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  Marvelous Melmo Fun with biology
Year: 1971
Director: Osamu Tezuka
Stars: Reiko Muto, Haruko Kita, Minori Matsushima, Koichi Kitamura, Eiko Masuyama, Junko Hori, Yoshiko Yamamoto, Kazuko Sawada, Kazuko Sugiyama, Kei Tomiyama, Masako Nozawa, Miyoko Aso, Narumi Tsunoda, Ryusei Nakao, Yoshiko Ota
Genre: Comedy, Animated, Fantasy, TV Series, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 1 vote)
Review: When little Melmo (voiced by Reiko Muto) loses her mother in a tragic hit-and-run accident, she and her baby brothers go to live with their brutally abusive aunt (Narumi Tsunoda) who is eager to cash-in on their inheritance. Meanwhile in heaven, Melmo’s mother (Haruko Kita) convinces the wacky, white-suited angelic hosts to grant her dearest wish that her children shall always have a loving parent to look after them. Aided by the immortal Phoenix and its legion of star-shaped fairies, Melmo’s mother bequeaths her a jar of so-called “Miracle Candy.” Eating a red candy transforms Melmo into a sexy, voluptuous grownup complete with bow-chikka-wow-wow music. Posing as her own mother, she takes custody of her brothers and uses the blue pills to turn Aunty’s evil henchman into harmless old men. Thus armed with the Miracle Candy, Melmo continues caring for her kid brothers, sharing numerous madcap misadventures and along the way, learns valuable lessons about nature, biology and her own developing body.

Although Marvelous Melmo was Osamu Tezuka’s subversive take on the popular “magical girl” sub-genre in anime, it established a concept that became a fixture of later, less thematically ambitious entries. Shojo (girls) anime landmarks such as Creamy Mami (1983), Magical Fairy Persia (1984) and Gigi and the Fountain of Youth (1985), which was the feature film spin-off from trailblazing television series Magical Princess Minky Momo (1982), routinely involved magical moppets transforming into sexy adult alter-egos, often with mildly erotic undertones that were somewhat unsettling to western eyes. Most of these were fairly innocuous, wish-fulfilment fantasies for little girls, but Tezuka had a far more provocative agenda. His aim was to use this deceptively simplistic fairytale to teach young children about biology, philosophy and morality.

Mixing his familiar semi-Disneyesque art style with cute characters, talking animals and other whimsical creations, alongside trippy yet scientifically accurate depictions of the awe-inspiring miracle of life, Tezuka set out to educate children about their own bodies and how the changes they went through related to the environment at large. Marvelous Melmo deals with evolution, natural selection, hormones, human relations and sex with refreshing honesty. With Melmo constantly shape-shifting from her own age into a child inside a woman’s body, the anime does not shy from placing her in provocative situations. In her first adventure alone she is kidnapped by a lecherous road racer (Ryusei Nakao) whom she outwits by transforming into a baby. Over time Melmo discovers combining different Miracle Candies enable her to alter her DNA and transform into animals.

This was heady stuff for a children’s cartoon, made all the more controversial when Japanese kids began bombarding parents and schoolteachers with all sorts of awkward questions. Tezuka may have seen no harm in parents sharing a frank discussion with their children, but not everyone appreciated scenes such as when Melmo asks a sagely zookeeper about puberty and why it “makes people want to make love?” Even so, there remains something charming about its open-hearted discussions about the birds and the bees that whilst reflecting the more relaxed social attitudes of the early Seventies, bears a lightness of touch that remains admirable even in today’s more conservative climate. The story is intelligent and enlightening without ever getting too heavy. Melmo’s adventures involve smuggling an elephant back to Africa inside a thermos flask (after using Miracle Candy to regress it back to a foetus!), abduction by evil agents from the fictional nation of Chicchaina who want the secret of eternal youth (adding an interesting espionage element reminiscent of Hergé’s Tintin), a wacky school production of Snow White that cleverly asks kids to question the values inherent in the original fairytale, and a memorable tale wherein the heroine uses Miracle Candy to help a struggling pup (Yoshiko Yashimoto) grow into a big strong dog, only to see him become a bullying jerk, leading to tragedy and life lessons for both youngsters. Infernally catchy soundtrack by Seichiro Uno. You’ll be humming that theme song for weeks.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam


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