Happy Lesson: Teachers' Pet Collection (Thinpak) (of 1) (Mania.com)

By:J.J. Matthews
Review Date: Friday, March 17, 2006
Release Date: Tuesday, November 22, 2005

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’s an orphan but isn’t alone for long, as five teachers from his high school move in to care for him with their near-psychotic maternal zeal! Now trapped in their motherly embrace, he’ll get the happiest lessons in life yet! You can join him in this hilarious collection of the sexiest teachers ever to be assigned as homework!

The Review!
English 5.1 and Japanese 2.0 audio tracks are provided with this release, and as is becoming the norm for me in watching these longer sets, we spent a little time sampling each option. There are also two subtitle tracks for the English language version, one with full dialog and one with subtitles that only show for signs and the like (it’s a good idea to turn these on during viewing – but you may have to use the ‘Subtitle’ button on your DVD remote, as the option is not in the menu and I had mixed results on whether the sign subtitles turned on automatically when I chose the English language choice from the menu.) On the dub track, the 5.1 mix here is great. Sound is extremely important to the comedy in this series and because of that a good 5.1 mix is essential. The 2.0 Japanese audio is also good, but you really do appreciate the extra spatial attributes the 5.1 provides for this particular series.

This series is presented in its original 4:3 aspect ratio. The video is smooth with great color and little-to-no artifacting or aliasing visible on my setup. No complaints on this one.

If you're familiar with any of ADV's other thinpak sets, you know what to expect here. The art on both the box and DVD case inserts is quite nice, with the entire main cast and even a couple of supporting characters depicted in one form or another on the packaging. The box itself features a couple nice group shots of the cast, while the individual DVD cases provide some nice portraits of three of the cuter girls. The DVDs and the cases are clearly marked as to what volume they are and what episodes are on that volume.

The menus for Happy Lesson: Teachers’ Pet Collection, as with most of these stripped-down thinpaks are pretty bare bones, with options for each Episode, Language Selection, Previews and DVD Credits. But, the menus are functional and very simple to use; no waiting for complex animations to load.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The cover art for this series makes it pretty clear, if one doesn't know already, that "Happy Lesson" is going to be a straight-up harem comedy. This type of show isn't usually my thing, but I had heard pretty positive word-of-mouth on it, so I went into the series expecting some fairly cliché situations, but hoping for something a bit more that would distinguish it from others of the same type. In the long run, I think that's exactly what I got.

Early on, things don't seem too promising for the series, as it starts out covering some pretty well-trodden ground - albeit with a bit of a twist. Chitose is a high school student who has grown up primarily in an orphanage, having lost his parents at a young age. He's only recently been able to leave the orphanage and move out on his own, taking ownership of the house that he inherited from his parents. At the start of the series we find him living there with five attractive young women, each of whom fits into a very familiar archetype: the homemaker, the ditz, the mad scientist, etc. The twist that comes into play in this situation is that these young women aren’t Chitose's love interests, as you might expect. Instead, they are his teachers who, having been concerned that Chitose was becoming something of a ruffian, have also appointed themselves as his unofficial "mothers", moving in with him and seeing to it that he keeps on the straight-and-narrow.

This setup provides some ripe comedic material as Chitose must deal with the foibles of these five very different women, each of whom is eager to shower him with motherly love and guidance, whether he likes it or not. The first episode puts us right in the middle of a typical dilemma for Chitose's new household. It's parent-teacher conference time at school, and each of the "mamas" wants to be the one who sits in as Chitose's mother for his conference - even "Mama Mutsuki", the homemaker of the group, who is already involved in the conference due to her position as Chitose's homeroom teacher. Rather than solving things rationally, the mamas launch into a contest with each of them going all-out to prove what a good mother she is, and in typical slapstick fashion, these attempts go way overboard, causing more harm than good for the beleaguered Chitose.

Also added to the mix are Chitose's two adoptive sisters - one older, one younger - and Fumitsuki, the cute, bespectacled class president who would like nothing more than to have Chitose as her boyfriend. Later in the series, one final girl, Kanna, also shows up to vie for Chitose's affections, though she serves more as comic relief than any serious competition for Fumitsuki in that regard. So, all told, "Happy Lesson" features a cast of nine girls to Chitose’s one boy. With so many girls to give attention to, the series moves pretty quickly into a bit of a "Girl-of-the-Week" mode, giving each character her own episode to really highlight her personality and her relationship with Chitose. Since there are only thirteen TV episodes total (plus two* OVA episodes), this doesn't leave a whole lot of room for episodes that aren't a girl-of-the-week showcase, but there are a few that highlight the whole cast, and those tend to be among the best episodes of the series. Though, to be fair, most of the character-showcase episodes do a pretty good job of using the whole cast, too.

