As promised, a review of the series that won the recent blog poll, Mahou no Stage Fancy Lala! 😀
Our main character Shinohara Miho wants to be famous. She’s not particularly fussy about how she manages it, dreaming of being scouted as an idol or model while also working on her art in hopes of becoming a manga-ka. Then one day, two chibi dinosaurs force her to take them home with her, and present her with a magical pen. With this, she is able to transform into ‘Fancy Lala’, the subject of her manga sketches.
I’ve actually seen these characters before – in the 1988 OVA Harbor Light Monogatari – Fashion Lala Yori. Things weren’t so great for 80s Miho. Her father was away, her aunt and cousins were mean, and her boyfriend was a literal terrorist who lived in an abandoned pirate ship. And the storyline wasn’t good either. She did have a nice dog though. So, it’s probably for the best that most of the things in Fashion Lala got scrapped, but is Fancy Lala any better?
The other obvious series to compare this to is Pierrot’s first magical girl series, Mahou no Tenshi Creamy Mami, which I reviewed way back in 2012, and liked a lot. A casual glance at the synopsis and art for Fancy Lala shows obvious similarities: 9-10 year old girl gets given magical items by green and pink chibis, transforms into an adult, finds fame. I was therefore expecting the same kinds of fun, fantasy adventures, lots of songs, and general enjoyable shoujo fluff…
To a certain extent, that’s what I got. Miho changes into Lala, heads for Harajuku, and is scouted by Lyrical Productions by the end of episode two. Most episodes focus on her working with them, including the classic scenario where both of her identities were supposed to be in different places at the same time, leading to a lot of quick getaways and transformations. No easy task given that her transformation process is one of the most long-winded and awkward I’ve ever seen. First, she has to draw the costume she wants Lala to wear. Then, she has to use magical words to make the adult-size clothes appear in reality, put these large baggy clothes on, THEN transform herself into Lala with a second, longer set of magic words. Keeping her identity secret from her family and finding safe places to change was a recurring issue in early episodes.However, Lala’s road to fame was certainly slower, bumpier and less-glamorous than Mami’s. Her first roles are in adverts and lame game shows. She has to model swimsuits on a beach in the cold spring, and even then only in the background, with the focus on a more established idol. She finally sings her (one and only!) song in episode 9, but prior to that struggles with fears that her voice sounds terrible. And after that episode, the serious themes don’t stop.
When she learns that her producer Yumi is divorced and living apart from her son, Miho spends a whole episode trying in vain to get the couple back together, while also worrying that the same thing might happen to her parents. Episode 20 focuses on Miho’s mother, who also works in TV production, and Miho’s complex feelings after seeing this other side to her. In another episode, she tries creating things other than clothing using her magic… that really doesn’t end well. Episode 14, the innocently-named ‘Miho in Toyland’, actually brought me to tears (and again while typing this). And the series’ finale is incredibly bittersweet. Nice to see it look at things such as loss, family relationships, growth and the passage of time, in a surprising amount of depth.In terms of art, I knew I was going to like this series. The character designs are by Takada Akemi as with Creamy Mami, and just look lovely. I only have the one artbook by her from the mid 80s, now I know I need one from the late 90s as well. 😛 Pierrot’s animation is solid, plenty of movement, very little static panning or simple lip-flapping. None of the early CGI that was starting to work its way into some series at the time.
The music was… not as important as I expected, since as previously mentioned Lala didn’t sing much! Her one song wasn’t spectacular, made slightly worse by some unfortunately bad English pronunciation, but the opening and ending themes were nice enough.
Overall, I thought this series was brilliant, for reasons quite different to what I initially expected. If I was still doing the whole ‘Overlooked and Underrated’ thing on this blog, this series would certainly fit the bill, with less than 1,000 having watched it on Anime-Planet! Slower pacing in the latter half prevents it from scoring as highly as it might have done had it kept going as strongly as it started, but I’d recommend this to anyone.
Anime-Planet average rating: 3.1/5
My personal rating: 4/5