What’s it about? Momomiya Ichigo has one thing on her mind as she enters high school: experiencing romance for the first time. She hits it off well with sensitive popular boy Aoyama, but their date to an endangered species exhibit is torpedoed when monsters arrive on the scene and a couple weirdos with a van-mounted laser blast Ichigo and three other girls with superpowers!
A confession: despite being an adolescent in the early 2000s, I was not a huge Tokyo Mew Mew fan. I never saw a frame of the original anime, and while I definitely read Tokyopop’s release of the manga, it didn’t lodge in my brain the way other magical girl titles I was reading at the time did. Here is what I knew going in:
- People really, really hated the sequel series, a la Mode
- Mint for sure had a crush on Zakuro.
- Staff member Meru has big feels about the series.
I’m not coming at this on the back of nostalgia, is what I’m saying; though there is a little bit of inherent sadness to the premiere knowing that the still very young manga artist Ikumi Mia passed away while working on the show. I find myself, for her sake and for fans of the original work, wanting this new project to turn out well.
This first episode unquestionably has the aura of a legacy remake. Probably the most throwback element is the emphasis on romance right out the gate. Ichigo is in love with love, and every boy we meet in this episode has at least one flirtation-laced interaction with her. There’s probable winner Aoyama, who’s nice and nonthreatening and clearly doomed to have no idea why anything around him is happening; “all women are queens” ponytail man Keiichirou; and Ryo, who I assume is meant to have rough-around-the-edges appeal but just came off as a dickhead whose first words to Ichigo were comments about her weight. He’s also redundant even for audience appeal, since I’m pretty sure Ichigo had a will-they-won’t-they vibe with one of the villains
Honestly, none of the boys were particularly interesting, which made parts of the episode a little bit of a slog. Ichigo does have two supportive friends who seem nice, but we don’t see much of the other girls here besides an appearance of the more veteran Mint. It left me nervous and hopeful that the series would have a respectably long run, lest it turn into a Sailor Moon Crystal situation and shaft the friendships between the girls in favor of crowbarring in more flatly written romantic drama for the heroine.
And speaking of comparisons to Crystal, I do want to praise this premiere for trying to hold onto an element of chibi-infused comedy. The new character designs have an airbrushed modern polish that can come across as stiff, but Ichigo at least gets to pull a lot of silly faces—though it does feel strangely uncanny when her arms and face become squishy and exaggerated while her torso stays stock still and in normal proportion. Hopefully those rough edges will sand off and we’ll get a bit more overall squash-and-stretch, as the bouncy moments of this first episode are easily the best.
The retro feel isn’t all bad: there’s something delightfully earnest about the show’s premise, which is that the girls are using the power of endangered animals and fighting for environmental conservation. These issues are introduced with the subtlety of a Captain Planet episode, but y’know what? I’m fine with that in a children’s show. The decision to focus Aoyama’s exposition on real-world issues like deforestation rather than a more fantastical metaphor is a tiny bit cheesy in a way I honestly respect, and it huts my heart that this conceit has only grown more dire and relevant since the manga was originally written.
Ichigo’s first fight as Mew Ichigo (incidentally, the translator did a fascinating thread a few weeks back about handling naming conventions for a legacy property) feels very by-the-numbers for the era, with the clumsy heroine flailing about until someone coaches her into using her power for the first time. Not bad, mind, just archetypal. Ichigo’s transformation scene is the only thing that left a bit of a sour taste, as the extra level of future-stock-footage polish is accompanied by a few slightly skeevy-feeling “who is this for” thigh shots. It’s minor enough that I wouldn’t even comment on it in a seinen magical girl show, but it still sticks out unpleasantly in a series clearly made for ten-year-olds.
I had a good enough time with this first episode that I can see myself watching at least a few more, and parents looking for something to watch with older grade-school kids can probably mine some good discussions out of this one. Let’s just hope it doesn’t become the kind of anniversary project content to sit back and mine nostalgia dollars rather than making something memorable.
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