Nuku Nuku Dash, or Why You Shouldn’t Mix Plots

This post was moved from Houblog.

Edit: 12/28/05: This is a very long review I wrote over two days, and it contains a ton of spoilers, even before the spoiler warning below. My original review was based on having seen only the first four episodes and then revised after thinking about it overnight. This one is based on the full 12-episode series, and goes into a lot of detail about what’s wrong with the series. If it’s more than you feel like reading, don’t say I didn’t warn you. :-) I’ll summarize for the brief-of-attention-span: It sucked. The writers tried to milk the Nuku Nuku franchise by changing it to a serious drama with a romance sub-plot, while keeping a lot of the whacky elements of the original two series. Ultimately, this doomed the story to mediocrity at best. However, a pair of twists the writers threw in during the last two minutes of the last episode left me furious at having my chain yanked. I thought that they’d actually done something daring with the romance sub-plot and was giving them high marks for it when, in the last ten seconds, they chickened out and went for the traditional happy ending.

All Purpose Cultural Catgirl Nuku Nuku Dash:

This review is far different from the original one I wrote, as the original was based solely on the first DVD and how my thoughts developed after watching it. Unfortunately, after watching the last two, my opinion on this anime flipped straight into the “trash and never bother watching again” category. Oh, I might watch it–if and when I feel like screaming at the writers again.

There were 3 Nuku Nuku series, of which this one is the third. The first was an OVA (Original Video Animation, or as we call it, straight-to-video/DVD), the second was a TV series based on the OVA, and this third effort is an OVA — and a mess.

I was tempted to say it was a disaster, but that’s overboard; it wasn’t horrible, it was just a series of bad mistakes. The biggest was that the writers couldn’t make up their mind what story they were telling. The first two Nuku Nuku’s were comedy/farce. This OVA was serious romance/drama. Unfortunately, they chose not to make a clean sweep of characters and start over with a different setting. I am cynically inclined to think that was so they could milk the Nuku Nuku franchise, but for the purpose of this review, I am going to treat it as an artistic decision, not marketing.


Since the first two series were farcical, inclusion of the familar supporting characters from them meant that either major surgery was required to “correct” their personalities for the serious tone, or the series would suffer from a split personality. Well, if there is an opposite phrase to “having your cake and eating it too,” the authors of this story succeeded in becoming its poster child. They made some of the changes and still broke the mood constantly with the flipping tone. I was never certain whether I should be ready to laugh or tense up. Very good writers might pull off such mix; sadly, these weren’t up to it.

To explain, I have to describe the similarities and differences between the farcical and dramatic versions. In the first two similar Nuku Nuku series (hereafter collectively called the original story), she is a cat-brained combat android made by Mishima Corp. that looks like a 19 year-old redhead. Ryo is the ten year old male lead, and his parents are both involved with the corporation in some way. The mother is president, the father is the chief scientist, and the whole thing is a big custody fight over Ryo. Many whacky characters populate the company, and most work for the mother, trying to grab Ryo, often violently. To counter them, Dad steals and reprograms Nuku Nuku with the brain of a cat that was mortally wounded in one of the attacks.

In the new version, Dad’s still a scientist and Mom’s still an executive (but not president), Nuku Nuku has a cat’s brain, and various whacky original-version supporting characters show up for an episode or two. A couple of violent/incompetent henchwomen stick around for multiple episodes. And that is the extent of the similarities. Oddly, the two women’s personalities are traded from the original story; but they are primarily comic material; when the series turns dramatic, they vanish. In fact, all the goofy elements continued (interspersed with some serious moments) up until the last 3-4 episodes, whereupon the entire tone gets dark and serious.

In the original, Nuku Nuku is a redhead, in the new version she’s a blonde. In the original Ryo is ten, and very much the “younger brother.” In the new, he’s fourteen and very much lusting after Nuku Nuku — and she develops an attachment to him. But because nothing ever comes of it, the whole thing feels a bit hollow — in fact, at the end, I felt like screaming “CHEAT!!!!” at the screen, for reasons I’ll explain later. It’s worth noting that the reason nothing comes of it is largely because Ryo is too immature and self-absorbed.

