Mermaid Melody Anime Review
Maameido Merodii Pichipichi Picchi
Mermaid Melody - Perky Pitch
Akutasu, Synergy Japan
US Release By
52 episodes, 24 minutes each
2003-04-15 - 2004-03-27
Mermaid Melody centers on Lucia, the mermaid princess of the North Pacific Ocean, and her quest to find a human boy she saved from a shipwreck several years ago (sound familiar?). Fortunately, unlike a certain other Mermaid that shall not be named, she doesn't have to make any pacts with the devil in order to do so. In fact, in this show Mermaids automatically turn into human form when they go onto dry land, and can remain so for as long as they want with the only pre-condition being that they automatically turn back into mermaids whenever they get submerged in water again. Even more conveniently, it turns out the boy she saved, a local surfing champion named Kaito, is living and going to school pretty close to the Mermaid-owned and -run hotel that Lucia is staying at on the surface.
But there are a few complications. One is that her human form looks totally different than her mermaid form, making her hard to recognize. But more importantly, there is also an ancient mermaid prophecy stating that if a mermaid ever confesses her true identity to a human she loves, she'll turn into bubbles. Apparently the only way around this restriction is to get Kaito to figure it out on his own, which turns out to be an exceptionally difficult task.
On top of that, Lucia and her fellow mermaid princesses Rina and Hanon, who she meets on the surface, are under constant attack by a group of water demons. Demons have been overrunning the underwater mermaid kingdoms and are determined to capture the seven mermaid princesses (one for each ocean) in order to obtain the power of their sacred mermaid pearls. Fortunately the pearls can be used defensively, as they give the mermaids the ability to... um... morph into pop stars and fight the water demons by singing to them. Also, out of concern for her safety, the inhabitants of Lucia's kingdom have sent the most qualified person to be her guardian: A three-foot-tall talking penguin named Hippo!
I promise I'm not making any of this up.
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This has got to be one of the strangest shows ever made in the shoujo/magical girl genre, and as anyone who has ever watched one knows, that's saying a lot. Even so, it's mostly yet another Sailor Moon ripoff, with most of the same flaws, plus quite a few it manages to come up with on its own. Among its biggest problems are shallow characters (the talking penguin turns out to be the only one with any substance) and a central plot that gets introduced at the beginning then ignored in favor of problem-of-the-week stories until the end. The villains are also incompetent and the "battle" scenes repetitive and uninteresting, even if you can accept the incoherent method of combat being magical pop music. That is, however, the one thing the show does right--there's a variety of J-pop songs and renditions thereof (depending on who's singing), and they're enjoyable to listen to. Of particular note is Rina's theme song, "Star Jewel"--Mayumi Asano's powerful, commanding singing voice is the best of the lot by a huge margin.
Overall, Mermaid Melody may appeal to those who love mermaids, singing, and all other things cute and adorable in between. All others need not apply--there are simply too many things wrong with this show.
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Wow, I'm sure glad this review is being done on a computer, because it would be hard to say the plot description with a straight face. Morphing into pop stars? Fighting by singing? Miniature talking penguin guardians? This has got to be one of the strangest shows ever made in the shoujo/magical girl genre, and as anyone who has ever watched one knows, that's saying a lot. I will give it a little credit for using a few new concepts, but no one should mistake these for genuine creativity. Mermaid Melody is yet another Sailor Moon ripoff, with most of the same flaws, plus quite a few it manages to come up with on its own. It's a cute and charming little series that manages to get a few significant things right, but that doesn't make up for everything else it does wrong.
The biggest problems read like a laundry list of everything bad about many shows in the shoujo genre in general: A group of girls with only one or two significant traits and special powers that are all identical, a bizarre "fighting" system that makes absolutely no sense, a pointless morality lecture right before each "fight" nearly always containing some variation of the phrase "I won't forgive you," obscenely long transformation sequences (which only get longer as the series goes on), action moves (or songs) made up entirely of stock footage, and romantic relationships that are too predictable and progress way too slowly. Those are off the top of my head. But it's also got its own set of unique issues, including failure to adequately use the mermaid theme, pathetically incompetent villains who almost never put the heroines in any real danger, and a badly neglected central plot.
With only three main mermaid characters to focus on (the other four princesses mostly have minor support roles), they could have easily been given complex and unique roles in the story, but that doesn't turn out to be the case. They are a cheerful, upbeat, sometimes funny, and basically likable bunch, but as far as shoujo shows go, they are as one-dimensional as you'll ever find.
Lucia is sweet, caring, innocent, and seemingly shocked by every minor development in her relationship with Kaito. I'm not exaggerating when I say it takes her 45 episodes to get used to holding his hand (she says so upfront). Kaito has pretty much two traits, surfing and romantic interest in Lucia, and almost every second we see him on screen is pertinent to one or the other, if not both. Hanon is basically a more aggressive and headstrong version of Lucia. That alone made her a little better in my book, but I would have preferred more differences than that.
