Popotan Anime Review
US Release By
12 25-minute episodes
2003-07-17 - 2003-10-02
Three sisters--the maternal Ai, the teenage tomboy Mai, and the bubbly kid Mii--have an unusual lifestyle: They live in a mansion that doubles as a Christmas shop with their maid, Mea. This mansion, in turn, periodically vanishes, taking the family to another place years later in time. As they travel seemingly at random, Ai uses her ability to speak with plants to ask dandelions if they've seen the mysterious person who they are seeking. While their search continues they do their best to live normal lives and help the people they meet, though they may never see them again.
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There's bad anime, and then there's Popotan: intelligence-sapping, toned-down hentai made up of a laundry list of every fanservice category and fetish you can think of. Technically it has a plot--Quantum Leap with no backstory, logic, or point and a whole lot of stupid--but other than a couple of episodes that might be dramatically effective if the characters weren't naked half the time it's basically about as sugar-coated and inane as anime gets. It's also got a lot of borderline pedophilia just in case the concept of a show with near-hentai-grade content and stories targeted at six-year-old girls wasn't disturbing enough. And no, though it knows how depraved it is and on rare occasions is mildly amusing, it's not a parody. If you do manage to sit through the whole thing, you'll discover there's absolutely no explanation or point waiting at the end, though that's not much of a surprise.
About fanservice first, creepy pedophile-service second, and absolutely nothing third, Popotan's most memorable quality is that it's a TV series with wall-to-wall nudity and some sort of leering upskirt shot for most of what's left. How this got made, I don't really want to know, but please don't encourage whoever did it by watching it.
Full ReviewSwitch to Quick Review
There's bad anime, and there's bad anime. And then there's Popotan, intelligence-sapping, toned-down hentai cheerfully trying to out-pander Agent Aika, and succeeding.
Loosely based on an erotic game, Popotan is about fanservice. Technically it has a plot--Quantum Leap with no backstory, exposition, logic, or point--but it's approximately 80% fanservice, and has all the subtlety of a monster truck rally. With strippers. On fire.
Seriously, it reads like a checklist of every possible fanservice cliche and fetish you can think of. Within five minutes we've already had a kid run into the preposterously busty Ai (the maternal one, check--and she wears glasses for bonus points) as she walks out of the bath naked (check). Follow that up with Mii, the cute little girl with tremendously annoying vocal tics (check), Mai, the tomboy with average-sized breasts (check), and their flat-chested, mostly emotionless, and vaguely creepy maid (maid, robot-girl, and Rei clone, check). Toss in a ferret who makes cloying noises (animal mascot, check) which also turns into a catgirl (ferret-girl?) for the previews (you've got to be kidding, but check), and the only thing missing is a giant robot, but that's sort of a different category of fanservice anyway. There is, however, a pedophile-bait magical girl (check).
There is one--and only one, so far as I can tell--notably amusing feature, and that's the maid, who is dryly formal but occasionally sneaks an insultingly abrupt comment in out of nowhere. Yes, that's the good part. Most of the rest is so infantile and moronic that I actually had a physically uncomfortable reaction to it. I now understand the expression "so stupid it hurts" on a deeper level.
The story involves the pronoun-named girls and their perpetually Christmas-decorated mansion being randomly teleported from one place and time to another in a generic-anime-happy-land that's supposed to be Japan. They wander about talking to dandelions looking for... something. They don't even bother to mention what or why for a full half of the series in what I can only assume is an attempt to hook a few viewers determined to find out what it's supposed to be about. (Sadly, I note that it worked--my morbid curiosity overrode my desire not to have my intelligence sucked out through my eyes. Barely.)
I'll save you the trouble: After treading water for half a season trying to come up with something, the writers eventually sink--it's not going anywhere, and it explains nothing. No who, how, or even much why, and no conclusion.
Now, here's the weird part: There are a couple of relatively serious episodes leading into the non-conclusion that are actually reasonably interesting conceptually, and even border on dramatically effective. They center on Mai's difficulty with the life of hopping from place to place, skipping years at a time and never aging, and the effects her interactions have had on those she leaves behind. Of course, they're also laced with inappropriate fanservice and totally out of synch with the rest of the mind-numbing "stories," leaving me scratching my head at what they're doing in this series and wishing desperately that they weren't, so that I could say it was completely devoid of anything worth watching, rather than nearly devoid of anything worth watching.
The other thing I found myself wondering (aside from who greenlighted the project) is who, exactly, is the target audience? See, based on mood and level of depth, the majority of the plots appear to be targeted at six-year-old girls. The visuals, however, flirt with adults-only. Strike that, at least some of them aren't suitable for anyone, period--the unending bath scenes and near-Agent-Aika-level incidental underwear exposure don't let up in the slightest even when the characters appear to be way, way too young to be of interest to anyone who doesn't belong in either therapy or prison for said interest.
