Honey Kisaragi has amnesia. She thinks she's just an ordinary secretary in Cosplay City, a near-future urban hell of street gangs and freakish supervillains. Her boss, Mayor Light, is struggling against the crimelord Dolmeck, but it looks like only a matter of time before the forces of darkness prevail. Once again the world needs Cutey Honey.
It's the return of the world's most misunderstood franchise! Two decades after Go Nagai broke new ground in warping young minds with smut and violence, that generation grew up to make these OVAs and keep up the good work. The original 1973 Cutey Honey TV series was admirably sleazy, but this sequel outdid it in every department. It's easily the most adult entry in the franchise, to the point where I suspect even Japanese parents hesitated to show it to their children. Incidentally it had been planned as a twelve-part OVA series. The first four episodes were successful enough to see the production of four more, but after that it ended prematurely. Thus ironically episodes 1-4 are a self-contained story with their own ending, but episodes 5-8 leave things hanging for a resolution which never came. The scripted but unfilmed episode nine was turned into a CD drama in 2004, but the other three were never even written.
Episode one made this look like the worst kind of 1970s exploitation. Honey's transformation sequences are lovingly animated and nipple-tastic. As shallow as an evaporating puddle and obviously pandering to sad perverts, that's what this looked like... which just shows how faithful it is. Cutey Honey is meant to be extreme. Ignorant Western fans have called it a remake, but in fact it's a direct sequel that even has nods to Go Nagai's other shows. Part seven guest-stars Devilman! There are also lots of cameos, including the she-male Alphonne-sensei. "Reporter in drag," say the R1 DVD's credits. Little do they know. Episode six even mentions Honey's friend who got burned to death in the original series, but probably too fleetingly for a newbie to notice.
I'd always enjoyed these OVAs, but I've since realised that their impact is far greater if you already know Cutey Honey. When I first saw this, I thought part one was a weak episode. The heroine has amnesia! Horrible plot device. However these days it practically puts a tear in my eye. Honey regains her identity and her will to fight. She sees a statue of herself. She's a legend, the woman who fought Panther Claw. And at the end she's back in her old outfit again... damn, it gets me every time.
Most importantly, Honey's still Honey. She's still playful and fun-loving, but she has to fight for her victories, going through hell for the sake of her friends. She's willing to sacrifice herself. She's genuinely outraged by horror and cruelty. Thus when she eventually cleaves the latest villain from head to fucking toe, she's earned the right to do so. She's a hero, not just a wisecracking killer. Sex and violence be damned, every child should have the right to watch these OVAs straight after the 1970s TV series.
I admire the visuals, and not just because of the nudity. The 1970s TV series was psychedelic. These OVAs look more realistic but at the same time they manage to create a compelling and distinctive visual world. They achieve this partly through fidelity to Go Nagai's character designs, but partly also through putting this 1970s heroine into a 1980s urban nightmare. The street punks have pipes, machine-guns and chainsaws. It's a RoboCop world of urban squalor and Mad Max cycle gangs. The villains are a particular highlight, outdoing the original for sleazy imagination and general fucked-up-ness. They're weird as hell and occasionally disturbing, e.g. the mechanical spider-monster with the implanted body of a naked ten-year-old girl. One villain has a breast-baring attack that even Honey calls embarrassing. The look is startling, but strangely appropriate.
Meanwhile the nudity is extreme, with more flesh-flashes in these eight OVA episodes than in the entire 1970s TV series. That's without even counting the title sequences. Wow. Anyway, all that's good. Sometimes it almost feels too pervy, especially in the second batch of four episodes, but that's the whole joke! It's hilarious. You've got to love the car chase in which Honey lands naked on the windscreen of a moving car, as seen from the point of view of the driver.
Episode one takes its time, introducing the world and the supporting characters before unleashing Honey herself. There's another Hayami family: innocent young Chokkei, his bank robber parents Daiko and Akakabu and mad cyborg grandad Danbei with built-in weapons. There's no Seiji equivalent, unless you count Mayor Light, but Seiji was never my favourite anyway. There's a Natsuko, who's in every incarnation of the franchise. Honey's transformations include parodies of other anime shows, Chokkei's parents are from Go Nagai's Delinquent in Drag and there are cameos from Devilman, Mazinger and Kekko Kamen.
I prefer the first set of four episodes. They have stronger villains, a better arrangement of the classic theme song and most importantly a ending. They make Honey look more heroic. Parts 5-8 are good, but standalones without an overall story arc. I now want to write a proper conclusion for Cutey Honey! She didn't get one in the TV series and she didn't get one in the OVAs either.
New Cutey Honey is trash pulp in all the best ways and a wonderful showcase for one of my heroes. I have a huge problem with people who dismiss it as sexist simply because of the nudity. On the contrary, Cutey Honey is practically a subversive feminist masterpiece. She's one of anime's greatest icons and cool as all hell. These OVAs are both reverential and innovative, not to mention being the final appearance to date of the character's original incarnation. I love 'em.