What They Say:
Beautiful sisters Ai, Mai, Mii, their android maid Mea and slippery pet ferret Unagi make an amazing journey together through time and space without ever leaving their beloved mansion behind! Following the clues of the strange dandelion-like “Popotan,” the girls are theoretically seeking the person who has the answers to their most personal questions, but they seem to have more than enough time to take side trips, meet new friends, visit hot springs and occasionally operate the X-mas shop they keep in the house along the way!Yet, the girls’ ultimate destiny holds more than a few surprises of its own, and not every moment is filled with hilarity, as moving through time means having to leave friends behind as well.Contains all 12 episodes.Spoken Languages: English, Japanese, English subtitles. Note: The packaging of this product only indicates Japanese audio, but it does contain a dub.
The audio presentation for this release of Popotan retains the two language tracks as seen on the Geneon releases, both of which are in stereo and encoded at 224kbps. The series has a fairly simple stereo mix, but it’s not utilized all that much since it’s a pretty dialogue heavy show that doesn’t really do much, even with incidental sounds and the like. The music uses both channels and reminds you that they do exist when it kicks in though both it and the dialogue come across well. We had no issues with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2003, Popotan is presented here in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is encoded for anamorphic playback. Sentai’s release takes the original three disc edition and sets it down to two discs with six episodes on each of them. Like Geneon’s release, this is a very pleasing transfer but there are parts of it that look like they’re intentionally off. The colors for the show are very vibrant and richly drawn from in order to give it a very positive and happy feel. From the characters hair to their outfits and home, it’s a great palette of colors but one that also mixes in a lot of the standard real world colors. Some scenes come across a bit softer than I expected considering how sharp and clear the show is in general, but it may be intentional for those scenes in order to give it more warmth and feeling. The only noticeable problem which is admittedly pretty muted is that there seems to be some cross coloration showing up along the edges of the characters hair, particularly if they’re darker colored.
The original release of this series saw the three volumes each featuring one of the main trio of girls set against a lot of green and blue skies. All of that character artwork has been retained here, but it’s been put against a pink background which really does not work well with the character designs and the colors used for them. The front cover uses two of the main girls as they first appeared along with Konami off to the side. It’s not a bad layout overall, but the color choices for the background really doesn’t serve the character artwork well nor is it representative of what the show is like. The back cover uses more of the pink, and is where we do get the original artwork for Mii, that’s set with a number of small circular shots from the show itself that doesn’t do much to sell it. There is a lot of text here talking about the show and they picked an amusing quote from Amazon from which to give it an edge. The disc count and episode count is well placed on both the front and back cover so you know what you’re getting. The remainder of the back cover is fairly standard fare with production credits and a technical grid though it is worth noting that they forgot to list that this show does have an English language dub.
Popotan works off of what we have on the cover design by taking the pinks and the dotted designs and working that into a decent looking menu. The layout works in that there is character artwork on the left and right sides of each volume while the center strip features the individual episode access and then submenus for what’s relevant for that volume, such as extras on the first and trailers on the second as well as language options on both. The submenus load quickly and I continue to like having top level episode access (though I wish they wouldn’t do each episode as its own title when it comes to the video encoding side of it) but the language section was only half working. The first disc didn’t read our players’ language presets while the second one did.
The extras for this release aren’t all that different than what Geneon had with just the clean opening and closing sequences. The art galleries did not make the transition which isn’t a surprise.
When Popotan first came out several years ago, it was a series that I wasn’t quite sure where it belonged since it was playing to a few different areas. Time travel, slice of life, fanservice and nipples were abound in it. Popotan also changed up the expectations in its first episode with the cast as it seemed like it would revolve around a young boy and three women of varying degrees of hotness. The real focus is on the three women and the numerous people whose lives they affect in their mysterious journey across time.
Popotan is based on a video game so that can cover some of the oddness of the show. What we have is an extravagant large house out in the countryside that has a Christmas tree on top of it and lots of ribbons and trim. Inside the house, three women run the Christmas store that’s there while a fourth serves as something of a maid and general clean-up person for the others. In the opening story, a young boy comes to the house with his camera in order to take pictures of the ghosts that supposedly reside there so that he can make a fellow classmate, Asuka, feel better since she believes ghosts exists but is routinely laughed at by her other classmates.
