Anime DVDs You May Have Missed: “Marmalade Boy”

marmaladedvdJapanese Title: Marmalade Boy (TV), Marmalade Boy the movie
Publisher: Tokyopop (USA)
Format: Region 1 DVD, NTSC, Japanese Dialogue with optional English dub and English Subtitles
Length: 76 episodes x 24 mins (TV), 30 mins (movie)
Production Date: 1994 – 1995
English Version Release Date: 27 April 2004 – 26 April 2005
Currently in Print (as of writing): No

When I went to my first local anime club screenings in the mid 1990’s, I was exposed to a number of new genres, including anime aimed squarely at girls and young women. Some of these release included “Magic Knight Rayearth”, “Please Save My Earth”, “Fushigi Yugi”, and of course this title, “Marmalade Boy”. Now with the majority of attendees being male weaned on sci-fi and action anime which was pretty much all that was available in video stores, you can imagine that this shoujo romantic teen comedy was bit of a shock to the system for a lot of us, me included. Initially I sort of dismissed the show, but after a couple of years becoming a little more mature and with further exploration and understanding of the many genres within Japanese animation, I have really come to appreciate this title and love it for its drama and characters. Before I get into why I enjoy this title so much, here’s a little commentary on the story;

Miki Koishikawa is an ordinary teen girl pretty much living an ordinary life. After her parents return from a holiday in Hawaii, they both cheerfully announce that they’re getting divorced. As if the shock of her normally loving parents parting ways wasn’t bad enough, her parents then inform her that not only are they going to swap partners with the Matsuura’s, a couple they met on their holiday, but all of them are going to be living together under the one roof! The absurdity of it all is too much for Miki to take. But still Miki agrees to have dinner with her parents and the Matsuura’s. The Matsuura’s son, Yuu, also attends. He makes an immediate impression on Miki. He’s cute and the same age as Miki.

marmalade1Although she completely opposes the arrangement, Miki finally relents and the two families move into a new house as one. Unfortunately Miki takes an immediate dislike an to Yuu as he comes off as a bit aloof and he likes to tease her. But soon she begins to fall for him, and Yuu seems to be reciprocating her feelings. Adding to the already complex situation is that Yuu will be attending Miki’s school. The inevitable happens and the entire school finds out about the situation. Miki is living with a boy under the same roof! Eventually the misunderstandings are explained, but new problems arise as Miki’s male friend, Ginta Suou, becomes jealous and suspicious of Yuu. Ginta’s relationship history goes back to their first days of high school. Miki once tried to give a love letter to Ginta in an attempt to express her feelings to him, but the letter was discovered by his friends, and Ginta was put on the spot and felt he had to deny any feelings for Miki in front of them, even though he really liked her. Unfortunately Miki overheard the conversation and although things were eventually smoothed over, romance between the two of them seems destined to never happen. Well at least in Miki’s mind. Ginta still has feelings for her.

The ghosts of Yuu’s romantic past also come back to haunt him. His ex-girlfriend from his old school, Suzuki Arimi, shows up to steal him away from Miki. When Arimi sees that the task is more difficult than she initially thought, she starts to date Ginta in attempt to make Miki jealous and to take her focus off of Yuu. But Arimi has to deal with her fellow schoolmate, Tsutomu Rokutanda, who has had a crush on her for a long time. Despite repeated rejections from Arimi, the not very bright Tsutomu keeps on trying to woo her. To make matters worse, Ginta is Tsutomu’s cousin and the situation already adds fire to a long rivalry that is already going on between them. The fact that Tsutomu now sees Ginta as a rival in love only intensifies things between them with Tsutomu making absurd challenges over Arimi to win her from Ginta, something that Ginta doesn’t really want to deal with as he’s not really interested in her or the challenges.

marmalade2Yuu also has to deal with Suzu Sakuma, a very cute teen model whom Yuu meets on the set of commercial that Miki’s mother asks him to co-star in. Suzu is smitten with Yuu and won’t take no for an answer. She attempts to throw as many spanners in the works in Miki and Yuu’s relationship. And if that wasn’t bad enough, Miki and Yuu have to go to great lengths to keep their relationship secret from their parents. But a shocking discovery about one of the family members threatens to permanently end their relationship. And to top it off, if Miki and Yuu’s family life wasn’t complex enough, Miki’s best friend, Meiko Akizuki, is secretly dating her teacher Shin’ichi Namura.

“Marmalade Boy” began as a manga created by Wataru Yoshizumi (who also wrote “Ultramanic”) in 1992 and was published in the shoujo anthology “Ribbon Magazine”. The anime version is part of an unofficial trilogy of 1990’s shoujo anime series produced by Toei Animation colloquially known at the “trendy trilogy”. All three to a degree mimicked Japanese TV dramas and are considered a high water mark for shoujo anime. The other two shows were “Neighbourhood Story” (based on the manga by Ai Yazawa, who is better known in the western world for her follow up series “Paradise Kiss”) and “Boys Over Flowers (Hana Yori Dango)”. The manga and the anime have a bit of a nutty set up to the story. I mean what parents in their right mind would do such a thing as to get remarried to another married couple and live under the same roof together? Amusingly most of the time the story portrays the teens as the ones with their heads screwed on, while the adults are a bit clueless, especially Miki and Yuu’s parents.

