Watched via fansubs/DVD



PLOT: Kodomo no Omocha or Kodocha, as it is popularly known, is an anime adaptation of a shoujo series full of humor and soap opera drama. What I enjoy most about Kodocha, is how it doesn’t quite fit into any particular sub-type. This series is always fluctuating, and keeping you on your toes. So in the process of adapting the manga into an anime series, there were several changes that were made. Some story arcs were lengthened, and others shortened, or erased. There are even some stories added in. I felt this made the anime a little confusing, but it also re-energized it.

So the main premise of the series is that preteen Sana Kurata is a wildly popular and up-and-coming children’s model and actress. She is tasked with the difficult job of juggling her work, home life, and school life. Which of course isn’t easy with Akito Hayama, the class delinquent, always causing trouble and keeping the teacher from instructing. Sana makes it her mission to teach Akito a lesson, and in the process becomes entangled in the messy drama of his home life. The two eventually become very close, and help each other through hardships involving drama from either family, or Sana’s career.

I’ll admit, while I love how crazy all of the plots are, I think there is too much going on in this series. The show has love triangle after love triangle, dead parents, unknown parents (adoption), divorces, etc. Then there is all the weird kid drama where characters act over-the-top for kids their age. I think a large part of this is because of the age demographic. I’m sure kids eat this stuff up, because I sure did when I first found the manga in 6th grade. That said, it probably doesn’t work so great for advanced intellectual minds.

Well, shoujo manga tend to go in the direction of soap operas, and Kodocha got stretched to 102 episodes, so they had to figure out a way to keep things going. Run out of realistic plot? Throw in some melodrama!

PLOT: Kodocha (short for Kodomo no Omocha)is a series about Sana Kurata, a child actress who’s got her own variety show that’s also called Kodomo no Omocha (or Child’s Toy). She’s a hyper, hyper girl who’s not afraid of her fame or popularity. In sixth grade, she and the other girls of her class are disappointed by their lack of education because Akito Hayama, the school’s toughest kid, is blackmailing the teachers. Undaunted, Sana sets out to blackmail Akito back and restore oder to their classroom.

Once Sana successfully blackmails Akita, she begins to learn more about Akito’s family. His mother died giving birth to him, so his father and older sister are both estranged from him. Naturally, given Sana’s inquisitive nature, this sets her to righting the situation. Once that’s been accomplished, the two begin to talk more to each other and learn more about each other’s lives. Opposites attract here, and the two become very close and eventually fall in love with each other, though it takes a while for them to act on this.

Unlike most shoujo series that follow the two main leads falling in love, Kodocha has a greater focus than that. It’s really about the lives of its main characters, making sure to explore them and follow up on how neglect and abuse and adoption can affect kids. These plots may have quick and unrealistically tidy resolutions, like Akito’s bad home life, but it’s the thought that counts here. Eventually the series veers into overt melodrama by throwing in so many plot twists and shoujo clichés, but I still think it’s a worthwhile look at tough issues for kids.

I totally agree. While I love their awkward first attempts at learning to date (starting with other people first), what I enjoyed most was the familial relationships. I really liked how Akito’s family warms up to him through Sana, and she suddenly becomes the topic of the household that keeps them talking long after (Akito’s sister is a huge fan of hers).

SETTING: Kodocha takes place in “modern” day Japan. Which considering the time it came out, really means the late 90’s. Check out those clothes! Anyways, since this is a shoujo manga, the settings are basically set up to go along with specific dramatic events. The series has the typical field trips, birthdays, and school plays that you would expect from a shoujo series. In addition however you get other events that are built out of home life drama, or work-related events that pull the characters closer to each other, or further apart in order to ramp up the angst.

While there is a lot of drama and exploration of very deep topics (which the show surprisingly takes rather seriously), there is a ton of whimsy. Sana’s mother is a famous novelist who wears traditional Japanese clothing, drives around the house in a small car, and have a squirrel who lives on her head. Their house is filled with every crazy toy or piece of equipment that you’d want, which helps facilitate specific events that otherwise couldn’t take place without a crazy parent or household of everything you could possibly imagine. While it’s all totally unrealistic, there’s a certain quality about this series which lets you suspend disbelief and just enjoy the hilarity.

