Strange Love

When I hear the words "strange" and "love" uttered together, I think of two things...a classic Depeche Mode song and a quirky piece of brilliant filmmaking by the late Stanley Kubrick. I do not, however, think of an animated sex comedy from Japan. But that's exactly what Strange Love is, a bizzaro look at an unlikable character's romp through her own sexuality that gives a lot of insight into the Japanese mindset towards sex, love, and a way. If it weren't so blandly animated and so exploitative, it might really be something, because there's some really interesting cultural material here worth discussing. However, at its heart, the two-OVA show is nothing but another program designed to get adolescent hormones raging into overdrive.

The first episode follows Sushiaki, a new professor at the local college. (Does it look like college? No, but to be on the safe side of American law, it is in the translation. WHATEVER.) He's seen this beautiful girl on an ad for a new shampoo that's supposed to give you "virgin hair." He's immediately infatuated with the blue-eyed beauty and her measurements. It amazes him, then, to find her double, Yoshida, sitting in his classroom the next day! Yoshida winds up being a disagreeable, stuck-up, acid-tongued snob, but the naive Sushiaki is still interested. He eventually tricks her into revealing her secret: she is indeed the girl in the ads. This is a big no-no, since the school forbids any of its students working. Yoshida has a way that will shut up Sushiaki for good about her career, but it's not going to go down exactly as Sushiaki hopes.

Meanwhile, the second episode starts off with Yoshida having a run-in with her jerk of a musician boyfriend. She's peeved at him for cheating on her, but she doesn't know what she wants. All she knows is that she's never really been in love. But then one day, a new transfer student, Azumi, shows up. Yoshida falls head over heels. Problem is, Azumi's a girl, a young straight one at that. What's a girl like Yoshida supposed to do? Dump her boyfriend? Admit her love? The title has it matter what, it's going to wind up strange.

As a cultural guide to the Japanese mindset on love on relationships, Strange Love is nothing short of fascinating, and perhaps is the best way to look at the thing. First off, the show establishes from the very beginning that Yoshida may only be half-Japanese, if that. This helps to explain (at least to native audiences) why she can be so sexually forward without shame.

Meanwhile, the attitudes of Sushiaki and Azumi are stereotypical Japanese responses. Sushiaki is constantly daydreaming about his perfect relationship, but is never able to actually carry out his manly visions in real life. Although a teacher, he is the embodiment of the salaryman with dreams he can never reach. He also sees this relationship with Yoshida as a possible road to marriage, a concept that might make sense in Japan, but seems outrageous here.

Meanwhile, Azumi is the shy, unassuming girl who would never think of such a thing as having a same-sex relationship. They present foils to Yoshida's sexuality, which is presented as cold and heartless, but also realistic for the modern day and age. The original title was not Strange Love but just plain Strange, and that's really the show's view of Yoshida.

I'm kind of amazed I wrote all that, because it makes it seem like this show is so much better than it really is.

Despite the fact that the box promotes the infamous Yasuomi Umetsu's character design work, there wasn't enough money spent to make his ideas look any good. The angularity of the faces is virtually the only clue that he worked on the show. All the characters come out looking blasé at best and, for the most part, mangled. There's no interesting music, no standout voice acting, nothing that doesn't scream out "low production values!"

The problem with the program is that, despite its obvious interest to those studying the societal mores of Japan, it isn't intended to be a social commentary. It's intended to be an exploitative video made to excite horny Japanese teenagers. From the lingering camera angles on womanly bosoms to the peek-a-boo shots of short skirts and blink-twice-and-miss-'em love scenes, this show reeks of fan service. And because of the shoddy production, even that isn't done well. To give it some due, Strange Love isn't at all predictable, and that's rare in the genre. But it's still sloppy in its plotting, its artwork, and its pacing.

Fans of the "ecchi" genre will have a field day with this one, I'm sure, but I'm not too keen on it. It is so mired in Japanese culture that it's interesting from that perspective, but otherwise, hold on to your money.

Strange Love -- nudity, strong sexual content -- C