This week I watched Re: Cutie Honey, a three episode OVA based on the classic Shonen manga. Like the live action film adaptation it shares a story with, the OVA is directed by Hideaki Anno.
The first thing to note about Re:Cutie Honey is that much like one of Gainax’s later, similar shows, Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt, each episode has a different director. Shows like Space Dandy use this structure to create distinct episodic adventures, but with only 132 minutes to work with, Re: Cutie Honey tells a compelling, focused story through three unique lenses.
The overall story is simple enough. An organization called Panther Claw is terrorizing Tokyo, so a tough police officer named Natsuki and a shape shifting vigilante named Cutie Honey are on the case. Honey and Natsuki, despite the latter’s initial reluctance, form a tight friendship/romance and fight together against Panther Claw leader Sister Jill and her Elite Four. Honey’s naive, friendly demeanor and Natsuki’s abrasive competence make for a great dynamic, and this dynamic is what makes each episode of Re: Cutie Honey feel like an episode of Re: Cutie Honey despite the differences.
Now let’s get to the differences. Episode 1 is directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi. As you’d expect from him, there’s a lot of focus on gag comedy and colorful visuals. The crowds of useless policemen form imply an inspiration for Kill la Kill’s One-Stars, and also establish Natsuki’s place in the series’ social dynamic. Sister Jill and the Elite Four have clear parallels as well. My overall impressions with this episode were “this is a story Imaishi felt the need to tell all over again”. But aside from what it can tell us about its director, episode 1 of Re: Cutie Honey is mainly a start to these characters and their situation. Natsuki is serious, Honey naively juggles a job and fighting evil, and Seiji and Kyoko help where they can.
Episode 2 is directed by Naoyuki Itou. While he hasn’t had his name on top of many projects aside from the recent anime Overlord, he has done smaller jobs on several anime, including Chihayafuru and Aku no Hana.
Despite my lack of a reference point for what works may influence it, I found Episode 2 to be the most interesting episode of Re: Cutie Honey. While episode 1 played up the manga’s comedy elements, episode 2 is all about the serious consequences of this world. As Panther Claw starts to target Honey, she is blamed for all the damage to the city. The voices of those who support her are easily covered by those who do not. In the end, the villains demand Honey come forward or they will do worse to the city. This fairly standard superhero narrative mixes well with the fact that this superhero is an attractive young woman. A lot of the sentiment against Honey is quite sexist, especially that which comes from the man in charge of her civilian workplace. When Panther Claw makes its move to kidnap every woman in the city with Honey as the ransom, this boss is left helpless without his female subordinates. In this world, women are simultaneously an easy target yet integral for society to function.
The third episode feels like a copy of End of Evangelion. Appropriately, it was handled by Anno and Rebuild of Evangelion director Masayuki. It is an apocalyptic test of Natsuki and Honey’s bond. Honey finds out the truth about what happened to her father, why she was made, and why Sister Jill desires to reunite with her. Honey wants to keep her own existence, and Sister Jill chooses to try and destroy anything rather than disappear. Through Honey’s miraculous power, a happy ending is attained.
The existential worries presented in the finale don’t do much to answer the question of Honey’s responsibility to the populace. They don’t make any big statement about the value or treatment of women in this world, but the finale does have some small resolutions. Honey was never meant to be a hero, but in the end she continues being one because it’s what she wants to do. Another female character also turns out to embody the type of hero society needs to function. These are payoffs, but they’re much smaller to what could have been attained if episode 2 were the main focus of the story. But there is no main focus.
Re: Cutie Honey manages a coherent mix of action, comedy, and romance while moving through these three different tones. It is simultaneously one film and three. All three interpretations of Honey’s story; action comedy, feminist superhero drama, and apocalyptic romance, are true to the life she leads. She is fun, her busy lifestyle has consequences, and Gainax never makes an apocalypse feel out of place. And that’s why the show grabs me.
On my personal scale, at time of writing, I consider the OVA to be a 6/10 (Favorable). My rough approximation for this on the MAL scale is 8/10 (Very Good). Each episode is as entertaining at the last, and it won’t bore you.