Daichi is surprised when he gets there however that there are actually people living inside and it’s not an abandoned house at all. He quickly ends up running into the eldest of three sisters, Ai, as she’s coming out of the bathroom and loses her towel. She’s not shy about it, but she’s not flaunting it and is more concerned about his welfare than her modesty. Ai’s a very over-endowed beauty with green hair and an eternal smile that wears a Christmas styled outfit at all times. She’s quickly cast aside as the youngest sister, Mii, arrives on the scene and is instantly attracted to Daichi and his “puffy” soft skin. She’s the typical hyperactive young child who is all over the map. So what’s left? The middle-aged serious sister named Mai who is concerned about her chest size and the fact that Daichi simply walked into their house and could be charged with assault based on what happened with Ai.
The oddest of the characters though is Mea, the maid/servant of the house. She’s very quiet, very serious and only says what’s really required of her. During most of the first episode I think you could easily think she’s a robot considering how controlled her emotions are as well as the way they designed her, from the thick lochs of hair to the almost gray like skin. There’re even some lines across her that would let you think she was made in parts. But as the episodes go on, you get to know her a bit better and she’s less stiff and quiet than she is in the first episode. She does, however, retain the mysterious image better than everyone else.
As you get to the end of the first episode, you can get a feel for how it’s going to go. Daichi’s a fairly cute boy and the girls overall like him, even Mai starts to get a bit soft around the kid as time goes on and you can see them all encouraging him towards Asuka while having fun with him themselves. But as Daichi comes to visit them to tell them about what’s happened, their house is gone and never to be seen again. What we learn from here and into the next three episodes is that the group is traveling around the country looking for fields of popotan, which is just a backward spelling of tanpopo, the Japanese word for dandelions. Ai is able to communicate with the plants and is having all sorts of conversations with them wherever they travel to search them out, but the reason for the search continues to be a mystery.
Many of the episodes across the first ten or so episodes a tale focused around one of the girls and someone they come across in their journeys and how it all affects them and their relationships with the others. The search for the dandelion fields serves as the method to get them to move and it allows them to have some strange mysterious powers as you can imagine them to be something more than human now, but the crux of it is the stories of humanity. Mai deals with trying to cope with the heartbreak of continually moving and not having friends while Mii dresses up as a magical girl and tries to spread her own kind of happiness and joy to others. As character stories, they’re pretty mild and inoffensive. They certainly don’t challenge much, but they’re the kind of nice simple stories that can warm you up a bit and bring a small smile to your face.
One story starts off with Ai having found a dandelion that’s actually quite knowledgeable about what the girls are looking for that Ai takes it home with her in the little pot. She converses extensively with it but what it wants in return for the information is to be taken on a bit of a tour of the town, to get to see things and to live life as a human does a bit. This means hitting all kinds of shops and other local tourist attractions, but it also means hitting just about every hot spring in the area. This feeds into the first thing above with all the fan service, but there are some comical elements to it. I especially liked how the dandelion insisted that visiting hot springs like this is the elegant way to travel and must be experienced at least once.
While this episode initially comes across as massive filler, we do end up getting a hint of what it is the girls are searching for as they arrive in a massive field of dandelions and they all get a vision of someone dancing in the light of the moon, the person that they’ve been searching for. Even as brief as this is, it doesn’t quite save the episode but what happens after does as both Mai and Mea have decided to spend time at one of the hot springs a bit more (one designed to enhance one’s breast size no less) but when they return, they’re too late as the house starts to disappear on its next jump earlier than expected, leaving the two stranded while Mii and Ai are unable to help them from inside the house.
It’s from this that we start to get a better idea of things and of just how wide-ranging this is. Apparently, each jump skips five years worth of time and the house doesn’t come back to the same place twice. But presumably since Mea and Mai were left behind and are important to the mission, the house comes back to the same place this time so that Ai and Mii can find them. With the five years difference, they’re going to have a difficult time actually finding her since she could have changed quite considerably. It’s a bit of luck that they do come across each other again though and the show takes the focus on Mai and her desire for a life. We’ve seen this in a previous episode with her wanting to live out a life with friends and actually grown and she’s seemingly done that here, completing school and now a college girl with friends and a life with Mea. Ai understands what she wants though Mii throws a fit about the entire thing, her age really showing.
What’s even more interesting is that during another jump, where we learn they finally reach the year 2000, they land in a place where a young girl gets her picture taken so there’s photographic evidence of the place. The picture ends up in her father’s hands and though it’s not quite obvious at first, it doesn’t take long to figure out that this is Daichi, the young boy from the first episode. It’s been thirty years since his encounter with the house that changed his life completely and now he’s trying to figure out just what’s going on and starts researching it though a mysterious man has now entered the picture at the same time to not only dissuade him but to utterly seduce Ai as well.
