Reality is what makes anime special. Amidst the fiery robotic explosions, killer ninjas, and girls with guns, we can still find compelling anime, and it's because the best anime grounds us with characters and situations we know to be true to life. Although most anime titles are not based on rigid plausibility, there's still the seed of truthfulness that keeps us watching. Handsome Girl is a vaguely entertaining show from 1989 that was made to promote the manga of the same name, and its characters have likeable personalities. However, the show purports to be about filmmaking, and in this regard, it is totally unbelievable. Combined with a plot that telegraphs its intentions, and you've got a pretty weak show.
Mio is a 15-year-old actress who might just be ready to break into the big time. One day on a set, she meets Ichiya, who seems friendly enough until he insults her acting ability. Offended by his comments but strangely attracted to him, Mio can't get either Ichiya or his rude remarks out of her head. The only person she confides all this to is her best friend Aya, an idol singer also on the same path to stardom. Things get really hairy when it turns out that Ichiya is quite the genius behind the camera, and he eventually is put in charge of a motion picture...and he wants Mio as his leading lady. Can the two resolve their differences? And, more importantly, can Mio hide her romantic feelings from her director?
Although the sites that have information on this relatively rare show list it as an OVA, I'm not completely certain it wasn't shown as a short feature in theatres. For one, the aspect ratio appears to be about 1.66:1, rather than the standard 1.33:1 format for television. The VHS source also appears to have a "cigarette burn" about 25 minutes in, which would normally be the signal for the projectionist to change reels. These two issues may just be coincidences. Regardless, the artistic quality is definitely hovering around the OVA mark. For its time, it's a nice looking show with reasonable quality workmanship, though it doesn't strike me as superb. Modern audiences will find the styles woefully out of date.
Handsome Girl is fine for a simple romantic tale for teenage girls, but its lack of attention to detail mars a lot of it. I can stretch and believe that some immensely talented high schooler could get a contract to make a movie. I can even stretch to handle the show's focus around three incredibly talented youngsters. But what killed it for me was the way that the filmmaking in the piece was just completely backwards. For example, Ichiya announces that Mio will be the star of his film before ever talking with her. That's grounds for a lawsuit, not a compliment. In a different point, in explaining why he wants her for his movie, Ichiya calls Mio a "handsome woman" like Marlene Dietrich. That's all well and good, but Mio simply doesn't have that look. She's girly girl through and through.
And there's another blow in the reality department. A pivotal plot point (and I don't really consider it a spoiler, but you might, so skip the rest if you aren't sure) is that the motion picture Ichiya is making is 98% shot and in the can when the principle funder backs out of the production. Ichiya decides to shoot the final action sequences on his own. Sounds great, but in the real world, Ichiya wouldn't have access to the other footage he'd shot. It would belong to the person who financed the product. And what's more, it's a terrible plot point...who would ante up all the money to make a film, get it a hair's breadth from finished, and then pull the funding? It's bad screenwriting based on the need to complete the story rather than anything in reality.
I liked Handsome Girl when I was watching it, frankly. It moves along quickly, and Mio is a fine protagonist. I was never bored, and when I wasn't nitpicking, I enjoyed it. It just exists in some sort of netherworld that appears to be real but isn't. I imagine that a middle-school girl watching this, without any knowledge of filmmaking, interested in a sweet romance where everything turns out ok, would like it a lot. But across the board, I can't recommend it; it's simply got too many holes. It's bad when you spend more time frustrated by a show's inattention to detail than fascinated by its characters, and that's what happened to me.
For free as a Bit Torrent download, which is the only way to obtain it in the US, Handsome Girl is not bad. I personally prefer it to many of the mindless OVAs currently out on the market, which is why it gets barely an above-average grade. But expect too much, and you'll be disappointed.
Handsome Girl -- nothing objectionable -- C+