A History of Honey
Cutie Honey, that is
For my second installment of my series of articles based on anime and manga, I thought I would look at one of my favorite anime super heroines - Cutie Honey, the adorable and sexy android girl who fights to protect love and justice against the forces of evil.
You know Go Nagai is awesome, because he has a statue of Darth Vadar in his office...
Since the character's debut back in 1973, Cutie Honey has enjoyed great success, and has appeared in various formats. Aside from the manga where she originated, there have been two animated TV series, two made for video anime series, a live action movie, audio drama CDs, and a live action TV show. Over time, the character has become one of the more endearing creations of its creator, the prolific manga artist, Go Nagai, who is best known for series like Devilman, and the controversial manga, Harenchi Gakuen ("Shameless School"), which was the first comic in Japan to feature eroticism.
These days, Cutie Honey is often considered an early example of the "Magical Girl anime", a genre that has brought us such series as Sailor Moon or Card Captor Sakura. Most of the time, Honey takes the form of a bubbly and somewhat mischievous teenage girl named Honey Kisaragi. But, whenever the forces of evil threatens either her or her friends, she can assume any female form to handle the situation. All she has to do is touch the magical choker that she wears around her neck, and yell out her battle cry of "Honey Flash!", and she will magically transform into a different female form who can handle any situation. Some of her more popular transformation forms are "Hurricane Honey" (a motorcyclist), "Nurse Honey" (pretty obvious), or "Flash Honey" (a reporter with a special camera whose flash can blind her enemies). But her ultimate battle form is that of Cutie Honey, a busty red-headed heroine who wields a magical sword called the Silver Floret, and uses boomerangs that she can shoot from special compartments on the wrists of her costume as a secondary weapon.
Honey in mid-Flash
One of the things that has made Honey famous (or infamous, depending on whom you talk to) is that whenever she does transform into one of her alternate forms, her clothes will tear apart, leaving her naked for several seconds until new clothes to suit her next form materialize upon her. When the very first anime debuted in 1973, this was the first time nudity was depicted in a cartoon on TV in Japan. This has unfortunately given the series a false reputation of being porn or "hentai" (anime that features overly sexualized characters or plots) by some people. However, this could not be further from the truth. While there is plenty of "fan service" and "wardrobe malfunctions" in the various incarnations of Cutie Honey, the character is much more than a sex object.
What sets Honey apart from most anime heroines is that she has a sense of humor, and often enjoys ridiculing or teasing her enemies in combat. She even gives a lot of her friends a hard time, and in the variations of the story where Honey's secret identity is a school girl, much of the comic relief comes from the fact that Honey is a bit of a class clown, and is constantly aggravating her teachers. Still, through it all, Honey has a big heart and a sweet personality. She is very protective of her friends, is always willing to stand up and fight for them, and truly loves the people of the world and wants to protect them.
So, let's take a look at the various incarnations that have been made off of Go Nagai's original manga...
ORIGINAL TV SERIES:
The original TV series debuted in October 1973, only a few days after the manga first hit stores. Both the manga and the TV show were being made at the same time, and more or less follow the same structure and plot.
The series was originally intended to be targeted toward young girls. It was to focus more on the relationship between Honey and her love interest/lead sidekick, and feature a variety of merchandise aimed at girls, such as Barbie-like fashion dolls based on Honey's different transformations. However, at some point, plans changed. A different anime aimed at young girls was given its planned time slot, and Cutie Honey was placed in a different slot targeted toward boys. Because of this, the tone of the series changed. It would emphasize the action and violence more, and the nudity was added to the transformation sequences.
In the show, Honey Kisaragi starts the story off as a happy teenage girl who goes to a private school called the Saint Chapel School for Girls. She is the daughter of the noted scientist, Dr. Kisaragi, and is very popular amongst the other girls in her class, and even amongst some of her teachers. Honey's entire world and outlook on life is changed when her father is murdered for reasons unknown at the time. While looking for answers after her father's death, Honey uncovers some information about her that has been kept from her all this time - Honey is not even human. She is an android that was created in the form of a teenage daughter he once had (who has since died), and has been given the magical ability to change her form at will. It's at this point that Honey decides to use her newly discovered powers and abilities to fight the crime wave that is overtaking her city, and ultimately track down her father's killers.
