It’s rare to see a franchise from the 70s remain popular in anime to this very day, but Cutie Honey is one of those few, rare gems. First starting in 1973, the series has popped up again and again over the years, eventually culminating in 5 major seasons and 1 animated movie. Still, none of those are numbered, so in what order should you watch them? Should you even watch all of them at all?
Today we are going over every entry in the Cutie Honey series and we are going to talk about what makes them special and to whom they may be interesting. First of all…
What is Cutie Honey?
The series is based on the manga of the same name by Go Nagai, who is also the author behind Devilman, Violence Jack, and mecha series such as Grendizer. Nagai tackled various different genres in his work and Cutie Honey has been his play on magical girls.
Honey Kisaragi is a teenager who attends a Christian boarding school and her father is a famed scientist. Unbeknownst to her, she is actually a creation of his; an artificial human created to work in conjunction with a device that creates material from thin air. When her father is murdered by the Panther Claw Syndicate, a mysterious organization in which every member is a mutant-like monstrosity, Honey starts using the device to transform into the costumed hero Cutie Honey.
She doesn’t specifically have any powers besides her physical prowess, so she fights back against Panther Claw using her rapier and a variety of disguises she transforms between. Outfits like a reporter costume that comes with a brightly-flashing camera, or the motorcycle riding Hurricane Honey. Panther Claw itself worships a deity called Panther Zora, which desires offerings of wealth and beauty. That is why they are after Honey, as her device could theoretically create an endless supply of gems and gold.
In her quest, Honey is aided by her best friend Natsuko who often facilitates her escape from the boarding school, as well as the members of the Hayami household. Seiji Hayami is something of a boyfriend for Honey, but he, his grandfather Danbei, and even his little brother are all perverts who are often more of a nuisance than a help to her.
Calling Honey a magical girl is a tad untrue, as her transformation powers are the product of science. In reality, this is more of a superhero story that borrows elements from the magical girl genre, and adds in copious amounts of fan-service to seal the deal.
Cutie Honey (1973-1974)
The original series ran for 25 episodes under veteran director Tomoharu Katsumata, who handled various Nagai adaptations over the years. It tells the basic story laid out above and nicely balances action, comedy, fan-service, and even a fair bit of gore. Despite being such an ancient show, it’s no slouch in terms of presentation and can still be enjoyed quite well today.
The monster-of-the-week formula does lead to a lot of storylines feeling negligible and it means that the overall plot doesn’t move forward frequently enough. There are a few special episodes that shake up the status quo and force Honey into a new situation, but oftentimes it’s right back to episodic side-stories immediately after. The show does also struggle on the emotional end of things because it’s afraid to let any of the dramatic events have lasting impact. Honey gets maybe 10 seconds to grieve before she has to jump back into the action while throwing around witty taunts.
It has its weaknesses, but it’s ultimately worth watching because it’s such a good vertical slice of what anime in the 70s could be like and it provides a baseline understanding of the series that every other seasons jumps off from. Since it holds up well in the visual and sound departments, and is only 25 episodes long to boot, it’s not too big of a commitment if you’re interested in anime history or want to experience a franchise from the beginning. Those who exclusively favor newer shows will have a hard time looking past the janky nature of a show this old, however.
New Cutie Honey (1994-1995)
This is the only entry in the franchise that is a sequel, but even then it works well enough as a standalone story to be enjoyed by fans of edgy 90s anime. Set many years after the original story, New Cutie Honey takes place in a dystopian setting where Danbei Hayami has lived on through cybernetic implants. When his city is plunged into chaos, Danbei discovers that the mayor’s secretary is actually a reincarnation of Honey, so he helps her get back into the action.
Though the cyberpunk direction works well and the series still features ample amount of action and fan-service, it is also fairly lackluster. There are only 8 TV-size episodes and the story loses focus quickly, on top of being quite forgettable. A major reason for this is the absence of many elements of the story, as Honey is naturally no longer in school and many characters are gone without decent replacements. It surprises me they went to great lengths to keep old man Danbei in the plot, but no such generosity is afforded to my boy Seiji. He is instead semi-replaced with a kid called Chokkei, who never quite develops into an interesting character of his own.
If you did watch the 1973 original, then adding New Cutie Honey in at the end is a fun and short bonus. The violence and fan-service are quite nice and the animation looks very cool too. There are even some neat shout-outs to other Nagai franchises to keep an eye out for.
Cutie Honey Flash (1997-1998)
Well, we just reviewed this one. Flash is a complete retelling of the Cutie Honey series that takes the basic plot of the original as a starting point and then expands on it. It’s still a fairly episodic series, but it more frequently advances the overall plot and, with 37 episodes, there is more story to go around in general.
