Ichigo is a bouncy little kid. A young, klutzy girl who has seemingly endless supplies of energy and who is always super happy. At least, she appears happy on the outside. In reality, Ichigo is deeply worried about her father. He always seems to be angry and resents having Ichigo around. He also yells at her mother and isn’t even her “real” father to begin with. So when Ichigo is offered a wish by a magical friend, there is no doubt in her mind: “I wish my mom was married to my real dad.”
This is the opening premise of Ontama. A 2009 web series produced by Encourage Films, based on a manga Dan Yoshii. An author best known for doing the art and character designs of Symphogear. After her wish, Ichigo is whisked back to before she was even born. She meets her real father when he was but a young adult, who is magically made to believe that Ichigo is his little sister. Now Ichigo must play cupid to make sure that “her brother” actually hooks up with his “future wife.” A mission that soon runs into 2 major problems:
- Her actual dad turns out to be a defeatist klutz who has already convinced himself that he doesn’t have a chance. That a cute girl keeps making excuses to be around him doesn’t sway him in the slightest. He believes he has already failed, leading to him deliberately sabotaging his every chance.
- Stepdad Yuuji turns out to be there as well. While Ichigo’s real dad whimpers and gives up, Yuuji tries pursues the girl instead. He is charismatic, engaging, and dependable, though also a bit of a jerk. A powerful rival for any man, even with the backup of a meddling, little kid.
From there, Ontama develops into a heartfelt story that mixes drama, romance, and hints of comedy. Ichigo cooks up various schemes to bring her parents together while trying to undermine Yuuji. This becomes an interesting narrative device, as it allows us to gain a better understanding of what these characters are about, even as Ichigo fails to appreciate that herself at times. She is a little kid trying to steer these adults, without fully understanding their mindsets. Without understanding the hangups and anxieties and beliefs that make them act in ways that seem so weird to her.
This is most notable in Yuuji. Ichigo is predisposed to disliking him. This whole adventure is because of her wish that he not be a part of her life anymore, after all. Yet as Ichigo attempts to drive a wedge between Yuuji and her future mother, we get to see his actions in a different light. Something that in turn inspires development in Ichigo.
Ontama isn’t the most original story out there, but it’s heartfelt and very engaging. Even though its primarily aimed at a younger audience, I found that its plot still resonates on an emotional level. An effect that may be stronger for those who themselves have complicated relations with (step)parents. At 5 episodes of 10-15 minutes each, Ontama comes strongly recommended.