Sister Jill, Honey's eternal nemesis
The people responsible for the death of Dr. Kisaragi turn out to be a demonic criminal gang known as Panther Claw. The gang's leader is an ancient evil force known only as Panther Zora, but it is Zora's younger sister, Sister Jill, who is the main face of Panther Claw, and serves as Honey's lead antagonist for most of the series. The main goal of Panther Claw is to steal the world's riches, as well as some of the rarest items known to man. Honey's magical choker, which allows her to transform and was created by her father, is what the criminals were seeking when they killed him. They broke into his home to steal it, and he refused to tell them that it was in Honey's possession.
Behold Breast Claw! The weirdest super villain, with the lamest super power ever!
A majority of the series follows a typical "Monster of the Day" formula. In each episode, Sister Jill sends one of her soldiers out to steal some kind of rare or valuable object, and Honey usually gets wrapped up in the situation unknowingly, or finds out about their plan and shows up to stop them. Most of the soldiers sent out by Panther Claw were outlandish monsters with self-descriptive names like Scissors Claw (possesses a giant pair of scissors at the end of its arm), Jumbo Claw (can use its extreme body mass as a weapon to suffocate its enemies), Snake Claw (self-explanatory) and of course, Breast Claw (um...can have arms and hands extend from each of its massive breasts...). The lead villain in each episode is usually always accompanied by an army of "Panthers", human-like foot solders who dress in masks, fedoras and suits.
Honey and the Hayami Family
During the course of the show, Honey is aided in battle by the Hayami family, who sympathize with Honey's plight and join up with her. The eldest son in the family, Seiji, is the first to join the fight, as well as the first to discover Honey's secret identity and her battle against Panther Claw. Not long after that, Seiji's father, Danbei, and younger brother, Junpei, also join up with our heroine. It's established early on that all three men are in love with Honey in one way or another, and their efforts to impress her or win her heart often provides comic relief in the show, as they sometimes compete with each other to get Honey's attention. They do help out in battle, however, usually taking on the Panther foot solders, so that Honey can go after the villain of that particular episode.
The original TV series only ran for 5 months and 25 episodes, but proved to be quite successful. The artstyle is very garish, using a lot of very bright colors and bizarre backgrounds, that are sometimes just blurs of colors or checkered designs. And even though the animation is somewhat limited and often repeats itself (as this was a common factor in a lot of Japanese animation from the early 70s), the character designs really stand out, especially Honey's various transformation forms, and the many outlandish monsters that she fights. The series does a good job of mixing action and humor, and while the nudity and risque humor may turn off some viewers, it's really quite tame compared to some of the stuff that's out there today. There's a playful quality to the show that runs the point to the viewer that they're not supposed to be taking this all that seriously.
Is this the end of Cutie Honey??...Actually, no, it isn't...
Surprisingly, this TV series would not be commercially released in the U.S. until late last year, when the complete series was released on DVD. The show actually found success over the years being broadcast on TV in other countries, such as France, where the show was known as Cherry Miel ("Cherry Honey"), and Germany. Because this series was not released in America until recently, most American anime fans were introduced to Cutie Honey in her next series, a made for video series that served as a sequel of sorts to the original TV show...
SHIN CUTIE HONEY
"New" Cutie Honey. Stronger. Bustier. Honeyer.
In 1994, 20 years after the original series had ended, a new anime was finally released as a made for video animation. This series, titled Shin Cutie Honey ("New Cutie Honey"), would not only serve as a sequel to the TV show, but would also update the series, giving it a much darker tone, while still retaining the silly humor and adventure that the original series was known for. Honey herself was given a much more muscular look, but she still retained her sweet and caring personality. Instead of the bright and garish colors of the original show, the series would be set in a bleak metropolis inspired by the design of Gotham City in Tim Burton's 1989 Batman film. According to creator Go Nagai, this setting was decided because he felt it would be interesting to put a bright and cheerful heroine like Honey in such a dark environment.
