What They Say:
A sexy and heartfelt story of three mysterious sisters, Ai, Mai, and Mii, who are on a seemingly un-ending quest for the answer to their existence. A journey that takes them to new lands that are strangely familiar… And making friends that could never be more than transcendental. This is their story and their heartache of a journey that takes them beyond time….
For this viewing, I primarily watched the English dub, which is offered in Dolby 2.0 stereo. The Japanese track also gets the 2.0 treatment. While in stereo, there were no overt instances of directionality to the audio, but the sounds still come out nicely. Being a show centered around dialogue, the language track takes precedence most of the time; sound effects and music usually stay in the background enhancing what is there rather than taking over. The actual dub is nicely done, as each character voice, both main and secondary, has its own personality behind it, lending greater believability to each character. There are also no instances of dropout or distortion. It is nice and clean throughout.
Offered in its original 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio, Popotan is a very colorful show, and for the most part the colors transfer well here. Each character, again whether main or secondary, is given his/her own distinct look which generally matches their personality in some way. The overall design of the show is pleasant to look at. However, there were numerous instances of pixelization and picture softening. The lack of sharpness at times could potentially be written off because it often happened during slower, more emotional moments in the show. However it was still distracting, and there is no overlooking the random moments of pixelization, no matter how brief they may be. For the most part, though, the show has a nice visual feel to it that matches the subject matter well.
For this release, Geneon has designed a clear plastic sleeve that contains each of the three individual releases, with an art insert covering each side but one, with pictures of each of the four main girls. The main side has an image of the three sisters, which is just a merged image of the front covers of the singles as each disc has a picture of one of the girls on the front (not to mention the same image being used on the disc itself), and the spine depicts the maid, Mea. The side that is left blank just shows the cover of the third disc, which depicts Mii.
What is nice about this insert is that, also like the covers for the singles, it is reversible. The reverse side of the insert has essentially the same images from the main side, except each of the girls is now caught in a more risqué pose, playing up the fanservice nature of the show. These new images are the same images that are on the inserts of the singles. The reverse side of the individual discs highlights different girls, as now Konami, Mea, and Shizuku get some face time.
As stated before, each disc has a full-color insert, the inside of which has some pictures and blurbs about the secondary characters that make an appearance on that disc. It is a fairly simple feature, but one that is a nice addition to the overall package.
The menus are simple and colorful, much like the overall design of the show, each consisting of the same image that adorns the front cover of that disc. An upbeat tune plays in the background while the menu is on screen. The menus themselves are fairly easy to navigate, though Geneon added the language settings to the extras menu. This in itself is not a problem, just different from the way most shows are done. However, that submenu is listed as “Setup/Extras” on the main page, so it is not hard to figure out.
Not a whole lot here. The first disc gives us the textless opening, with the textless closing on the second, and a few short Japanese TV spots on the third. There are also art galleries on each of the discs.
Popotan is the story of three sisters and their maid, along with their house, who are forced to travel magically through distance and time, trying to figure out why exactly they are on their journey. Each stop on their journey provides clues to that end, as well as clues as to the entity forcing them on this mission. These clues are provided by Popotan, flowers more commonly known as Dandelions which the eldest sister, Ai, has the ability to speak to.
As they make their continual jumps, the girls have the pleasure of meeting new friends, but also have the heartache of having to leave those friends behind when it comes to moving onto a new location and time period. Ultimately, the continual depression involved in leaving people behind catches up with the sisters, and they are forced to make the decision whether or not they will continue on their journey, or stop traveling and live in the times and places they choose but become separate from each other.
The other benefit/drawback to the journey is that while they are on it, they are never aging. Ai will always be a young twenty-something woman, seemingly struggling between being a motherly figure towards the other two and giving in to her own desires to be a regular woman; Mai will always be a high school aged girl weighed down by her desires to fit in; Mii, the youngest, is continually cheerful and peppy, but has the distinction of never growing up. She will always be a little girl. And then there is the maid, Mea, whose job is to protect the sisters, and who continually acts sullen and withdrawn, but in actuality cares for them.
Out of the three sisters, the middle sister Mai is the most interesting. Ai is old enough that she is able to accept her struggles and not let them affect her too much, and Mii is too young to properly comprehend the difficulties of a non-aging life. Mai, on the other hand, is old enough to understand these issues, but not really mature enough to find a proper way to handle them. As such, the episodes that center around Mai tend to have the most weight behind them.
