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Kodomo no Omocha article published in Animerica
This article was written by and is copyrighted to Patricia Duffield and may not be reproduced in part or whole without permission.

It's funny, but it's not really a comedy. It can be quite dramatic, but it's not a drama. The leading characters are kids, but people of all ages love it. It's Kodomo no Omocha (Kodocha: Sana's Stage, Children's Toys), a silly, serious, sensational series about the spirited child star Sana Kurata.

Sana is a charming, energetic and famous child actor, star of the classroom TV comedy which shares the title of the comic, Kodomo no Omocha ("Kodocha" for short). She lives with her wonderfully eccentric mother who's a famous writer with a pet squirrel living in her hair, and Rei, her boyfriend and pimp. Rei's actually her manager, but Sana doesn't quite realize what the word "pimp" means. Her busy life of acting and training would be perfect if not for school...

Sixth grade, class three, is in total bedlam. The boys, led by the seemingly emotionless Akito Hayama, the run of the place, completely ignoring their meek teacher, Miss Mitsuya. The girls don't like it, but they're unwilling to do anything for fear of being bullied. It's anarchy at its worst. Sana would prefer to stay out of it, but it frustrates her so much, she mentions it on TV. She's not too concerned with retaliations, though. She's a member of the Komawari Theater Group and has all sorts of strange training which should (and does) get her out of most situations.

After attempts to convince Hayama to get the boys to behave only escalate their delinquency, Sana decides to take action. Hoping to return the class to normal, Hayama's friend, Tsuyoshi, reveals to Sana Hayama's fear of heights. Unfortunately, Sana's elaborate scheme--involving bungee jumping from the gym's rafters--backfires. But she learns something useful: Although she's not afraid of heights, falling from heights is scary!

Stumped, she talks to Mr. Tanaka, the P.E. teacher, who reveals Hayama's power over Miss Mitsuya. Mr. Tanaka and Miss Mitsuya are in love. Hayama is blackmailing them with a snapshot of the two of them making out at school! Although it would be stooping to Hayama's level, Rei's suggestion of "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" results in Sana deciding to get a compromising shot of Hayama so she might blackmail him into good behavior.

Again with Tsuyoshi's help, Sana stalks Hayama to his home, only to be shocked by what happens. Lying in wait behind some bushes, Sana and Tsuyoshi hear, "It's all your fault! I don't even want to see your face!" Tsuyoshi explains that Hayama's sister hates Hayama and sends him out of the house every night to eat fast food alone. Hayama's dad doesn't do anything but give him money for it. "Get out! You're a demon! If you hadn't been born-" Hayama slams the door shut, only a subtle change in expression showing how he feels. After smashing a fist into a light, Hayama stalks off. Sana barely recovers in time to engage her plan: Tsuyoshi pulls down Hayama's pants, and Sana snaps a Polaroid of Hayama in his undies! Mission accomplished, order returns to sixth grade, class three.

Even though Sana achieves her goal of returning her class back to normal, Sana can't stop thinking about what she saw at Hayama's house. Learning that Hayama's mother died at his birth still doesn't help her understand how a family could be so cold. Because she thinks it's wrong, she sets out to fix it, but she must struggle to figure out how to help. This is just one of many complex, real-life situations Sana must struggle with. There's the divorce of Tsuyoshi's family, coming to grips with the reality that her relationship with Rei is not romantic love, the hospitalization of Mr. Hayama from overwork, and more. Sana's innate desire to make everyone happy may be the reason she's such a popular actress, but it also makes her life very difficult. For despite her enthusiasm, she eventually learns boundless volumes of cheer and silly antics don't cure all problems. As she faces these challenges, we see her grow up.

There are no badguys in Kodomo no Omocha, only characters who are misunderstood, hurt, lost, and alone. The only enemy in this series is apathy. Sana demonstrates that by caring and trying, even if everything doesn't turn up roses, it can get better. Everyone has painful, difficult aspects to their lives, but they also have unique eccentricities. Creator Miho Obana exploits them all to create an engaging story, a story which will remind you of the frailty and goodness within us all and make you laugh yourself silly. These qualities combine to create a series as addictive as caffeine but a lot more fun!

