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Grrl Power: Cute Candy Shell on the Outside, Great Anime on the Inside

by on June 10, 2004

The world is chock-full of hyper-saccharine, obscenely cute anime. However, Grrl Power distances itself from the pack with genuine humor and a small of dash of pathos. Created, directed, and storyboarded by Akitoroh Daichi (who directed the cute yet bittersweet Fruits Basket, Kodocha, Jubei-chan, and Animation Runner Kuromi, and also wrote the manga that Grrl Power is based on), Grrl Power has almost all the hallmarks of his apt direction: hilarious one moment, bittersweet the next, and with a machine-gun pace throughout. It’s a wonderful little OAV.

Sora, Ao, and Umi are three grade-school girls who will take on any job if the price is right and if they like the person offering the job. With their small home business, these young capitalists perform a plethora of odd jobs in the town of Kamakura, a small seaside community in Japan. Whether it’s delivering a forgotten box lunch, helping a high-school boy break up with an overbearing girlfriend, or even lobbying an employer to keep an employee on, they take the job if they believe in it, and they’ll look mass-merchandised cute while doing it. Sound too saccharine for you? Well, they are also orphans who are making their way in the world with what little they’ve got, and Ao is a deaf-mute who uses Japanese sign-language to communicate. (That, by the way, is a first for any anime).

However, despite a premise that should result in a show more nauseatingly cute than Hamtaro and Tiny Fairy Sugar combined, Grrl Power balances its cute premise with some sharp characterization, genuine emotion, and a lot of rapid-fire, sometimes subversive, humor. The overall result is a fairly unique product. But, given the staff, that’s almost to be expected.

Staffing is one area where Grrl Power stands out: Instead of joining with a studio like Production IG, Gainax, or Sunrise, Daichi fashioned his show as an independent production, assembling animators, voice actors, and everyone else and managing them directly with funding support from ComixWave and ADV. This strategy in turn directly affects Grrl Power‘s quality: by not having to compromise with a studio, Daichi has produced very much the anime he wanted to make, and as such it has the aforementioned blend of humor and drama he’s known for in spades.

The loosely formed nature of the production crew doesn’t hurt the quality of the show at all. It’s tightly animated (in part due to the fact that the sign language had to be dead on), nicely designed (the background characters have a very unique look, and even the main characters’ design and animation is more cartoony and fluid than many anime), and the backgrounds are vibrant and lush. Even with its simple character designs, the show grabs you visually and doesn’t let go for a second. Meanwhile, the voice acting has the right blend of cute and funny (which the dub superbly preserves) to make the package pretty much complete.

The music is the only thing I can fault. Outside of the sugary opening theme (which Daichi wrote the lyrics for), and the amusing, quite fitting banjo music that turns up, the soundtrack for Grrl Power is pretty average and dragged down in places by lots of string synths and semi-overdramatic or over-comedic cues.

To make up for the short running time (it’s only 25 minutes), the DVD is packed with nearly 76 minutes of extras, such as video from its premiere in Japan, a 43-minute interview with Daichi, and an interview with the US dub cast, plus commentary from the US dub cast, a Q&A with the Japanese cast, production sketches, and of course, the obligatory previews. The video and audio on the DVD are clean and crystal clear for the animated bits, though the interviews are a little muddled sound-wise.

All in all, Grrl Power is a wonderful, enchanting show, and a superb buy at the list price of only $19.98 (as little $12.99 street). Now if only ADV would fund some more of it.

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