Case Number 05382: Small Claims Court

HAPPY LESSON: MAMA MIA

ADV Films // 2001 // 75 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Chief Counsel Rob Lineberger (Retired) // October 14th, 2004

The Charge

Sometimes it's fun to stay after school!

The Case

Anime is gaining wider popularity and acceptance, but almost every anime fan has been taunted for their enjoyment of the genre at one time or another. I've been asked on more than one occasion why I enjoy such shrill, frantic crap. My best friend asks me every week if I still watch that "gay anime." Yes, anime fans suffer slings and arrows.

Those of us who enjoy this genre have been captivated by themes so gripping, stories so mature, and characters so cool that we can't help our enthrallment. Anime is exceptionally creative, breaking the bounds of reality to deliver trippy, emotionally complex stories.

This rampant creativity is just one reason why anime such as Happy Lesson: Mama Mia, an original animation video (OAV), is so disappointing. It is shrill, it is frantic, and dare I say -- it is crap. Anime like this not only supports the argument of anime mockers, it jumps up and urinates a stream of lighter fluid into the fire. Happy Lesson: Mama Mia makes it hard to defend our beloved genre.

Picture, if you will, a blend of Puni Puni Poemy's zany, crude assault on the senses with Ai Yori Aoshi's sweet, slightly naughty harem plot. (Substitute Excel Saga and Tenchi Muyo! if you're more familiar with them.) Ignore for a moment the complete incongruity of these approaches, and try to picture how they might fit together. Now, erase the crudity from the former, remove the naughtiness and sweetness from the latter. You'll end up with something like Happy Lesson: Mama Mia.

Happy Lesson: Mama Mia fails as a harem story (you know, one lonely guy gets saddled in a house with a horde of buxom, desirable, but somehow annoying women who fight over him 24-7) for one simple reason: The women are all his teachers. We're not talking a David Lee Roth "I'm Hot for Teacher" vibe, but a maternal, surrogate-mother angle. Dude has five mother figures living under his roof, and they are his teachers in school to boot. He says stuff like "Yes, Miss [Anime-Babe-Whom-I-Cannot-Fornicate-With]" or "No Ma'am, Miss [Do-Your-Homework-or-I'll-Ground-You]." Okay, so they have actual names like Miss Mutsuki and Miss Yayoi, but people generally refer to them as "the five moms," which should give you an idea of how nondescript they are. There is little to no sexual tension, no sweet or romantic undercurrent, and that pretty much shoots the harem plot down like a lame duck. We're left with five adults harassing and fighting over a poor guy who just wants to get some sleep and maybe fool around with a girl before he graduates from high school. (So why does he constantly berate the one girl who shows real interest in him?)

Does the zany onslaught of sly jokes save the day? Not hardly. Happy Lesson: Mama Mia has all of the zaniness and frantic shrillness of a Puni Puni Poemy or an Excel Saga, but little of the crude subversiveness that makes it work. Oh, Happy Lesson: Mama Mia gives the impression of crudity well enough by showing the moms in skimpy bathing suits, or having the science teacher run an S&M dungeon in the basement...but the reality is conservative. How's this for a zany gag? Cheetos (Did I mention that the guy's name is Cheetos? Anyone hungry for day-glo orange, processed cheese products?) falls through a trap door and lands in a chair that automatically straps him in. Miss [Geek-Queen-with-Big-Breasts-Who-Is-Oblivious-to-Men] drops a beaker of fluid into his captive mouth while Cheetos strains frantically at the straps. A fluffy little chickadee pops out of his mouth and tweets sweetly before hopping away. Hah, hah, HAH! He burped up a little chicken thing! Goodness me, that was funny. I needed that laugh.

Along those lines, I've never understood what is so funny about an animated character who becomes embarrassed, then suddenly reverts to a crude line drawing or wilts like a blow-up doll on a bed of nails. Does this have some deeply significant humor value? How about when a character's face falls and a big white blot pops over her head? That gets me every time. I'm sure it means something, and I've laughed at such antics before, but this implementation feels like a ripoff of a parody of an original concept.

The timing of the voice actors is good in both versions. The English track is in 5.1, but I heard little of note to commend the surround track. There was a touch of surround involvement, but nothing memorable. In fact, the English track sounded vaguely empty and subdued. The Japanese track has slightly better timing and a little more energy, which is to say that the Japanese cast sounds like a meeting of Caffeine Addicts with ADD Anonymous.

Happy Lesson: Mama Mia has interesting visuals on occasion, such as when blended white snowflakes drift lazily in front of a piercing black sky. The transfer shows strong contrast and deep colors, with a little cross-coloration. Twitter manifests itself almost continually in the first episode and is present in the next two as well. The animation is hit or miss, alternating between fairly dynamic scenes and noticeably flat scenes. The extras are nothing to write to your moms about.

I really couldn't get into the characters at all. The five moms, though physically distinct, all behaved in predictable (and really annoying) ways. Every "outrageous" situation feels scripted. Cheetos is nondescript, especially because his facial features are constantly oscillating between normal, crude, bloated, wilted, and other modes. To top it all off, I understand that these three episodes represent an alternate beginning to a series that already has a perfectly suitable beginning. What is the point?

The bottom line is that when anime gets this conservative, this derivative, and this frantic, it fails to deliver something we should care about. I struggled to pay attention to these three episodes, even when the buxom women were in their bikinis and people were flying around in a haphazard swirl of violence. When bikinis and mayhem fail to grab the attention of a guy hardwired to enjoy these things...well, you know you're dealing with something on the less entertaining side of the spectrum.

Happy Lesson: Mama Mia, leave my courtroom and come back when you have something of substance.

Review content copyright © 2004 Rob Lineberger; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 39

Perp Profile
Studio: ADV Films
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Japanese)

Subtitles:
* English

Running Time: 75 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* Clean Opening and Closing
* Production Sketch Gallery

Accomplices
* None