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Firechick's Manga Reviews: Tokyo Mew Mew



I give this environmentalist magical girl manga...a 64/100.

(This includes A La Mode, too)

Tokyo Mew Mew has a lot of sentimental value to me as an anime fan. I actually knew that it was called Tokyo Mew Mew before 4Kids licensed it and changed the name to Mew Mew Power. I watched said dub religiously until it got unceremoniously cancelled. Furthermore, Tokyo Mew Mew was the very first anime I ever watched in Japanese, way back in 2005, but to this day, I still haven't finished watching the entire series (I do plan on rectifying this within the next year though). It's also the first real right-to-left manga I ever read and bought in its entirety, though I randomly started with volume 3, which I found at my local Borders before it was changed to a Books-A-Million. I still own all the volumes of Tokyopop's release of the manga, A La Mode included, and just recently, I re-read the whole thing. I still like it, but I'm not gonna lie, it's kinda silly and cliche, and nothing really worth gushing about.

The story begins with a young girl, Ichigo Momomiya, going on a date with her classmate, Masaya Aoyama, at an endangered animal exhibit. Later on, when a strange light suddenly engulfs her, she finds herself acting like a cat: Saying meow, sleeping more than she usually does, eating fish, landing on her feet when she jumps, and sometimes, she grows cat ears and a tail! As it turns out, she and four other girls were injected with the DNA of Red Data Animals, made into a form that allows them to become animal themed magical girls. The Mew Mews have the power to defeat parasitic aliens called Chimera Anima, normal animals mutated into monstrous beings. As part of the secret Mew Project, the masterminds recruit the girls to save the world from aliens that threaten to destroy it, while making them into waitresses serving at a cute cafe as a cover. But all Ichigo wants to do is be with Masaya and have a normal romance!

As much as I want to love on this manga, as it means a lot to me personally, I can't let nostalgia blind me to its faults, and I wouldn't be a good critic if I did that, now would I? The artwork is at the very least competent, with the characters having wide, sparkly eyes, reasonably proportioned bodies, and cute chibis used for comedic moments. The costume designs, while simplistic, are good and devoid of unnecessary embellishments. But I won't lie, Mia Ikumi's art is rather unpolished. At various points throughout the manga, the art style tends to flip flop in quality. Sometimes, the characters are outlined with bold, dark lines while other parts of them, such as hair strands, don't look as though they've been inked properly, with lots of missing spaces. There are other times when the characters' Mew Mew marks randomly go missing or are in the wrong places on their bodies. Furthermore, her chibis tend to be really weird looking, with characters' heads made even bigger than is appropriate, with their bodies looking either like sticks or jelly.

But the artwork isn't the only issue Tokyo Mew Mew has. Personally, I feel the manga's biggest flaw is its characterization. To put it simply, all of the focus is solely on Ichigo, nobody else, and the other four main characters get little to no focus or any kind of meaningful development whatsoever. They're mostly just used as props to support Ichigo, never getting any time in the limelight, nor do the readers ever get any insight into what they're like outside of fighting crime. This is one issue the anime managed to rectify, as not only were the producers given 52 episodes to work with, they managed to give any character who's not Ichigo much more development and flesh them out more than the manga attempted (Except for Zakuro, who still doesn't get much focus). Say what you will about filler episodes in anime, but the anime for Tokyo Mew Mew recognized the manga's flaws and made optimal use of its run time to give each member of the ensemble their just dues, even the villains. The sequel manga, A La Mode, exacerbates the manga's disinterest in developing its side characters by kicking Ichigo to the side and focusing on a new character and nobody else. From what I've heard, Ikumi did want to do more with Ichigo's teammates and write stories that fleshed them out and gave them more development, but apparently, higher ups told her not to do so and practically browbeat her into shilling the new main character, Berry, for all she was worth and nothing else. That's...kinda sad, really. I personally don't hate Berry, as I've encountered characters in other media that are FAR more deserving of hatred than her, but I do feel the criticisms she gets is valid, and I'm more inclined to see Berry as just a product of really bad executive meddling. As for the characters themselves...they're fine, but again, the manga's disinterest in fleshing out anyone who's not Ichigo makes them come off as cliche, bland archetypes and not much else, and Ichigo herself isn't a very interesting character, even by magical girl standards.

As for the story itself, at the time the manga was published, magical girl shows never tackled themes such as animals and environmentalism before, so Tokyo Mew Mew became well known for challenging the status quo in that manner. But Tokyo Mew Mew just seems to wear its environmentalism themes like a hat, not doing much else with it other than giving the characters animal DNA and having the villains wreck the environment every now and again. Some anime fully embrace the themes and motifs they go for, conveying the appeals of the subject matter at hand and inspiring a desire to know more (An example being Heartcatch Pretty Cure with its intense focus on botany and fashion, or if you're looking for non magical girl examples, Laid Back Camp's focus on ground camping during winter) while integrating them into its setting. Tokyo Mew Mew doesn't really try to explore the issues and themes beyond scratching the surface, so it comes off as more window dressing than anything. That being said, Tokyo Mew Mew still revels in comfortable magical girl tropes and cliches, playing everything safe and not really trying to break new ground.

It really says something when an anime adaptation turns out to be better than its source material. Though rare, Tokyo Mew Mew's manga is one of those. It had the potential to be great, but it's inconsistent characterization, tacked on themes, cliche premise, unpolished art, and misuse of its time and resources make it little more than average. Just check out the anime, as not only is it longer, but fixes many of the manga's problems.
Tags: anime, manga, mew, review, tokyo
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