The story is set 100 years after the original, and Honey has somehow lost her memories of her superhero past, and now works as the timid personal assistant to Mayor Light (no relation to Dr. Light from the Mega Man video games), a noble politician who wants to make the crime-riddled streets of the city safe for innocent people once again. The major crime lord in the city is a villain named Dolmeck, who is secretly distributing a drug throughout the city that other criminals can inject themselves with, allowing them to turn into powerful monsters similar to the Panther Claw villains in the original series. Honey is called back into action when Danbei Hayami (who is still alive after all this time, because he replaced most of his human body with cybernetic upgrades) recognizes the Mayor's assistant as the long-lost Honey Kisaragi, and restores her memories just in time when Dolmeck's forces launch an attack on Mayor Light after he refuses to accept the villain's bribes in return for letting him do whatever he wants.
Honey and the current members of the Hayami Family race to the rescue.
Honey again teams up with the current members of the Hayami family to fight the crime wave, and eventually learns that Dolmeck is under the control of her old nemesis, Panther Zora, who was believed to be dead, but somehow survived. The first four episodes of the series dealt with the storyline of Honey taking out Dolmeck's lead criminals, and then ultimately destroying the ultimate evil. However, once again, Panther Zora manages to survive, despite Dolmeck's eventual defeat. Starting in Episode 5, the series takes on a "villain of the day" approach, with Zora taking control of a different criminal in each episode, and giving them the power to attempt to become the city's next crime lord.
The scantly-clad Jewel Princess shows off her "art collection" before she plans to add Honey to it.
Due to the fact that the series was released straight to video instead of being aired on television, not only was the animation budget a lot higher, but they could get away with displaying more violence and nudity than they could in the original series. Many of the villains who face off against Honey have a...let's just say less than conservative form of dress. Case in point - the evil Jewel Princess whom Honey battles in the second episode. She poses as an innocent jewelry shop owner, but the trinkets that she sells to young women actually have homing signals within them that allows the Princess to find out where they live, abduct them, and then turn them into trophy-like statues by covering them in a bizarre substance of her own creation. Naturally, her victims are naked when they meet their end, and...Well, let's just say that the Jewel Princess is more than a little aroused by her "art collection".
What keeps the show interesting and from falling into the trap of total sexualized "fan service" is the knowing sense of humor that the show has. In fact, not only does the video series have a lot of parody elements and references to other anime, but certain characters from other shows appear. There are a lot of cameos from Go Nagai's other works, such as Devilman and Mazinger Z, but there are even a few characters outside of Nagai's universe to keep a watch for. The series has a great sense of humor, some wonderful action, voice acting by some of the top talents in Japan at the time, and Honey herself comes across as quite the strong heroine, who manages to be powerful in battle, yet sympathetic to those around her.
Sadly, the series was never finished. Originally 12 episodes were planned in the series, with possibly more after that. However, due to declining interest and sales, the series was cut short after the eighth episode was released in 1995. Years later, when Shin Cutie Honey was released on DVD in Japan, one of the bonus features that came with it was an audio drama CD of the planned 9th episode, which was scripted but never animated. They even reunited the cast of the video series to do the voices for it. Unfortunately, since this has never been translated or released outside of Japan, I know very little about it. All I do know is that it is a Christmas-themed episode. What I wouldn't give to know what a Cutie Honey Christmas would be like...
After a couple years of silence, Cutie Honey made a surprise return, this time in a much more child-friendly approach similar to how the original TV series was intended to be.
CUTIE HONEY F
Honey and some of her various transformations in Cutie Honey F
Debuting in 1997, Cutie Honey F (the F stands for Flash) debuted on TV, and was an attempt to adapt the character into a more child-friendly formula, similar to Sailor Moon, which had just gone off the air at the time. In fact, many of the people responsible for the Sailor Moon anime worked on this show, and the program even took over Sailor Moon's previous time slot. The nudity and violence was toned down for this show, so that they could market it to young girls, like the original TV series was planned to. The release of the show was met with a flurry of hype and a variety of toys, such as fashion dolls based on Honey's different forms and even an educational video game that was designed for very small children.