Oh, sure, you can argue that Mii's gratuitous fanservice isn't intended to be erotic at all, or maybe that (due to the cast's not-aging issues) she just looks well short of puberty, but is actually much older. You would of course be completely wrong, and perhaps blissfully naive as well. In fact, about halfway in the series actually acknowledges this when a character notes the creepy vibe from the all-male audience of a beauty contest when she gets onstage. And no, that doesn't qualify Popotan as a parody--it's just aware of how depraved its target audience is.
Even leaving aside the pedophile demographic, the relentless nudity, underwear, and (unfunny) breast jokes easily push Popotan way out of range of anyone who should have even the slightest tolerance for the "stories." So who does that leave?
Fans of the game? Unlikely, since the story and content are completely different. Parody of fanservice overkill? If it is, it's doing such a good job it's not at all funny. Soft hentai? More likely, but in that case it's even more of a failure due to the complete lack of "action" and plot overload.
Thus, my answer: The target audience is creepy middle-aged anime fans living in their mom's basement trying to convince themselves they're watching childish garbage rather than porn. Either that or extraordinarily bad parents who figure they should get some skin out of the intelligence-sapping tripe their four-year-old daughter is watching and assume that the kid is too young for the sleaze to even register. Either way, eww.
Visually, Popotan is pure generic, but has much higher production values than it deserves. The characters are of course appealing, if entirely forgettable. A couple of the old-enough-to-care characters do have near-shockingly human bust sizes, which I suppose counts for something even if it is just to fill another fetish slot. The character animation is on the cheap end of average, but otherwise better looking than this series deserves. The backgrounds are full of bright primary colors and nothing else--uniformly bland apart from a few pastoral locales.
The Japanese acting is as generic as everything else, but at least it's not bad. Mii's endless high-pitched perk should have you wanting to strangle her by the end of the first episode, though. The music consists of generic pleasantries during the show, a decent-if-cavity-inducingly-sugary bubblegum-pop intro, and a similar end theme.
It's easy to mock anime this shamelessly awful, and if ever a series deserved it, it's Popotan. About fanservice first, creepy pedophile-service second, and absolutely nothing third, its most memorable quality is that it's a TV series with wall-to-wall nudity and some sort of leering upskirt shot for most of what's left. How this got made, I don't really want to know, but please don't encourage whoever was responsible by watching it.
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Usually shows with this much fanservice are harem or at least romance-oriented; Popotan is neither, making it hard to come up with similar anime that aren't outright hentai. It's also so awful nearly anything is going to be better. Fanservice-wise Agent AiKA is in the same league, albeit far more blatantly dirty and drastically more intelligent (yes, seriously); fanservice-heavy fluff like My Santa! or Plastic Little are probably the closest in general terms. The dumbest/dirtiest parts of, say, Love Hina or Negima might also compare, though again, hugely more interesting and intelligent.
Notes and Trivia
Popotan is very loosely based on a much more explicitly adults-only PC and PS2 game that's essentially a visual novel-style dating sim. In terms of plot and setting the game and its world have almost nothing to do with the anime other than a shared set of characters (except for the game's protagonist, Chris, who doesn't exist in the largely romance-free anime). There are also a pair of novels and, much later, a manga adaptation.
Incidentally, if you're trying to convince yourself that Mii isn't supposed to be seen sexually, she's the dirtiest of the characters in the game. Nice try, though.
The game does explain where the big abstract pointy thing that appears over the mansion before it vanishes comes from. The game is set in the distant future near a city with a giant dandelion-thing stuck in it. That object is the silhouette in the anime, though due to the totally unrelated plots that doesn't actually help it make any sense.
Popotan takes its name from the Japanese word for dandelion, "tanpopo," said mostly-backwards (presumably to increase the cuteness, or maybe just to avoid getting confused with a movie that contains quality of any sort).
A short clip of the characters dancing from the game's opening paired with the Euro-technopop song Caramelldansen was apparently something of a YouTube phenomenon for a while.
US DVD Review
The DVDs are standard Geneon productions with bright, clean anamorphic widescreen video, though the video is marred a bit by some odd mottling in rich red areas (Mea's hair, in particular). The sound comes in English or Japanese stereo, and the subtitles are largely accurate, though there are a few minor nuance issues when they're discussing when and where they are that stop me from calling it spot-on. There's also a subtitle track of just the sign translations. Extras consist of creditless openings and endings, plus some art galleries. The boxes go with the theme of the game Popotan is based on; each has a "regular" character picture on the front, then a matching image with the same pose but some adjustment to make it dirtier on the booklet. The covers are also two-sided; the back has a similar pair of regular/dirty images for a different character that you can see through the clear case (or reverse it if you prefer your sleaze more visible).
Gratuitous nudity at every turn, some additional mature themes on occasion, and enough blithe borderline-pedophilia to offend nearly anyone. Geneon calls it 16-up, though I probably would have gone with 18-up (I love that the box actually says "Excessive Nudity" by the rating).
Violence: 1 - There are a couple of rather surprisingly brutal fights.
Nudity: 4 - Undetailed but in spectacular volume.
Sex/Mature Themes: 2 - Mostly limited to shallow breast jokes, but there is some strongly implied sex in one episode.
Language: 1 - Little of note in the subtitles.