Both Ryo and his mom are two of the densest people in history. He doesn’t realize the girl with super powers he keeps running into is his new love interest — and Mom doesn’t realize the android she’s been placed in charge of retrieving is her houseguest. We’re talking classic Lois Lane levels of density here. Ms. Akiko (mom) is an Accounting exec who gets promoted to a secret division to find the missing combat android, largely because she’s willing to do anything for the company, including risking her life in a combat helicopter taking on Nuku Nuku. (I said she was dense, didn’t I?) Dad’s a professor who never seems to teach class; he spends all his time in the basement lab (often secretly tinkering with Nuku Nuku).

From here on out, the review is going to be hip deep into spoilers, so stop reading now if you don’t like them.

You’ve been warned.

Next door lives a young widowed mother and her precocious, way-too-worldy six year old, often called Non-chan. I hated her from the moment she starts twitting Ryo about getting Nuku Nuku in bed. I hated her in every episode she appeared for pretending to be a cute innocent child to everyone except Ryo, to whom she was merciless. I hated her, until near the end, when it finally became clear, she wasn’t being mean to Ryo… she was trying to get him over his shyness, insecurity, and tendency to become self-absorbed. She was genuinely concerned for him, and in her own childish, insensitive way, she was trying to help. And because of that, she becomes very important to how I judged — and mis-judged — the end of this series.

All the viewer knows at the beginning is that Nuku Nuku is a powerful android that can leap over speeding trucks and that only Dad knows what’s going on, though even he doesn’t have all the facts. The jump over the truck is witnessed by Ryo, but he doesn’t think it’s strange. (Did I mention he was dense?) It’s the last two episodes before the viewer starts getting any answers, and for two episodes before that, the writers are throwing in more questions. At the end, it’s painfully evident they were just tossing in mysteries that they didn’t think through. You can almost hear the writers chortling, “Oh, wouldn’t that be cool to confuse the audiance with?” So without further ado, this is What’s Really Going On (most of which isn’t revealed until the last two episodes).

MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT

It’s 2011 at the start of the show. The founder, Mr. Mishima, is no longer particularly active in the company, and it’s questionable whether he’s still alive, seeing as he founded it a century before. Unknown to anyone, he’s been making clones of himself and using them to control the company. Apparently he’s been at it since before cloning was invented, since several of the clones are over 50. Also apparently, the more power to run the company that the clones have, the sooner they “expire.” The young 20-something grandson (as most think) will expire in the coming summer, though only he knows that. Another oddity; control of the company is divided up — there’s a main headquarters in Tokyo and a secondary one in Masaka (? — I don’t care enough to go back and check, frankly. At one point, it just has a number.) The young “grandson” is manuevering behind the scenes to discredit the 2nd HQ leaders and take full control of the company. Meantime, a German company is trying to take a controlling stake in Mishima, as well as sabotage their marketing for some unknown reason.

Several years before, Dad and his best friend, Higuchi, used to work for Mishima making experimental combat androids. They were made to look like Higuchi’s girlfriend, who apparently died tragically during the early phases of the project. There were nine androids in the MIFX series. We see -002, -004, and -009 during the series; the latter is Nuku Nuku. No clue about the rest, except that from what -002 says during her battle with Nuku Nuku, they should all probably follow the same design specs as -002. During this project, Higuchi and his girlfriend had a couple of identical white cats; they named both of them Nuku Nuku as a joke. (Edit: correction, reader Hucklebubba pointed out the second cat was named Rei Rei. I missed something in that scene.) One of them (Nuku Nuku) tended to hang around the lab and sleep in the hand of a giant robot they were also working on. It’s sort of glossed over, but as they built the androids, Higuchi and Ryo’s dad chose to take the brain of one of the cats (Rei Rei) and implant it into model MIFX-004. Combining the cat’s brain, the android’s body, and psychic experiments from another project, they created an android that had mental control over atomic bonds and was willing, in fact eager, to destroy anything and everything. She was “created to destroy all life.” Kinda makes you wonder what the hell they thought they were doing. Because she was so dangerous, -004 was shut down, and sealed up in a basement vault so that the only person who could ever get to her was the founder.