Finally there is Rina, the "straight man" of the group who basically exists as a serious contrast to keep them in line. I've heard some people compare her to Zakuro from Tokyo Mew Mew, but while it's true they are both the strongest and most disciplined members of their teams, I didn't see any similarity at all. There was a lot more to Zakuro than just being serious. She was a cold, anti-social, and somewhat selfish celebrity who was also fiercely loyal to the cause and strove to push her companions to achieve their best (effectively at that) despite her apparent loathing of them. Other than being soft-spoken and powerful, Rina's only other trait is her love of plasma TVs. That, and her phenomenal singing voice, which I'll get to later, but suffice to say her characteristics really didn't add anything of value to the plot.
Oddly enough, the character that really stood out was Hippo. At first he just seemed like a mermaid mascot C3P0, but it turns out there is a lot more to him. He's got some cool secret powers that are slowly revealed as the episodes go by, is totally dedicated to protecting the mermaids and any cost, and has some interesting moral conflicts as well. In fact, it seemed like he was the only character who went through any significant development and dealt with any major issues that were not revealed in the first few episodes. Really a shame that the best character is someone who isn't in the main group.
One of the biggest problems with the series is the lack of focus on the central plot. Most of the episodes up until the last few use the typical "problem of the week" formula, and have no effect at all on the status quo. This wouldn't necessarily ruin the series; some of my favorite anime shows used this formula (Azumanga Daioh and Rune Soldier come to mind). The problem is not that there's no central plot, it's that the show sets one up and then does nothing with it till the very end, instead focusing on things that are remarkably bland and mundane.
The main story seems pretty important: The mermaids' kingdoms are being overrun, their fellow princesses are being captured, and they are under constant attack. But they would rather focus on the really important things, like performing school plays, studying for exams, going to theme parks, watching Kaito's surfing contests, and Lucia's attempt to make a satisfactory meal for him (a key plot point in three different episodes!). Really, the mermaids' lack of urgency in addressing the water demon threat is nothing short of appalling. It's especially absurd considering Rina and Hanon's kingdoms have already fallen to darkness at the start of the show, and Rina is haunted by tragic memories of watching her friend Noelle get captured in an effort to protect her. That only inspires a few feeble attempts at finding the water demon base and rescuing their friends for most of the series. It seemed like the main story was just an excuse to give the series a proper conclusion, and while it does do that, it was simply a huge mistake to introduce it so early on if they were not planning to do anything with it till the end, especially since the main focus of most episodes is so dull.
On top of that, the romantic relationships are too bland and predictable. For the most part, you can easily tell which ones will work out and which ones won't. The main one (between Kaito and Lucia) is somewhat disappointing. It's cute and sweet overall, with plenty of "awwww" moments, but crippled by Lucia's extreme nervousness about advancing it anywhere and Kaito's implausible inability to tell she's a mermaid despite her bombarding him with hints. Most of the time it’s relegated to inconsequential middle school fluff, with few signs it's going anywhere.
The plot problems are also compounded by the show's failure to use the mermaid theme effectively. Really, this show could have been made without it. The girls spend 70-100% of most episodes in human form, their super-heroine forms are human as well, and we never get any detailed views of the mermaid kingdoms, nor any explanation of mermaid culture. Not only is this a betrayal of the show's main premise, it creates a lot of confusion about certain story aspects.
The biggest is the issue about the forbidden status of relationships between humans and mermaids. I get the prophecy being a significant obstacle (assuming it's true, which there is no evidence one way or the other at the start) but if mermaids can't hook up with humans, then where do they come from and how do they procreate? The inhabitants of the mermaid kingdoms are all female! No explanation of this issue is provided at all. It's not even addressed! In fact, the one opportunity to display some key aspects of mermaid lifestyle, an episode where Lucia turns 14 and learns that she will receive a mermaid coming of age ceremony, is totally wasted. It sounded like a cool concept, sort of like a mermaid Bat Mitzvah, but it never happens. The water demons show up before the event starts, they are defeated, and Lucia heads back to the surface, having blown the one chance to show any aspects of her native culture at all. Another opportunity never appears.
Now we get to the weirdest aspect of the show, the "battle scenes," which involve the mermaids morphing into pop singers with the all-too-common transformation sequence and driving off the water demons by singing to them. Leaving aside the issue of why their singing harms the demons, it really brings up a lot of questions. Where does the music come from? Why is a transformation scene even necessary? Can't they just sing without it? Sure, it does give them new outfits and some handy microphones, but why would they need them? It's not like they are singing to a large audience--just a few demons in close proximity. I know, it's just how the genre goes, but I can't simply accept "It's a shoujo series, don't worry about it" as a blanket excuse for everything.
Even ignoring all those questions (which the show does), the whole system just doesn't work out very well. Once the mermaids start singing, they basically become invincible. Nothing can stop them and the water demons are repulsed every time. They never come up with a reasonable defense against it. (Earplugs, anyone?) There is rarely any suspense and pretty much no back-and-forth competition between the two sides. One side is always either indisputably winning or losing, and there is nothing in between.
