Good Morning Call

Although there are certainly hundreds upon hundreds of anime titles that have never even darkened Western shores, the miracle of the Internet is making for a world where even smaller shows have a hope of being seen by audiences outside Asia. Through the latest sharing program, Bit Torrent, we've seen the distribution of titles that some of us have waited decades to see that nobody ever licensed, such as the aged but moving Anne of Green Gables. There're also a lot of curiosities that are too short, too cultural, or otherwise unmarketable to the DVD buying public. One of these titles is Good Morning Call, a 20-minute pilot based on an ongoing story in the popular girls' manga Ribon. There's an immense compression of a long-running story into an unbelievably short timeframe, but it still manages a whimsically sweet spirit. Though a brief romantic comedy like this would never have a market here, it's fun to watch.

In a blink-and-you'll-miss-it opening, we're introduced to Nao and Uehara, a couple of teenagers who wind up sharing the same apartment by freaky coincidence. (Although a couple of opposite-sex 15-year-olds living by themselves in a rented apartment would have Social Services down in a moment in the US, I imagine the culture of going to high school apart from one's parents is strong enough in Japan that the scenario wouldn't raise too many eyebrows.) At any rate, they've found that they like each other...enough to call each other boyfriend and girlfriend, but not enough to actually have a romantic relationship.

It's been a year since they met, and Nao is excited and nervous about buying Uehara a birthday present. Her concerns become a nightmare when she realizes that his birthday is the 7th, not the 17th, and she's already missed it! Meanwhile, Uehara secretly likes Nao more than he will admit, and he's concerned that Asai, a hot young hairdresser who wants to use Nao for practice, is after her himself. If the two of them can get past their own romantic notions and fears, they could become a great couple. If not, in that small apartment is going to become very difficult indeed.

Immediately on watching the first twenty seconds of this show, an astute anime fan will notice the striking similarity the show has to Marmalade Boy, another anime based on a manga running in Ribon. If anything, Good Morning Call is a lighter, sweeter, less "caffeine-on-steroids-on-uppers" version of Child's Toy with the romantic side of Marmalade Boy thrown in...which is all well and good, but it probably destroyed its chances of getting picked up as a full-blown television series. There's room for two of these three, but not all three: they are simply too much alike. Two of them feature lead characters who can become hyper spastic at a moment's notice. Two of them feature lead males that are depressive, moody types until brought out of their shells. And the artwork between Call and Marmalade is so similar that the casual observer would expect the characters to be in the same series!

Nevertheless, Good Morning Call is still fun for the short span in which it runs. It's humorous without being madcap, and the romantic concerns of the characters feel genuine. Although the plotline about Nao possibly falling for the fashion expert feels hollow, it's needed to ramp up the dramatic tension in such a short time period. The best and worst of the show is also driven by its need to cover so much ground. On one hand, it's frustrating to get so many characters introduced in a brief time; if anything, they should have taken out a few and made it more focused. On the other hand, hopping in a ways into the story really gets us to care for the characters without a whole lot of setup. The animation is functional, working on the barest of budgets, but it suffices.

Back to the main question: is it worth the effort? I like these characters and would honestly watch more about them. Knowing that's very unlikely to happen, I am more ambivalent about it. It will probably fade into memory pretty quickly without the repetition of a TV series behind it. However, I can't imagine a better love letter to fans of the manga, who I'm sure enjoyed seeing these characters animated. It's fairly charming. There's just not enough of it to consider it a must-see.

Good Morning Call -- nothing objectionable -- B+