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Twenty Years Later: Please Teacher! Anime

8 min read

The heyday of anime going mainstream and the boom in acquisitions was a wild time and it lead to people trying a whole lot of things that they might not otherwise. Coming from a time where access was limited, getting sets with two to four episodes each meant you could buy-in on the cheap to see if you liked something or not before continuing. It’s a very different world now where for about ten bucks a month you can sample or consume thousands of episodes but back then there was a lot of fun in seeing shows based on some limited information from the Japanese broadcast and how it was reviewed there and then seeing if it clicked with a home video release here. One of those shows is the 2002 series Please! Teacher which Nozomi Entertainment picked up at the time and has kept in print pretty regularly ever since then.

The show is an original one that did spawn a two-volume manga series released by now-defunct ComicsOne and a light novel that they put out as well. It also saw a spiritual sequel series with Please! Twins but this series pretty much works as a solid standalone one. What helps with this series for me is the draw of a lot of original works in that with a lot of manga and novels adapted into anime, you can see the way the structure of the periodical or novel is brought into the structure of the show. This can be frustrating as it hits so many familiar beats. With an original series, the opportunity to change things up is there, and not go with the same kind of dynamic helps to let it stand out a bit. I thoroughly enjoyed Please Teacher the first time it was released and in subsequent viewings so it definitely stands the test of time in most ways. Admittedly, the animation from any time before right now is hard for some folks, but the charms here definitely work. And a whole lot of that is because of Mizuho.

Please Teacher takes the tried and true story of a school romance of some sort and adds a dash of science fiction fun to it. The series opens up with a quick flit through space as we follow a spaceship that ends up landing on Earth and settling into a lake in a quiet country town. This arrival doesn’t go completely unnoticed though, as we see young Kei Kusanagi sitting alongside the lake when it all happens. When a gorgeous woman materializes on the shore near him, he panics and bolts, though she does give chase. He eventually loses her, though he passes out and mysteriously finds his way back home. The arrival of this ship, which is all the talk in his 10th-grade class, also brings about the departure of Kei’s class teacher and the arrival of a new one. The class is all a flutter over it, as the old man is gone and rumor has it the new teacher is a hot woman. So when the very attractive if awkward Mizuho Kazami finally does show up, it’s a fun time to be a boy in that class. All the boys begin to fall in love with her, though plenty of the girls naturally take less than a pleasant view of her.

For Kei, it gets worse. She ends up moving into the apartment complex next door to the clinic where he lives with his relatives. Due to a mysterious illness, he’s had for years, which he terms “Stillness”, he’s had to live in the more serene and calmer region of Japan to keep from being depressed and falling into another deep Stillness. So he lives with his relatives here, the town doctor Minoru and his ever-pleasant wife Konoha. This is a great couple, with Minoru always talking about the various women that come into his life while Konoha manages to, well, manage him properly each time. It’s a dynamic that keeps Kei awake at the least.

But with Mizuho moving in next door, Kei offers to help her out, even though he’s got that nagging feeling that she’s the same alien he saw land last night. The two get along well during the move-in phase, but when Kei accidentally stumbles on a portal that sends him to Mizuho’s ship, everything goes off from there. Mizuho tries to deal with Kei as an intruder, but Kei’s own misadventures on the ship cause him to smack the ship’s avatar, which has sent its programming off fairly well. The cute and funny Marie now doesn’t do everything Mizuho tells her to do, which results in some awkward positions. The end result is that Kei, now knowing the truth about Mizuho, finds himself actually living as opposed to just getting by. He terms his life as accelerating now, something that helps fight against the Stillness episodes he’s had. With an agreement with Mizuho, he agrees not to reveal her secrets and the two begin a very nice and soft relationship. Naturally, it expands in various ways as these episodes progress, including one area that I found very amusing, especially since it was something that Kei’s relatives decided to suggest.

