Monday, April 26, 2010

Spring 2010 - Mayoi Neko Overrun!

The mangaka for the collaboration Mayoi Neko Overrun!, Kentarô Yabuki, once mentioned in an issue of Newtype that he would be up for the continuation of his mildly-successful manga franchise Black Cat. Considering that Yabuki has already produced two respectably-durable manga hits (To-Love-Ru made it to 18 volumes, Black Cat to 20) before hitting the age of 30, it appears that he has plenty of time for such a return to his cash-cow.

However, it also appears that Yabuki is set on going the way of his mentor Takeshi Obata. Obata is the mangaka responsible for Shônen Jump classics such as Hikaru no Go and Death Note, but his initial solo work (Cyborg Jii-chan G) struck out back in 1989, lasting only 31 issues. Since then, Obata has rarely worked on anything without the help of a story writer, and it appears that Yabuki has been taking that approach to his last work (To-Love-Ru was in conjunction with former assistant Seki Hasemi) and his current one.

Mayoi Neko Overrun! is Yabuki's second venture into collaborations, a manga version of the light novel written by Tomohiro Matsu. Perhaps it has been the surge of success for light novels that has green-lighted the animated version so quickly. Matsu has been hired to direct the show himself, while AIC (Tenchi Muyô, Ah! My Goddess, Asu no Yoichi!, Sora no Otoshimono) is in charge of animating it.

The main premise behind the series appears to be an ode to the Black Cat series, as the main character Takumi Tsuzuki works in a hole-in-the-wall bakery called Stray Cats (Black Cat's initial one-shot was first called "Stray Cat"). While the patisserie is not necessarily a successful one, and the shop's owner, Takumi's sister Otome, is rarely there to supervise, it manages to stay in business. Takumi also gets help from his childhood friend Fumino, an eternally-angry schoolgirl who draws up white lies and opposites to hide her true feelings for Takumi, as both of them are actually orphans that have been rescued by Otome.

As of the first episode, Takumi's pretty much gotten into a zen-like phase regarding his classmates. Fumino constantly acts as the violent tomboy, pampered loli-girl Chise makes unreasonable demands for attention that get under Fumino's skin, and horndog Ieyasu refuses to shake his passion for 2D video-game girls. All of them manage to band together to hunt down a cake-stealer, only to discover that the "huge cat" they were chasing is the latest of Otome's rescues, a placid and unemotional girl with nekomimi-like hair by the name of Nozomi.

Mayoi Neko Overrun! really tries to make a name for itself by pulling at the heartstrings and splicing tearful drama inside of the comedy, but it falls into the misfortune of aiming too low with sexual humor. The first impression we get of Fumino is that of her past self crying over the troubles of being bullied, only for the next shot to be of Takumi getting punched from a panty-flash. Camera angles often originate from below the waist, and Chise's cosplay fetish calls for the necessitated public-nudity scene. We've seen this before in the likes of Ken Akamatsu's Love Hina and Negima! series, so why mess with the formula?

These situations performed by the usual moe suspects (tsundere, lolicon, rich-girl, nekomimi, kuudere/dandere) seem to kill the anime's momentum. Touching scenes are interrupted by expected twists like clockwork, and it seems to make the show just as bored as Takumi is of his own lifestyle. Mayoi Neko Overrun! is more like a dating sim without the joystick or keyboard, so there's no way to control the main character and liven up the situation. There's nothing there to entertain the viewer outside of the targeted male viewership, save for the things that have worked in the past in other harem shows.

I really hope that Yabuki does look to revamp his Black Cat series, since his work appears to be going to waste. Everything we saw in Mayoi Neko Overrun! could have easily been borrowed from To-Love-Ru (or vice versa), and there would be absolutely no change in plot or direction. Luckily, this series will only be around for 12 episodes. Still, with the hyped image of the three main female characters flailing about in a cardboard box like abandoned cats, I expect the same thing to happen to the show's DVDs in the future.

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