Harbor Light Story: From Fashion Lala
Miho is an aspiring fashion designer and dancer who lives with her aunt and older cousins, who are preparing for the upcoming Disco Queen Contest in their seaside town. With the exception of the youngest cousin Shuri, her family treats her poorly and disrespectfully, having her run errands for their boutique and ridiculing her attempts at fashion design. One day, Miho meets the mysterious biker punk Kit, who turns out to be the estranged son of the mayor and deadset on stopping the contest, which he sees to be, like the rest of the town, hopelessly corrupt; he's even willing to use violent means to do so. Will persistence and magic be enough to make everyone's dreams come true?
Harbor Light Story: From Fashion Lala is an exercise in committee-based creation gone terribly, strangely wrong.
Don't get me wrong: I'm a big believer in exploring and championing obscure anime, but the great caveat is that it must be worth watching, and this single-shot OAV really isn't. The problems aren't apparent at first: we have hard-working little Miho, who essentially plays modern-day Cinderella to her very unsympathetic aunt and cousins who grudgingly take care of her while her father is sailing the seven seas. She's followed around by her huge dog buddy Mick, who refreshingly, apart from a few funny facial expressions, is just a regular dog. Everyone is getting keyed up for the Disco Queen competition, which, thanks to the virtuoso animation work of Studio Pierrot, essentially involves everyone suffering painful epileptic fits. It's a lot of leotards and Flashdance and it's gloriously, embarrassingly dated. As we all know, too, nothing says the 80s in Japan like biker punks, and that's where Kit comes in, first, to save Miho from sharing the same fate as Minky Momo, and then to serve as kind of a decoy love interest in the sense that having a little girl and a biker punk be involved in an actual romance is unthinkably squicky.
But wait! We find out that the mayor has essentially already rigged the competition from the get-go, as he is debuting his beautiful daughter in the contest, which infuriates Kit to no end, because that's his father and sister and he's just literally caught them sleeping in the same bed. (And there is your squick factor for this film.) So Kit rounds up the biker punk population and starts bombing the harbor arena by land and sea, while hiding out at the local pirate ship graveyard playing the harmonica when he's not blowing things up (no, it doesn't much sense in context either). When Miho confronts Kit about her aspirations, he pretty much tells her that a disco queen isn't going to come down from the heavens, which is a clear sign that it obviously will, because that's how these sorts of shows work.
All the while, Miho is feverishly designing for her littlest big sister Shuri (the only nice one, and the only one whose name is worth remembering) but it all end up for naught until suddenly, the magical book that's been hiding in Miho's attic glows one last time, revealing magical dinosaurs that turn Miho (via nude transformation sequence) into the disco queen Fashion Lala in time to save the town (dancers and bikers alike) using the power of fashion and disco to heal everyone's hearts - never mind the still-burning wreck of the arena around her, with what must surely be charred, blasted bodies just offscreen. If this sort of insane troll logic worked in real life, ABBA would have earned the Nobel Peace Prize eons ago.
It's schizophrenic and terrible wish-fulfillment in the worst imaginable way, because not once do we see anyone actually facing up to the problems that wrack this little seaside town; rather, the very appearance of Fashion Lala seems to rewrite their entire reality into a blissed-out, happier version of itself, just in time for Miho's daddy to come home to a suddenly copacetic, happy home where Miho has a pimped-out little princess room.
I can't say every aspect of this anime is terrible. If you really, really like leotards and legwarmers and the moonwalk, then you're in hog heaven here: much like California Crisis, this is an unintentional period piece, and the frequent cuts to what are essentially music videos won't let you forget that. The music isn't bad at all -- it may not be timeless, but it's at least pleasant. The character designs are period-appropriate as well (everyone is either cute or badass, as necessary), and some of the fashion actually looks nice, if clearly only applicable to an 80s aesthetic.
The main problem is that the various elements of this anime simply never mesh - it's an insane kaleidoscope of ideas that seem perennially at war with each other. The setting lacks internal consistency (the pirate ship on a hill above town is a prime example of something stuck there seemingly solely because of Rule of Cool) and the serious psychological and political issues presented within this show (up to and including terrorism!) are never integrated properly into what is presented as a magical-girl coming of age story - and they don't even get the coming of age part right! Much of the blame lands at the foot of scriptwriter Kenji Terada, also responsible for the train-wreck writing of Baoh, MAPS, and Wedding Peach, though also the writer for Dirty Pair and Kimagure Orange Road, which means he's clearly capable of far better than he gives us here. Director Motosuke Takahashi never gives us a truly coherent narrative to follow; his only other unshared credits as director since 1980 are for the 1985 OVA Cosmo Police Justy and the 1987 adaptation of Rumiko Takahashi's Laughing Target; one surmises that this film did his career no favors.
If Miho and the dinosaurs and the whole "Fashion Lala" thing seem awfully familiar to you, it's because this would be completely redone a decade later (sans disco and terrorists, thankfully) as the TV series Magical Stage Fancy Lala, an anime that is superior in every single conceivable way. In fact, the best thing to do would be to forget this ever existed and watch Fancy Lala (or any other Studio Pierrot magical girl anime for that matter) instead.
Only useful to anime historians, this ludicrously plotted OVA wants us to believe that magical girls can just wish away child abuse, political corruption, and terrorism simply by dancing to disco music. You might want to watch this if you really, really, really love the 80s, but anyone else can and should just forget this ever happened. — Carlos Ross
Recommended Audience: Though intended for young girls, there are scenes of violence that wouldn't resonate well with young audiences. An outdoor entertainment venue is repeatedly bombed and assaulted by what are essentially terrorists, at least one of whom is shown being shot by police. There is also a brief scene of nudity involving Miho herself which is not sexual in nature; there is the strong implication of father-daughter incest between another set of characters who are shown sharing a bed. There's one panty shot with Miho and a couple of scenes of other teenaged girls in their underwear. Older teens and up.
Version(s) Viewed: Digital source, Japanese with English subtitles
Review Status: Full (1/1)
Harbor Light Story: From Fashion Lala © 1988 Studio Pierrot
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