SETTING: Kodocha stands out from most shoujo anime because of its premise that Sana’s a kid star. She doesn’t have to magically transform or work hard to get attention—at the start of the series she’s already there, and it creates an interesting setting where she has her own show-within-the-show from the first episode. This leads to a lot of humor and drama, and the anime went so far as to add in Sana’s rapping every episode so really play up her TV star ideology. The series also then gets to play with the film industry and publishing, which only increases in the second, unlicensed half of the series.

Aside from the craziness of Sana’s career, the setting’s very ordinary for a shoujo anime about an elementary-school girl. She attends classes and goes on field trips, and all of the major events regularly occur, as Whitney mentions. Sana, of course, finds ways to make everything more fantastic and fun, but there’s that familiar school life core to Kodocha that allows young girls to easily identify with the major events.

It’s probably also worth mentioning that while Sana is working, it is only to become famous enough for her mother to publish an autobiography about the two of them. Once this book is published, Sana has to question her career and what she really wants to do with her life. Rather than looking towards her career, she is always looking back and wanting to be at school to build relationships and learn. I thought this was a nice twist on the usual modeling student.

CHARACTERS: This series has some of my favorite characters of all time. I’m most likely biased because I fell in love with the manga when I was young, but there is something wonderfully fresh about this series. Also, I have to say, I LOVE Miho Obana characters, they never quite feel typecast. That might have something to do with her other series not being very well known, but I think it helps her series feel much more unique and compelling, since they aren’t “selling out.”

Sana is a hyper-energetic young girl who is determined to do anything she sets her mind on doing. She is always bubbling with compassion and positivity, but underneath it all is a fragile girl who is afraid of rejection. Throughout the series she faces these concerns through her relationships with her parents, both adoptive and biological. The series plays off of Sana’s naivety a lot, but eventually she begins to realize she has to face the world straight on if she wants to truly be happy. Much of the show revolves around her learning to express her real feelings, rather than just wearing a mask of happiness all the time.

Akito, Sana’s rival, friend, and love interest is one of her classmates. She early on learns that he is hated by his older sister, and neglected by his father. Akito shares many of Sana’s anxieties, but rather than hiding it, he rejects everyone before then can get close to him. Sana is the first person to see the real potential in him, and he quickly falls in love with her and follows her around dedicatedly like a stray dog. Akito’s development is less obvious, but also well realized as he learns how to deal with his anxieties and anger in a more positive outlet.

The other characters are equally as complex. As I said before Sana’s mom is pretty crazy and unique, and the same could be said for everyone else. What I appreciated the most was that these characters have a strong duality to them. I think their zanier moments help amp up the more serious moments because of this contrast. When Sana’s mother stops joking around long enough to give her some serious advice, it shows not only that they all really care for each other, but that it’s possible to enjoy yourself no matter what obstacles you are currently facing.

Part of what I enjoy about this series is that, while Sana and her mother crack jokes all the time, Akito and other characters react like they are in fact ridiculous characters. It makes me feel better with how many zany things happen in this show.

CHARACTERS: I can’t honestly say that Kodocha has realistic or solid characters from an adult perspective, since I immediately turn into an excited fan when I watch this series. What I can say is that I love all of the main characters, though I find some of their actions to be infuriating.

Sana’s the main draw for the series, and she’ll be the first thing to let you know if you can’t handle it. She’s a ball of intense energy, raring to go from the moment her alarm goes off and overreacting to everything. She needs to mellow some, and Akito definitely balances her out, but I find her a delightful character to watch. Because of her acting success, she thinks she’s more mature than she is, so when she’s faced with her real immaturity, it’s a hard hit that leaves her reeling and struggling to redefine herself. Because of that and her perfectionist attitude, I really identify with Sana, and I wish I had a third of her insane energy. Others may find her to be overwhelming, though, so keep her intensity in mind before committing to watching this whole series.

Akito, on the other hand, is your stereotypical misunderstood punk, the kid with the crappy family life who lets out his aggressions in class. His best friend, naturally, is Tsuyoshi, the class nerd who Akito saved from bullying at some point. There’s a lot of pain in Akito, which makes him a compelling character for me. After all, when you’ve grown up with a family who hates you, it makes sense that you’d act out in order to be popular and feel liked when you can. He grows a lot over the course of the show, which I respect, but I suspect his development’s less realistic when looked at from an adult perspective.

