Hot Spring resorts, time-travelling and a sinister silver-haired gigolo are the latest introductions to the genre melting pot of Popotan, as Volume Two sees a marked increase in plot and character developments. Matt Shingleton reviews.
The Popotan sisters continue their mystical journey with the aid of the ubiquitous dandelion plants. In the latest volume the sisters will come face to face with an old friend, confront their own loneliness and finally start to edge closer and closer to their destination.
Right from the start volume two of Popotan fixes many of the problems I had with volume one. The most important change is that the twee story of the week format is no longer adhered to; instead we have three episodes out of four that remain centred on the Popotan sisters and just what exactly it is they’re searching for. Nor do we have to wait long for answers either, episode five may at first appear to be a derivative “Hot Springs” episode, complete with ping pong contests, a beauty pageant, and of course the obligatory excessive amount of nudity, but it has quite a lot of plot development occurring on the side. Some of the Hot Springs clichés are quite fun and entertaining – like the ping-pong competition between Mai and Mea, but what really drives this episode forward is the feeling that we’ll finally get an explanation for the sister’s random transcendental sojourns, and the scene that reveals what it is they’re searching for is a truly magical moment.
Another change in episode five is that it leads into the next installment on a cliffhanger, so that episodes five and six form a two-part story arc, the second half of which, reveals quite a bit more about the lead characters. For a start, we discover that they’re not just teleporting between locations, but forwards in time as well, which certainly increases the mystery surrounding their origins and journey, but there’s much more to reveal before the episode is done as we get a good sense of just how out of control of their own fates the sisters are. Expanding on the themes of episode two – which dealt with Mai’s anxiety over her nomadic way of life, episode explores the tragedy of her life with much more poignancy, not only that it goes a long way to fleshing out each member of the Popotan household as fully realised individuals rather than cardboard cutout Anime stereotypes.
The end of this two-part arc raises many questions, but episode seven cruelly forgoes any answers to give us even more tantalising glimpses into the Popotan universe and continues with the tragic theme of the sister’s disassociation not only from their own society, but there own lives as well. A painful reminder of this to Ai is the return of Daichi, the young boy from the first episode who has now grown into a middle aged father of one – meaning that in just seven episodes Popotan’s story has spanned thirty years. Daichi’s arrival is followed by Keith’s, a silver haired, golden-eyed stranger who clearly knows a lot more about the sister’s mission than they themselves know and who wastes no time in establishing a romantic relationship with Ai – of course in keeping with the show’s unoriginal nature, it will come as no surprise to viewers when its revealed that Keith is not quite as trustworthy as he first appears, but at least his arrival has introduced the prospect of some sort of antagonistic presence into the story.
Unfortunately, episode ten returns back to the trite standalone drama of the week format from volume one, this time to take a Christmassy look at the differences between modern and traditional Japanese values during the festive season. The Popotan mansion warps in next door to a strict Shinto priest and his young granddaughter Nono – who has a deep love of the Christian ideal of Christmas as a time for family and gifts, which is obviously a notion her hard-lined traditionalist grandpa isn’t particularly impressed by and you can imagine the effect this grumpy old man’s anti-yuletide rantings has on the effervescent Mii. It’s a fun but totally lightweight affair in comparison to the episodes that come before it and I can only hope that this is the end we’ll see of the sappy standalone storylines leading into the concluding volume of the season. However, I won’t be holding my breath for any changes in the show’s format.
I still cannot imagine how Popotan would fare without Osamu Tezuka’s dreamy folk melodies to underscore the dramatics brilliantly with very simple but effective compositions. With the increase in the tragic elements of Ai, Mai and Mii’s story across volume two his work is needed now more than ever. The second batch of Popotan episodes have provided a refreshing change from the first – as a result the story has become far more involving, I now actively await the next installment.
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 05. Hot Springs: After arriving at a Hot Springs resort, Ai is delighted to come across a Popotan who has recently come into contact with what the sisters are searching for. It promises to give Ai directions to a place where they can find the answers they’re seeking IF they submit to the plant’s demands that every member of the Popotan household will spend the day exploring all the activities the resort has to offer. The sisters have no choice but to accept.
Episode 06. I’m Home: Ai and Mii have teleported to the next destination without Mai and Mea. At first they’re given a faint glimmer of hope when they realize they’ve arrived at the exact same spot from which they left, but it soon becomes clear that they have moved forward five years in time. What has become of Mai and Mea during these five years? Are they still living in this sleepy Hot Springs resort or have they moved on? With these concerns burning at the back of their minds, Ai and Mii explore the town to find out.
Episode 07. Thing’s that cannot be said: The latest location for the mysterious mansion is a popular beachside summer resort, where the bikini clad Popotan sisters go down a storm with the male locals. However, before Ai can give her bikini some airtime she’s stunned to bump into an adult Daichi. He happened to see the mansion in the background of one of his daughter’s holiday snaps and has arrived to see his old friends, but when he sees that Ai has not aged a single day since their last meeting thirty years ago he is completely shocked. Fortunately for Ai, a handsome stranger comes rolling in to cover for her and convince Daichi he is mistaking the green haired beauty for someone else. But who is this mysterious man and why would he be going out of his way to help Ai?
Episode 08. Christmas: The sisters appear in an old village next door to a traditional Shinto priest and his grand-daugher, Nono. Nono secretly adores Christmas and is entranced by the Mansion’s Xmas store, but her strict grandpa is less than impressed by the female interlopers. Can the sisters help heal the generation gap that exists between this traditional Japanese family?
Just like volume one Geneon have offered up a fantastic 1.75:1 anamorphic transfer. The colour scheme is as rich and vivid as ever plus I saw no evidence of bleeding or digital noise in the palette. The image itself is sharp, with a teeny bit of edge enhancements and for some reason episode seven is noticeably softer than the others at times, but this seems to be due to the animation process rather than the transfer itself.
Volume two maintains the aggressive Japanese/English DD2.0 tracks, both of which deliver deep bass when the story livens up and clean audible dialogue throughout. There is also some particularly effective usage of the stereo soundstage when needed. If there are any differences in sound quality between English or Japanese tracks then I failed to pick up on them.
Optional English subtitles are present with no spelling or grammatical errors I can recall.
Creditless Ending, Art Gallery and Geneon trailers for The Daichis, Sugar and Ai Yori Aoshi: Enishi. I bet you’re just salivating at the prospect of diving into this extensive range of features!
Volume two provides a welcome change of pace for Popotan by downplaying the single episode story arcs and ramping up the main plot and character development. The result is at least three episodes that are far more interesting and affecting than anything on the first volume. Add to this another excellent DVD presentation from Geneon and you have a convincing argument to stick with the series even if you were disappointed by the previous release.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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