Judge Geoffrey Miller was never a teacher's pet in school, but he never had a smokin' anime chick for a teacher.
Hot for teacher? How about five of them?
Anime is a deeply self-referential culture that constantly feeds on itself. The same ideas get recycled and regurgitated, milked until they're bone dry. Happy Lesson uses the shared base of knowledge built by anime's culture as a handy shortcut to jump right into the action without lots of explanation or exposition. It's simultaneously a tribute to and parody of popular anime series from the past and present. Bright and cheerful, the show gets by on its charm, even though it's highly formulaic.
Facts of the Case
Chitose Hitotose is an orphan, now a teenager staying in the house his parents left to him while he attends high school. But he's not living alone; he has five of his teachers living with him! Taking the role of surrogate mothers, the quintet nurtures and cares for Chitose, when they're not blowing him up or torturing him. Still, they form something akin to a happy family—although they make sure to keep their living arrangement a secret. Chitose is constantly juggling school, his life with his "mamas," his adopted "sisters" from his old orphanage, and girls with crazed crushes on him, with the expected comedic results.
Happy Lesson: Teachers' Pet Collection is a box set collection from ADV that contains 17 episodes on three discs.
If you have the least bit of familiarity with anime, you surely know all about the "harem" genre. Take an average teenage guy, surround him with a bunch of cute girls (preferably ones that fit into various stereotypical roles), and put them in close quarters—wham, blam, hilarity ensues! This is the template that Happy Lesson is working from, and it skips past the formalities, assuming the viewer is already familiar with the basic setup. The characters are introduced in quick order: here's our main protagonist Chitose; here are his classmates; flash to lightning-fast glances at the five motherly teachers. And that's just the first episode!
After the whirlwind introduction, Happy Lesson slows down the pace—but only long enough to allow us to catch our breath. The "mamas" (as the show refers to the teachers living with Chitose) is given some more room to show off their personalities. In the fourth episode, Chitose's two "sisters" are introduced. Minazuki (Mina for short) is not just Chitose's adopted little sister, but a perfect replica of the "little sister" character so popular in anime, complete with creepy sexual undertones. Hazuki is older than Chitose and is now a pop idol singer. Mina is the one of the pair we see more of; she practically moves into Chitose's house and becomes a regular.
Chitose is a refreshing change from the usual bland, wimpy, milquetoast "harem anime" protagonists. He starts off as something of a delinquent, getting into trouble and doing poorly in school. He straightens up pretty quickly, but retains a hint of teenage angst and arrogance. He breaks another "harem" cliché by being a leading man who actually isn't afraid of females. In fact, he associates almost exclusively with women and has no close male friends.
The "mamas" are a collection of anime babes who follow their archetypes to a tee. There's Mutsuki, Chitose's home room teacher, and the uber-mama leader of sorts; Yayoi, the school nurse, who dresses like a traditional Japanese woman and is into mysticism; Uzuki, the diminutive art teacher, a bouncy "magical girl;" Kisaragi, the chemistry teacher, a mad scientist/inventor whose experiments always go awry; and Satsuki, the tough, sporty gym teacher. They all try their best and genuinely care about Chitose's well being. But more often than not, they end up causing problems for him.
Chitose doesn't have any romantic attraction to his "mamas;" he truly sees them as mother figures, albeit unorthodox ones. He does have two love interests though: Fumitsuki, the school's class president, is friends with Chitose and harbors a secret crush on him; Kanna is a socially stunted childhood friend of Kisaragi (and, like her, an inventor) who pursues Chitose with a manic fervor. However, they're relegated to side stories that rarely take the spotlight. That doesn't mean that the girls aren't meant to titillate viewers though. With their saucer eyes and perfect bodies, they're sure to make many a lonely otaku's heart pound. There's plenty of fan service; an episode that takes place at a hot spring is an example of the absurdly shameless lengths the show goes to show off these ladies' assets.
A typical episode of Happy Lesson does one of the following: get all the characters together for some crazy antics, or shine the spotlight on one solitary character. It's the former that's more successful, letting the conflicting, disparate personalities of the cast interact organically. Happy Lesson is at its best when it concentrates on fast, zany, action. At times, the show is closer to a Looney Toons short than it is to any of its anime contemporaries.
The overblown gags that comprise the show's best moments poke fun at the sort of jokes anime has leaned on for years, in much the same way Project A-Ko did in the '80s. Happy Lesson's favorite trick is drawing its characters progressively cruder as scenes get more and more outlandish, a common anime technique that it stretches to the limit. When the animators are through deforming their creations, they resemble a child's crayon scribblings. This playful attitude and fondness for satire go a long way toward keeping the show fresh.
All of these madcap high jinks come at a price, though. There's a serious lack of characterization and depth. Characters are only explored as much as the shallow plots require. Yes, there is the occasional slower, more meditative episode, such as when Uzuki befriends a young boy in the park. But these explore obvious facets of the characters' personalities, and they're by far the weakest episodes in the series. When it comes right down to it, Happy Lesson's threadbare premise isn't sturdy enough to support any dramatic stories. Quite simply, playing it straight isn't its strong point.
Happy Lesson: Teachers' Pet Collection is a budget-priced, no-frills package, a treatment ADV has been giving to a lot of its anime series lately. It certainly looks great, with a transfer that does justice to the show's idyllic scenery and colorful characters. The English dub is presented in 5.1, but the voice acting is inferior to the original Japanese track (only available in 2.0 stereo). Several of the American actors are miscast, and they mispronounce many of the names. (Chitose becomes "Cheetos," among other slip-ups.) It's a shame, because the localized script for the dub trumps the direct translation.
There's not a thing in Happy Lesson that hasn't been lifted from somewhere else; there's nothing original or particularly special about it. Yet I can't deny that the show is occasionally enjoyable. When it's not taking itself seriously, it's a wild, entertaining ride. During a time when so many anime series are intent on telling epic tales crammed full of muddled philosophical musings, its modest scope is refreshing. If you're looking for some light-hearted comedic anime, you could do worse.
In keeping with the spirit of the series, Happy Lesson: Teachers' Pet Collection gets a C+.
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