That brings up another major problem with the show: The Water Demons. It seemed like they had some potential since, unlike the mermaids, they actually have individually distinguishable powers to contribute something unique to the team: The ability to manipulate ice and freeze foes solid, the ability to summon water dragons, and the ability to control the weather are some of my favorite examples, along with two of them that have a special "evil song" that hurts the mermaids (although I personally really liked it). The problem is that they aren't very good at using them. Nearly all of their attempts to capture the mermaids are so inept they would make Wile E. Coyote roll his eyes, and a lot of times they are just thrown in during the final minutes of an episode seemingly just for the sake of being there. Other than that they are okay, and, as I said, some of their powers are pretty impressive on the rare occasions when they seem to work, but there are simply too few of those.
However, if there was one thing that kept me watching other than my unexplainable belief that AAW really needed a review of Mermaid Melody, it's the music. I've always considered good music to be essentially to any anime TV series, but in this one, the theme of the show increased the importance of it tenfold. Thankfully, this was one thing they actually got right. Not only is the music in this show good, it gets progressively better as the episodes go by. There isn't much variety (they are all simple J-pop tunes), but there is a good selection of songs, with new ones being added on a constant basis, as well as different renditions of each one, depending on how many singers are present at the moment (most involve the three main mermaids, but sometimes there are solos and duets, and later on the other supporting mermaid characters sometimes get to join in). Obviously this is a matter of personal taste, but I found nearly all the songs to be enjoyable to listen to--even the song by the water demons that hurts the mermaids (in fact, that was one of my favorites). There are a few I still enjoy listening to even when I'm not watching the show.
By far my favorite is Rina's personal theme song, "Star Jewel," which is no surprise considering she has the best voice of the gang by a huge margin. It's hard to find words to describe how good Mayumi Asano's singing voice is; it's just so powerful and commanding, especially compared to the expected high-pitched, girly voices of the others. You can always hear her voice booming above the others on the team, no matter how many mermaids are participating.
The polar opposite of her is a mermaid named Karen, who has a stunningly repulsive voice supplied by Ema Kogure. To make this short, I'll just say when she's singing, it's the one time when it makes sense for the Water Demons to be hurt by the mermaids' music. Fortunately, she's only a support character, so she doesn't sing that often, and when she does the rest of the group is sometimes loud enough to drown her out. My only real complaint is that the music does have a tendency to lapse into repetition. If I remember correctly, the mermaids used the same battle song in 7 of the first 10 episodes. Some songs also get significantly neglected, especially "Star Jewel," which tragically is only used a few times. Even so, this is definitely the strong point of the series, and one of the few things that may appeal to people who aren't major shoujo fans (such as me).
Overall, Mermaid Melody may appeal to those who love mermaids, singing, and all other things cute and adorable in between (in fact, the relative popularity of this show would seem to confirm that it does). All others need not apply--there are simply too many things wrong with this show. The characters are too shallow, the central plot is too underused, the events are too bland, the villains are too inept, and the fighting system is too stupid. One can only hope that these problems are corrected in the second season, and that it features a lot more of Rina's singing.
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Very similar to other shows in the magical girl genre, such as Sailor Moon and the higher quality Tokyo Mew Mew.
Notes and Trivia
Based on a relatively short 7-volume manga series of the same name that ran from 2002-2005, written by Michiko Yokote with art by Pink Hanamori. The manga is available in English under the title "Pichi Pichi Pitch: Mermaid Melody" from Del Ray.
There is also a second anime series consisting of 39 episodes called "Mermaid Melody: Pichi Pichi Pitch Pure." Hopefully the makers managed to get all the "pitches" out of their system.
This series has not yet been released in the US. Supposedly, ADV Films acquired the rights for the American market in 2004, but they never released it and it's currently unlicensed.
Three video games based on this series have been made, all for the Game Boy Advance: "Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch," "Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch Pichi Pichi Party," and "Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch Pichi Pichitto Live Start!" The first and third are rhythm games featuring songs from the anime.
The title is a bilingual word play; "pichipichi" is a Japanese word meaning "lively" or "perky," and the word "pitch" (in this case the musical term, not the baseball one) is an English loan word that coincidentally sounds almost the same.
US DVD Review
No North American DVD exists as of this writing.
Appropriate for most ages; although there was a fair amount of profanity in the fansub I saw, there's almost no physical violence and only a few bloodless deaths. Also has a kind of creepy relationship between two of the female water demons; there's nothing wrong with a little Yuri, but the fact that they are known as the "Black Beauty Sisters" and refer to themselves as such makes it rather disturbing.
Violence: 1 - The series generally goes out of its way to avoid any depiction of physical violence. I can recall only one occasion when they broke that rule.
Nudity: 1 - Some of the mermaids' singing outfits are kind of revealing, especially Rina's.
Sex/Mature Themes: 1 - Occasional bits of physical romance, and two of the water demons seem a bit too close in their relationship considering their title is "Black Beauty Sisters."
Language: 2 - Way more profanity than I was expecting in a show like this, at least in the fansub I saw.