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"Wandaba Style" Vol. 1: Can Mix Juice "Rocket To Stardom?"

The Spice Girls were the biggest “big thing” in girl group history. Puffy Ami-Yumi are the latest Japanese import on the scene, starring in a Cartoon Network show that depicts them doing “normal things” in a very abnormal fashion. But can the States handle a combination of the two? When the polar personalities of the girl group, “Mix Juice,” find that they can’t get a gig, they’re forced to take jobs. Enter Dr. Susumu Tsukumo, a boy genius with plans to make it to the moon, wandaba style. Will the girls go double platinum on a rocket to stardom, or crash and burn upon re-entry?

Episodes included on this disc
Episode 1: “Begin Project”
Episode 2: “Let’s Drink to H2CO3!”
Episode 3: “Let’s Sing in the Stratosphere!”
Episode 4: “The Horror of 1600 Kilometers an Hour!”

Dr. Susumu Tsukumo, a freakish boy genius in the mold of Jimmy Neutron and Dexter dressed in disturbingly pastel-colored clothing, has one goal: To mastermind the first human moon landing (he doesn’t believe that America really made it there in the late ’60s). Typical science would probably make it easy nowadays, but the good doc has another idea; environmentally friendly space ships, involving “cute science” that you probably saw on an episode of Bill Nye: slingshots, carbonation, etc. Aided by the oblivious humanoid satellite Kiku #8 (she’s proud to learn “a new and wonderful emotion called ‘getting pissed off’”) and a talking Segway with an ego problem (well, it’s not technically a Segway as it has one wheel instead of two), all they need is a space-worthy group of people with a burning desire to land on the moon.

Michael Hanagata, the poor man’s Nabeshin (even the commentary admits he’s Nabeshin-lite), has one goal: As the manager of the pop idol girl band “Mix Juice,” he wants them to be the first band to play on the moon (for the pay, of course). Consisting of Himawari, construction worker and Enka ballader, Yuri, rock star who gets thrown out of bars, Ayama, bespectacled folk singer who sees fairies, and Sakura, fallen child star who checks eBay to see how many people have bid on her underwear, Mix Juice is the Spice Girls of 2005, or at least will try to be. While I don’t know much about the Spice Girls behind-the-scenes, we find out from the start that Mix Juice just can’t get along. In fact, the “bickering animation” is repeated several times to drive this point home.

For personalities, you’ve got a good variety here. Kiku #8 is blissfully idiotic, while the manager is money-driven to extremes. Yuri and Sakura have many opportunities to display their personalities, but Ayama and Himawari should get some fleshing out as well. Yes, Ayama’s a little crazy, but that’s no real personality trait, and Himawari did not stand out at all. But hey, there are a few more episodes left. The only annoying character would have to be Dr. Tsukumo, but even he’s tolerable when dealing with his foil, Hanagata. And, well, we’ll forget about the talking Segway since the show also seems to do so midway through the disc.

As things stand, I fear the episodes might become a bit formulaic. Tsukumo notices something in nature that can be applied to space travel, instantly comes up with a way to make it to the moon, the girls launch, something goes wrong (due to human error, such as the girls lying about their weight or Tsukumo’s ancient calculation style involving a slide rule), they sing (undubbed, no less) while figuring out how to get back to Earth, they succeed, and they plan another way to get to the moon, all while characters have varying, random “wardrobe malfunctions” (yes, they’re actually called that). Hopefully future episodes will deviate from this path, or else I can see the series getting really old really quick. Luckily, there’s a good amount of comedy and humorous situations; they randomly throw a girl out of an airlock in her underwear to wake her up, for example.

Visually, the show is bright. Blindingly bright, “summer on steroids” bright. I’d much prefer more subdued or realistic coloring, as this style eventually becomes a pain for the eyes. Speaking of eye pains, I’m not sure how to take the designs of the characters. They have young faces, but adult bodies (especially the construction worker). I’m not sure how old to classify some of these characters; they’re out of school, hold jobs and go to bars but their faces look ten years old. Naturally, these faces make the occasional fanservice more awkward than anything. They aren’t as bad as, say, the DearS school of “Chobits meets hentai” designs, but they’re still too close for comfort.

Both design and script-wise, the series has a very big Thunderbirds homage going on. The girls get into the ships via chairs that roll in, Dr. Tsukumo’s catch phrase is “Wandaba Style is go” (instead of “Thunderbirds are go”), and the commentary even points out that as Thunderbirds is popular in Japan (hopefully they never saw the movie), this was meant as a slight parody of that classic “Supermarionation” series.

Clean opening and closing animation are standard on any ADV release, likewise with the previews. We get a rather informative commentary on the first episode by the voice actors, covering some of the weird stuff throughout the series along with the casting process. The next highlight is the ADR outtakes, byproducts of being in a recording booth way too long. They’re funny, but I wish there were more. The talking Segway, Ichirin, narrates some background plot information in a “Wandaba Factoids” section, but this would work better as liner notes in the case. I prefer words on a page to a scooter hurling insults at me. Production sketches are nice, but don’t offer much in the creation process of characters.

Is Wandaba Style a go? Much like the plans to get to the moon, it shows some promise but doesn’t exactly deliver. For an introductory volume, it leaves you wanting more of some things, while hoping never to see others (please, get rid of Ichirin, and tone down the colors, I can’t hear the show over how loud they are). It probably won’t go down as an animé classic, but it’s a decent ride otherwise.

Wandaba Style Vol. 1 will be released on DVD January 15.

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