This series was somewhat of a gentler take on the original story, telling of Honey battling against the Panther Claw gang. However, there were some major changes to the plot. Biggest of all, in this version, Honey really is a teenage girl, not an android posing as one. This was most likely done so that the character would appeal to the girls watching the show. Also, Honey's father is not murdered by Panther Claw, rather he is kidnapped, and Honey spends most of the series trying to track him down. Her main ally in battle is once again Seiji, only this time, he is a private detective who has a personal grudge against the Panther Claw, as they murdered his father during one of their heists when he was a boy.
Honey and Seiji Hayami.
Since the show was intended for a young female audience, there was a love triangle element added to the story as well. Aside from Seiji, Honey would also sometimes be aided by the mysterious "Twilight Prince", a man who often talks in flowing, flowery dialogue, likes to leave white flowers behind as his calling card, and also brings Honey some inventions that her father left behind in order to aid her in battle. Just like before, Honey transforms with the aid of a special choker she wears around her neck that her father made her. In the tradition of Sailor Moon, who would gain more powerful forms and attacks as the series went on, Honey herself would also gain new weapons during the show, and even an entirely new form, "Hyper Honey", who was a much stronger variant of her Cutie Honey super heroine form.
Another new addition to the series was a rival for Honey, who also possessed the ability to change her form. This was Misty Honey, and although she could not change into any form she chooses like Cutie Honey, she could still turn into a dark super powered woman with her own special skills and attacks. Misty Honey's true identity is a young woman named Seira Hazuki, and it is eventually revealed that Honey and Seira are actually sisters who were both genetically created by their father, Dr. Kisaragi. At the time, Kisaragi was under the control of the Panther Claw, being forced to create genetically engineered humans with the ability to change their form. Eventually, Dr. Kisaragi terminated the project, and escaped with Honey, where he raised her as his daughter. Seira was left behind, and raised by the Twilight Prince, which has left her heart bitter and jaded. Honey and Seira battle one another throughout the series, but in the end when Seira is at last defeated, they are able to combine their powers together, and allow Honey to assume her previously mentioned "Hyper Honey' form.
As a more child friendly take on the original Cutie Honey story, this series works well, although it is not very well known outside of Japan. The series was never released in America, although it did receive a full dub in German at one point. The series even proved popular enough to receive a short movie at one point, which really doesn't feel like anything more than an extended episode of the show. Given the fact that series creator, Go Nagai, was not involved with this project (it was created by Yukako Iisaka, who licensed the characters), it does a fairly good job of capturing the spirit of the characters, and doesn't do any disservice. There are some bootleg English subtitled versions of the first few episodes floating around on Youtube and the internet if you are interested in checking this series out.
CUTIE HONEY MOVIE/RE: CUTIE HONEY
Publicity poster for the live action movie
Years of relative silence followed for the franchise once Cutie Honey F ended its run about a year after it started. But, in 2004, Cutie Honey came back in a big way with a big budget live action movie, and a new made for video anime that was used as a tie-in project titled RE: Cutie Honey. The movie was directed by Hideaki Anno, the man best known for creating anime classics like Neon Genesis Evangelion and Nadia: Secret of Blue Water. He also served as the lead supervisor on the anime. Both the movie and video series are more in line with the original 1973 series, with a lot of brightly colored backgrounds, wildly exaggerated movements and facial expressions, and a light and comical atmosphere.
Some of the forms Honey assumes during the movie.
Both the movie and video series more or less tell the same story. In this version, Honey is again an android who is seeking out the Panther Claw gang for vengeance after they murder her father/creator. However, instead of being a teenage girl, here Honey is a bubbly and somewhat ditzy young woman in her 20s who works in an office building and has a hard time fitting in with her human co-workers, who obviously don't know her secret, and generally think she's a weirdo. In the live action film, Honey was portrayed by model-turned-actress, Eriko Sato, and her sweetly funny yet oddly hyper performance really has to be seen to be believed. She so perfectly nails the mix of a ditzy heroine, with an off the wall cartoon superhero. Her over the top performance works here, because the movie itself is often displayed like a live action cartoon, with special effects that sometimes intentionally look like they were drawn in.
