Mahou Profile #005: Marvelous Melmo [Script]

Mahou Profile #005: Marvelous Melmo [Script]

[The following is the script of episode 5 of the Mahou Profile series, viewable on YouTube here. This post to be updated with an accurate video transcript and citations in the future.]

Hey there everyone and welcome to Mahou Profile! Today I want to lead off with a quick apology. Last episode I said that I was going to cover two shows next, but after watching and researching both shows, I ended up having so much to say that I felt it necessary to split them back into two episodes. So, sorry to anyone who was hoping to hear about Sarutobi Ecchan today! That’s in the pipeline for next episode.

With that out of the way, we can dive straight into our featured show for today: Fushigi na Merumo, a.k.a. Marvelous Melmo. This series comes to us from Tezuka Productions and debuted in October 1971. It began as a manga series by Osamu Tezuka called Mamaa-chan, which was also the heroine’s name. However, according to the official Tezuka site, when work started on the anime, “the name ‘Mamaa’ was already registered and therefore not open for use, and so the series was renamed ‘Marvelous Melmo’ starting with the October issue in 1971.” The heroine’s new name, “Melmo”, highlights her transformation abilities, deriving from the Japanese pronunciation of the word “metamorphose”. “Me-ta-mo-ru-hoo-ze” — “Me-ru-mo”. 

While it’s fallen into obscurity nowadays, Marvelous Melmo was pretty significant to the histories of both the magical girl genre and anime as a whole. It was the first magical girl series produced by a studio other than Toei; it featured the first magical girl whose power focused on transforming into an older version of herself; it was an early example of anime mixing narrative and educational material, ala Moyashimon or Cells at Work; and… [sigh] it was one of the earliest anime to make frequent use of panty shots, or “panchira”. And when you realize that the titular Melmo is only nine years old? You start to get an idea of where this show might run into some trouble. 

Before we get into that, let’s go over the basics. Melmo Watari is an elementary school student with two younger brothers: Totoo and Touch. At the very start of the series— literally minute 1, episode 1 —the siblings’ mother, Hiromi, is hit by a car and killed. In the afterlife, she begs to go back to Earth, worried about how her young children will survive without her. The powers that be in their spiffy star suits grant her one wish for her family, and she wishes to give her daughter Melmo the ability to grow up and take care of her younger brothers when needed. The gods grant her a bottle of magic candies crafted from the yolk of a phoenix egg—and for those familiar with Osamu Tezuka’s other works, yes, it is that Phoenix from the manga of the same name. Connections!

Back on Earth, Melmo and her brothers have been placed with a grouchy, abusive aunt who hates children. Melmo despairs, but then her mother appears to her as a spirit for a tearful reunion. She gives Melmo the bottle of candies, explaining that a blue candy will make her ten years older, and a red one will make her ten years younger. Melmo tests out the power of the blue candies and treats the audience to the first of the show’s many, many uncomfortable panty shots (seriously, was the butt wiggle necessary?). Taking two red candies transforms her into a baby, though she still retains her nine-year-old mind. She almost eats another red candy but wisely decides not to test her luck.

So Melmo becomes her older self and confronts the abusive aunt, claiming that she’s Hiromi and that she’s come back for her children. The aunt tries to sic some goons on her, but with some quick thinking, Melmo uses blue candies to turn the goons into old men and frighten them away.

All seems well after that, but soon Touch gets a hold of the candy bottle. He eats some blue candies and turns himself into, well, a literal man-baby. In a panic, Melmo accidentally feeds him too many red candies and this ends up turning him into a zygote. …WELP. Guess that answers the question of whether you can go too far back or not. 

Melmo comes up with an ingenious solution to this problem, though, by dissolving a blue candy in water. She puts the zygote in the water so it can absorb the candy’s magic, and we watch Touch grow from an egg back into a baby… Very… Very… Slowly…

…Did I mention that Marvelous Melmo was a sex education show, by the way?

Yes, at least once per episode, the story will diverge into a short educational segments depicted through either painted still images or lovingly rendered growth sequences like this one. Most of the segments attempt to teach something about reproductive biology and the life cycle, including bits about puberty, gender, falling in love, parenting, and how if a human being could return to a single-celled form, they could tap into the foundational structure of the universe, swirling through the stuff of stars and all the blueprints of mere existence, to be reborn in a new and glorious form as from the very soup primordial. You know. Standard stuff.

(Also that last bit is exactly how Melmo is able to use the candies to turn into animals. Like I said, very science, much rigor, wow.)