A few androids later, they used the other cat’s brain (Nuku Nuku) in model MIFX-009, which must: “protect all life. I was created to stop that which would destroy all life.” It seems easier to just disassemble the first one if you ask me, but the writers didn’t, so there. She also has built in the Mishima “Life Safe Mode,” which is functionally equivilent to Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics. (Higuchi invented it, and it’s an optional part of many of their weapon systems.) This is the Nuku Nuku we come to know; a cat brain in an android body; she’s lost most of the cat memories (and most of the android ones get supressed), but still does the odd “cat-like” thing from time to time. Cats and Mishma sensors react to her as a cat. It’s a sop to the first series, and utterly unnecessary if they’d just told this story independantly and straight. But how cats react to her is a factor in the final scene, so I mention it here. Ryo’s dad resigns from the company and spends his time making things (that don’t make money) in his basement lab while Ryo’s mom brings home the paycheck and cooks dinner when she can.

All clear so far? Jump to the “present” (2011), but still before the series opens. Higuchi has for some reason, decided to steal Nuku Nuku and escape from the company. I think he might have somehow gotten wind that someone was interested in reactivating -004, and wanted to make sure -009 would be available to stop her. The guards attempt to apprehend with deadly force as the two escape through the storm drains, wounding him seriously and apparently capturing him. Before they catch up though, Higuchi uses codewords to erase Nuku Nuku’s memory and send her to Ryo’s dad, with whom he’s arranged a cover story. It’s right after this that the series actually starts. (We see all of this in flashbacks).

Skipping the first 7-8 episodes as fluff, the “grandson” Mishima (who apparently knew where Nuku Nuku was all along) finally reveals himself and tries to get Nuku Nuku to activate, but he’s miscalculated. It looks like he wants her, but what he’s really up to is trying to determine her powers and if she can stop -004. I guess. It’s never really clear what he was doing. His miscalculation was to get Nuku Nuku thinking he is also an android; since he’s “not alive” she doesn’t activate her powers when they are attacked by the now displaced president of the second HQ. When Ryo appears and is danger, then Nuku Nuku activates. And Ryo still doesn’t figure it out. Did I mention he was dense, perhaps?

In the next-to-last episode, Higuchi shows back up and is going to take her away to Germany. Despite being badly wounded and caught by the guards, he was released. No, it’s not explained. He then emigrated to Germany, where he now works for Mishima’s competitor. He’s the reason that company has been trying to take over Mishima and discredit their products. Only now he’s a selfish bastard and just wants to take Nuku Nuku away to Germany with him because she looks like his dead girlfriend. Maybe that’s why he grabbed her in the first place–either way, he’s no longer the altruistic designer of the “Life Safe Mode,” he’s just another rat bastard. The two of them leaving is fine with Ryo’s dad (who doesn’t know anything about the attempts to reactivate -004), though Ryo himself feels betrayed by Nuku Nuku — he has angry last words with her and goes into a funk. Meanwhile, Ryo’s mom realizes that the clone Mishima is up to no good and lays a trap for him by calling in the company auditors (who turn out to be clones also) and some guards. Unfortunately, she doesn’t reckon with the fact that this Mishima is guarded by another android. She ends up his prisoner, and gets to be the hostage-to-whom-the-bad-guy-explains-it-all. He takes her to the hidden chamber in the basement and activates -004.

“Android activation in thirty seconds. Please maintain a safety perimeter of at least ten kilometers distance.” That’s the computer message as he goes to release her. I kid you not.

