Extremely Androgynous Men, Emo-Girls, and Crazy Plotlines. Oh My.
What They Say
After years of sponging off a fabulously wealthy older woman, four ridiculously beautiful boys are confronted with the most horrifying challenge ever: use their bishi skills to turn their benefactor's socially challenged niece into a beautiful young lady or start paying rent! And this isn't just any ugly duckling they're facing; she's a psycho, paranoid, neurotic horror movie obsessed goth chick with a fetish for anatomical dummies, bad skin and a total ignorance of all things feminine! (And those are her better points!)
But hey, rent's expensive and job openings for pretty boys are scarce, so our poor heroes are going to have to suck it up and attempt the ultimate combined exorcism/spa/makeover from hell!
Contains episodes 1-25.
I listened to this DVD primarily in English with a spot check on the Japanese track. The tracks are stereo mixed and there wasn't a lot of directionality. The sound is clear and there were no dropout or distortions in either track.
Airing in Japan in 2006 the video quality of the series is good. While the animation is nothing spectacular the video quality is clean and crisp and not very distracting.
The series comes packaged in a cardboard slipcase with a group shot of the male bishie cast on the front with their 'project' in SD (super deformed) form lurking in the background. The cover perfectly represents what the show is like as Sunako tends to spend the majority of it in her more comical SD state. There are two clear thinpacked disc cases with reverse covers. Both covers of the thin paks feature Sunako and her harem-esque cast looking like they are posing for a modeling shoot. The reverse covers have a static image of each one of the male members in the group. The back of the thin paks have a simple picture adorning the center and an episode listing for each disc. The back cover of the boxed set has a non-SD picture of Sunako aligned to the right while screenshots and a synopsis of the series are aligned toward the left. Instead of the technical grid being on the bottom, as it is for most Funi releases, it's actually beneath the screenshots on the back while all the production information in on the bottom of the case.
While I've seen some pretty bare bones menus this one is by far the most disappointing I have witnessed. There's no sense of design as it's just a static picture of SD-Sunako with the episode titles just plastered across the screen and the option for language selection and clean opening and closing towards the bottom. No scene selection or other bells and whistles. Not even an attempt to be creative, it's all just plastered there.
Just creditless closing and opening.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
I have to be honest here, while I have heard some good things about the show I was really turned off by the androgynous designs for the male characters. I understand that a staple of shojo anime is to have beautiful men that almost look like women but here it's really taken to such a degree that it actually makes the men look hideous. It took me a few episodes to get past this and completely enjoy the series.
The series premise is very simple. You have four overly attractive young men from different backgrounds living in a mansion owned by a rich woman referred to throughout the series as 'Auntie'. Among the four bishonen you have the main one, Kyohei, who tends to be direct and brash and loves fighting, Ranmaru, who is a stereotypical pretty boy womanizer, Yuki, the gentle one who is also the most feminine and often times victimized into being dressed in drag, and Takenaga who is the most levelheaded of the group and the only one who has a semi-stable relationship with his schoolmate Noi .
While Auntie goes on a trip around the world she assigns the men the task of making her niece Sunako into a yamamoto nadeshiko, or the ideal Japanese woman. At first the guys think this is an easy task until they actually meet Sunako who is presented as a parody of most Japanese movie horror tropes the most obvious being Sadako, the well-girl from 'The Ring', with her long hair and bangs that cover her face. She appears super-deformed most of the time and her hobbies include being in dark cramped places surrounded by various occult objects, and watching extremely graphic and explicit horror films. Most of the young men are just creeped out by her but the blunt Kyohei seems to actually connect with her (mainly because they seem to have similar fighting abilities).