So Melmo finally grows Touch back to normal baby size, and this time it’s Totoo’s turn to steal the candies. He runs outside with them and… look I wish I could explain this whole caper because it’s very good, but we have a lot to get through today, so I’ll just say it involves a murderous driver who tries to run Melmo over, and Melmo rightly uses her powers to invoke the fear of God in him, traumatizing the man into swearing off all cars forever. MAGICAL GIRLS MOTHERFU—

The episode ends back at home with adult Melmo giving Totoo a bath. Totoo is still unsure about all this, and sure enough he soon susses out that she isn’t his mom. Melmo drops the act and explains her secret to him, making him promise to keep it so their abusive aunt doesn’t get them or their house again. Totoo promises, and so episode 1 ends with the stage set for… well, something.

From here the series is less episodic than the Toei magical girl series up to this point have been, with several major status quo changes and callbacks to previous episodes happening throughout the series. 

We get the introduction of a mentor figure/guardian for Melmo in episode 4, a doctor named Waregarasu. In the same episode, the doctor gives Melmo the idea for taking bits of two candies at once to transform into animals, a power which she uses throughout the series after. 

The death of Melmo’s mother is continually returned to for episode plots, such as an episode where the boss of the man who ran her over appears to want to make amends for what happened. This episode also features the return of Melmo’s awful aunt, who features in this and one more key episode before the end of the series. 

Several characters whom one would only expect to see in a single episode make minor re-appearances throughout, reinforcing that they don’t just disappear from Melmo’s life after their one featured episode. The gods in their star suits also reappear a few times throughout the series to watch over Melmo’s progress, sometimes punishing her if they feel she hasn’t been using the candies responsibly enough. 

This leads into a major plot thread towards the end of the series where the candies stop magically refilling at the end of each day, because this miracle that the gods have created will not last indefinitely. This ties in with the series’ themes of growth and change. The candies cannot last forever, because nothing does. The magic of childhood must someday give way to adulthood — which is difficult but often wondrous in its own way. 

In any case, status quo shake-ups aside, the episodes still tend to follow one-and-done structures that allow viewers to tune into just about any episode and not be too lost. There will pretty much always be a new problem of the day for Melmo to tackle. The candies will be involved in either worsening or fixing the situation some way, and the story will eventually tie in to whatever the dubious sex ed lesson for the day is. …Oh yeah, and Melmo will probably get naked at some point. Child form, adult form, doesn’t matter — they’ll find a way. It’s… yeah… Jeebus criminy, Japan, don’t do this to me… [defeated groan]

Now, you may be thinking “Well hey, it’s a sex ed show — of course there’s going to be nudity. What’s the problem?” The problem is the framing. There is plenty of nudity in the educational segments, and that’s all very frank and fine and dandy. And to be fair, there are also narrative segments where the nudity is tasteful and on-theme, like when Melmo bathes Totoo in a parental way, or when she tries to breastfeed baby Touch. 

But then you get stuff like Melmo’s transformations. First off: yes, Marvelous Melmo technically had the first nude transformation scenes, predating the infamous nude transformations of Cutie Honey by a couple of years. What makes these transformations more uncomfortable than Honey’s, though, is that Melmo is still mentally nine years old when she transforms. And the transformations really tend to highlight the sexuality of her adult form, both visually and musically — no really, the transformation theme ends with a literal “sexy” saxophone riff. Also, if a male character is in the room with her at the time, even if they know Melmo is a child, they will try to (ahem) “sneak a peek“, as it were. Gross. 

The weird thing is? You would think the show would know better. One of the very first educational segments shown is about the differences between children and adults, and it very clearly points out that the major difference there isn’t just physical bodies but also the amount of experience and wisdom each has. Hey. HEY TEZUKA PRODUCTIONS. If you understand that what makes a child a child is largely mental, not physical, then why do you think it’s okay to sexualize a child just because she has an adult body? Huh? HUH?! Say something you perverted fu—! 

[“Technical Difficulties”]

Okay I’m calm, I’m calm… But seriously: for a show that presents very literal life lessons in every episode, Marvelous Melmo ends up teaching the audience… a lot more than it perhaps intends to. Having watched the entire series and taken in all this valuable learning, I would like to demonstrate this by sharing ten of the best nuggets of wisdom this show has to offer. 

Lesson 1: If you want to change someone’s age without asking first, that’s totally fine! Be they a dog, an elephant, a goose, or a person: as long as whatever they were doing inconvenienced or hurt you in some way, then irreversibly changing them into an egg or a baby or a decrepit husk without their consent is A-OK and absolutely not a form of horrific cosmic torture. I mean, they brought it on themselves by being kind of a jerk, after all.