marmalade3Once you get past the absurd set up, this is truly a great show to watch. Throughout the entire 76 episode series, Miki and Yuu’s relationship is tested at every turn. Once either Miki or Yuu fight off a potential suitor (who more often than not intentionally or unintentionally cause misunderstandings of rather innocent events), another shows up. You might think this would become boring after a while but it doesn’t. The characters have a real depth to them and situations are full of great drama, but thankfully not too overly melodramatic. Most of Miki and Yuu’s rivals in love have great personalities and back stories, some of which diverge into their own little side stories not involving the two main characters. Suzuki Arimi and Ginta’s relationship is one of the more pleasing side stories presented with Ginta caught between Miki, the girl he first loved and the more outgoing, cute and forceful Arimi. Arimi herself has a similar problem with Yuu, but soon sees Ginta’s charms, even though their initial relationship is a ruse to make Miki jealous. But it isn’t all teen drama. There’s some adult drama with Namura’s work colleague Ryoko Momoi. She has had a crush on him since they met in school, alas he’s in love and is a having a relationship with Meiko, one of his students.

There’s also a ton of very well developed secondary characters who step up in an attempt to take either Miki or Yuu from each other. There’s Kei Tsuchiya who works in the same ice cream shop as Miki and is a piano virtuoso who has run away from his music career. Anju Kitahara is a sickly girl from Yuu’s childhood who also threatens to tear Miki and Yuu apart. The show was a runaway success on TV and unsurprisingly material from the manga soon ran out and quite a few new characters and storylines appeared. The major one is towards the latter part of the series where an American exchange student, Michael Grant, comes to stay with Miki and Yuu. This leads into another arc where Yuu leaves Japan to study architecture at a school in New York which really tests the relationship. This is probably the weakest part of the series, mainly due to the rather shallow and unlikeable Michael. Also dragging things down is that some of the American characters seem rather undeveloped. Unlike the other love rivals in the series, Michael seems really self-centred with few redeeming features and isn’t really believable as a character. Luckily the last few episodes return to some serious and very well done shoujo drama.

marmalade4To be honest, it came as a real shock to me when it was announced that Marmalade Boy would be getting an English language release. It’s the last anime I’d expect to get a commercial subtitled release, let alone receive an English dub. Tokyopop dubbed the entire series and released it in four very attractive and solid boxed digipak sets labelled “The Ultimate Scrapbook”. I’m not sure where the scrapbook reference comes from as there’s no reference in the TV series to any scrapbook of any kind. Even the 30 minute 1995 movie which recounts how Yuu met Miki for the first time is included in the last box set. I find it to be some sort of a miracle that any sort of commercial English language release was even considered, let alone the entire series and movie being released. The Tokyopop version does have some audio problems on the Japanese side with a few episodes sounding rather muffled, and one of the latter episode’s video doesn’t look too crash hot. But overall it’s a great release. I don’t think we could have expected better. The extras are virtually non-existent save for some Tokyopop created ones. One of the more notable ones is an audio commentary by the English dub cast. Usually I find most of these commentaries to be awful as nearly all the time the cast either has no idea of the background of the show (despite actually dubbing it) or they don’t care and make light of the show in a nasty way. Well the commentaries presented on these discs are a refreshing change. While the cast do make a bit of fun of the show, it’s done with respect for the material and most importantly it’s as funny as hell. In one commentary, Miki’s voice actor, Michelle Ruff, describes Miki’s diary, which she always writes in at the beginning of the early episodes, as her “little book of neurotises”.

Now apart from Meiko and Namura’s rather, uh, unconventional and maybe illegal relationship, Marmalade Boy is pretty much “G” rated. There’s barely a hint of sexual behaviour and only very, very vague references to sex, and then only very occasionally. Most of the time they’re playing tennis when they’re not sorting out their mostly platonic relationships. It’s all so middle class, neat and clean. However in 2005 a regional Florida TV station claimed that Miki and Yuu’s parents were “swingers” after a couple of parents discovered their 11 year old child had borrowed the manga from the local library and complained profusely. Oh the horror. One would have thought that Miki and Yuu’s parents were trying to help out their kids by making the divorce process less stressful, but no, it’s all about sex. I remember reading a post on one anime blog at the time which bizarrely defended the parents and TV station for airing the piece on the manga. But gee, let’s call a spade a spade here. There is no excuse for crappy tabloid journalism on a subject that wasn’t worthy of airtime. Who really cares what libraries have anyway. Plus it’s not their job to disallow any material they have to lend to anyone of any age. One would have thought the parents of the child who borrowed the manga would have gone and talked to the library first, but no, off to the hack of a tabloid reporter they went. There’s far, far worse things a kid could read than “Marmalade Boy”, but what do I know? I’m not a hack journalist looking for a news story on a slow day.

marmalade5But back to the review; overall this is one fun little show. For some reason that I can’t put finger on, I find shoujo manga is better at dealing with relationships than romance manga for men and young adults. Perhaps it is because they don’t really dance around the issue, they get to the point. This is by far the best romance anime I have ever seen including “Kimagure Orange Road” and “Maison Ikkoku”. My favourite part of this series is that it almost never stops to take a breath. Once one problem is solved another suitor steps up to try and put a spanner in the works. On paper you would think this would be repetitive and dull, but the majority of characters and situations makes it almost always interesting through the entire 76 episodes. Initially I did find it a little hard to get into, but once I got past the somewhat ridiculous premise, I found to be really fun. Though the series is a little hard to find (especially the latter two box sets), I would recommend searching it out especially if you like any kind of romance in your anime. It’s a really underappreciated show that more anime fans should become acquainted with.

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