As a science-fiction-based romantic comedy, all the trappings are certainly there at the start with how these two come together. Keeping secrets can draw them together well, but it can also take some unusual turns. We do see the two of them becoming closer quickly, as she has a real draw to him, but they also end up in some uncomfortable situations that have them trying to explain why they’re getting close, something that’s obviously wholly inappropriate for a teacher and student. So when it’s called out by the principal and with Kei’s aunt and uncle brought in, it takes an unconventional turn that manages to work. Because of the complicated issue of Kei’s illness, which he’s hidden from almost everyone, revealing that he’s actually eighteen (with the mind of a fifteen-year-old), they got with the play that he and Mizuho are actually married and that’s why they’re together. It’s a surprising twist to be sure – to everyone there – but they do formalize it and begin to move forward from there, all while keeping it a secret in general because it would be scandalous in the school.

So that puts Kei and Mizuho in the same apartment now and learning to live together and about each other, but not in a carnal way because that would be going too far apparently. It keeps to the tender side of things in how they learn about each other and grow closer, but it also presents opportunities to work through jealousies and the like as well as each of them are dealing with the relationship in different ways while keeping up the facade of teacher and student. This is even more complicated for Kei because he’s hiding both this and his illness from others, so they don’t know the age difference. Even worse is that Koishi is really into him and she does her best to win him over by being honest about it and in her approach to it. This is refreshing since most of the time it’s played in other ways and often with a rivalry being born. Since there are questions about Mizuho but no firm proof for most of it, Koishi doesn’t have anyone to really struggle against other than Kei saying that he’s in love with someone else.

Along the way, we get a lot of smaller little stories of relationships amid the group as some get closer and deal with their issues while others reveal their own secret pains that exist, which makes a larger impact in the final storyline that has to bring everything to a conclusion. There’s also the usual fun that comes in along the way with stories like these, such as Mizuho’s mother coming to visit and Kei not realizing who she is at first and thinking she’s Mizuho, hence some awkward groping at a time when he was just starting to get bold. And there’s also the expected younger sister with Maho that comes with her, who is decidedly against this entire marriage and relationship and intends to strike it down hard. She has her own little companion like Marie as well, named Miruru, and that makes things hard for Kei from time to time. At least until Marie and Miruru end up hooking up.

And there’s naturally the vacation episode that goes horribly awry as well, with Kei and Mizuho out far away from home in order to enjoy each other’s company and maybe take it all the way for the first time, only to end up in the same hotel as all their friends and even a teacher from the school that Koishi is good friends with. This does offer up a good part of the fanservice quota with swimsuits and silliness, but it has a lot of laughs and some really difficult material at the same time in regard to relationships, interactions with others, and an understanding of sexuality that’s more complicated than I want to diverge into in a series overview like this. There’s also the lens of time applied to the show and the cultural differences that you have to accommodate as well, though that goes only so far. But as difficult as some of these situations make the show from time to time, in the end there’s a lot to like here with what it does because the show feels so earnest and honest in a way with the relationship between Kei and Mizuho, as strange as it is, that it’s easy to become invested in it and to want to see it succeed.

There are certainly elements to this story that have been used in a lot of shows since this originally came out but at the time it was something that definitely felt fresh and interesting. And not your standard romance, which was welcome in a sea of shows that were being released back then which at times felt pretty chaste. Mizuho is the real charmer here but we get such a solid cast of characters throughout that play to some tropes but not others while exploring what it means to live and move forward when all you feel is stuck and unsure. It’s a hard place to be that most of us experience at one time or another so there are some good core lessons in here, albeit mixed in with silliness, aliens, and some adorable fanservice. I know why the animation style here may not click for many, made during the really vibrant digital coloring age, but it scratches a nostalgia itch for me in a neat way and we’re seeing an element of this style coming around again, which adds extra amusement. This series is one that has aged in a complicated way to be sure but I love the risks it took at the time and is an important marker in the journey of anime in North America.