Moeyo Ken is an odd property in the west. The title began its life as a video game collaboration between Sakura Wars creator Ohji Hiroi, and legendary mangaka Rumiko Takahashi. The game spawned an OVA series, which introduced a steampunk Meiji-era Japan to the west and east alike, and placed its heroines into a Japanese equivalent of the Batmobile. In short, the OVA was just strange enough to be fun. Two years later, a TV adaptation of the series appeared along with a number of mostly-welcome changes to the established flow.
In the beginning of the Meiji era, Kyoto starts to prosper. Humans and yokai (supernatural creatures) live in peace, thanks to a monster-licensing program instated by the new government. However, unlicensed monsters still exist, and try to wreak havoc throughout the city. To combat the yokai, the Mobile Shinsengumi was established. Yuko Kondo, Toshie Hijikata, and Kaoru Okita (daughters of famed Shinsengumi captains Isamu Kondo, Toshizo Hijikata, and Soji Okita respectively) lead the fight as they battle and capture stray monsters. However, every job the group pursues sees them accumulating tens of thousands of yen in property damages. To combat the mounting pressures and increasing costs, Mobile Shinsengumi leader Oryou summons her son Ryunosuke, who is learning about business in Shanghai. When Ryunosuke (and his friend, a Nekomaru monster), arrives, Oryou is overcome with happiness… until Ryunosuke tells her that he’s moving back to Shanghai when the Shinsengumi is profitable again. Upon hearing this, Kondo, Hijikata, and Okita set out to keep Ryunosuke in Japan, no matter the cost.
The best way to frame the series in a sentence would have to be “Dirty Pair, in Meiji’s Kyoto.” The series follows the same formula set by the Lovely Angels in the 1980s: the girls receive their assignment, they investigate, stuff hits the fan, and a huge, city-leveling battle ensues. Unlike Dirty Pair, the girls tend to face the same group of villains in each installment. The role of “token bad guy” is filled by the Tsubame Group: A trio of ne’er-do-wells bent on taking down the new order. The group is comprised of Miki the token priss, Tama the sexy swordsman, and Sakon… some odd chubby guy with an overwhelming love of nabe (Chinese cabbage). They have some purpose for opposing the Shinsengumi but, in all honesty, it’s not very important. Eventually, a larger plot arises involving fiancees, harem-esque crushes, giant pandas, and the like — typical Takahashi fare; however, it seems to build up too late to have a major impact on the series, as everything starts to feel rushed and somewhat forced by the final episode, which wraps up with the requisite sappy ending. In this sense, the series feels like a waste. A number of threads aren’t entirely cleared up, and the conclusions actually made just seem trite and unsatisfactory.
The greatest travesty is the loss of the “Batmobile.” In the original OVA, the girls would rush to the scene of an emergency in a futuristic, white automobile that resembles Batman’s signature ride. It was CG, it was huge, and it was hilariously out of place. With it missing, one of the most outlandish and funny additions to the series was lost.
The production is saved, somewhat, by an absolutely stellar voice cast. Veterans including Ai Orikasa (Saber Marionette J, Gundam Wing), Chisa Yokoyaya (Sakura Wars, Tenchi Muyo!), and Haruna Ikezawa (Gravitation, Maria Watches Over Us) add a welcome color to the cast, as they deliver excellent performances and really sell their roles. They are backed up by a solid cast of newcomers that deliver a spirited performance.
Unfortunately, the same quality doesn’t carry over in the English version. While the dub cast features a few heavy hitters like Luci Christian (Gunslinger Girl, Negima! Magister Negi Magi) and Monica Rial (Excel Saga, Princess Nine), the overall presentation feels off. The characters deliver their lines with a stereotypical southern drawl in a poor substitute for a Kansai accent. The resulting performance makes it seem as if Kyoto were inhabited by a gaggle of rednecks, more welcome in the bayou than Meiji-era Kyoto.
Moeyo Ken is fun while it lasts, though viewers looking for a substantial experience will be disappointed. With the character development issues and rushed finale, the series falls far short of greatness. However, those willing to look past the story flaws (or pretend that the final two episodes don’t exist) will be treated to a decent comedy series with a mystical twist.
Moeyo Ken is released in America by FUNimation.
The series can be purchased at Right Stuf.
Thanks to FUNimation for providing a review copy!