Happy Lesson Vol. #1 (of 3) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Friday, January 30, 2004
Release Date: Tuesday, February 03, 2004



What They Say
What teenage boy wouldn't want to spend his days surrounded by a pack of beautiful women? Chitose, that's who! He just moved out of the orphanage and back into his deceased parents' house. But instead of lounging around the ultimate bachelor pad, he's dodging discipline from his five new mothers! His high school teachers have adopted him, and the only thing that overshadows their good looks is their near-psychotic maternal zeal.

Just look at what they've got in store for him. When Chitose starts failing his classes, Mutsuki dons a sexy tutor outfit and beats the knowledge into him. Then Yayoi detects a spirit of misfortune inside Chitose's body, and decides to remove it-by force. And of course, there are the contests in which his mothers compete to win Chitose like some kind of grand prize. How could any young guy hope to survive all this?



The Review!
The “one male” and “many women” model is trucked out again since it’s a formula that tends to work so well on the fanboys. But against all odds, I’m rather amused with some of what they’ve done here.

Audio:
Continuing our trend of nearly twenty years of preferring our anime in Japanese, we took this series in with its original language. The show has a pretty good stereo mix with a fair amount of directionality, which isn’t surprising considering the kinetic nature of the show and the all over the map feel of the character locations during it. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no issues with dropouts or high level distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally airing in 2002, Happy Lesson is one of those series that uses such a great color palette that’s almost soft but not quite that really shines here, particularly on our LCD projection set. The colors blend so beautifully and fully here that for the bulk of this transfer it’s a real pleasure to watch. The only areas we noticed anything looking bad in was a number of scenes where some cross coloration shows up in some of the background items. There’s some hint of it wanting to show through in some hairstyles here and there, but not enough to actually become visible. Aliasing is very minimal though it does show up in a few places, but overall this is a great looking transfer with a lot of great color and depth to them.

Packaging:
With a reversible cover, the first volume of this series uses both the regular and limited editions of the Japanese releases artwork. The front cover with Kisaragi on it features the limited edition releases cover with her in her teachers outfit and book while the other main women from the show line up along the bottom with stars below them. This is a really cute looking cover and highlights the obvious attraction of it being filled with women. The back cover mixes in a number of shots from the show and some menu shots as well as a plug for the manga. The premise is given a good amount of space and the discs features and production information is all quick and easy to find as well as being accurate. The reverse side cover of this clear keepcase uses the regular edition Japanese cover with Mutsuki on the cover and a few of the other women along the bottom with hearts below them. The back cover is laid out the same roughly but with a few differences and different artwork. The insert is nicely done with more shots of the women that opens to a three panel page where three voice actresses and their respective characters are profiled.

Menu:
The menu layout is a cute little piece where the shows logo and character animation bounce in from opposite sides and then disappear to be replaced by another. While this is going on, a row of three chicks does a little jig along the bottom just above the selections, all of this set to an upbeat little tune from the show. The menus are pretty simple with direct episode access and quick jumps to languages and extras. The only thing I wish ADV would change with their menus is a play-all feature on their trailers.

Extras:
The extras are pretty minimal here for the opening volume, with the clean opening and closing animation being the big pieces here while also having a production sketch gallery that runs about three and a half minutes in length.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Back when this particular style of show was fresh and new, I enjoyed it quite a lot because it was different from other things. While it may not have been quite as fresh and new in Japan, it certainly was here. But in the intervening ten years, it’s managed to become somewhat stale to be polite, depending on what’s been done with it. The genre can still produce some gems, though most seem to lose their magic when translated from the manga to the anime. By all rights, Happy Lesson is the kind of show that should make me revolt against it.

In fact, it almost did. What I think was key with it, and it’s something that we as home video folks have to deal with more so than the original audience, is that I didn’t watch all five episodes at once but rather broke it up over a couple of days. Watching all five of these at once and it becomes so overwhelming in its energy and non-stop nature that it can be quite the turn-off. Taking it in doses, as was originally broadcast, and it doesn’t feel that way at all, but rather a chaotic break from the normality of other shows. While many shows benefit from marathon runs, there are many that benefit from being spread out over time.

