"Dad, what about Nuku Nuku?"
"Don't worry about her. She has to be punished for wrecking the city."
--Kyusaku dispenses some rather unique fatherly reassurance to his son.
ADV's initial VHS release of "All Purpose Cultural Cat Girl Nuku Nuku" was
the first anime I ever bought with my own money, and it still holds a special
place in my heart. It was one of the titles that got my best friend Sarah hooked
on anime (and inspired her to make a website about it), and one episode became
very popular among my drunken dormmates at the university I went to in the UK.
So, as you might imagine, I was quite happy when ADV released this classic series
on DVD...especially now that it has all six episodes on it, and it goes for
the same price that I shelled out for just one of the 60 minute original VHS
tapes (and the disc has a brand-new dub track included, to boot).
The appeal of "Nuku Nuku" lies in its deceptively simple setup. Young Ryunosuke,
on the run with his father Kyusaku from Kyusaku's domineering ex-wife Akiko,
finds a stray kitten in an alleyway during a pee break. Disaster strikes, though,
when the kitten is fatally injured in during an attempt to flee from Akiko's
henchmen, who have been tracking the prodigal pair. But that's just the beginning,
because Kyusaku just so happens to be the foremost biomechanical engineer of
his generation, and he's on the run from his ex not because of any marital problems,
but because the massive industrial conglomerate she heads, Mishima Heavy Industries,
wanted to use the android frame he'd created for nefarious warmongering purposes.
This allows him to transplant the brain of the mortally-wounded little kitty
into his android's body, and give it the shape of a busty schoolgirl with a
shock of magenta hair (hey, this IS anime, after all). He names her Atsuko,
but she prefers to be called "Nuku Nuku" (a Japanese phrase meaning something
akin to "snuggly-wuggly"). What follows is the most destructive custody battle
in history, as Akiko and her heavily-armed secretarial pool attempt to take
Ryunosuke from his dad, and are continually foiled by playful yet unstoppable
There's more to this series than just Jerry Springer with battlesuits, though.
I've often said that anime combines humor and depth better than any other medium
I've seen, and "All Purpose Cultural Cat Girl Nuku Nuku" does it better than
most anime. Yes, Akiko is determined to get her son back from her faithless
ex-husband, and if that means sending her loyal team of combat-happy Office
Ladies out in a giant robot to seize the boy, then so be it. But she's more
than just an amusingly unbalanced harpy with a mecha fetish; she's a successful
businesswoman who just wants the best for her beloved son (she just doesn't
believe "the best" involves her slacker ex-husband and the busty schoolgirl
android he made, and you gotta admit that she has a point). Kyusaku is your
typical brilliant but slightly absent-minded scientist, struggling to keep his
inventions out of the hands of the military while being a good father to Ryunosuke
and Nuku Nuku (all the while spending his spare time building wierd-ass stuff
like a particle gun powered by a small Nuku Nuku doll). Nuku Nuku herself is
still a happy, perky, friendly kitten on the inside (with a taste for horsemeat
and mackerel), but she's also growing and learning as a human; even though Kyusaku
intended her combat abilities to be used in defending Ryunosuke from Akiko's
machinations, Nuku Nuku comes to realize that all they really want to do is
live as a family, and eventually refuses to fight "mama-san" any more.
But all that focused, gentle character drama and development doesn't overshadow
the humor one bit. And that's a very very good thing, because "All Purpose Cultural
Catgirl Nuku Nuku" is one of the funniest OAVs ever produced. Surprisingly,
it's not the character-driven humor you might expect from a series with such
a well-defined cast, like there was in "Gokudo". Instead, it seems to be (with
a few exceptions mainly involving the supporting characters) mostly situational
humor not unlike that found in "Seinfeld". That is, the characters' reactions
to the odd circumstances each episode places them in are funny, but the odd
circumstances themselves are even funnier. Of course, "Seinfeld" didn't have
quite this many explosions or demented elementary school girl battle androids.
In the episodes on this DVD (all the "Nuku Nuku" OAV episodes made, incidentally),
we're treated to a beach vacation gone horribly wrong (as a machine, Nuku Nuku
can't swim, and let's just say mecha octopi are involved), an attempt at reconciliation
between Kyusaku and Akiko that ends in the destruction of the Mishima mansion,
a titanic tussle between Nuku Nuku and a cute little girl named Eimi Yoshikawa
who wants Nuku Nuku's body (literally: she's a defective android looking for
a replacement frame), a delightfully slow-burn grudge match between successful
waitress Nuku Nuku and the two Combat Office Ladies that ends in the destruction
of the Japanese equivalent of a Denny's restaurant, and a final showdown in
space with an orbital laser satellite that transforms into a giant robot (in
anime, EVERYTHING transforms into a giant robot). And that's just the barest
of bare highlights of what's to be found in this series. "Nuku Nuku" is a masterpiece
when it comes to the kind of madcap action comedy *found in a series like this*.
It's over the top when it needs to be, subtle when subtlety would be most effective,
and just plain damn funny throughout.
The new dub produced by ADV for this disc tries very hard to keep up with the
energy of the original voice cast (and the cleverly-timed insanity of the anime
itself). For the most part, it manages to acquit itself well, with the surprising
yet successful casting of Allison Keith (Misato from the brilliant "Evangelion"
dub), who manages to be cute and yet not cutesy as Nuku Nuku herself. Another
"Evangelion" veteran, Tiffany "Asuka" Grant, is extremely funny as one of the
battle-happy Office Ladies, and the actress for Akiko is almost indistinguishable
from her Japanese counterpart. Even the very difficult role of Eimi, bouncing
schizophrenically back and forth between adorable and psychotically homicidal
as she does, is portrayed astoundingly well in the dub. But the rest of the
voices aren't as good, especially the actor in the all-important role of Kyusaku;
he's all too obviously reading lines in a booth, and clashes a bit too much
with the rest of the voice cast. As much as I really wanted to like this dub
(being both a dub booster and a huge fan of this anime since long before this
DVD was released), I found myself longing for the original cast. It's hard to
go wrong with Megumi Hayashibara, Akira Kamiya, and Aya Hisakawa, after all.
The sadly lackluster dub also combines with the sadly lackluster DVD to knock
down my rating for this release of "Nuku Nuku" as a whole. The menu design,
as it always is from ADV, is fantastic, resembling a fully animated version
of Kyusaku's computer (seen occasionally in the series itself). But the choice
of extras here is not just limited, it's bizarre. For example, you get a gallery
of Nuku Nuku artwork, but it's not very extensive, the pictures are rather tiny,
and they aren't even all that impressive (the picture used for the DVD cover
is a lot more interesting than anything included here). You also get "clean"
versions of the closing animations, but ONLY the closings. Where are the openings
(which include one of my favorite j-pop songs ever)? And lastly and perhaps
most disappointingly, the video image itself seems a little soft and fuzzy,
more like the original VHS footage than anything that deserves to be on DVD.
So why, after all that, do I give "All Purpose Cultural Cat Girl Nuku Nuku"
such a high rating? Because it'll make you laugh riotously while you're watching
it, and will leave you with a nice warm fuzzy after it's all over. It's cute
without being cloying, funny without being ridiculous, and moralistic without
being preachy. It's a perfect example of how to do comedy-drama RIGHT, firing
on all cylinders and hitting every mark, both silly and serious, dead-on.
And if that rush of cliches doesn't convince you to get this DVD, maybe this
picture of Nuku Nuku in her waitress outfit will.
Now go buy this anime.