The early episodes on the first disc of the series deals with how Sunako and the young men relate to one another. Sunako seems to have this 'creatures of light' complex that makes it near impossible to even be in the same room as the young men without erupting into a nosebleed fountain. Noi, who quickly bonds with Sunako despite being one of 'them', manages to convince her that she could achieve such status if she worked at it. Gradually, she does begin to tone down her complex, and while she spends the majority of the series looking like an unemotive super deformed blob there are many moments where she transforms into a full figured woman capable of holding her own in a fight, able to fit into high class society, and asserting herself when necessary but more often than not Sunako uses this as a means to an end and once that is accomplished she reverts back to her deformed state.
After the first disc deals with the basic character interactions the second disc just has fun with the characters and the situations they are in. The highlight being the two-parter 'murder mystery' and while it does expand a little on Sunako's strength and weaknesses it is mostly played out for laughs with themes and variations of the 'Road to Womanhood' running gag that occurs during the series. This disc closes out with two very good episodes. The first deals with how the four young men came to live together and how they have changed and grown together since then. This episode is a nice expansion on their personalities and how they all came from very different backgrounds. The last episode has Sunako ingest some poisonous mushrooms which have the affect of turning her into the maiden the four men have striven to turn her into since the beginning of the series. During the course of her transformation the men realize how they prefer the scary Sunako and go to hilarious lengths to change her back. When she does change back Kyohei states to himself that she really is 'better this way' which kind of put a good ending point of the 'trying to turn Sunako into a lady' arc of the series (while they do try in later episodes its never really focused on until the series finale).
The third disc is the weakest having quite a few nonsensical episodes but in does give Ranmaru a potential love interest in Tamao Kikunoi. Tamao is introduced to him through a arranged marriage meeting and Ranmaru tries to dissuade her into going through with the pairing by taking on the behaviors of his male housemates but it ends up backfiring. Eventually the two come to an understanding and decide to call off the marriage but Ranmaru seemingly has some type of continued relationship with her as she continues to be a recurring character for the remainder of the series.
The final discs episodes the series takes on a more semi-serial nature as the events and themes of the episodes seem to bleed into the next. The main theme being how both Sunako and Kyohei relate to their families. While Sunako gets a stand alone episode with some humorous revelations on the dynamics of her parents. Kyohei's family issues get a three episode arc that deal with how his astonishing beauty has caused him a dysfunctional relationship with his mother and everything comes full circle when Sunako inadvertently hurts Kyohei's feelings causing him to run away from the mansion. Once all this is resolved the 'Auntie' returns to Japan in time for the last episode to restart the 'making Sunako a beautiful lady' plotline. Only instead we get development between how Sunako and Auntie relate to each other and how the death of her husband affected their relationship. The series receives a nice closure point as Auntie learns how things have changed since she left and comes to terms with Sunako's uniqueness.
What makes this series work is the random type of comedy that director, Shinichi Watanabe, is known for. There are some points where some jokes do get old such as repeated use of the 'Road to Womanhood' sequences, and the use of the Goth-Loli sisters (something that is lampshaded in the series itself as no one is too happy to see them when they appear). The main characters are far from shallow the manic and random comedy that ensues over the course of this series is what keeps the viewer glued to the set. While the animation is not the A material it actually is fitting when many of the characters descend into simplistic stick figures and SD blobs during most moments of being knocked down or involved in some hyperactive engagement.
Wallflower is one of the last vestiges of the days when ADV licensed every and any series that even remotely had a niche of popularity in Japan. When I watched this show I was reminded of a time gone by where these days companies are a lot more cautious of what they put their money into. In the end I doubt based off today's standards of licensing this series would get dub treatment but I'm glad this was one of the series that came here before the doors closed on the 'anime boom' and I'm also relieved that Funimation saw this series as profitable enough to license rescue it from obscurity.
If you need a good comedy to sit down an watch Wallflower is definitely recommended. It's probably best watched in short bursts instead of a marathon. While not heavy on romance it more than makes up for it in wild characterization.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
50' 52HMX95 1080P HDTV, Samsung HT-Z410 CD Player HDMI set to 1080p and a 5.1 ch Speaker System with 166-Watt Subwoofer.