Flash is the most complete version of Cutie Honey and undoubtedly has the best story, though that comes at a cost. It was intended as a shoujo revival of the series and it pulls that off amazingly well; the story is filled with romance and emotional twists, and Honey feels like more a developed character overall. Gone is the rampant fan-service though. Flash is quite tame and, while it still features some nudity and the action can get bloody, these elements are way less present than anywhere else in the series.
So if you wished the series was more like a traditional magical girl anime, Flash does a lot to accommodate that and it’s a darn fine show. Fans of the other entries in the series also ought to check it out just because it’s the best version of the story, though they may lament how it feels too different.
This does introduce the issue of availability. It took me a long time to find Flash anywhere and, even then, it wasn’t all complete and not even all in the same language. Some of my episodes are exclusively in German, for example, and others are just missing. It was never licensed for an English audience as far as I know. If you can find it, then the movie should be watched between episodes 19 and 20 for the optimal viewing experience, as it deals with one of many new additions to the main cast that are exclusive to Flash.
Re: Cutie Honey (2004)
A special entry in the franchise because it rubs shoulders with its live-action movie counterpart. Like Flash, it’s another reimagining of the series, though it goes much further than merely retooling the same story.
Produced by Gainax and headed by Hideaki Anno, Re: Cutie Honey casts Honey as an office worker and skips much of the setup phase of the story. She is already battling Panther Claw as a vigilante, Natsuko is recast as a police officer who is trying to hunt her down, and Seiji is now a newspaper reporter that seems to know a little too much about who and what Honey is.
This is admittedly the shortest entry in the franchise with a measly 3 episodes, but it compensates for that with its boundless energy. Gainax transformed the series into a form that perfectly fits with its offering in the mid-2000s and late-90s. The fan-service is ramped up to 11 and the action is more chaotic (and hilarious) than ever before. The story, though short, is also really fun and manages to both include elements from the original while also bringing in major changes of its own.
Re: Cutie Honey is absurdly good and leaves you wishing there was more of it.
Cutie Honey Universe (2018)
Being the latest entry in the series, Cutie Honey Universe is an interesting modernization of the franchise, though it has received some justified criticism. It’s a standard 12-episode series and a plain retelling of the 1973 version.
Whereas every prior season had some kind of A-team working on it, Universe was handled by Production Reed under a fairly unknown director. You’ll quickly notice that the series doesn’t feel as confident and polished as before. Its definitely a step down in terms of quality compared to Gainax’ and Toei’s attempts. Action, fan-service, storytelling, it all frequently misses the mark and is, sometimes, inexcusably poor.
What it does do well is taking the story of the 25-episode original and restructuring it to be more coherent and linear. It’s a bit of a bridge between Flash and Cutie Honey vanilla, with characters that are more emotional and go through major arcs, while remaining within the same tone as the rest of the series. Natsuko plays a much bigger role this time around and the battle against Panther Claw is made more interesting as its officers are now written to be characters rather than villains-of-the-week. Its plot twists also hit harder and the team manages to make the key moments really impressive, which made it easier to accept the otherwise mediocre presentation.
While it is a modern version of the story, I wouldn’t recommend it to a modern audience. Somebody going into Universe with no prior attachment to the license would likely struggle to give it even a 6/10, whereas I felt it was a perfect companion to the 1973 version. It’s a must-watch for dedicated fans, though I regret how it’s presence might set new viewers off on the wrong foot.
Should you watch…
Cutie Honey (1973): Yes, to get a baseline experience of what the series is like. It has an okay lenght and aged very well, though you could check out Re: Cutie Honey first if you want to get a taste of the series before sitting through an older anime like this.
New Cutie Honey: Maybe, if you enjoyed the 1973 version and want a sort-of sequel to it. It’s not fantastic, but it has its merits and is particularly nice for cyberpunk fans who’d like to see how a magical girl series would hold up in this setting.
Cutie Honey Flash: Yes, if you somehow can. It makes the series more accessible for girls/women, creating a more emotional story that also takes the plot much further. It’s great both if you want a more female-oriented take on Honey’s adventure, or if you are already a fan and would like to see the best version of its story
Re: Cutie Honey: Yes, because it’s a kick-ass Gainax reimagining of the series. It’s very short with just 3 episodes, but it does a tremendous amount with that runtime. This is easily the best entry in the series and very accessible to anime fans who want something modern.
Cutie Honey Universe: No, unless you are very invested in the franchise. It’s admittedly below-average, but it has some great moments in there that long-time fans will be able to appreciate.