The inclusion of the time span jump information changes the perception of the show a great deal I think, as does the aging problems that the girls have with the house. Perhaps it was more understandable to a native Japanese person as possibly the settings, clothing and other things in each of the previous episodes gave clue that things occurred earlier in time, such as the first episode taking place in 1970, but it was a surprise to me and a very intriguing one at that. Bringing back one of the characters from a previous encounter is something that I think worked really well since it got to put the problem into perspective for both sides and how they have to deal with such a thing.
As the girls continue to travel ahead in time twenty years at a jump, we end up in a period where Mai is surprised to see Konami again as she steps out of the house. Only it’s not really Konami but rather her near-identical daughter who Konami named Mai. As it turns out, Konami has long held out for seeing her friend again and has such a strong place for her in her heart that she named her first born daughter after her and, as Mai learns later on, was even talking about her on her death bed two years prior. This comes as a massive shock to Mai who after an encounter with Keith realizes that their journey hasn’t been helping people but hurting them and letting that hurt fester for years and decades. It completely devastates her and the memories she’s built over the past friendships.
This ties in as we learn more of what some of the people around us actually are. Keith returns to inform Mea that it’s time to bring the group to The One as it’s been requested and we find out that Keith is something of a “guide” that helps people along in this manner and Mea has been the “guard” for the group since she was first assigned them, which helps clear up a little bit of the past. Much of the past is left like that though and not explored, so we still don’t learn how the three came together and what their goal of the journey is beyond meeting The One though it seems like it’s coming down to finding a place for them to be happy. Unless I missed something completely at some point.
Upon their meeting with The One, it’s realized that this is a fork in the road of their journey. They can either end it now or pick where they want to be in the past encounters and move on from there or they can continue on with their journey. Their decisions are made a bit awkwardly since Mai is so dead set on ending things after her experience while Mii wants to continue and Ai is sort of waffling about things though she wants to get back to Daichi. But it all comes to an end and they all go their separate ways to live their lives, even with the loss of each other, in hopes of finding the true happiness that they’re looking for.
And this is where things start moving towards the end that I have the problem though I can understand why it goes this way. It’s not surprising at all that the trio are unhappy, Mii the most, with their new lives. With each of them, they find that the person they came back for is often bringing up the past time with them and the other members of the household that aren’t there now, which only makes them feel various emotions about it. Mai, in particular, suffers from Konami talking about it so much that she lashes out at her about it. Having felt like she’s already let Konami down in life once she doesn’t want to do wrong by her at all but the guilt she’s feeling now overwhelms her.
It becomes obvious that this is still part of the test that The One is giving them since she’s able to bring back the house easily enough and set Mea on the path of preparing things for their return. And surely, one by one as they realize the choice they made was wrong, each of the “sisters” returns and realize that their happiest place in life is with each other and in being able to help others as they continue to journey forward in time while supposedly searching for their goal. Keith gets his comeuppance here as well since he’s been so set on there not being a place for people like them or himself and all of it ends on a relatively happy note. But it just doesn’t feel like a happy ending. I just can’t bring myself to find it a happy ending in that the girls now move forward in time to help others, in which they know they’ll cause pain regardless because knowing people, in general, will do that, but in that they realized that their happy place is being together in a house where they can never form truly solid life-long connections beyond the three of them.
While I can give a pass on Ai since she is supposedly a bit older, I dislike stories that take characters the ages of Mai and Mii and places them in this situation because with the way the journey works as we’ve seen, they’ll never age and never truly “Grow Up” into proper adults. Their perceptions will always be as they are now as they move forward and while they’ll be colored by those they meet, they often interact only with those on the same age wavelength. Or maybe I’m just reading too much into it and the simple fact that the three feel lost and not right without each other is the real goal and things are all different now because they’ve found each other and made the right choice at the fork in the road. All I know is that while it’s a decent and unsurprising ending, it felt bitter in my mouth.
Popotan is certainly a show that you can easily classify as creepy and for perverted old men who like to see topless girls running around. And while the show certainly has plenty of topless girls running around and no aversion to showing nipples, Popotan also has a lot more going for it under the surface. The stories about consequence, the impact we have one each others lives and the way everything is interconnected in some way is a fascinating theme that’s used here when the scale of the story is realized for how long they’ve been journeying. There’s a lot to like here if you can get past the surface aspects of it and upon viewing it again years later, I still find it really an engaging title. It’s not high art, but it plays to the emotions and connections of people in a different way than a lot of other slice of life kind of show and it manages to tie a lot of things back to the beginning which you wouldn’t expect. It’s a hard title to recommend simply because of the overt nudity, but that may be just the hook some need.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: October 27th, 2009
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widsecreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.