* (There are actually three OVA episodes in the set, but the first is pretty much identical to the first TV episode, so it doesn’t really count.)

The big difference between "Happy Lesson" and other harem shows is, of course, that most of the girls in this series are out of the running as potential love interests for Chitose. There's a bit of sexual innuendo here and there, with Chitose accidentally getting into situations that are open to a more sexual interpretation, but for the most part the series keeps things focused on the unorthodox mother/son relationships, rather than going down romantic avenues that would have been, frankly, kind of creepy.

Without the emphasis on the usual "will they/won't they" romantic entanglements, "Happy Lesson" is free to play up the comedy side of the harem comedy formula, and this is where the series really shines. Not that there's anything terribly ground-breaking about the humor here... we're again looking at some pretty standard stuff for this type of show: physical comedy, zany, over-the-top behavior, misunderstandings, outlandish fan-service, etc. But the series uses those sources very well, making it work for these characters in this particular situation in ways that don't feel like recycled gags from other shows. For example, I particularly loved the "bottomless stomach" gags with Hazumi, Chitose's older sister. We've seen this before of course (Lina Inverse comes to mind), but the series springs this unusual trait on us at exactly the right time to get the biggest laugh, and that first reveal is enough to make her casual gluttony stay funny throughout the rest of the series, even when it's not the focus of a scene. I think, also, that some of the humor is helped along by not just the gags themselves but some great creativity used in reaction shots. There is rarely a scene that goes by without some sort of reaction shot or sweat-drop moment - and the sheer variety of styles in which Chitose is drawn when he's being stunned or appalled is it's own source of hilarity. All in all, "Happy Lesson" at its best is really very, very funny.

I would say that the place that “Happy Lesson” stumbles is that it doesn't maintain its humor levels consistently over the whole series. Some episodes are flat-out hilarious (an episode where Hazuki decides to compete with the mamas for "custody" of Chitose) and others have a nice balance of hilarity and sweetness (Chitose left at home bonding with the weird Kanna while a robot takes his place on a hot springs trip, getting into outlandish trouble with no one realizing that it's not the real Chitose). There are a few episodes, however, that really drop the humor quotient and spend more time on sweet or angsty stories for the girl-of-the-week that seemed a bit out of place. These episodes are pleasant enough, but they definitely give out that "been there, done that" vibe that the series had avoided quite well in other episodes.

Another gripe I have is with the ending - specifically, the last three minutes or so of the final episode. The series culminates with some big, satisfying events in the last two episodes as Fumitsuki steps up her attempts to hook up with Chitose, eventually jeopardizing the secret of Chitose's live-in situation with his teacher/mamas. But just as it’s shaping up to be a highly satisfying conclusion to these episodes while leaving room for future expansion, the series hits a bit of a reset button, conveniently waiting until the last possible minute to negate certain revelations and pushing the characters back to a point prior to the big reveals. This was particularly disappointing to me, since I don’t think that the events of the episodes had pushed the series so far beyond the status quo that a reset was necessary, and in fact I was looking forward to how things would progress in the next season in light of the slight adjustments to Chitose’s circumstances.

In Summary:
“Happy Lesson” is really an entertaining show that makes for some great viewing when you’re in the mood for something light and a little zany, and I found it especially well-suited for watching in a group. (This kind of comedy just seems to be sort of infectious…what may seem like a run-of-the-mill gag when one is alone somehow becomes laugh-out-loud hilarious when watching with friends.) With its own twist on the harem comedy model, “Happy Lesson” does a nice job of using some well-worn clichés in ways that keep them fun, and although it does stumble into too much cliché in a few places, the series is overall provides some great moments of over-the-top wackiness.

Japanese 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles

Review Equipment
Marantz DV4300 Progressive scan DVD player via HD component connection, Marantz VP-12S3 DVI/Component HD DLP Projector, 110” 16:9 Stewart FireHawk Fixed Wall Mount Screen, Marantz SR9300 7.1 A/V Receiver 140 watts/discrete channel (7), DTS/DTS-ES/DTS Neo: 6, DD, D-PLII THX Certified 7.1 speaker system

Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: A
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: N/A
Age Rating: TV 14
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: ADV Films
MSRP: 39.98
Running time: 425
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Happy Lesson