Movie: Harem shows are among the most popular anime series outside of the usual fighting or mechanized robot releases according to those who know such things. The end result is that a whole lot of them are made; some being vastly better than others, depending on what you're looking for. Having watched dozens of such shows in the last couple of years alone, I think I have a pretty good handle on what works and what doesn't (at least for my own viewing pleasure) so today's review of the Happy Lesson: Teacher's Pet Collection proved to be fairly interesting to me as one of the better such releases on the market today. The first time I encountered the series was when I read the first review of the initial release by my pal John Sinnott. He's a guy that loves his harem shows and I appreciate that he seems at least as well versed in the genre as I am. That this set had all three of the original releases as well as the OVA made it quite a bargain but here's my take on it, noting that you'll either get it or not, depending on your personal tastes.
The back of the original DVD covers gave a fairly decent overview of the series with the following blurbs:
"What teenage boy wouldn't want to spend his days surrounded by a pack of beautiful women? Chitose, that's who! He just moved out of the orphanage and back into his deceased parents' house. But instead of lounging around the ultimate bachelor pad, he's dodging discipline from his five new mothers! His high school teachers have adopted him, and the only thing that overshadows their good looks is their near-psychotic maternal zeal."
"Just look at what they've got in store for him. When Chitose starts failing his classes, Mutsuki dons a sexy tutor outfit and beats the knowledge into him. Then Yayoi detects a spirit of misfortune inside Chitose's body, and decides to remove it-by force. And of course, there are the contests in which his mothers compete to win Chitose like some kind of grand prize. How could any young guy hope to survive all this?"
"The best piece of wisdom anyone ever gave Chitose was that things get a
lot worse before they get any better. Unfortunately, in his case things
only seem to get worse and worse and WORSE!"
"Things really heat up as Happy Lesson comes to its rollicking conclusion!
Poor Chistose is stuck in the middle of all the insanity once again. Mama Kisaragi has developed a split personality - as if her regular old single personality wasn't scary enough! Kanna is discovering new and faintly disturbing feelings for our hero. And intrepid and terribly confused Fumitsuki has reached the point where she simply must know what Chitose's true feelings are. And as if that wasn't enough, Chitose's worst nightmare finally comes true!"
The show itself came from an original story in Mutsumi Sasaki/Dengeki G's Magazine by Media Works Press. The show was directed by Iku Susuki and, as stated above, dealt with a young man, Chitose (pronounced Chee-to-say), who is something of a slacker in school and the victim of a hard life. His parents died when he was younger, forcing him to stay in an orphanage until her came of age to live in the only thing they left him; the family home. To make ends meet, he rents out rooms to borders who happen to be his young, hot looking teachers. They worry about him and take pity on him so they all end up becoming his surrogate mothers, often forcing him to acknowledge the role when in the privacy of their residence where they cook, clean, and otherwise take care of his needs (nothing sexual though you pervert).
The lead characters (and their English language voice actors) are Chitose (Josh Meyer), Musuki (Shaneye Ferrell), Yayoi (Lana Lesley), Uzuki (Larissa Walcott), Satsuki (Lee Eddy), and Kisaragi (Peyton Hayslip), joined by class president Fumitsuki (Shawn Sides), Student B (Resif Trebor) and Student C (Jeffery Sands). As in all such shows, the foil of the secret arrangement of the protagonist and his women has something of a crush on him so she sets out to find more about him to varying degrees of success. That Fumitsuki is also a lot sharper than Chitose doesn't help him, eventually becoming an issue at the end of the series. Student B and C play the roles of the camcorder perverts that are completely in lust with the teachers and wonder why Chitose gets preferential treatment.
The episodes goofed on a number of conventional movies and clichés, a fact that kept them from bugging me as so many contemporary harem shows seem to do these days. If you're going to take on a genre full of standard lines and events, you need to interject something interesting or the viewer will react in a negative manner which was where this one seemed to shine for me (at least a little bit) from time to time. The setting was a standard; The Private Koyomi Campus High School and Middle School, and each teacher plays a role in Chitose's development. From homeroom teacher Mutsuki Ichimonji (seemingly the lead of the pack in terms of how much time she spends with Chitose), to Uzuki Shitennou (the fine arts teacher with the crazy artistic streak), to gender bender Satsuki Gokajou (the gym teacher that likes to push the limits of all her students), to Yayoi Sanzein (the school nurse that drives the boys wild every day), to crazy Kisaragi Ninomai (the chemistry teacher and would be world dominatrix); the gals seemed to dote on Chitose all the time. The results of their attention is generally the source of most humor although his keeping the secret of his relationship to the teachers comes a close second.
