The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Cutey Honey

Title: Cutey Honey aka Cutie Honey
Genre: Action
Company: Toei Animation
Format: 25 episodes
Dates: 13 Oct 1973 – 30 Mar 1974

Synopsis: Kisaragi Honey is a normal girl who attends Catholic school; that is, until one day when an evil organization called Panther Claw murders her father, a scientist. On this day, Honey learns that she is actually an android created by her “father,” and with her is a device that can create all manner of matter from thin air. Honey uses this device to don various disguises in her battles against Panther Claw; however, when she strikes the killing blow, it’s always as the warrior of love, Cutey Honey.

The Highlights
Visuals: Stilted, limited animation, but the surrealist bent to the backgrounds and battles makes up for it.
Battles: Fun, because most of the Panther Claw warriors have weird powers. Some are more interesting than others.
Episodic: Little overarching plot. Episodes stand alone, but get repetitive eventually.

Cutey Honey occupies an interesting place in anime history. It was, in retrospect, recognized as one of the early magical girl anime, and the author of the original manga, Go Nagai, proclaimed Kisaragi Honey as the first female protagonist of a shonen manga. Cutey Honey as magical girl is particularly interesting due to the symbolic nature of Honey’s transformations: She changes not simply into another person, but a different role entirely. Sometimes she’s a reporter, sometimes she’s a socialite, sometimes she’s a luchador; whatever she is, it’s reflective of the widening social and economic avenues for women. The show’s importance as a building block of anime and reflection of changing times cannot be overstated, but does it still hold up as a piece of entertainment? In some predictable ways, no, but in some surprising ways, yes.

Considering that the anime is four decades old, it’s not shocking to find that the animation is not great. The battle scenes and movements are understandably limited and stilted. The animation team, however, pulls a great many tricks to make them as dynamic as possible. There’s a solid use of framing and space; Honey leaps around everywhere and uses every inch of her surroundings in battle. At times the fights unfold almost like gymnastics events. Cutey Honey‘s use of surrealist-inspired backgrounds and effects is also notable. This is a bizarre world, and crafting it like a nightmare pulled gently from Salvador Dali‘s mind gives certain scenes an extra punch. I would honestly be shocked if SHAFT‘s Shinbou Akiyuki had never seen Cutey Honey.

The battles are also fun because the women of Panther Claw have such widely varying powers. There are of course basic antagonists like Fire Claw, who wields fire, and Black Claw, who has big, sharp claws, but as the series progresses the antagonists get a bit weirder. Great Claw uses a magic wand and strings to control people like puppets. Octo Panther, as one might expect, has tentacles like an octopus and uses them to cling to walls and ceilings. Scorpion Panther is a giant scorpion. And so on. The presence of such strange enemies goes a long way toward keeping the fights somewhat fresh throughout the series, which helps considering that none of these monsters of the week is particularly interesting as a character.

Cutey Honey doesn’t deal solely in action. The series frequently delves into comedy, though the results are more mixed. Honey’s various disguises, and the absurd circumstances in which she often unveils them, are generally amusing. There are also some deeply silly, inspired bits of slapstick comedy involving the principal of Honey’s school, who loathes Honey, and Honey’s teacher, who loves her. The creative team is also adept at conjuring bizarre settings for every episode. One, for instance, takes place in a race that seems like a send up of both Speed Racer and Wacky Races. If there’s something weird around to be pulled into the episode, you can rest assured that the writers will go for it.

Jokes often fall flat, though, particularly when various characters air out their perversions around Honey. There’s a young boy, Junpei, who has a crush on Honey and makes advances on her, which I guess is funny because he’s a kid, and isn’t it hilarious that a little kid wants to have sex! He’s a one-note character and is never really all that funny, but maybe he made people laugh a lot back in the day? In all fairness, the series is occasionally playful regarding Honey’s sexuality rather than degrading, and those moments are genuinely fun.

A bigger problem is that episodes are often dull until the villain of the week makes her appearance. There’s little overarching plot in the series; it basically boils down to yet another assassin being sent after Honey. That’s not inherently bad, but the individual episodes generally don’t make up for that by presenting anything interesting. The stories are often thin and flimsy, with Honey’s charisma barely keeping everything afloat. There are genuinely good episodes, but there are just as many where the viewer would be better served fast-forwarding to the climactic battle.

Cutey Honey deserves to be remembered for its place in anime history and its striking visuals. There are many rough edges to the show, but it’s interesting to view it with an eye to seeing how it has influenced anime in its wake.

The Rating: 6

Reviewed by: Shinmaru

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