I grew up in that golden age of anime in the early-mid 2000s. At first, I didn’t realize most of the shows I loved watching after school were anime, but once I figured it out there was no going back. I have vague memories of getting up early to watch the 4Kids anime block on Saturday mornings, sneaking into the living room to watch the newest episode of Pokémon, and destroying the family computer trying to find new anime episodes on sketchy websites (Sorry Mom and Dad!). The details are fuzzy but the impact was clear, the first manga that started my descent into weebery was Tokyo Mew Mew.
I was pretty oblivious to the world of anime and manga when I was younger, so I’m not sure how popular this series was at a time. I just remember seeing the cover of volume 1 and thinking it was the prettiest thing I had ever seen. Whenever I went to the mall with my parents I would head to Waldenbooks (another throwback) and pick up the latest volume to read on the way to school. The Kodansha omnibuses look a little different from my old TokyoPop copies, but the nostalgia hit me hard when I saw them in the warehouse. I picked up the first omnibus and was both excited and nervous to see how well it held up after all these years.
I feel like most magical girl series are a little odd in theory but work well in practice. Sure a talking cat told you you’re the princess of the moon or whatever, go fight bad guys with your friends. Of course a giant scary tiger who disguises himself as a plushie needs you to collect a deck of magical cards. Good luck! Tokyo Mew Mew definitely follows the trend of magical girl quirkiness, but still makes its own unique choices. Ichigo is a regular middle school girl(™) who gets struck by a mysterious ray that infuses her DNA with the Iriomote wildcat. Channeling her inner Peter Parker, she gains superhuman abilities. She must team up with four other girls who are also infused with the DNA of other endangered species to save the planet! Have all the girls work in a cute maid cafe, sprinkle in some romance, add some impractical magical girl battle outfits, and you get the gist of the story.
Sure it seems kind of stock, but it doesn’t feel too weird yet. What’s the issue? Even when I was first reading the series, one thing that always bothered me was their names. More specifically the way that TokyoPop translated their names. The main cast and the villains all have food names, which sounds like it could be fun. Ichigo (Strawberry) is a pretty common name in anime and manga. Zakuro (Pomegranate) completely went over my head as a kid. Pudding is a little weirder, but is still kind of cute I guess. Mint is a pretty weird name choice and Lettuce is...well Lettuce. Together they must fight the alien Deep Blue and his minions Kish, Pie, and Tarte. Was Reiko Yoshida hungry when she wrote this?
To say I was obsessed as a kid is a complete understatement. I remember trying to make my own Mint cosplay for Halloween and it was as bad as you would expect from a 10-year-old with no sewing abilities, money, or access to materials. I voted online for this to be 4Kids next dubbed anime on their Saturday morning block, and subsequently learned the hard way that they localized their licenses to the point of unrecognizability. I even remember going out of my way to draw some of the character cover art, photo copied the drawings at a grocery store, and used those drawings as valentines for my entire class. (What can I say? #GraphicDesignIsMyPassion)
I was surprisingly nervous to start reading the series again, and despite all the buildup, I don’t think there’s a lot I can talk about. The plot was ok, (even if you have to take most magical girl stories with a sparkly grain of salt), the art was nice, and most of the characters were pretty accurate to what I remembered. Some of the translations did bother me though. I’m not sure if I forgot that Pudding ended every sentence with “Na No Da” or if that wasn’t removed with the TokyoPop release, but it made a character I used to like kind of annoying. I’m sure Kodansha had a reason for changing Zakuro’s name to Zacro, but I have no idea what it was. It’s still a fun read, but since I’m now much older than the manga’s target audience, odd dialogue and ridiculous plot elements stood out more than they did when I first read the series.
Although I’m not a magical girl expert, the few stories I’ve seen (especially older series like this with a younger demographic) tend to focus on personal growth during a classic battle of good vs evil. You’re meant to cheer for the protagonists as they face monsters, aliens, or whatever obstacle comes their way. You believe in them and learn to believe in yourself in return. Tokyo Mew Mew is still filled to the brim with these cliches, but it’s environmental message sets it apart from other magical girl series around this time. Even before Ichigo gets her powers, her crush is passionate about taking care of the planet. This is often played up for jokes, like when Ichigo thinks they’re going on a date but they end up cleaning a river, but his interest is sincere and sets up the tone of the series. The main group of antagonists are causing havoc but instead of giant robots and lazerbeams, it’s poisoning the water supply or using local plants to emit toxic fumes. It still falls into the trope of saving the world, but having that emphasis on literally saving the world along with the people who live in it was a nice change of pace.
I keep going back and forth on my feelings, but I think this was still worth revisiting. It ended up being for the best that I kept putting this review off because I found out that a new Tokyo Mew Mew anime is in the works, and I’m honestly pretty excited. Even though I may not love the series as much as I did 15 years ago, there’s no denying that it left a huge impact on me as a kid. After all this series is what got me into anime, and even though I spent most of my teens and early 20’s repressing memories from this time, I am grateful that it brought me to where I am today.
Just don’t ask me about my Naruto phase.