I can’t blame this one on Steven Den Beste, not much anyway. After all, while he liked the show, he gave Happy Lesson an average review and hated the ending enough to recommend it somewhat half-heartedly.
But it sure seemed that many, many times when I’d visit Chizumatic, the images at the top were from Happy Lesson. And those images really intrigued me, especially the images of Kisuragi (the science teacher). (Note: I know the image display order is random.) So when the opportunity came, I bought the show.
Fair warning: Mr. Den Beste would have rated it higher if it hadn’t been for the horrible ending. His review forewarned me of that, and I think I was able to enjoy it more because I knew it was coming. So thank you, Mr. Den Beste.
In return, I will now warn you, my loyal reader: the ending of Happy Lesson, literally the last minute, is horrible. It’s a very bad ending. If you know it’s a bad ending a-comin’, a-yup, you may like the show as much as I did.
And I loved it.
I think I know what they were trying to do with the chosen ending—it’s a clear case of Twin Peaks Syndrome, the idea that, Hey, if we don’t wrap this all up, maybe we can get another season out of this! If it didn’t come right after a truly mature realization by two of the main characters, well, they might have pulled it off. But it did, so they didn’t. Instead, it was a really clumsy example of Kanna-ex-machina.
Still, as I said, I loved the series. Damn, I loved it. I want it to move in with me and beat the crap out of me on a regular basis. No wait, I didn’t mean that—ow! Stop! AAAHHH!! NO!
Ha ha, I kid of course, and as usual get ahead of myself. First, here’s the set-up. High school student Chitose is an orphan who lives in a big house by himself. He gets in fights, gets failing grades and, thus, gets in the sights of five of his teachers, five beautiful women who decide that what he needs is mothering. So all five of them move in with him and become his mothers. Wackiness ensues, because while they all care for him, they also have to keep this arrangement secret for obvious reasons (“Hey, Chitose got an A again! What the hell?”)
The series is a sentimental comedy, and the comedy part is largely of two varieties. The first, most common form is Three Stooges type mayhem, usually directed by the Moms toward Chitose, but also by class president Fumisuki against Student B and Student C. The last two exist only to be thrashed; they might as well be inflatable with sand in their shoes. With Chitose, the various beatings are always done with love. Tough love, I guess…but love nonetheless.
Call me sentimental, but…make sure you raise your hand first. For me, this series had just the right amount of honest, pure sentiment, never descending into maudlin mawkishness or the crass artificial “heart-tugging” of something like Spielberg’s ET. I really enjoyed every minute of it. I couldn’t wait to watch the next episode and I was sorry when it was over.
And (thank you again Steven), Kisuragi was my favorite Mama, though I had to wonder about her (and Uzuki, the arts teacher). Specifically, why were they here?
The other Mamas could be understood in terms of motherhood and their own personalities. Mutsuki (Classics) is the most “mother-like” of the Mamas, she does the cooking and cleaning and many of the things we typically associate with moms, and her efforts toward Chitose are aimed at making him a better student, much to his irritation.
Both Yayoi (the nurse) and Satsuki (PE teacher—we in the US got Bradley Buzzcut) see their parenting duties in terms of extending their own interests, which is what a lot of parents do one suspects. Episode five, which really turned off Mr. Den Beste, I found quite touching in that Satsuki learned that parenting isn’t simply a matter of physically plowing through life’s obstacles. Strength isn’t everything, it has to be tempered with heart and the willingness to acknowledge that other people are different from you, and see things in a different way. You can’t bluster your way through being a good parent. I think she learned a valuable lesson in that episode and was a better parent because of it.
Yayoi’s episode was cut from a similar cloth; she was going to “Shinto” Chitose to happiness if it killed him, which it sure seemed was going to happen. But she too learned (thanks to Kisuragi) that while one can hold strongly to one’s beliefs, others might not, and one needs to temper relations with them accordingly. (She never did put that sword away, though, did she?)
Uzuki was the one I never understood. I found her the most grating of the Mamas, though I liked her nonetheless. I did consider it significant that her “starring” episode was all about her; Chitose was barely involved and her parenting abilities were never, ever put to the test. Why did she sign on to be a Mama? The world may never know.
Kisuragi, too. Why was she there? Chitose even point-blank asks her in one episode, and I was saying, “Yeah, I’d like to know that, too.” But her answer was such a non-answer I can’t even quote it directly—it was something along the lines of “One has to experience the unknown.” Uh, yeah. Sounds good. Okay. Uh, what?
Kisuragi eventually reveals that her need to be Chitose’s mother is perhaps the deepest of all the Moms; she even gave up world conquest to be a parent. She is certain her own abilities are sub-par…but her inhibition and her need to see everything in terms of science—if A then B, etc–keeps her from expressing this need properly. The depth of her love is exceeded only by her inability or fear of expressing it. Despite all the hints, she plays her cards close to the vest up the end.
Though really, she’s mostly tech support for the other Mamas in the series. She’s frequently facing away from everyone else, and never eats with the family—she sits at a little tiny box with her back to the others. (Of course, she may be feeding her pet piranha.) I think the whole idea of human interaction confounds her.
Which is why her starring episode is perfectly in keeping with her character. She sees motherhood in terms of what she feels she can’t do, and she envies the apparent ease of the other mothers. Being a technical genius…well, I don’t want to spoil it. Though it’s to Chitose’s credit that he tells her he values her as her, despite all those electrocutions.
Oh, the electrocutions. As mentioned, the series has two main forms of humor. Three Stooges type mayhem (watch Fumitsuki punch Student B and Student C into the stratosphere! Watch Satsuki give Chitose Dutch Rubs and claim he’s tougher than he looks!). The other type of humor comes from Kisuragi’s weirdness. She keeps a piranha and an anaconda as pets; she’s riddled the house with secret passageways; she’s constantly inventing things and setting off explosions. She’s like Batman without the angst—she even has an underground lair. She’ll frequently pop in from the ceiling, hanging upside down, to comment dryly on the action, then scoot back up again.
But her weirdness also extends into the Three Stooges routines: Kisuragi seems compelled to hand Chitose a pair of electrodes at every opportunity, with predictable results. A-yup, Chitose gets electrocuted. Laugh, damn you, laugh!
This sort of humor does get a bit tiresome–there’s a reason the Stooges’ shorts were around fifteen minutes in length–but that’s okay, it isn’t what really drew me to the show. It’s the characters, all of them, and the way they truly do care for each other. Aside from a couple of slimy businessmen who show up in an early episode (and never return), all the characters here are nice, caring, loving people who want the best for everyone (in their own way).
The one exception might be Kanna, a childhood friend of Kisuragi who is even more clueless when it comes to human relations—or anything, in fact, other than world domination and technology. But even she had a very sweet episode with a puppy which seemed to change her, to bring her a little closer to humanity. I say “seemed” because when she next showed up, she appeared to be back to her old self.
So yeah, overall, I loved this show. It’s not perfect because there’s too much mayhem and it has a really bad ending. But it was a lot of fun while it lasted.
Incidentally, I thought of a much better ending. Hidden below to prevent spoilers. Click if you want to see how my mind works, especially if you’re an anime producer who is in danger of contracting Twin Peaks Syndrome. Otherwise, thanks for stopping by!