Yamamoto Yohko OVA

I like my comedies to be funny. I like my sci-fi to be action-packed, exciting, and densely plotted. I like my characters to develop, and I want my heroes to be vaguely likable people. (I like my bacon crispy, too, but that's a different article.) What I don't like, however, is when a whole bunch of genuinely talented people put together a show and wind up leaving out the heart. That's what ultimately destines Yamamoto Yohko to mediocrity--it's like a purebred pointer with a shiny coat and impeccable papers that's afraid of the outdoors. You might love the dog anyway, but it ain't gonna hunt.

In the far distant future, wars between space-faring species are fought by a few chosen participants in special battles and contests. Terra (Earth) is fighting the Ness for economic and social stability, and they need the best contestants possible, which they've found in 20th century high school girls. With their four-woman team down a member, Lawson (a lovable engineer) finds a most unusual candidate: Yamamoto Yohko. Addicted to video games, Pocky (a Japanese snack food), and her own ego, Yohko comes into the fight with loads of attitude to spare. Despite all, though, Yohko turns out to be as good a fighter pilot as they come, and she may just save Earth of the 30th century a lot of grief--that is, if they can deal with her bravado being the size of a small planet. Although this is the plot presented in the first episode (and in all the advertising), it's really just a way to get the main characters together. The competition between Terra and Ness barely receives a glance after that. The rest of the six episodes deal with the girls going on various vacations, getting into trouble, having fights with rivals, and Yohko outsmarting everybody who gets in her way.

There's a lot to love in Yamamoto Yohko's presentation. The animation is solid for an OVA series, with detailed battle sequences and charming character designs executed quite well. The soundtrack is entertaining and the opening/closing sequences have catchy tunes you'll come back to. From all perspectives, a decent amount of money and care was put into this production.

That's really why Yohko turns out to be such a disappointment. For one, every episode is essentially a stand-alone, with little carryover or character development. The show doesn't go anywhere. Second, you've got a bunch of stock characters that really have little personality, just your brain, your airhead, your jock, and your shy one. My wife, who's not an anime fan, commented that it was almost like the Spice Girls--and to my shock (and my wife's credit), THEM Anime Reviews even made the same comment! It's not quite that simple, but each character is there to fill in requisite cliché X. If that weren't enough, you've got logical holes all over the place. Why after 1000 years haven't humans developed enough to have good pilots? Why is nothing of any importance actually at stake in these matches between Earth and Ness? The list goes on and on in that direction. Finally, and most importantly, why did they make Yohko such a jerk? She's at best annoying, and yet she never fails, never grows, never does anything but make snide comments and win at everything she tries. There's no compelling reason to like her, and since she's the star, there's no compelling reason to like the series. That's not to say there aren't high points, and I laughed a few times, but a few guffaws do not a comedy make. At best, it's diversionary entertainment.

As Yamamoto Yohko started, I enjoyed the animation, appreciated the music, and thought to myself, "It might get better." About half way through, I stopped thinking that and just thought, "Maybe it will end soon." When it was over, I thought, "Such a lot of good effort on such an unimportant show." Maybe it's because I'd seen the stories done much better in other shows with characters that were more enjoyable to get to know. Maybe it's because I just got through Memories recently, a fantastic, visionary movie that shows what anime can be...or maybe it's just because Yamamoto Yohko can't hide the fact that it's a beautiful box with a lovely ribbon that has nothing more than a Cracker Jack toy inside.

Yamamoto Yohko OVA -- mild violence, mild language, extremely brief nudity -- C+