To be honest, it is rather easy for people to overlook this little gem, and I can see why. I mean, with a title like Fancy Lala, how can you not think “Ugh. It’s gonna be a G3 My Little Pony-esque kids show about idols having endless tea parties, giggling over nothing, and basically acting like stuck-up brats”? Well, never fear, for this show is not like that at all! Though this show doesn’t exactly have a premise that screams “Watch me!!” and you really have to watch the show in order to understand it’s strengths. Fancy Lala is instead about a young, carefree girl named Miho who aspires to become a famous mangaka or model since her mother is a drama producer and her father is a paleontologist who studies dinosaur fossils. One day, after an unpleasant incident at a local store, she finds herself with two stuffed animals, which are actually little dinosaur fairies from another world. The two dinosaurs, Pigu and Mogu, give her a magical sketchbook and pen that not only allows her to bring her drawings to life, but to turn her into a 15-year-old version of herself, and upon transforming, she gets recruited by Lyrical Productions to become the next big thing! But is becoming a model/singer really worth it, especially considering all the trouble you get into to do it?
Now, for those of you thinking this is going to be some kind of clone of Bratz or Hannah Montana or something like that, prepare to be proven wrong, because Fancy Lala is NOT that kind of show. Yes, it’s a children’s show. Yes, it’s aimed at young girls (I remembered watching it on Animax back then). Yes, it has magical girl elements. Yes, it has cute little animal mascots. Yes, our lead character becomes a model/singer to meet up with a man she admires. But Fancy Lala is NOT a dragged out toy advertisement (heck, considering how the episodes play out, it’s not even trying to promote any toys since none exist!), NOT a glorified idol show, NOT a teen-girl popular stuck-up brat fest, and, most importantly, NOT a show that’s so cutesy and saccharine that you want to shoot yourself. Well, technically, yes, Fancy Lala DOES have some cutesy moments, but like I said, they’re not overly sugary and sweet either. Not only that, this was made in 1998, BEFORE all of those dumb idol shows began flooding the market! Let me tell you: Fancy Lala is a polished gem in the anime world. No magical girl anime or shoujo anime I’ve seen has even come CLOSE to holding a candle to Fancy Lala’s awesomeness. No, it doesn’t have action. No, it doesn’t have an evil overlord trying to steal the joy of life and destroy the world for cliche reasons. Nobody said that all magical girl anime needed to be about saving the world! If anything, you can consider this another way to deconstruct a magical girl anime.
Let me start with the animation. This anime was produced by Studio Pierrot, the guys behind Naruto and Bleach. Long ago, in 1983 to be exact, Studio Pierrot hit it big when they produced a magical girl anime just like Fancy Lala called Creamy Mami, only it was 52 episodes long instead of 26. Lots of people loved it, so much so that it prompted Pierrot into making more magical girl anime afterward! But it didn’t last long. Fancy Lala is actually a remake of an OVA called Harbor Light Story: Fashion Lala, which I did watch (and I really need to finish my review of that). But Fancy Lala is, in my opinion, a HECK of a lot better. It’s animation is, for it’s time, surprisingly detailed. I’d even be so bold as to say that the animation here is a heck of a lot better than even CardCaptor Sakura, which aired in the exact same year, and that’s saying a lot! The show tries to make use of a lot of subtle drama by making the characters express their feelings through facial expressions instead of angsty dialogue and contrived coincidences or through cheese and melodrama, something that is a huge and oh-so-common pitfall in most shoujo anime nowadays. The character art in itself is very expressive and tries its best to convey even the smallest of emotions, whether it’s through facial expressions or movement. Nothing important is said, but you don’t need words to convey your emotions, and Fancy Lala does this great! Though I do admit, the transformation sequences are a bit generic, but hey! It does what it’s supposed to do and nothing more.
One of the strongest thing in Fancy Lala is the character development. The characters are just wonderful. They’re not carbon copies of typical stereotypes, they look, sound, and act like real people you often run into in real life, from the kids to the adults. Everybody has their own set of problems whether it’s their job, their background, their decisions, their actions, etc. Nobody’s perfect nor overly flawed in this show. That’s what makes the characters so great. Nobody’s problems are over exaggerated or overly complex. Miho herself is a great character. Despite the fact that she has a lot to deal with in the adult world with her newfound magic, she still manages to remain an innocent child despite being burdened with the task of carrying the weight of being an idol. We get to know her through and through, and it’s because we get to know her so well that the theme of adult problems going on around her works extremely well. Her voice actress only makes it better. Children in this series really do sound like children instead of squeaky 30 year old actresses who try too hard to sound overly moe, and I have to admit, Taro’s Japanese voice doesn’t sit well with me. I think his English dub voice sounds much better.
The opening and ending songs are nice and catchy, since they’re performed by Miho’s voice actress, who was back then a fledgling actress/singer as well. Don’t worry, they’re not overly sweet and saccharine like most magical girl anime theme songs. But in my opinion, it’s the soundtrack that really steals this anime for me. For those of you who don’t know, the soundtrack was composed by Michiru Oshima, whom many of you know did the soundtracks for the first Fullmetal Alchemist anime, Nabari no Ou, Le Chevalier D’Eon, X’amd: Lost Memories, and So-Ra-No-Wo-To. She also did the osts for My Sister Momoko, The Glass Rabbit, and 5-tou ni Naritai. She is steadily becoming one of my favorite anime composers next to Yuki Kajiura and Two-Mix. She’s known for her normally orchestral sounding music, but her best work is definitely here in Fancy Lala.
Now, this isn’t the kind of show everyone will like, and I can understand that, but I want to explain why the show won me over. Instead of trying to do something big, Fancy Lala focuses so much more on small subjects, like the downsides of using magic and parting with things that have a lot of sentimental value, and IT WORKS SO WELL HERE. It works so well here that the above episodes regarding said subjects actually made me cry! Episode 8 especially! Just watch it and see for yourself how wonderful it is, and the message it conveys…holy shrimp, I don’t think anything will top Fancy Lala’s genuine and poignant way of showing us that magic isn’t eternal. By focusing on something simple, the show saves the trouble of trying to do too much and blow up in the end, something a lot of modern anime tend to do, and, according to most anime fans, it happens about 85% of the time, and it’s not pretty. Fancy Lala manages to accomplish so much even though it’s such a simple story, and the ending, which happens to be the very best thing about Fancy Lala as a whole (why don’t more magical girl or shoujo anime do this?!), is a result of that.
While it is a nice show, it does have some flaws. For one thing, we never get an explanation from where Pigu and Mogu come from. Miho just ran into them by pure coincidence. We never learn much about the Mystery Man or why he has access to magic in the first place, and admittedly, Miho does become talented at acting and singing a little too quickly, but I’ve seen worse examples of this so I’ll let it slide. Besides, the show makes up for it by showing an accurate portrayal of the idol scene, and by not trying to glorify it either.Don’t be fooled by this show’s premise or looks. Fancy Lala is a sweet, genuine, and wonderful little anime that will leave you so fulfilled you feel like smiling at the whole world.