Fancy Lala (1998) Review: Quality Entertainment 16 Years Later
I am one of many fans who is giddy with excitement, impatiently waiting for Sailor Moon Crystal to come out in July. In order to feed my nostalgia for the 90’s, I had a look at a past magical girl anime I had not seen. Karen Gellender and Grace Bellerby helped provide a lot of insight as to the history of the genre, but I was not in the mood to watch 30 plus episodes of Cutie Honey Flash (1997) yet. While Creamy Mami (1983) is largely inaccessible I tracked down the first anime about a musical artist to reach the US: Fancy Lala.
Was it worth it? Absolutely.
What is an anime with such a strange name about? 3rd grader Miho Shinohara encounters two magical dinosaur fairies at a toy store. They are unable to return to their own world. In exchange for letting them stay with Miho, they grant Miho the power to turn into a 15-year-old girl. Miho takes this opportunity to name her alter ego “Fancy Lala”. After a series of chance encounters, she makes her way into the entertainment industry. Even though the anime is over a decade old it stands up in time as much as Card Captor Sakura (1998) does. It also makes for easier viewing, sitting at 26 episodes.
The animation by Studio Pierrot (Naruto) is solid although not as polished and detailed as titles today. The character designs by Akemi Takada (Creamy Mami, Kimagure Orange Road) are pleasant to look at and well-proportioned. They share the pointed noses of Sailor Moon without the overly detailed eyelashes. It is nice to see a variety of body shapes, colors and sizes too. Costumes are simple and not as promiscuous or revealing as many titles from the 00’s. The colors are a tad dull and this is where its age shows the most. If the hues were brightened it would be indistinguishable from 00’s anime.
The backgrounds are on the simple side but it is hardly noticeable. Most impressive is the smoothness of the movement and the range. There are few stills, maybe because it is only 26 episodes. The first part of the transformation sequence looks uncannily similar to the hand gestures of Sakura in CardCaptor Sakura when she turns her key into a staff, but this may be coincidental considering they aired around the same time. Miho has to pick her change of clothes and get them on before she can turn 16, adding an extra layer of realism to magical girl anime; there is more planning and thinking involved instead of just snapping your fingers and being in a completely different outfit.
The score by Michiru Oshima (Fullmetal Alchemist, BECK) is wonderful to listen to. It mostly consists of dramatic or upbeat orchestral pieces, although occasionally a piano track adds extra mood to a scene. The instruments are not as varied as the soundtrack of Kaleido Star (2003) but it invokes a very similar feeling of wonder. The catchy, upbeat opening and ending songs are performed by Reiko Omori, the seiyuu for Miho herself. This is made incredibly obvious as the opening song shows clips of Miho singing the song as part of a concert. The english dub is surprisingly decent. It is hard to tell how old Katie Rowan (Full Moon wo Sagashite) was when she recorded this, but it does not sound like she had to put on a fake child-like voice. The performances are believable. For cute, although strange small animals, Chris Sims and Maureen Jones do not sound out of place as Pog and Mog. The songs are also dubbed, and it sounds like the lyrics of the Japanese were adapted accordingly, even if the vocals are not the strongest. At least the songs are not over played. There are no voices that stand out to me as ear-grating, unless you just hate the sound of children.
The synopsis may sound near identical to the likes of the 2002 hit Full Moon o Sagashite, or even Disney’s Hannah Montana, but it is nice to remember that Fancy Lala came first… and Creamy Mami before that. With 26 episodes Fancy Lala stands above the likes of the Full Moon anime due to a lack of filler. Some episodes are playfully episodic but it moves at a faster pace and the writing remains strong throughout: blending comedy, drama and romance. Every episode lets us know more about Miho, her family, school, or shows how she overcomes a challenge and learns new skills. The adults are given equal attention and screen time, like in Daria and these are also entertaining. A down to earth, believable portrayal of their work life is depicted here. Miho has to deal with problems like her parents’ work schedules regularly changing, who will make dinner (or lunch) and trying to keep up with school. That being said, the Full Moon manga is still one of the best manga I have ever read and stands apart to Fancy Lala for its darker themes and story. They are both worthy additions to the shojo genre. Who can forget Full Moon’s opening, anyway?
Fancy Lala‘s characters are likable, varied and endearing. We don’t learn too much about them through flashbacks. Instead, we learn through conversation and what we see of their daily lives. We get an idea as to their interests, quirks and history. Miho is hard-working and persistent, her family is down to earth and interesting and the crew at Lyrical Productions is comprised of more than just unified stony faces. The ending for Fancy Lala is surprisingly realistic (for a magical girl show) and bittersweet. There is a sense of the story coming to a close with a hint that it may not be completely over. It is very memorable and pleasantly hopeful.
With solid animation, a strong soundtrack, lovable characters and a fast-moving story Fancy Lala is worth the effort trying to find. The DVDs have been out of print for a while but some copies are available second hand. The show is also available via the stream like on YouTube and Crunchyroll.
What do you think? Leave a comment.