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October 05, 2000

Jasmine Jello

"Yeah, jasmine jello melts in your mouth, and it's tangy, and slides down your throat, and is minty and sweet, and smells good, and... I wanted to tell you about it, Yuusuke. I thought that it would make you feel better."

Thus says Noelle, speaking to Yuusuke, her 'husband', who is recovering
from a cold in the fourth episode of 'Tenshi ni Narumon'. The reason I
quote it is that I think it somehow says something about my feelings
toward the series, like a poem. And like a poem, I don't really know
what the hell that is.

I know for a fact that some members have already had a sampling of this
series, having inflicted it on them myself. So maybe I should find
something else to review, but I feel compelled to write about this
series anyway. Call it therapy.

Let me kind of set the stage here. When hordes of NOVA members were
watching Marmalade Boy, I was right there with them. The light humor and
unorthodox relationships tickled my funnybone. But when Child's Toy was
making the rounds, I managed to miss the whole thing. For some reason
the peculiar elements of the series just didn't resonate with me.

Now I find myself fascinated with a new series which has elements of
both. The romantic cross-currents of Marmalade Boy are there, and the
goofy non-sequitur humor of Child's Toy is mixed in as well. But the
creator has a hyperactive imagination, and an overdeveloped sweet tooth,
resulting in a series where C-ko has joined the Munsters in an extended
reinterpretation of Urusei Yatsura.

Maybe that's the key here. I was a faithful subscriber and charter
member of AnimEigo's Urusei Yatsura club, and I just couldn't get
enough. Lum was probably the first anime female I fell in love with. And
the premise of the series, an Earthly loser trapped into a marriage
alliance with an alien demon who seems oblivious to his failings and a
powerful family which threatens him with anihilation (albeit usually
subtly) seems to be an unwritten cultural subtext. One that just grabs
me in the gut and then shoots me with a million volt lightning bolt.

How's that for creepy fixation talk? Well, it gets worse folks. I'm here
to assure all you secret double agents infiltrating the club for Pat
Robertson that I have no lustful feelings for Noelle. Who could really
feel lust in their heart for C-ko? I mean really! No, what is charming
about this series is the premise--which in many ways mirrors that of
Urusei Yatsura--and the neverending panoply of goofball visual
enchantments. Where else but in Tennimon (the playful nickname bestowed
on the series by it's fans) can you encounter a rubber WWF-style
wrestler, a bishonen villain straight out of the heyday of Heavy Metal
magazine, giant robots that seem to come from a Hello Kitty
catalog--hey, stop me if your head begins to spin. Dr. Slump never had
it this weird!

Without committing the sin of spoiling the entire series by giving
blow-by-blow descriptions of the episodes I've seen so far, let me
briefly review the setup. Yuusuke is a high school student who one day
accidentally stumbles upon Noelle, literally. When he further
accidentally kisses her, she declares that he is her husband. From there
on Lum, excuse me, Noelle, is the albatross around Yuusuke's neck,
pursuing him and invading his space regardless of his love-from-afar for
a talented high school girl. Into this nascent triangle insert
Dispell-sama, the baroque bishonen villain who collects 'beautiful
things'. And guess what beautiful thing is on his mind now? Correct!
Noelle. So she is targetted nearly every episode with some scheme or
other of Dispell-sama's. Mmmm, nutty goodness!

The visuals of the series are delightful, having at the same time the
simplicity of series like Urusei Yatsura (there he goes again) and the
peculiar complexity of Dr. Slump. The quality of the artwork is
first-rate, and while there are the usual anime shortcuts, they are
woven into the motion and art of the series, and don't grate on the
senses as in a show like Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne. Of course, much of the
visual gimmickry is cute to the extreme, but it fits here, it fits.

Most of the characters are rather two-dimensional, played for laughs,
but still fun to watch. Noelle's father looks like Herman Munster with
tusks, and is looking for honest work in the human dimension. Sara,
Noelle's older sister, is invisible, literally, for the first few
episodes, but as she begins to show her face, I suspect she will also
take on more weight as a character. The grandmother is a witch, the
brother a vampire. The mother seems perfectly normal, if her ears are a
bit pointy (trivia point: the mother's voice is done by the same actress
to bring us Tendo Akane). Anyway you get the idea.

Before I shuffle off to watch more episodes, let me make one more
observation: I love the opening theme song. It is cute, quirky, and
sets the tone for the series very well. When I show this series to my
daughter, I insist on showing it from the beginning every time, just so
I can enjoy the theme again. Moreover, I've gotten an MP3 of it, which I
play now and then on my desktop computer in my den. So if you listen to
this tune as you watch your first episode and it makes you sick to your
stomach, you know what to think of the rest of this review, and you are
excused from the room.

One word of warning, and this is perhaps some of what confuses me so
about this series. I insist that it is a very innocent, child-like show,
and harmless for even the youngest viewer (so I tell my wife when Kelly,
my 4 1/2 year-old and I sit down to watch it). However, it seems that
every third adult female and some of the magical younger ones (like
Ruriri, the catgirl demon) are remarkably well-endowed, and rather
in-your-face, if you'll pardon the expression. They are, as some have
expressed it, 'Gainaxed'. So if the occasional inexplicable
bounce-factor would put you off then steer clear.

I've had a tendency to make these reviews longer and longer of late, so
let me restrain myself here and wrap things up. I've mostly talked about
my own feelings about this show, which is strange since I'm still not
sure how much I like it. I've always had a reputation for liking the odd
stuff, and this will only serve to cement that reputation, but I think
anyone interested in shoujo comedy, romantic comedy or just plain
bizarre stuff should consider giving this series a few episodes to grow
(or rot) in their hearts.

Posted by dpwakefield at October 5, 2000 11:15 AM