The episodes for the series and OVA were:
1) Exciting!/Mama Teachers
2) Be Happy/Let's Study
3) Bye Bye/Adieu, Spirit of Misfortune
4) Unsteady/Which Place is Big Brother's?
5) Freezing/A Night in the Blizzard
6) Nervously/Conquer The World?
7) Exciting/Mina Does Her Best
8) Floating/Uzuki is an Angel?
9) Exhausting!/Club Activities
10) Dithering/Hazuki Announces Her Retirement?
11) Dizzying?The Big Transformation of Her Dreams
12) Nice & Warm/All Alone with Kanna
13) Love Love!/Koyomi School Festival
14) Teary!/Did I See A Secret?
OVA 1) Exciting! Mama Teachers
OVA 2) Exciting!/Vacation!
OVA 3) Unsettling!/Happy Mamas!
A lot of the humor derived from the way that the individual teachers seemed to be so in character and focused on their single personality trait. The manner in which Student's B and C look right into the camera when talking is another cute trick used to better effect elsewhere yet done with a light hand here so it didn't get old as the series progressed. As far as the individual stories go, they were all pretty much self contained with little advancement as the series progressed (you can jump in just about anywhere without a problem). That the women in this series were somewhat less sexually attracted to Chitose also gave it a different dynamic that helped break it off from the pack of wannabe contenders. There were some smaller characters introduced like Chitose's two sisters, another wannabe world dictator girl who fell for him, and some other non-recurring roles but in the end, it was all in good fun with minimal fan service.
I thought this boxed set was worth a rating of Recommended for containing all the series episodes and the OVA to boot. The animation itself suited the material and there might have been nothing brand new in terms of the writing but it was a fun show to watch with some decent replay value to offer up fans of the genre. I just wish that at some point, Chitose might've shown a spark of intelligence in order to give him another dimension to the flat character of his. This is a common failing of the sub-genre though so I can't hold it to a higher than average standard and be fair.
Picture: Happy Lesson: Teacher's Pet Collection was presented in the usual 1.33:1 ratio full frame color as released on broadcast television in Japan. The show was colorful and bright, with only a bit of shimmer in scenes with a lot of lines side by side. I didn't see a lot of other problems and the mastering of the DVD was decent enough that there were no compression artifacts observed but one glance at the front cover will tell you what the show looks like.
Sound: The audio was presented with the standard choices of the original Japanese 2.0 Dolby Digital or the English language dub sporting a 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround track. I listened to both and found the vocals on each to offer a somewhat different experience but equally entertaining but the sound effects and music were substantially better in the remastered dub track. The separation and dynamic range in the dubbed track were superior but the original track wasn't too bad either.
Extras: The only extra in the Happy Lesson: Teacher's Pet Collection boxed set was a few trailers on each disc for other releases in the ADV Films catalog. This is a standard practice with the value added collections to keep fans who bought the original releases from whining and the far lower price makes the typically weak extras from the originals hardly worth a second glance most of the time.
Final Thoughts: Happy Lesson: Teacher's Pet Collection was a fun, cute, and even interesting way to spend several hours as Chitose and his gang of lovely teachers handled the various situations they got into with a sly grin and a knowing wink. It may not have traversed new territory or provided an altogether new look at the harem series genre many of you appreciate but it surely offered up a good time to be had by all. The dub added to the value as well with a bit more innuendo than I might have liked but the subtitles seemed accurate enough compared to the dub and I can think of many more boring ways to spend about seven hours. Check it out if you're into this kind of show and let me know what you think.
If you enjoy anime, take a look at some of the recommendations by DVDTalk's twisted cast of reviewers in their Best Of Anime 2003 and Best Of Anime 2004 article or regular column Anime Talk