COMPLICATED FEELINGS

Although the leading characters are preteens, there is a strong undercurrent of romance in Kodomo no Omocha. As Mr. Hayama puts it at one time, Hayama doesn't have the eyes of a child. Having been a professional in the acting world for years, Sana has qualities which belie her age, too. Besides, a part of growing up involves dealing with evolving complex feelings, and this is a story about growing up. After Sana's involvement in his life, Hayama can't help but feel for her. Unused to feeling anything but anger and apathy, what those feelings are is largely unclear to Hayama, Sana and the audience. And what are Sana's feelings toward Hayama? She is instinctually kind and can't help herself when it comes to trying to solve people's problems. Is her involvement with Hayama just another case of her do-gooder instincts at work? Naturally, there are misunderstandings and other characters to complicate the situation.

One of those complications is Naozumi, another extremely popular child star. After his first job with Sana, he confesses he's in love with her. His Sana's-career-scrapbook collection causes Sana to initially dismiss his declaration as that of an infatuated fan, but Naozumi's feelings are not so trivial. Throughout the series, Naozumi demonstrates time and again he cares deeply for Sana's well being. Of course, the paparazzi play it up whenever the two work together, and when Naozumi hears about Hayama stealing Sana's first kiss, he has no qualms in telling Hayama he's not in Sana's league. Because Naozumi's feelings, and his demonstrations of them, are so much clearer than those of Hayama and Sana, misunderstandings abound.

Fuka is another wrench in the emotional works of the series. After making friends with her on their first day in junior high, Sana soon discovers Fuka knows--and hates--Hayama. Sana plays peacemaker, of course. Later, when Sana's job takes her away on location with Naozumi, Fuka asks Hayama for an awkward favor. Friends from Fuka's old school in Osaka are coming to town. She'd like Hayama to pretend to be her boyfriend so she won't look bad in front of an old flame. You can just imagine how sticky such a situation could become with so many confused emotions.

These are just a sampling of the situations which complicate the romance of the story. Combined with the other elements of humor and drama, the result is a well-balanced, moving story with a broad audience appeal. The comedy is the hook, the drama is the line, and the romance is the sinker. Once you give this series a try, you'll likely find yourself hooked.

KODOCHA˛
From the opening credits on, this 102-episode TV series regularly bombards the viewer with machine-gun paced dialog, hyperactive visuals and extreme slapstick. It concentrates and compounds the hilarity of the comic by including extra characters and scenes. Additional story lines often develop the characters further and offer Sana and her friends dramatic new growing experiences. The series is like the comic on overdrive, and most viewers either love it or hate it.

One quirky extra to the story is Sana's tendency to burst into song to express herself. No, not like from The Sound of Music. Sana's songs are closer to rap sessions by the MC-impaired. Why does she do this? She sings because, like almost every modern anime show with shojo-comic origins, the series has to include products--toys to be precise. One of them is the NoriNori Machine (a toy music synthesizer). What better way to expound on this talented eccentric's unique personality than through song? Other products, such as the Buracha (a specialized toy beeper) and the Kodocha Polaroid camera, are incorporated into the series with equal ingenuity, no doubt creating challenges for both the directors and voice actors.

Some of the extra characters and scenes involving minor characters can be downright bizarre. Authoritarian Vice Principal Andoh's frequent tendency to have her elaborate makeup crack and chip off during times of stress to reveal the harshly older face underneath is extreme. Whether it's extremely funny or extremely gross is up to the viewer to decide. Her ability to materialize a limbo setting at will--complete with torches and grass skirts--is also disturbingly funny. The TV mascot, Babbit, tends to talk equally with the audience, the characters and his own kind. His wry asides and plot-related skits add a layer of complexity to the viewing experience.

Like many lengthy, comic-inspired shows, the Kodomo no Omocha TV series has a number of extra stories which are not in the original. Some of them are simple, fun fillers, such as the Valentine's Day episode where Sana accidentally gives chocolate to a guy who isn't in her class, causing him to think she's in love with him. Some are meaningful life-lessons, like Sana's involvement with an actor who has a terminal illness which ends his life on the scene while working with Sana. And some are just there to flesh-out characters and add another depth of drama to the series, as was the case with the story arc where Sana and Naozumi travel to New York to star in a musical.

It definitely takes an agile mind and a healthy sense of humor to enjoy this series. A few fans who read the comic first may find these extras an unwelcome deviation from the story, but in the end, they offer audiences more of this wonderful series to experience.