Early in the series, Mai starts life at a new school, like she does every time they go to a new place, but refuses to allow herself to become friends with anybody because she is tired of getting close to people and then having to leave them forever. However, she meets a girl named Konami who also refuses to let Mai stay within her shell. Eventually, Konami becomes Mai’s closest friend, and they promise to always be friends, even though Mai knows that she will never see Konami again.
Despite these struggles, the friendship that Konami shows Mai, along with the advice Konami gives her, allows Mai to accept her problems and move on with her journey with minimal despair. However, late in the show, Mai is forced to learn a horrible truth that she had never considered before. The house arrives back in the same location where Mai had met Konami, and almost immediately Mai meets a girl that looks and sounds like Konami, except that her name is also Mai. It does not take long to figure out the sisters have moved into the future and that this girl is Konami’s daughter. The new Mai acts just as withdrawn as the old Mai did, and the old Mai attempts to draw her out the way Konami did for her. However, when she does, she learns why the new Mai refused to have friends: Konami had passed away a few years earlier, and had spent the remainder of her life waiting for her best friend to return. The new Mai did not want to go through the same trouble that her mother went through, considering friends to be a waste of time.
At this, Mai’s depression returns tenfold, as she realizes that not only does she face heartache each time she is forced to leave friends behind, but her friends also face those same difficulties. This is too much for Mai to handle, and she desires nothing more than to stop their journey and become the regular girl that she’s always dreamed of being.
The drawback to having a good story backing up Mai is that the stories of Ai, Mii, and even Mea are much less interesting in comparison. Most of the episodes of this show center around one of the girls, with the other three taking on a secondary role for that episode, and the episodes that do not concern themselves with Mai tend to drag at times, and are certainly not as entertaining. Mai’s story is easily the biggest bright spot this show can boast, and it is enough to keep the story interesting even in the slower, less intriguing times.
It is interesting the note, however, the shift in mood between the episodes. Because of her struggles, the episodes about Mai tend to be more melodramatic and serious, episodes about Ai are generally sweeter and more uplifting, the Mii episodes tend to ramp up the humor more, and the episodes about Mea concern themselves more with the overall journey itself.
However, more than anything else, it is with the journey that this show tends to lose focus more often than not. With just about each episode essentially being its own story, Popotan focuses much more on the day-to-day interactions of the sisters with all the people they meet, and not so much on the big picture. This would not be such a problem, except that they are continually trying to figure out why they are on this journey. Unfortunately, a true answer to that is never given, as the main point of the show slowly evolves into whether or not they are willing to accept their struggles to continue the journey. We never really find out why the journey is so important, as Shizuku, the entity in charge of their destiny, never reveals it, at least not onscreen. While this does not ruin the series, it does leave too many questions unanswered for the viewer.
The other point that needs to be discussed is the use of fanservice in this show. Popotan uses nudity quite liberally throughout, whether it is bath scenes, changing clothes, or the old-standby “girl’s clothes getting ripped off in a fight.” While this in itself is not that big of an issue, the excessive nudity does extend to Mii and even some of the friends she makes along the way. While Mii’s nudity is never played up to be enticing in any way, there is still enough of a lolicon aspect to this show that might make some people uncomfortable. If you are one of these people, you might opt to stay away.
Popotan is definitely one of those shows I went into not expecting much and got more than I bargained for. However, despite getting more, that doesn’t mean that the show is terrific by any stretch. This show can drag at times, especially when not dealing with Mai’s struggles. However, at only twelve episodes, even the dragging periods do not take that long, and Mai’s story is good enough to hold interest during those times, even if it would not necessarily be for a longer show. This is definitely a case where less is more. Being so short, it might be worth a view, as long as you don’t expect to be blown away, though people easily offended or disturbed by lolicon should definitely avoid. Very mildly recommended.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Non-credit Opening & Ending Animations, Full Color Art Gallery, Hidden Features
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: A-
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Geneon Entertainment
Release Date: August 14th, 2007
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Phillips Magnavox TP3285 C129 32″ TV, Samsung DVD-V5650 Progressive Scan DVD w/ DD/DTS, Durabrand HT3916 5.1 Surround Sound System