Koishikawa Miki is a typical, ditzy high school girl. Involved with tennis, with plenty of friends, she seems to be living the good life. She thinks nothing of the vacation her parents take to Hawaii ... until they return and announce that, not only are they getting a divorce, but that they are getting remarried! Apparently they had affairs with another Japanese couple and have decided to swap spouses. (Wasn't that the plot of a 70s movie?)
Of course, things only get crazier when she meets the completely aloof, yet oh-so-handsome son of the other couple, Matsuura Yuu. Naturally, despite the fact they're practically step-siblings, they fall for each other. But they try to keep it a secret from their family, and most of the school. Never mind that the rest of the school is preoccupied with their *own* jumbled relationships.
The above synopsis doesn't even begin to describe half of what goes on in this series.
Marmalade Boy takes the term soap opera, and not only manages to give it a whole new meaning...but also makes it fresh and fun to watch as well. Forget Party of Five: this is what soap opera is really about, especially considering the show seems to be on acid half the time.
The story, despite all of the twists and turns through the series, is surprisingly easy to follow and *very* engaging. Yes, there are many subplots, but generally only three or so are focused on at a particular time, and you can miss a few episodes and still be not *too* far behind, unlike any American soap opera we've ever seen. Just try to keep up with Sunset Beach or Guiding Light. By the next week, you don't know half the cast! Not a problem with Marmalade Boy, which has a cast you really can care about, especially Miki, with all her insecurities and worries. At its heart, this is the story of Miki trying to learn how to act and grow in a serious relationship ... and one purely taboo, at that. You expect melodrama out of these characters - they're high schoolers to the extreme - yet each one acts surprisingly realistic and sympathetic. They could've been your own classmates in high school.
Technically, Marmalade Boy doesn't push the envelope of animation. It relies heavily on stock footage and flashbacks, though not nearly as much as Fushigi Yugi, and the art, for some, may take some getting used to. These characters have some of the *biggest* eyes you will ever see in anime. But the character design goes with the melodrama, besides being a very faithful rendition of the manga art by Yoshizumi Wataru. As for the music, it's fairly solid, but get used to the song "Moment" very quickly. You will hear it. A LOT.
Sooner or later, during any crucial event in your life, you WILL hear this song in the background ... for the rest of your life.
However, this is NOT a series for everyone. There are just as many anime fans who run screaming away from the screen as there are people who fawn over this. The pure action fan or the cerebral-minded may find Marmalade Boy taxing on their patience and eyesight. This is a shoujo melodrama, and it never lets you forget that. Unlike other melodramatic anime, there is no attempt to draw in any sort of male audience, except for the so-called "sensitive New Age guys" - and yes, I guess I must be one of those. Even Fushigi Yugi and Sailor Moon put more emphasis on action to attract a broader audience. Marmalade Boy has absolutely no opportunity to do that ... and no desire to do so, in that case. The viewer will either hate it with a passion, or love every minute. There is no medium.
Having viewed this series from front-to-back, I can safely tell you why this isn't quite a five-star series. Apart from the animation, which is really low-budget and barely enough to handle Yoshizumi's simple, but appealing art style, there is one significant flaw in this show: the third season. At about episode fifty or so, the action is split between the regular cast in Tokyo, and a new cast in, of all places, New York.
There's two massive problems with this situation - firstly, this is an all-new storyline not in the manga. The anime was originally only supposed to run for 52 episodes, and NOT 76, so the animation staff had to scramble to get these scripts out for production.
But the real problem is that the scriptwriters apparently know absolutely nothing about the United States (and New York in particular) outside of notes they apparently took while watching Grease, West Side Story, and Beach Blanket Bingo. The effect is amazingly tawdry, with oddities like California surf scenes and parasailing during spring break on Long Island (!), sprawling parklands on the Jersey Shore (!!), and Miki running from knife-wielding thugs in Harlem, having walked all the way there from JFK (!!!).
It's amazing that the voice actors are able to do anything with season three, and the acting remains excellent, probably because all the Americans magically know fluent Japanese, a flub that I hear annoyed Yoshizumi Wataru immensely. The substandard writing really mucks up with Yuu and Miki's characterization, though, which is a shame.
You should probably go right up to about episode 52 and take things at face value, then change gears into MST3K mode from then on. It's not that season three isn't worth watching, but you'll get a lot of unintentional laughs out of it.
It's safe to say that there is very little, if anything, quite like Marmalade Boy, which is why it's been so hard to find an audience in America for it outside of a hardcore group of fans (like myself). It is a show that is unashamedly for girls (with a vengeance), which makes it a *very* hard sell for the predominantly male anime fanbase in America. However, with the recent success of the aforementioned anime, as well as other series like Revolutionary Girl Utena and Magical Project S, companies are finally starting to feel more confident about releasing anime for the female audience - because that audience now exists.
Yes, I like my NCAA football, and I like my action anime. But after watching the entire series of Marmalade Boy, I am genuinely hooked. And I can understand the appeal of this series on a wide level to a mostly female audience. Let's face it, this is a darn good show.
If your collection includes almost nothing but Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Lain, and Ninja Scroll, take away three stars. But you never know until you watch it for yourself: Marmalade Boy is the very benchmark of good shoujo anime.. — Carlos/Giancarla Ross
Recommended Audience: At least twelve and up. The themes presented in here would go straight over the heads of the Pokemon crowd, and though there's no nudity or questionable language to speak of, very serious situations and implications of incest, Lolita complexes, and underage sexual activity may limit this one to discretionary viewing. Not to mention that the adults in this are less mature than the children. Good parenting this is NOT.
Version(s) Viewed: digital source; R2 DVD
Review Status: Full (76/76)
Marmalade Boy © 1994 Yoshizumi Wataru / Shueisha / Toei
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