Honey and Natsuko Aki in RE: Cutie Honey
The bulk of the plot deals with Honey trying to learn to be more human, and make friends during her quest for justice. Her allies this time are the always-present Seiji, who is a newspaper reporter who seems to know a lot about Honey's hidden past, and Natsuko Aki, a straight-laced police inspector who is after the Panther Claw as well, and initially sees Honey as a dangerous vigilante. But, as she spends time around Honey, she soon sees her as a friend, and they become inseparable both in battle and in everyday life. The relationship between the sweet and upbeat Honey and the overly serious Aki is handled very well, especially in the video series, which spends more time on their odd couple relationship, and how they learn to work together. It also adds a bit of empathy to the character of Honey that she has no friends when the story begins, and how truly happy she is when Aki becomes her first.
Panther Claw does a musical number before fighting Honey! Yeah, this movie is weird...
The overall tone of both the film and the video is very over the top. The movie has some bizarre out of the blue moments, like when the Panther Claw villains perform a random musical number right before they do battle with Honey. Both also have a very frantic style of storytelling. They literally throw you right in the middle of the action when the film begins, and for a little while, you feel overwhelmed. You do gradually catch up, and both eventually develop some great characters. And while the movie and video series did not use the same actors for the characters, they're played wonderfully in both versions.
Oddly enough, the live action Cutie Honey movie did get released on DVD over here in the US. However, RE: Cutie Honey did not for whatever reason. It's easy enough to find subtitled versions of the 3-part video on line if you do want to see it. As for the movie, it's worth seeing just for the performance of Eriko Sato in the title role. The way she completely throws herself into such an off the wall characters is very impressive, and she shows great comic timing.
OTHER VERSIONS/THEME SONG:
Promo image for the live action TV show.
There have been a wide variety of Cutie Honey manga released over the years, but since most of them have never been translated or released outside of Japan, I can't really cover them here. There was also a live action TV series that debuted in 2007 titled Cutie Honey: The Live. It seems to be modeled somewhat after the movie, only with a much greater emphasis on action. Honey is also joined in this series by two other super heroines, Sister Miki and Sister Yuki. Again, the series never got released in America, and it's just as well, as what I've seen of the show did not impress me much. There is some good fight choreography, but the show takes a while to get going, and Honey comes across as being more annoying than sweet and funny in this show to me.
Basically, there's really no doubt that Honey will continue to live on in various forms of media. And one of the key ingredients to the character's lasting legacy is that she has one of the best theme songs ever written...
Koda Kumi is one of many Japanese singers who have covered the song.
Through all the different versions of Cutie Honey, the one thing that has remained the same from the beginning is the theme song. Each version of the song takes a different approach to it (rock, dance, pop), but the lyrics are always the same. The song has had such lasting popularity that even certain recording artists have done their own rendition of the song on their albums. It's also apparently a popular selection in karaoke clubs in Japan.
Here are some samples of the theme song over the years in the different shows. Choose your favorite...
The original 1973 version, performed by Yoko Maekawa
The opening to Shin Cutie Honey, performed by les-5-4-3-2-1
1997's opening to Cutie Honey F, performed by SALIA
The opening to both the live action movie and RE: Cutie Honey, performed by Koda Kumi
Through it all, I do view the character of Cutie Honey as more than an animated sex object. I feel that she is a truly funny and strong heroine who has some very cool powers and abilities, and also has a positive view on things that we don't see too often in today's often gritty and brooding superheroes. She's not afraid to be who she is, and has a huge heart with room for everyone in her life. I find her to be a positive character who often gets a bad rep from people who just focus on the raunchier aspects of the show, rather than the content.
To me, Honey-chan truly is a character that a lot of anime fans should take a second look at.