All is revealed in the final episode, as the military, who have been secretly watching all this, now move in to stop -004 from being activated. Up against Mishima’s tech, they fail spectacularly — but Ryo manages to walk right in despite all the gunfire, missiles, and shelling. He’s trying to find his mom and Nuku, and get the answer, is she really an android? (Dad and Higuchi have finally ‘fessed up. Sorry son, you’ve had the hots for a machine.) Nuku Nuku has abandoned Higuchi to go meet her designed destiny: stopping -004. So she rescues mom, hands her off to Ryo, who has a really touching goodbye scene (not) with Nuku Nuku before she leaves. (I say “not” because by this time I just couldn’t take the romance seriously any more. ) About that time an explosion destroys the stairwell and outer wall, so Ryo and mom fall out the hole from 50 stories up– but don’t worry, Dad swoops in using one of the military’s attack copters and grabs them.

No, I didn’t leave anything out. It’s really that absurd.

The bad guy and his android died in the release of -004, so all that there is left is the quite anticlimatic final showdown, which destroys both androids and a major portion of the Mishima building. No spectacular battle, no witty dialogue, just Nuku Nuku running up to her “big sister”, saying a tearful goodbye to the absent Ryo, and self destructing. Boom. That’s what happens when you can’t move ten kilometers in thirty seconds.

Epilogue: Jump to four (or eight?) years later. A visibly older Ryo is coming back, having left for college only a few days after the final showdown, and not returned until now. I’m confused over how he went from junior high to college in one fell swoop but let’s not worry about details, ok? (Well, he might have said “school” and I just assumed college. No idea why he had to leave town though.) He’s met on the street by the beach — at the exact spot he first met Nuku Nuku — but this time by Non-chan, carrying two kittens. She’s ten now (looks at least 12-13), and obviously quite happy to see Ryo. They talk as they walk down to the beach. Both are obviously at ease with each other, and have kept in touch. At this point, despite all the idiocy and holes in the plot, I was fairly impressed. There’s less than ten years difference between the two, and I see that all along, the real romance story wasn’t “android vs. human” it was “dream girl vs. girl next door — who was waiting to grow up and catch his heart.” Damn, now that’s cool –writers that can throw that kind of curve ball and leave you feeling satisfied in a happy ending can’t be all bad; I was actually impressed. Despite all the stupidity, schizoid tone, illogic, and everything else, I was giving the series a thumbs-up just for that….

Until Ryo sees a blonde girl his age — in a very familar hat and dress, and the kittens jump loose to run over to her as she turns…

Yep, Dad rebuilt her.

“CHEAT!!!!! CHEAT!!!!! CHEAT!!!!! DON’T YANK MY CHAIN LIKE THAT YOU BASTARDS!!!!!”

Fanservice level: Medium low. No topless; panty shots only during change sequences. Actually more pantyhose than panties. One bath scene that’s a bit suggestive. (Correction: I forgot about the hot spring vacation the parents take. Mom is… buoyant. Hubba hubba.)

Characterizations: Mediocre. Higuchi didn’t ring true; neither did Mom. Her two assistants were too over the top to start and too tame to finish.

Plot: Schizoid, illogical, full of holes. I can’t say enough bad about it.

Theme songs: Intro is ok, but can’t make up its mind what it is. Ending song was totally forgettable, and I’ve forgotten it.

Storytelling: Sucks. They couldn’t figure out what story they were telling, nor the mode to tell it.

Animation Quality: Average to Below Average: too many shots reused, especially the mode change.

Title menu: simple, with static pictures.

DVD Extras: few.

Overall Grade: I varied as I watched it, from C- to B-. Now that I’ve seen the whole thing, D is the only grade that fits. I would have gone D-, but I actually ended up liking Non-chan.

Two unrelated footnotes: 1. I think I spotted a loanword here. One of the the assistants mentions being transferred from the home office in Tokyo. It seems to come out as “homu.” Maybe it’s just my ears. 2. Based on her usual demenor when we see Non-chan the first few times, I have to wonder if the writers weren’t shooting for an English pun: Non-chan-lant. It’s probably an accident…

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