Back when I first watched To-Y, a musical mishmash released in 1987, I had no idea about the "bishonen" or "pretty boy" genre of anime. This subset, known for androgynous characters, gender confusion, and alternating heaps of cuteness and angst, just wasn't well known at the time in the US. Now, of course, with the exploding anime market, bishonen titles are not hard to find here, but To-Y is not among them. After seeing it, I can be thankful that despite the junk many anime distributors foist on us, they leave some of the garbage waiting to come over the Pacific well enough alone. Although I've been occasionally taken to task for not appreciating much bishonen anime, this one is a title that feeds my worst fears about the field--lacking in depth, animation, story, and even plausibility. Any time an anime title has a dash in it for style alone, I get nervous.
In this anime, we meet Toy, the lead singer for an alternative hard rock band called Gasp. Not three minutes in, Toy gets into a fight at a Gasp concert with archrival Yoji, a sleek bubblegum pop star with perfect hair and teenybopper fans. Their difference in musical styles seems to be the breaking point, since there's no other explanation given (other than that Toy doesn't like his look). At any rate, new diva Sonoko is interested in Toy in more ways than one. Fighting off the histrionics of Toy's cat-girl-friend Niya, Sonoko tries to make inroads with Toy by getting Ms. Kato, her agent, interested in signing him. Kato won't take the band along with him, though, and Toy doesn't want to give up on the punkers, goths, and shreadheads that have made him what he is. Kato is also Yoji's agent, so she sets Toy up for a fall that nearly breaks up Gasp. As the pieces fall apart, Toy must decide if he's going to follow the road to instant stardom or stick with his friends and the music he loves.
After reading that paragraph again, I've decided that the movie I've described might be one I'd enjoy. Too bad it gives To-Y far too much weight.
There is hardly an element in To-Y worth watching. The budgetary constraints are so obvious that in certain sequences, passers-by don't have faces. In a better-quality show, you might be able to call that artistic license. Here, it's because they lacked the money to even make them. To-Y also shows an inherent weakness in anime: the inability to make musicians look like they are actually playing. My primary job is now as a musician, and it irritates me to no end to see what's showing on the screen having nothing to do with the soundtrack. It's a limitation of the art form, since music is not usually ready for the animators to study. But then why fill half your show with it?
The music itself is not bad if you like J-Pop stylings from the late 80s. However, the soundtrack choices completely undermine what the show is trying to do. Alternative rock of the mid-to-late 80s was New Order and Joy Division, The Cure and Depeche Mode, The Smiths and Love and Rockets. Even though Japanese alternative could still be different from that, what's presented here as alternative is the kind of music I used as background filler for commercials I recorded for my college's radio station. It's got electric guitars, but that doesn't make for edginess. And unlike Bubblegum Crisis, where the pop songs in the backdrop appear to be by the lead characters' band, the music here doesn't even pretend to be by Gasp, except perhaps in last few minutes.
Meanwhile, the plotting meanders horribly. The description above tells you virtually everything about the story, and yet the show lasts not quite an hour. The rest is filled in with musical interludes, filled with poses and looks and not a moment of believability. The stuff with cat-girl Niya is just plain weird, since it's obvious she's underage and yet claims to be Toy's lover. Sonoko sleeps over but doesn't actually get Toy involved in more...nocturnal activities (ahem!). Those bits never give us anything more than a couple of underwear shots, but they are still strange and distasteful. Otherwise, events happen with vague randomness and no sense of reality. My wife watched a short bit of the show, enough for us to wind up laughing at it hysterically. It makes little sense. Unfortunately, discussing most of the contrivances would spoil plot points that, against my better judgment, I'm not going to reveal here.
I've given To-Y just a little above a failing grade because of the music, which unlike its unwatchable cousin Cipher is still enjoyable. The rest of it is a waste of time. This is once again one of those titles that curious anime treasure-finders might see on an avid collector's trading list; resist the urge to experiment and find something else that might actually be a worthy investment instead.
To-Y -- innuendo -- D