©大和和紀・講談社/劇場版「はいからさんが通る」製作委員会

This girl was the icon of manga for girls decades ago in Japan. Now she’s back, and she’s not going to take an arranged marriage sitting down.

Haikara-san ga Tooru (lit. Here Comes Miss Modern), also known as Smart-san, was originally published as a manga serialized between 1975 and 1977 in Kodansha’s shojo manga magazine Weekly Shojo Friend. The manga has been adapted to media on a number of occasions in the past, including three live-action TV dramas premiering in 1979, 1985, and 2005; a live-action movie in 1987; and finally, a TV anime in 1979.

The TV anime is especially an interesting beast. Produced by Nippon Animation, the anime continued on for 42 episodes before being suddenly cancelled in order to make room in the TV broadcast schedule for coverage of the 1980 Summer Olympics (according to an interview published this month by Bunshun Online). It stops at a pretty important part in the story, leaving us with a half-assed “Haikara-san will always be in your heart” followed with the protagonist Benio and her true love flying off in a blimp into the sunset (I’m being serious).

©大和和紀・講談社/劇場版「はいからさんが通る」製作委員会

It’s not hard to see why Nippon Animation tried multiple times to push for a remake of the work, but only managed to do so 38 years later with Haikara-san ga Tooru Zenpen ~Benio, Hana no 17-sai~ (Haikara-san the Movie Part 1 ~Benio, 17 Years Old and Blossoming With Youth~)—the first of two movies animated by Nippon Animation.

The story of Haikara-san follows Benio Hanamura, the tomboyish daughter of a military general who is currently in the middle of attending ladies’ finishing school–though she’s not very good at any of the subjects taught there. Instead of cooking, cleaning, or sewing, she excels at the art of combat, and refuses to become the perfect woman in order to be married off to some man she’s not in love with.

©大和和紀・講談社/劇場版「はいからさんが通る」製作委員会

What puts a dent in her plans is the arrival of Shinobu Ijuin, a military  sublieutenant who turns out to be her fiancee decided for her since birth. Benio finds out that while Ijuin isn’t in love with her, he wants to marry her at all costs due to his grandmother’s wish for him to do so. Benio does everything she can to get out of the marriage—even sabotaging it by making a fool of herself. However, she feels herself being drawn closer and closer to the sublieutenant. Unfortunately for the two, a very cruel fate awaits them, and Benio must mature from a child to an adult in a moment of days.

©大和和紀・講談社/劇場版「はいからさんが通る」製作委員会

While I was worried about this new adaptation’s new take on the Haikara-san manga, minus the detraction of a few minor scenes, the movie is extremely faithful. In fact, the two-hour film only adapts the first two-and-a-half volumes of the manga out of eight (which, honestly, makes me a bit worried for the second and final film). The majority of the film focuses on the gradual building of the relationship between Benio and Shinobu, which honestly, the manga covered fairly quickly. With the extra time given to the two, it’s much easier to sympathize with them when their fates are changed forever. My only complaint is that Benio’s new life after their fates change is introduced very, very quickly in the last ten minutes of the movie—content that took up a fifth of the source material used as the base of the first film.

Visual-wise, let’s just say, are very, very different from the original art found in the manga and anime. Gone are the pupil-less expressions of characters when they’re shocked or stars in their eyes when they’re surprised. Instead, the art has been updated for a modern audience. An interesting choice on the staff’s part was to keep Benio’s hair like in the old TV anime, instead of returning Benio’s hair to blonde like it was in the manga. The animation isn’t exactly extremely fluid movie animation (barring a few interesting cinematography choices), but hey—it’s a lot better than the animation from the original TV anime (seen above).

©大和和紀・講談社/劇場版「はいからさんが通る」製作委員会

Some of the expressions on the characters—particularly on Benio when she’s drunk—very closely resemble the manga, however. Other things, like musical cues that cover the theme songs of the original TV anime, are nods to the classic works that fans have such fond memories of. It’s a perfect mix of modernization to not draw new fans away and tips of the hat to the senior works before it.

In terms of Haikara-san‘s voice work, the film casts two of Japan’s most popular voice actors: Saori Hayami (Sword Art Online‘s Sachi, Snow White with the Red Hair‘s Shirayuki) and Mamoru Miyano (Soul Eater‘s Death the Kid, Durarara!!‘s Masaomi) as the leads Benio and Shinobu, respectively. While Miyano fit Shinobu perfectly, I couldn’t help but always feel as if Hayami’s voice was too adult for the character, who is in her mid-teens. Despite this, her over-the-top reactions and drunken acting were right on the mark. The only voices that stand out like a sore thumb are those of the maids, who are being played by the three members of a teen idol group. Their acting is so bad, that as soon as I heard them speak a line, I said to myself, “So these must be the celebrity guests of the film.” Leaving this flaw aside, the cast featuring a number of seasoned veterans for roles both big and small.

Despite being a bit long in length, the first Haikara-san movie gets me excited to see how the latter half of the story will be adapted. Perfect for both uninitiated and fans alike, this faithful film brings back to life a Japanese shojo manga classic for the modern era.

The first Haikara-san movie opened in Japan on November 11, 2017. Screenings with subtitles are planned throughout the United States, but no date for these screenings has been announced. The second film will premiere in Japan in 2018.

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