Nuu Nuku Dash vols. 1-3
Jason Carter rates it:
Every once in a while I see something that really surprises me; a show that seems to be bound for a very specific sort of ending, which suddenly reverses direction and become a completely different type of story. All Purpose Cultural Cat-Girl Nuku Nuku Dash is one such story. I hated this 12 part OAV (which reworks an earlier TV show) from its first episode until halfway through its full length; in fact, I disliked it so intensely that I seriously considered turning in a partial review of it, despite having been assigned the whole thing, simply because I didn’t want to waste any more of my time on it than I had already. Then, suddenly, it simply changed, and what had been an insipid exploration of the home life of a family of uni-dimensional caricatures and their live-in orphan-maid-cum-super-heroine became a serious and surprisingly watchable show.
This version of the Nuku Nuku universe begins with Ryonosuke Natsume, a 14 year old student, riding his bike down the highway one summer afternoon. He happens to see a beautiful girl walking in the direction opposite to him and is smitten, as young boys tend to be at that age. The romantic scene is spoiled, though, when a cat wanders into the road and in front of a passing truck.. Ryonosuke reacts too slowly to save it, but the girl, who has already passed her admirer by and is farther from the cat than he is, lunges out and grabs the cat, and hurls herself in the air above the truck while it passes underneath them. Ryonosuke is rather shocked by the whole thing.
More shocking is the fact that the same young woman is waiting for him in his living room when he gets home. Ryonosuke’s parents (Akiko and Kyosaku) are in another first floor room fighting rather loudly (which seems to be a common thing, to judge by Ryo’s chagrin), and this allows the mysterious girl to introduce herself as Atsuko Higuchi and ask that she be informally called Nuku Nuku. Ryonosuke spends time blushing like the kid he is, and then his parents emerge to greet their guest. Akiko, a stylish businesswoman, offers some rather artificial condolences to Nuku Nuku and an insincere welcome to her home before telling her grungy scientist husband that she is going back to the office for the evening.
Everyone remaining sits down to dinner (provided by Nuku Nuku’s culinary talent) and then the story comes out as to what motivated the marital spat. It seems that Nuku Nuku was orphaned in a traffic accident, during which she also conveniently lost her memory of everything except from her name. Kyosaku happens to be her legal guardian, so he gets custody of her in her current diminished state; in exchange for becoming part of the family, Nuku Nuku will now be keeping house for the Natsumes. Ryonosuke, of course, is pleased to have his object of infatuation living under the same roof – so pleased that later that later on he rolls around on his bed hugging his pillow and muttering her name. But all isn’t well; after delivering Ryo a snack, Nuku Nuku is taken to the family basement for an examination of her systems by Kyosaku, while the next morning Akiko is told by her company’s executives that she has been tasked with apprehending a missing “Fighter Androbot,” whose schematics happen to match what Kyosaku had been working on earlier.
So far, so mediocre. But from here, Nuku Nuku Dash manages to get progressively worse as it fills out its first half. It’s primary failing lies in the fact that it is constantly trying very hard to be ZANY! and HILARIOUS! and rarely succeeds. The only actual comic relief provided is by Ryonosuke, and that has more to do with the inadvertent similarity of his sometimes bizarre romantic behaviors to things actual 14 year old boys in his position might do than anything else. Ryo’s infatuation is sometimes funny, to the extent of the strange situations it leads him into (such as the pillow hugging, which reminds me of the legendary Golden Boy), and his daydreams (in which he is always two inches taller than Nuku Nuku and speaks with a deeper voice) seem almost charming. But the funny starts and stops with him. His next door neighbor, a remarkably precocious young girl named Noriko, is supposed to be a foil for him, as she provides advice to him on how he can approach Nuku Nuku and teases him for his hesitancy, but she mostly comes off as more annoying than anything else. His mother’s travails at the office just aren’t that interesting either, though we see them repeatedly. Even worse are her mother’s two subordinates, Arisa and Kyoko. These two are a pair of hapless office ladies who end up being in debt slavery to the company because of the damage their stupidity causes during their numerous and spectacularly unsuccessful attempts to track down Nuke Nuku, who emerges from her civilian persona from time to time to "protect all life" in her true form as a battle android.
You might expect that the comedy could be made up for by the action, but here again Nuku Nuku Dash doesn’t make the grade. Nuku Nuku is expected to fight a series of adversaries sent against her by her makers in their efforts to retrieve their fighting machine, and none of these creatures ever manages to appear intimidating, powerful, or even mildly interesting. An added layer of crapulence is provided by the parade of research scientists who are responsible for hatching each of these foes; some of them, particularly the one who dresses like a priest and stores his combat droid in a coffin surrounded by flowers, are just ridiculous.
And then, at the midpoint of the show, everything changes. A new villain appears who actually plans things out and has real motivations for doing what he does. And this villain doesn’t disappear conveniently after one episode; he provides conflict right up to the end. The bad attempts at humor stop as well, and the fighting becomes more dramatic. It’s not quite enough to save the whole series, and the fact that the writers turned to this shows, if nothing else, that they could have done better from the beginning. But it does manage to reach a sort of minimum level of quality required to hold one’s interest.
Artistically, Nuku Nuku Dash is surprisingly subpar. It was made in 1998, but I would still have expected something better from an OAV. The characters are usually unappealing (even Nuku Nuku) and the machinery doesn’t seem like anything that hasn’t been seen in a hundred scifi series before. The dub, however, is a vast improvement on the tepid and lackluster original Japanese performance. Some rewriting seems to have occurred, and I can only imagine that the show is better for it, though the use of translated honorifics by Ryo is occasionally annoying, as is his tendency to refer to his parents by their first names, i.e. "Miss Akiko"; who talks to their parents with that mix of formality and informality?
I can’t recommend the purchase this show, and I am almost sad about it. The change of pace in the second half demonstrates that it could have been a much better program than it was. Perhaps children will find it enjoyable; there’s some trivial fanservice, but I don’t think it’s anything kids would be hurt by. Think of this one as an exploratory rental for a boring Wednesday night.
Added: Sunday, April 17, 2005
Related Link: ADV Films