#1 Go Nagai does mahou shoujo?
Honey is a student at an all-girls school for Catholics and lives a pretty normal life until she one day heads home, only to find her father murdered at the hands of criminals belonging to the Panther Claw syndicate. After grieving his sudden death, she finds an audio recording revealing that she is actually a technologically-advanced android raised as a Human. With her powers revealed, Honey takes on the secret identity Cutie Honey and begins to fight back against Panther Claw.
Cutie Honey comes to us from Go Nagai and it really shows. The man tackles many different genres, but his personal style and interests always shine through, which is exactly what makes many of his works so interesting. Cutie Honey is his play on the magical girl genre, as Honey uses her powers, superhuman strength, and gadgets to overcome villains and foil their plans. Her most important ability is that she can change her entire outfit at a moment’s notice, and we all know that costumes are absolutely vital to a good mahou shoujo anime.
As is to be expected of a Nagai story, there will be plenty of violence and there are sexual and religious themes present. In particular, I really enjoyed how violently Honey dispatches the villains she faces, which often end up with body parts cut off or other severe wounds before she finally delivers the death blow with her rapier. However, it’s also not too overdone and still feels like a magical girl anime should. As a result, neither fans of Nagai’s works nor followers of magical girl anime will walk away disappointed.
#2 Stylish and cheeky main character
Honey Kisaragi is a stellar main character. I pretty much knew I was going to love the show when episode 1 had her sing her own theme song while beating up a horde of bad guys. There is so much to like about her that I could probably throw together a 5 Reasons To Like Honey Kisaragi, but I’ll keep it short for now.
What I really like is that she is a lighthearted character on a serious quest. You can see how the loss of her father drives her and weighs on her emotionally, yet she doesn’t let that hold her down or stop her from having fun. During battles she has witty banter and taunts her opponents, she sneaks out of school during mass to meet up with her friends and go on adventures. I was constantly having fun watching her, whether it was her joking around at school or battling with bad guys.
I also enjoy her visual design. It’s very youthful and her long, blonde hair and revealing outfits betray that she might be a little too devious for the Catholic school she attends. Her ability to change outfits whenever she pleases also gives her a lot of alternate designs, some of which are comedic, some reference other Nagai stories, and others are just badass. The actual Cutie Honey outfit I’d even rank as one of the nicest magical girl designs out there.
#3 Fan-service from the 70s
If Muromi-san last week proved anything, it’s that nowadays you can have an anime where girls have on-screen orgasms over playing with their breast and that’s still not considered explicit enough to warrant an age gate or anything. Times have certainly changed, which makes it interesting to look back on 1973 and see the kind of fan-service that was considered risque in that bygone era.
Honey will often appear in revealing clothes and most of her enemies are monstrously-designed women with oversized chests, who often use demonic or animal themes. Clothes exist mostly to get torn up or lost, yet at best you’ll see a bit of side-boob or Honey’s exposed bum. Nothing too arousing, but it’s fun to recall a time when Nagai was considered controversial for including such fan-service in his works.
#4 Memorable battles
Cutie Honey is not the anime to seek out if you’re looking for visceral action scenes with the kind of fluidity and animation quality of today. While it has, of course, aged a fair bit, the series is still plenty enjoyable thanks to the great directing work.
Fights tend to have a bit of a comedic tone, since the Panther Claw goons all look like the blue spy from Team Fortress 2 if he had a bit of a furry fetish going on. Honey and her friends frequently dispatch them with relative ease. The actual villains put up more of a fight and, despite their cheesy designs and simplistic theming, have some memorable and good battles for Honey to overcome. While it is heavily episodic, the encounters are memorable and varied, such as a fight on a ghost ship or another which plays out as a moonlit fencing match atop a moving gondola.
When they finally happen, the fights tend to be remarkably good for the era it came out in. The choreography is fancy and sometimes switches up the art-style to great effect, so if you’re a fan of action anime you might actually be pleasantly surprised with this older gem.
#5 Choice aplenty
Just like Go Nagai’s famous Devilman series, Cutie Honey would remain popular because nobody can just bloody leave it alone. The original anime was made by Toei and ran from 1973 to 1974 with directing by Nagai-veteran Tomaharu Katsumata, which is the version I am reviewing here.
An 8-episode… “thing” called New Cutie Honey began in 1994 and is a spiritual continuation set in a distant future. Years after the events of the original, a cybernetically-enhanced Danbei Hayami now lives in a city overrun with crime. When a secret organization makes an attempt on the mayor’s life, Danbei discovers that the mayor’s secretary is a reincarnated version of Honey. The two team up once again to fight back against creative villains and foil their big plot.
A 39-episode series titled Cutie Honey Flash began in 1997, which uses the same general idea as the original, but is more of a shoujo take on it. Actually a good idea, because the weakest aspects of the original lie in its lackluster romantic aspects and mishandling of the way in which Honey deals with the drama of the story, both of which I could see a shoujo version doing much better. I’ll be reviewing it separately because of its length, but from what I have seen it’s a gorgeous alternative to the original.
Gainax then produced a 3-episode OVA in 2004 directed by Hideaki Anno of all people, which is 100% certified kick-ass. Honey is reimagined as a part-time office clerk as opposed to a schoolgirl and the overall tone is more in line with other, explosive Gainax franchises of the time. The OVA is very hilarious and enjoys splendid animation, as well as characters that are much improved. Seiji has a more active role in the story as a secret agent type and there is a confident, go-getter police girl that helps out as well. If you are only going to watch one version of the story, then this is the one I’d recommend because it has the best plot and presentation.
And, finally, there is a 12-episode series by Production Reed, directed by the man behind Photo Kano. This one came out in 2018 as a way to celebrate the 50-year-anniversary of Go Nagai’s first published manga. It’s an actual remake of the 1973 version cut down to 12 episodes and with a more modern tone. It is isn’t exactly top tier material, but fans will enjoy seeing reimagined takes on the old characters & storylines. However, it does commit the fatal sin of changing the opening song. Simply unacceptable!