CHARACTER PROFILES

THE KIDS:

Sana Kurata
Child star of the classroom comedy show Kodomo no Omocha, Sana is funny, charming and very energetic. Like her mother, Sana is also decidedly eccentric, expressive and independent. Her preferred manner of dealing with a problem is to throw as much energy and enthusiasm at it as she can, but she eventually discovers this method does not always work. Sana is also fiercely loyal and instinctively kind, which, combined with all the people she meets as a student and a star, makes her life very challenging.

Akito Hayama
Still waters run deep. Initially Sana only sees the surface of this all but expressionless boy. He is the ringleader of the classroom boys and has provided them with the leverage and encouragement to run amuck. In Sana's attempts to defeat him, she learns that he comes from a broken home. Sana's attempts to reunite the family affect Hayama deeply and provide the basis for the somewhat romantic undercurrent of the series. Thanks to the elementary school principal's suggestion, Hayama learns to focus and control his anger through karate. Thanks to Sana's involvement in his life, he learns to let go of his overwhelming apathy and value his life.

Tsuyoshi Ohki/Sasaki
This talkative, cheerful, bespecticaled boy is Hayama's best friend. Despite initially aiding Sana against Hayama in order to return order to their classroom, he is an extremely loyal friend. Although mild-mannered, when riled, Hayama is just about the only one who can deal with him. He is especially sensitive about his mother. During the course of the series, his mother divorces her abusive husband. Perhaps one of the reasons he's such a nice, sensitive guy is because he has an adorable little sister.

Naozumi Kamura
This talented child actor initially enters the plot in an almost sinister way, but eventually his quirky, sincere personality shines through. He is openly interested in Sana and becomes a rival for her attention. Part of his sincerity is linked to having been raised in an orphanage to which he is quite devoted. One of his amusing traits is his need to play the trumpet when emotionally stressed.

Fuka Matsui
Transferred from the central-Japan city of Osaka, she befriends Sana on their first day in junior high. Fuka is almost as energetic as Sana, so the two become fast friends. What Sana doesn't find out until later is Fuka knew Hayama in her childhood and hates him. Like all friendships, there are good times and bad, but thanks to misunderstandings and good intentions, the drama of their lives would tear most friendships apart.

Aya Sugita
Once Tsuyoshi gets over his crush on Sana, he eventually discovers he's perfectly matched for this nice young miss. As a result, Aya's friendship toward her classmate Sana changes subtly. While normally just cheerful and supportive, Aya and Tsuyoshi can occasionally be a too-sweet couple.

THE ADULTS:

Mama (and Maro) (a.k.a. Misako Kurata)
Sana's mother is one of a kind. With an endless collection of bizarre hairstyles to house her pet squirrel, eccentric doesn't to begin to describe this famous, kimono-clad writer. The reasons behind her unusual nature are deeply personal. She is a famous writer, and it is through writing her dramatic personal history is revealed. Her love for her daughter is very deep and shows in her unfailing support of Sana. She also enjoys stringing along her editor, Mr. Onda. (In the translated comic, Maro is referred to as a chipmunk because his size and coloration are so chipmunky.)

Rei Sagami
According to Sana, Rei's her lover and pimp! After all, as her manager, he gets her work and she gives him a percentage. Although Sana eventually learns her definition of "pimp" is flawed (the translated comic decided to use a less scandalous term, opting for "gigolo" instead), how can she help but be infatuated with this good-looking guy in sunglasses who's devoted to her needs? The sunglasses aren't just to help him carry off his cool manager persona; they also hide his identity. Like most of the cast, Rei has a complicated history which is eventually exposed during the course of the story.

Mr. Hayama
This monotoned man would never win a father of the year award. Hard-working and inexpressive, he dealt poorly with the death of his wife by submersing himself in his work instead of helping his children overcome their loss. Despite his flaws, he does love his children and is willing to work to correct his mistakes.

Asako Kurumi
Part of Rei's mysterious past, Asako is another star who occasionally works with Sana.

Yonma Akashiya
Known as Mr. Zenjiro (long o) in the animated version, he plays the teacher in the TV classroom comedy Kodomo no Omocha. Although barely mentioned in the comic, this famous comedian has a much larger role in the TV series where he's regularly used for comedy relief and to help expand upon Sana's involvement with her career. His character was inspired by a real Japanese comedian.