This thirteen episode TV series focuses around high school student Chitose Hitotose. His life hasn’t been easy and even less so recently. He lost his parents some time ago in an accident and spent time in an orphanage. But now he’s attending high school on his own and he lives in the family house that he’s inherited. He’s a bit rough around the edges, easy to anger and gets into fights at the drop of a hat. But at the core of it all he’s a nice guy who just wants to get by. His older sister and younger sister live down the street from him, but he doesn’t see them too often. His older sister is a popular singer under a different name so he avoids the fallout from that, while his younger sister spends time with him at school and occasional visits to the house.

What makes Chitose’s life so difficult is that even though his parents are dead, he’s got himself five mothers. Or mamas as they insist on being called. Told partially through flashback, we see some of his rough life once he came to the school and how it was all affecting him. Feeling strongly for his situation, five of his teachers at school decided to take him under their wing and raise him as their own and live with him in his house. So the house is filled with five very different young women who all take care of him as if he was their own son, often with conflicting standards and goals, but all with his welfare in mind.

Suffice to say, it would be chaotic if these were plain normal women. But instead, we have some of your basic archetypes here. His homeroom teacher, Mutsuki, is the one who got this all going and took him under her wing. She’s the good natured teacher with a large pair of glasses and an open heart. You’ve got Yayoi, the school nurse who is a direct descendent of Sakura from Urusei Yatsura. She’s got students lined up in the halls who injure themselves for her care and she’s also a Shinto priestess who exorcises demons and the like. Kisaragi is the very quite chemistry teacher who mixes in the personality of Rei from Evangelion with that of Washuu from Tenchi. She builds complex and creepy devices as well as tweaking Chitose’s sexuality at times. Her quite nature combined with explosive results has her as the most feared of the mamas. Satsuki is the “gotta have guts” physical education teacher who pushes the body over all other skills and the group is rounded out by the young Uzuki, a blonde cutie who teaches art class and loves coming up with new costumes to wear.

And don’t forget to add in the female class president who has got the hots for Chitose. She’s a cute little number with big round rim glasses as well but with the advantage of being able to wear her school uniform.

The situation presents itself with a number of obvious comedy choices, especially when combined with the fact that nobody is supposed to know that the teachers are living with him. While he does hate aspects of it, such as the torture he gets from Kisaragi to the forced studying from Mutsuki as well as the loss of his bed and bedroom to one of them, he’s definitely come to love them and his life with them there. But unlike a lot of shows that set up the male/multiple female setting, there isn’t any real wuv implied here. The mamas are not trying to seduce him into bed, though they mess with his mind on occasion. Chitose is not confused about which one he has to choose.

And even better, the show doesn’t spend the first five episodes with each episode adding a new mama to the mix. They start with all five living with him right off and let the show move along from there. I would have clawed my eyes out if half the series was made up of awkward ways of introducing women into living with a high school student.

What we do get is the attempted romance that the class president tries to get going with Chitose, or the desire for a closer family from his younger sister. There is a lot of physical comedy thrown into this, particularly the wild-takes that Chitose comes up with for his reactions to the insanity that the mamas create. Be it trying to stop him from selling the house to some crooked realtors, surviving a skiing vacation with them or their concerted efforts to get his grades up, he goes wonderfully over the top as they try their own creative best to help.

While there are a lot of archetypes and stereotypes here, they’re done rather well. I was particularly glad to see the Sakura tradition from Urusei Yatsura rear up again, complete with an episode where she tries to exorcise the demons from him that cause him to do poorly. None of the mama’s get enough screentime during these five episodes to really come out ahead of the others, but they do get enough time to stand out apart from each other, particularly Satsuki in the skiing episode. There is a sizeable cast here right from the start, but against all odds it ended up being much more enjoyable than I thought it would be – if taken in small doses.

In Summary:
Happy Lesson is likely going to irk a lot of people especially if they only see the first episode. While it does seem to work the formula in some respects, it goes against it in a lot of other areas and that’s sadly what passes for daring anime these days. I found myself laughing more at this than I expected (in a good way) and enjoyed it a lot over the couple of days it took us to get through all of it. I may not be able to remember all of the mamas names off the top of my head, but I like how they all come together for Chitose in the end.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Character sketches,Clean opening and closing animation,Mini poster,Insert with character profiles and voice actress/actor interviews

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Panasonic RP-82 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.



Mania Grade: B
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: A-
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B
Age Rating: 15 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: ADV Films
MSRP: 29.98
Running time: 125
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Happy Lesson