, however, still looks extremely awesome and has aged gracefully. Character designs are unique and consistent throughout the run, and backgrounds are nice. Once again, I love the fact that, even though this series was hand-drawn using cells and inks, it looks just as awesome as the computer generated stuff of the day. [12.5/12.5]
Music – The original opening theme for the first 44 episodes of “Kodocha” is “7 o’clock News” by a band called Tokio. This song hits on all notes; it’s upbeat, catchy, and has some awesome animation playing over it. For the first closing theme, we’re treated to “Panic” by Still Small Voice. It’s okay, but it’s not outstanding. The second opening for episodes 44 onwards is “Ultra Relax” by Tomoe Shinohara. It’s not quite as good as “7 0’clock News”, but it gets the job done. The opening animation features a dance that could be considered, for all intents and purposes, the predessor to the “Hare Hare Youkai” dance from “The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya”. The second ending, “DAIJO-BU” by Tomoko Hikita, always seems to strike an appropriate note, regardless if the episode ends on a happy note, a tragic note or a dramatic note. The incidental music is gentle and child like, but it can, at times, be a little wearing hearing the same tune over and over again. I would’ve liked the creators to have put forth a little more effort into the mixing. Lastly, I have to give props to Sana Kurata’s voice actress in the English and the Japanese for putting up with Sana’s incessant singing and multiple singing styles. It’s not easy to rap, and it sure as heck is not easy to rap in time with lip-flaps on a screen. So for these to ladies to do both in just about every single episode shows great talent. [11/12.5]
Performances and Production – “Kodocha” was produced by Studio Gallup in Japan with co-directors Akira Suzuki, Akitaro Daichi and Hiroaki Sakurai at the helm. In the US, the project was picked up by Funimation Entertainment with co-directors Chris Cason, Christopher R. Sabat, Colleen Clinkenbeard and Laura Bailey sharing the helm. With so many directors involved with this project, one would think there would be inconsistencies with voice actors or productions. NOT SO; the acting is consistently good across the board. Let’s start with our main characters. Laura Bailey as our female lead Sana is nothing short of amazing. Not only does she match the original actress, Shizue Oda, line for line, but she brings an extra sort of attitude and energy to the chracter that makes the viewing even more enjoyable. When it comes to the singing, hands down, Laura does the job better than the original. That is not something I say lightly at all, but I honestly think that in this occassion, the English outsines the original, adding a kind of manic energy that the original actress didn’t have. With regards to Akito, our male lead, Jerry Jewell does a great job with our lone wolf. He keeps his voice smooth and even, maintaining Akito’s “Meh, whatever” attitude at all the right spots, only adding emotion when the time calls for it and never when it doesn’t. Other characters, such as Colleen Clinkenbeard as Misako Kurata, John Burgmeier as Rei Sagami, and Monica Rial as Aya all put on memorable and outstanding performances. There were two moments that gave me pause. It wasn’t BAD, but just…a pause… let’s start with Chris Cason as the mascot/narrator Babbit. In the beginning, Babbit didn’t sound quite right…he had a bit of an accent to his voice and the energy level was a little low as compared to latter episodes. However, as the show progressed, Chris “found” Babbit, and his performance skyrocketed from there. The same can be said for Greg Ayres as Tsuyoshi; it seems like it took a while for him to pitch up his voice appropriately to sound age-appropriate. Again, I think it’s a case of trying to locate the character voice. Heaven knows I’m not an actor, [Unless you count my time working in customer service–“Oh, I am SO sorry about your phone problems sir and I will be MORE than happy to assist you…” HA!] but I do understand that it can take time to get used to a new character and how you want them to sound. It wasn’t that bad, so I’m not taking off a lot for it, but it is still noticeable. [24/25]
Story Breakdown – 24.5/25
Characters – 25/25
Animation – 12.5/12.5
Music – 11/12.5
Performance and Production – 24/25
Final Score – 97/100 = 97% – (A)
Lagniappe (A Little Something Extra):
- Due to license and contract issues regarding the English dub, the opening theme song “Seven O’Clock News” was replaced with “Ultra Relax” which was used throughout the English run of the series. In addition, in Episode one of the series, Sana actually has a run-in with Tokio. Because of the dispute, Funimation completely re-wrote the dialogue in English, replaced the audio with silence in the Japanese track, and “X”ed out any mention of Tokio or the song. HOWEVER, in one episode, the soft piano version of “Seven O’Clock News” can be heard in the background.
- In the Commentary Track for Episode Five,Colleen Clinkenbeard and Laura Bailey mentioned marathoning all 102 episodes of “Kodocha” and playing them on disks which leads me to believe that at one point Funimation MAY have had all the episodes, but just did not release them.
- This is the second time Laura Bailey and Jerry Jewell has played a couple for a Funimation-dubbed anime. Earlier, the pair played Tohru Honda and Kyo Sohma from the shojo anime “Fruits Basket” which was oddly enough directed in Japan by Akitaro Daichi, the director of “Kodocha”
- The original manga artist, Miho Obana, appears in cameos throughout the series. You’ll know her by the pink kimono and the saxophone. Also, she tends to identify herself whenever she appears on camera with “Obana here!”
- Funimation Entertainment, in a case of “Yeah, this might not sound quite right to american audiences…”, changed the title of episode one from the questionable “I’m an Elementary School Student with a Pimp” to “I’m an Elementary School Student with an AGENT”. Granted, it was an innocent mistake on Sana’s part, calling Rei her “pimp”, and once she is corrected in the series, he is never referred to as such again, given the time of day we’re living in, I’m gonna side with Funi on this change.
- One of the toys Sana uses to record and modulate her voice is a direct rift off the classic 90’s toy called the Yak Bak. [And yes, I had one…and enjoyed it immensely…and miss it terribly. ::sighs:: I’m old…]
So, where does that leave us? Simply put, “Kodocha” is a show gives you what you need on many levels; comedy, drama, suspense, romance, and more. With its intricate yet fun story, complex yet loveable characters, timeless animation and music, and actors that, once they find their footing, put on an awesome show, “Kodocha” is a must-see for any anime fan and, now more than ever, with Funimation dropping the license and ceasing production of the DVD’s it’s imperative that if you so happen to find a copy, you bite the bullet and buy-buy-buy!!
And with that, we’ve completed our first “Back to School” anime review! I have to admit, I’ve always wanted to review “Kodocha” and I was ECSTATIC when the opportunity came up! Now before we move on to those Middle School years, there’s one more show that I think I’ll review that is set in Elementary school. The subject matter is…well…it’s something that I can’t really relate to and the thought of writing about it makes me feel a little awkward. I mean, what the heck is a 6’1, 240 lbs [I actually lost weight! Thanks “Hare Hare Youkai!”] black man know about…well…nevermind… But, after giving it some thought, and figuring “Meh, when ELSE am I going to review this one?” I decided to put my awkward feelings aside and jump right into it. I am the Cajun Samurai after all! So, if it’s not too much trouble, let’s hang out in Elementary school for a little while longer and review the little known series…
“Nashio no Tsumobi”