Beyond these two, there are many characters who fit into all of the shoujo stereotypes, but they also work to break the molds when they can. Most notable, for me, is Sana’s mother, who looks like a ridiculous, carefree woman at first glance, but she’s actually making up for all of the difficulties she’s faced in her life. I appreciate the range of characters that appear in this series, as well as their different ways of approaching life and dealing with problems, but I do wish they’d be more realistic and healthy in how they deal with their problems. But do I honestly expect that from a shoujo series? Not really.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: Kodomo no Omocha is a bright and colorful series full of slap-stick humor and sound effects. You can tell within seconds that this series is aimed at young children. The animation and music is so over-the-top that it takes a lot of will power to make it through this series if you’ve gone through puberty. Going hand-in-hand with that fact, you can tell the budget wasn’t too amazing. But really, are children really going to nit pick if a show has realistic proportions or animation? I’d say that Kodocha gets to the real essence of its audience by playing well to the tonality of the series by using animation to enhance drama and by setting the mood. I loved that the animation and directing could smoothly transition from scenes of complete ridiculous hilarity, back to intense drama and angst back-to-back. There may be some awkward moments, but I think the series flowed rather well overall.

The character designs go well to match the personalities. Sure some people are a bit “typecast”, but not really in the sense that you’ve seen them anywhere else before. They’re just very strong archetypes. I think the studio also did a great job of turning Kodocha into more of a gender friendly series. Sure it’s still obviously made for girls, but the manga is much more strongly biased to gender in style and color.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: This show is so ‘90s shoujo that it hurts. It’s got the catchy openings and pop idols and cute clothing and bright, multicolored hair. The animation’s quickly and cheaply made to get the most bang for the studio’s buck—it’s not cheap to make a series of 102 episodes, though, and shoujo series never see that length anymore. Consequently, the series doesn’t look ever look great, and it only sometimes looks good, but it makes up for the visuals with an indefatigable energy that makes it easy to marathon. The director’s Akitaro Daichi, of Fruits Basket fame, and he knows how to effectively time jokes and when to give way to character-driven drama. The series can definitely drag after a while, and I’m sure the second half gets even worse, but this is top-quality shoujo from its day.

The character designs look cartoony in a way that only happens when adapting watercolor-style shoujo illustrations to a bright anime style. The character designs lose their softness and details, despite the anime attempting to keep the complexities of the eye shading. The anime style, while appealing, just doesn’t convey the full emotional range of the manga style, which makes it a little harder to take events seriously. The closest current anime comparison I can think of is Kamisama Kiss, which also lost something of its soft shoujo approachability in the transition to anime.

OVERALL: So if you know anything about Kodocha you probably know that there are two seasons, and only the first season came out in America. Don’t worry about going out of your way to watch the second half. There’s a reason it didn’t get licensed, it isn’t very good. In fact, despite how much I loved the manga and the anime, I don’t know that I’d say this series is that strong. For a children’s show it is very interesting, unique, and compelling. I’d like to see more people pick this series up, but I’m not shocked people aren’t based off of the way it is promoted. There is nothing that quite perfectly sums up the manga. I almost didn’t buy it, but when I did I was addicted.

Kodocha isn’t for everyone. You have to have a real tolerance for unrealistic characters, comedy, drama, and naivety. I think children would love this series, and I still loved it in college, but if you like serious dark series, you probably shouldn’t touch this with a ten foot pole.

To this day this series probably remains in my top ten list, so I give it a 9, because I think it does go beyond “average” anime. However, “beyond” might not be in the direction you like. If I had to standardize my rating, I might say it’s more like a 7-8.

OVERALL: Kodocha is tough for me to sell, since I’m aware of how limited of an audience it appeals to. It’s definitely shoujo done right, but it’s also a very particular kind of shoujo—the quick, frenetic kind that has a penchant for unrealistic drama and a ton of sight gags. You could compare it to His and Her Circumstances, with the mixture of extreme comedy and cutting angst, but Kodocha’s for a younger audience, which makes the combination even more difficult to understand if you aren’t already a shoujo fan.

Basically, if you are a shoujo fan, think about watching Kodocha. It might be too hyperactive and batty for you, especially if you’re into shows like Kimi ni Todoke or Honey and Clover. If you like Cardcaptor Sakura, though, there’s a much greater chance this will be your thing. If you aren’t into shoujo, give Kodocha a wide berth. While it may be a good example of what the genre can do, it’s also very likely to drive away any newbies, especially with Sana’s raps.


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