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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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03/12/2006 Archived Entry: "Anime review: DearS, Vol. 3 (DVD)"

DearS, Vol. 3 (DVD)

Review by Tom Good

When an anime episode takes place at a bath house or hot springs resort, you know mayhem is on the way. No anime character ever visits a bath house, takes a quiet, relaxing, uneventful bath, and then saunters back home. Rather, an anime bath house visit always includes "accidental" -- yet mandatory -- ventures into the changing room or bathing area of the opposite sex, jokes about nudity and the size of various body parts, and perhaps even contact with aliens or ghosts. Viewers know exactly what to expect as soon as someone mentions "bath house" or "hot springs," which reduces the chances that this sort of episode will really succeed. But here in DearS Volume 3, when the inevitable hot springs chapter arrives, it manages to be funny and entertaining even though it covers a lot of the traditional ground.

The DearS are a group of beautiful space aliens from a crashed slave ship. Some of them live with Japanese people in "home-stay" programs, like extra-exotic exchange students. The DearS girl named Ren lives with a Japanese boy named Takeya, and she thinks of herself as his slave, though he just wants to be friends. When Ren wins a local lottery, she gets 4 tickets to a brand new hot springs resort, and takes some human and alien friends along.

Takeya's friend Neneko -- the smart, practical girl of the group -- daydreams a steamy fantasy about a "mixed bathing" session with Takeya. The more obvious route would have been to put Takeya in a sexy dream sequence with one of the DearS, so this was a nice choice. Though co-ed mixed bathing does exist at some hot springs in Japan, it is an unusual exception rather than the rule. I have a feeling that for most real Japanese high school kids, their chances of bathing nude in public with opposite-sex classmates would be about equal to their chances of actually piloting giant mecha.

DearS works as a goofy sex comedy for several reasons. First, it has an over-the-top weirdness that starts right from the opening theme song. Consider the lyrics: hold your hand / touch and feel / gnaw and taste / through the night. This is not a problem with the subtitles, because these lyrics are in English in the original. Every time I hear this song I shudder at the word "gnaw," then burst out laughing. Takeya discovers that his teacher is marketing her own line of amateur porn videos, and Ren says she "is watching porn to study Takeya's preferences in the Earthly ways of sex." But when Ren puts the moves on Takeya, he flees in embarassment.

DearS also features funny English voice acting. Ren's lines are done in a silly, sexy voice, Neneko comes across as a girl who is mature beyond her years, and the cat-girl Nia has a cute delivery that seems to grow more amusing with each episode. The voice acting makes a lot of the situations funnier than they might be from the script and visuals alone, and it also takes the characters beyond stereotypes to make them seem more real.

Of course, the subtext of this show is kind of weird. Having the aliens attend school and reside in home-stay programs makes them perhaps symbolic of foreigners. Seen that way, the fact that these aliens are mainly interested in sex, food, and serving Japanese boys as slaves might be a bit troubling. On the other hand, the show does not depict Japanese people as superior to the DearS. The DearS have special superhuman powers such as healing, and in terms of behavior everyone in this story -- with the possible exception of Neneko -- is equally wacky and crazy. And though some of the DearS expect to be slaves like they were on their home planet, none of the humans want this. It is more a case of mismatched cultural expectations on both sides.

Episode 9 reveals that Neneko crafts costumes for cosplay. Takeya advises her not to bother wearing sexy clothes because she should leave that for the "hot girls." The humans and DearS seem capable of learning from each other, so I just wish the DearS could succeed in teaching Takeya to stop being such a jerk. Even so, I found DearS Volume 3 to be a funny diversion.

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