ADV Films // 2002 // 100 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Sandra Dozier (Retired) // May 20th, 2004
It Ain't Over Until the Final Bell Rings
I'm rather hot and cold over Happy Lesson. When it isn't actively annoying and making me grind my teeth, there's a certain charm to the show. However, at least for this final volume of episodes, my annoyed-to-charmed ratio is about 3-1, even considering the fairly straightforward finale.
Quick synopsis: Chitose is an orphan who wants to move back into his family home now that he is a teenager. Five of his female teachers decide to be his surrogate mom -- all at once. If they aren't competing with each other to be Top Mom, they're killing Chitose with kindness. No, really -- he's lucky to escape the experiments, over-zealous grooming, and other tortures they bring on. Add to this an amorous fellow student and one of the mothers' besotted former colleagues, and Chitose hardly has a moment of peace.
Now, I like cutesy comedies where people get excited and spaz out a little. Note the words "a little." When EVERYBODY spazzes out ALL THE TIME, I get cranky. If Chitose isn't screaming, someone else is. What? Chitose is changing his shoes? "OH MY! WHAT'S HE DOING? ARE THOSE CLEAN SLIPPERS? AAAUUUUUGGGGHHHH!" Huh? Chitose is buying a curry bun? "OH! OH! I JUST CAN'T BELIEVE IT! OH NO!" You get the idea. I was gritting my teeth in frustration ten minutes into the first episode.
The writing seems to rely mostly on how miserable everyone can make Chitose, and how violent/spazzy/sexy the women in his life can get. Even the insertion of a cute wounded puppy to help tone down the near constant freak fest isn't much help. Sure, the puppy is cute, but I'm still annoyed. I don't particularly enjoy the pervert element, either -- a little hentai humor is fun, but done too much it becomes monotonous and predictable, and that's the situation we have with Happy Lesson. After about the millionth time some googly-faced teen looks up a girl's skirt or videotapes a hot babe, my attention is wandering.
One thing Happy Lesson has in abundance is fan service. Practically every girl, from the Hot Mamas to the waitress who is on screen for less than 10 seconds, is giving the audience some type of show. Full-body shower shots, lingering crotch shots, steam bath romping, bare legs in a sexy pose -- you name it. This alone is reason enough for some to watch, and I say more power to you. If that isn't enough, there are five regular characters (the moms) who all represent a different anime cliché: there's the sexy but distant scientist, the girlish child-woman, the buff amazon, the sultry spiritual one, and the domestic goddess. The creators made sure no fan would be left...uh, unsatisfied.
The frustrating thing about Happy Lesson is that, at its core, it's a good show. It promotes the message that love can change anyone for the better, and the moms and Chitose have a strong bond, something even Chitose (for all his protests about being in Hell) admits. There is also some genuine humor. I was in fits of giggles over the hilarious and completely fake looking Robo-Chitose that the quasi-evil Kanna substitutes for the real Chitose in Episode 11.5 and who only says "Hey You," "Of course, are you kidding?," and "Don't be ridiculous!" yet completely fools all the moms.
Unfortunately, the good elements are overshadowed by the tired slapstick, the ugly faces Chitose is always pulling in reaction to the loopy things the moms do, the "accidentally" violent Fumitsuki (who screams or attacks anything she doesn't relate to), and the ever-present fan service. It's too much, too frantic, and too familiar. I can get the same yuks with dozens of other shows that don't make me feel like I'm drowning. Ranma 1/2 is a good example of how the same exact elements can be done well so that they never overwhelm the audience.
The Transfer for Happy Lesson is adequate. The picture has a certain unpleasant softness that borders on edge blur, but the colors are very bright and inviting. The animation style is clean and glossy, without going overboard on the shadow and light detail. Sound quality is very good, with a strong English dub that makes good use of all channels, especially for ambient noise. I really enjoyed the English dub performances, as well.
Not many extras; just the typical character sketches, clean opening and closing animation, and previews.
The episodes in Mama-Lama-Ding-Dong should be crowd-pleasers for fans of the series; you won't want to miss the touching closing episode, which does not neatly wrap everything up with a bow, but does reveal more depth with Chitose and Fumitsuki, and provides some grounding to Chitose's family unit. If you aren't a fan, carefully consider your threshold for in-your-face zaniness and fast-paced spazzing before you sit down for a viewing.
Review content copyright © 2004 Sandra Dozier; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: ADV Films
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Japanese)
* English (Signs Only)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Character sketches
* Clean opening and closing animation
* Review of Volume One
* Review of Volume Two