Lesson 2: It’s extremely easy to throw small projectiles and land them exactly where you want them! If you can’t land a tiny candy in someone’s open mouth on the first try every time, then clearly you’re just not trying hard enough. 

Lesson 3: Always go along with shady strangers, no questions asked. Doesn’t matter if the last strange people who came up to you said they were taking you to a world conference, only to then spirit you away to a fascist dictatorship… or told you they had a sweet luxury apartment they wanted you to watch for them, only for it to have actually been a front for their mass pickpocketing spree, which you then became the scapegoat for… or they came dressed to you like a literal Dracula and promised to bring your dead mother back to life, only for your resurrected mom to actually be a wax doll implanted with the soul of a snake, and then the Snake Soul Mom actually began to care about you to the point of immolating herself to save you from freezing to death in a snowstorm!

[clips showing The Tragedy of Snake Mom]

Nah, it’s probably okay to just keep saying yes to strangers like that. Benefit of the doubt and all!

Lesson 4: Picking your nose hairs is gross and no one wants to see that. Stop it. …STOP IT.

Lesson 5: If you accidentally turn your brother into a frog with magic candies, there is absolutely no easy way to reverse this process. Frogs can’t eat candy or drink water, so clearly not even dissolved candy water will work for them. Never mind that frog skin is water-permeable and they just get the water they need by absorbing it. Nope, absolutely no way that the candy water could work that way. You’ll just have to leave your brother stuck as a frog for nine entire episodes, causing him to have an existential crisis about whether he’ll ever get to grow up and go to school and lead a normal life… before realizing oh wait, frogs can breathe, right? So just evaporate the candy water into steam and have him breathe it in. Easy peasy! …Okay yeah, that was less of a real lesson and more an excuse to talk about this subplot because seriously, Totoo gets stuck as a frog for almost a third of the series. Status quo changes indeed.

Lesson 6: Sometimes the solution to a problem is to get in a prop plane, impregnate a giant devil flower, and then set the devil flower on fire to destroy both it and its offspring for good. …Anime is great.

Lesson 7: The best way to get away with any crime scot-free is, of course, to become a baby. Because, well? 

[clip of police officer saying “I can’t arrest a baby.”] 

[clip: Roll Safe meme]

Lesson 8: Sometimes if someone gets bullied when they’re young, that doesn’t make them more sympathetic to other victims of bullying. Their problem is less with the bullying and more the fact that they were bullied and not someone else. I’m not even making a joke here. This episode where Melmo turns a bullied puppy into a grown dog who in turn bullies others? Is really, really well done. It’s a shame that it takes the puppy’s mom sacrificing her life for him to see that what he’s doing is wrong, but still. Man this show has a lot of dead moms… Anyway, this episode feels very prescient of a lot of the toxicity you see today in internet culture, politics, media–everywhere, really. A lot of people who experience mistreatment — or even just perceive that they’ve been mistreated — do not learn empathy for those who have suffered, and instead turn that around into a conviction that as long as suffering is inflicted on the “correct” people, it’s all fine, even enjoyable to perpetuate. But go off about magical girl shows not having any strong real-world messages or themes.

Lesson 9: Gender! It’s… Okay, I can’t even really make a good joke here, so I’ll just be serious. Being a sex education anime from 1971, this series presents an… outdated understanding of gender, let’s say. It’s specifically outdated in regards to number of genders and ideas of biological determinism for those genders. I can’t blame the series for not foreseeing decades of advancement in scientific and social understandings of gender and sex, but yeah. Worth bracing yourself for that when you head into this one. 

And Lesson 10: If you’re hitting on a nine-year-old girl and you’re old enough to drive a motorbike or a car? That is… apparently absolutely fine! In fact, it’s probably not just you who’s hitting on her — she’s clearly just such a fox! And at that point you and the other suitors will be well within your rights to demand that this small child choose one of you to go out with. And she will. And it’ll be treated as sweet and romantic. Because she’ll grow up to marry you and have your child eventually. And that’s just FINE. NO PorbLEm wiTH ThaT at aLL. nONE WHATSOEVER. …AAGGHGHHHH.

…Anyway.

There is so much more I could get into with the plot of Melmo, but I’ll leave it there for time’s sake. Needless to say, like Mahou no Mako-chan before it, this one’s… a bit of a weird one.

It’s almost for the weirdness alone that I hope this one makes it back to English-speaking audiences someday. And yes, this did once see an official English release — in recent memory, even! It used to be legally streaming on Viki, and even now you can still get to the show’s episode pages if you Google them. Unfortunately though, it appears the episodes themselves are no longer available. At first I thought maybe they were just region-locked, but people in several other major regions have confirmed that they don’t work for them either. The episodes are out there in some of the seedier corners of the internet if you’re that desperate, but for those who prefer to watch their anime legally, that option sadly does not seem to exist anymore. 

