Popotan Vol.01: Vanishing House Review
Only in Japan could you find a show so sickeningly cute. Everything about Popotan screams bubblegum cutesiness; from the babyish character design to the extremely bright colour scheme and syrupy, sentimental plot lines it’s definitely the kind of show real manly Anime fans wouldn’t be seen dead watching. However, as a fearless Anime reviewer it’s my duty to remain open minded about all genres of the medium, yet that being said, as soon as I saw the trailer for Popotan I almost immediately wrote it off as a typical cheesy kids show, but when I sat down to watch this first volume, I found myself enjoying it a little more than expected.
Popotan tells the story of three magical sisters who live in a mysterious teleporting mansion with their loyal maid, Mea. Ai is the oldest sister, a buxom beauty with a very kind, gentle nature and the ability to talk to plants. Next in age is Mai, an irascible teenager with a heart of gold and super physical abilities, and finally the youngest is Mii, an insanely rambunctious young kid with the power to heal. The reason for their powers is unknown, but together the family drift from place to place, never staying in one city too long before teleporting to the next. With each new teleport comes major upheaval, but also the promise of making new friends and going on new adventures week in, week out.
The word Popotan comes from a play on the Japanese word for Dandelion: Tanpopo (or Tampopo), a plant which is at the heart of the only real ongoing narrative present on the first volume. Whilst each of the four episodes have their own closed storylines it’s clear that behind all this is the bigger story of why the sisters, Mea and the mansion have such magical powers and why they lead such a nomadic life in the first place. What we do know at the start of the series is that they seem to be looking for something and only specific batches of dandelions can tell them where it is – oh and also a great big dandelion seed in the sky appears when it’s time for the family to move on. Other than that it’s anyone’s guess as to what this show’s about! The narrative is extremely slight at the moment, add to this the generally dull and unoriginal nature of the stand-alone episodic plot lines - which only highlights the fact that our lead characters are all walking clichés - and it’s clear that the main appeal of Popotan isn’t the writing, despite all the various genres it incorporates. Nope, it’s definitely the style. Popotan is an extremely lush looking show, the character design is pretty quirky and the colour schemes are so vivid they almost burn the back of your eyes out, but the most impressive aspect must be Osamu Tezuka’s wonderful score (no not THE Osamu Tezuka, but a composer with the same name). Incorporating an eclectic range of instruments: violas, harps, pianos, harmonicas, acoustic guitars, xylophones and other numerous percussion and wind instruments, to produce a number of evocative melodies that accompany the tone of the show so well, he pretty much almost singlehandledy makes the series worthwhile.
However, coming back to the quirky character design for a second, there was one particular aspect that I didn’t care for at all and that was the amount of nudity on display. It just doesn’t gel very well with the childlike designs, it doesn’t advance the plot in anyway, nor is it the but of any funny gags and Ai’s breasts in particular look like two inflated footballs with a couple of jelly tots stuck on, they’re ridiculous! Still, despite the mediocre elements, Popotan manages to be very watchable as harmless fluff entertainment goes. At the moment the stories and characters are not even remotely emotionally involving but I can certainly think of many worse shows to sit down and idle away 25mins minutes with - at least this one is almost guaranteed to put a big cheesy grin on your face as you watch.
While I have tried my best not to reveal too much about each episode in these synopses, please bare in mind that the second episode and onwards may feature spoilers for the episodes prior.
Episode 1. Secret House: The story kicks off when a young boy named Daichi sneaks into the Popotan Mansion mistakenly thinking it is an haunted house. He’s trying to snap a real live ghost to help out a friend at school who made a public declaration that they believe in ghosts, but all Daichi finds is a wet, naked Ai fresh from a bath. However, instead of calling the police, the three sisters are touched by his desire to help a friend and pledge to help him fake some ghost pictures so he can return to school with some evidence back up his friend’s beliefs.
Episode 2. Friends: A new day, a new town, but it’s business as usual for the Popotan girls. Ai and Mii take to their new city like ducks to water, quickly fitting in to the foreign surroundings; Mai on the other hand is slightly depressed. She’s growing tired of constantly making new friends only to part with them when the family moves on. The heartache keeps accumulating and now she’s determined to remain as aloof as possible to ensure that leaving will be totally painless this time round. The problem is that one girl, Konami, has taken a shine to the newcomer and is determined to make friends.
Episode 3. Magic: Mii has decided that she will become a Magical Girl just like her favourite TV character, Lilo. As ever Mai isn’t particularly impressed by her sister’s latest fad, but Ai is only to happy to indulge the youngster and takes her into the city to buy a tailor-made Magical Suit. With her swanky new outfit on, Mii takes to the city helping random passers by who appear in need of help, one such person is a lonely man whose hospitalised daughter has no friends. Naturally Mii is only too eager to help and when she finds out that the girl is a fellow Lilo fanatic, the two become firm friends in no time, causing mayhem across the hospital.
Episode 4. Alone: Whilst tending to the mansion’s built-in Christmas Goods Store, Mea is visited by an energetic young girl who is convinced she’s in a toy shop, despite Mea’s persistent statements to the contrary. At first the child is just a minor nuisance, but when she mentions she came from a nearby village, then vanishes as soon as the sisters get home, Mea’s curiosity is piqued. However, when Ai reveals that the only village nearby is one that was abandoned a few years ago, Mea becomes convinced that something very strange must be afoot. Just who is this mysterious young girl?
PresentationWith a colour scheme that makes a rainbow look bland, Popotan is just begging for a nice, sharp transfer – unsurprisingly coming from Geneon, that’s exactly what it receives. Presented anamorphically at 1.75:1, the print is pretty spotless and compression is excellent so colours are clean and very bold, add to this excellent brightness and contrast and you’ve got one of the best Anime transfers I’ve seen in a while (and that’s saying something). However, it’s not flawless, there are the common moderate niggles of (extremely) mild Edge Enhancements, including an extremely faint ghosting effect that looks a lot like edge enhancement during episode one, and the some very faint mosquito noise in areas of fine detail. Obviously you’d have to really scrutinize the image to spot on most home systems, only those with high end set ups will spot them in normal viewing.
For audio you have a choice of Japanese/English DD2.0 Surround, and both do an excellent job. I primarily listened to the Japanese track, which is loud and punchy, with deep, full bass and warm, clear dialogue. Music reproduction is also spot-on, the score is handled delicately while the poppy opening and closing themes are like a wall of sound but the dynamics are clear throughout all of this, which is quite impressive.
In comparison the English track is just a touch louder but pretty much identical in quality to the Japanese. The dub itself is pretty good as well, the American voices all suit their respective characters, although the youngest characters like Mii and Lilo do sound a little older than they should. It’s to be expected though, western voice actors have always struggled with baby voices more than their Japanese counterparts.
Optional English subtitles are present with no spelling or grammatical errors I can recall.