TEACHING STAFF

Miss Mitsuya and Mr. Tanaka
Miss Mitsuya is Sana's homeroom teacher. She does not have a powerful personality, which is why she couldn't handle the boys when they rebelled at the beginning of the story. Mr. Tanaka is one of the school coaches and part of the reason Miss Mitsuya had so many problems. For the two of them are in love, and Hayama's got the pictures to prove it!

Ms. Andoh
Vice Principal of the elementary school, she has a minor part in the comics, however, in the animated show, her strict, severe personality is expanded with unusual results. Aside from over-using her reliance on cosmetics (in Japan, the use of cosmetics is often negatively associated with age), to make this inflexible character a little interesting, the series also gave her an amusing obsession for limbo and Zenjiro (long o)!

The Principals
Wise, resilient and laid back, these two are well suited to deal with both children and bureaucracy. The younger one (with only one hair on his head) is the principal of the elementary school. The older one (with three hairs on his head) is the principal of the Junior high school. Although both are peripheral characters, as authority figures, when they become involved in the plot, it is usually for an important reason.

Mr. Sengoku
This junior high school teacher doesn't like kids with attitudes, so he instantly takes a disliking to Hayama. Unfortunately, as Hayama's homeroom teacher, this means they have to deal with each other a lot, causing initial tensions to grow. Tsuyoshi tries to run interference for Hayama, but Mr. Sengoku becomes obsessed with making Hayama's school life difficult.

SIDEBARS

KOMA-WHAT?
Gekidan Komawari (Komawari Theater Group) is the unique theater group Sana belongs to. The name is a parody of the famous Himawari Theater in Japan, and that's not the only thing funny about this organization. Many of Sana's unusual abilities are attributed to her training at Komawari which includes such untheatrical disciplines as judo and gateball (a Japanese version of croquette primarily played by senior citizens) in its curriculum.

WHAT'S WITH THE BAT THING?
For those who have read the comic but not seen the anime, this strange little creature may be a bit surprising. Babbit is the mascot of the TV series, but unlike other TV mascots, Babbit is more than a fluffy side kick. Separate from yet capable of interacting with the other characters, Babbit wears many hats in the show. He narrates scenes, makes wry observations, translates Sana's punny vocabulary mistakes, and delivers the "Good kids shouldn't do this" warnings whenever Sana does something outrageous or dangerous. He even puts on an occasional skit, sometimes with other Babbits. What's truly surprising about Babbit is how such an obtrusive character can actually add to the intensity of the scenes, whether comedic or dramatic. His role as a bridge between the show and the audience is exemplified by his name. Initially nameless, the series had the audience write in suggestions and apparently chose the name "Babbit" from their responses. Just another example of the uniqueness of this series.

INSANITY PERSONIFIED
Akitaroh* Daichi is the comedic genius--or madman, take your pick--behind the Kodomo no Omocha TV series. He's the series technical director, responsible for translating the essential comedic timing of Miho Obana's comic into animation. It's doubtful the series would have had half of the intensity, hilarity or hyperactivity without this man behind the wheel. His knack for comedy can be seen in many of the other wacky titles he has directed: Yosei (long o) Hime Ren (long e) (Elf Princess Rane), Jubei-chan (long u) Lovely Gantai no Himitsu (Jubei-Chan the Ninja Girl), Ima Soko ni Iru Boku (Now and Then, Here and There), and his latest lunatic masterpiece, Fruits Basket. His originality has garnered him several awards, including the 4th Animation Kobe Individual Award and the 3rd Agency for Cultural Affairs Media Arts Festival Excellence Prize.

KODOCHA IN THE U.S.
Tokyopop has the rights to this 10-volume Miho Obana series. They're releasing the first five chapters of Kodocha: Sana's Stage in individual comic book form, then the rest will come out as graphic novels beginning this June. Perhaps, if the series is popular enough, someone will eventually pick up the rights to the TV series. Fans can only wait and see.

 

NOTES

It seems his name was transcribed as Akitaroh on the CPM listings for Now and Then, Here and There. I couldn't find Media Blasters nor Pioneer Video references for his name. I've used Tokyopop spellings whenever possible, but the names of two long-voweled characters have yet to be determined. So I guessed at how Tokyopop will be transcribing them. Fuka has a long u, and Ando has a long o. If you'd prefer to use some other transcription than those I used, please do.

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