However, even if you do get to see the show, you probably won’t have seen the original version. Like I said, Melmo first aired in 1971, but a “Renewal” version also aired in 1998 with cleaned-up animation and an all new voice cast. This was the version used in Viki’s streams, and while the Japanese DVDs feature the dub tracks for both versions, it seems like they exclusively use the cleaner animation of the Renewal version. 

Compare the original and Renewal versions of the opening theme. The original theme song was performed by Chikako Idehara and Young Fresh. It uses mainly brass and string instruments, has more childlike vocals, and the image quality is noticeably washed out. By contrast, the Renewal version was performed by an adult vocalist, Yuuki Mashima. It uses more synthesized instrumentals, has a cleaner, more vibrant look, and features a small tag on the logo saying “Renewal” in katakana. [clips from both versions]

For those of you who speak Italian, you can find a few Italian-dubbed episodes floating around online. Unlike with the Italian dub of Mahou no Mako-chan, this version of Melmo, entitled I Bon Bon Magici di Lilly, or “Lilly’s Magic Bon Bons”, was not that heavily censored, which is odd considering how much stuff in Melmo is potentially censor-able. As far as I can tell, it’s pretty much intact. Just goes to show how far the “educational” banner goes towards justifying content that might not otherwise make it to air. 

That the show aired with so little issue in Italy is interesting considering how it’s said to have been received in its home country. A popular anecdote holds that many parents in Japan hated the show and complained to the network after their kids started asking a lot of uncomfortable questions. I couldn’t find much hard evidence for these claims in English, so I can’t say for sure how much truth there is to that, but a 2004 review from the Japanese magazine CD Journal claims that PTA groups called the show “disgusting” (“Iyarashii!”). This quote appears on the Amazon listing for the Japanese DVD release and is the most official confirmation of these anecdotes I could find. 

What can be said for sure is the show didn’t last long — only 26 episodes, airing from October 3, 1971 – March 26, 1972. It was the first series produced by the newly formed Tezuka Productions, then a spin-off company from Osamu Tezuka’s original studio, Mushi Production. Melmo would be Tezuka Productions’ only full-length series until Mushi Production filed for bankruptcy in 1973. The defunct MushiPro then transferred all their animation departments over to TezukaPro, making TezukaPro the main animation company for Tezuka-related works going forward. 

TezukaPro pulled in a lot of talent for Melmo, many of whom were just starting long and fruitful careers in the anime industry. One example was Yoshinobu Nishizaki, who would rise to fame in 1974 as the producer of the classic sci-fi series Space Battleship Yamato (and then later rise to infamy with the likes of Odin: Space Sailer Starlight [clip: “Odiiiiiiiiin!”]). Nishizaki was Osamu Tezuka’s general manager during Melmo’s production and was mainly responsible for selling the show to a network. The rights eventually went to Asahi Broadcasting, and, as Nishizaki recounts in a 1981 interview, he felt a sense of responsibility for the show even though all he did was sell it. When the audience ratings turned out to be even worse than he imagined they might be, he felt deeply ashamed of himself and from then on vowed that he would eventually “create an anime work that [he] would not regret.” [clip: “Odiiiiiiiiin!”]

Slightly more involved in the production was Yoshiyuki Tomino, who directed episodes 5, 16, and 22. Tomino wasn’t exactly a new talent at the time, having started with Tezuka doing scripts and storyboards for the original Astro Boy in 1963. But he was still a couple of years away from his debut as a main series director on Triton of the Sea, and about eight years away from creating the work that would define his career, Mobile Suit Gundam. This was also prior to him earning the nickname “Minagoroshi no Tomino” or “Kill ‘em All Tomino”, referring to the sheer number of character deaths that tend to crop up in his stories. Thankfully there are no deaths in the episodes Tomino directed for Melmo, although episode 22 does go into the dark subject matter of alcoholism and familial abuse. The ending of this episode is perhaps overly hopeful on that front, but it’s still one of the standout stories of the entire series. 

You may have noticed I’ve barely said anything about the big Tez’ himself, as it were. And that is because, honestly? It’s intimidating to even try talking about him. There is already a wealth of resources out there about Osamu Tezuka that can tell you so, so much more about the man, his work, and his influence on industry than I ever could, and they can do it more thoughtfully, critically, and eloquently to boot. If I dove headlong into Tezuka here, even just for an overview, we could be here for an entire series unto itself. 

So apologies if you wanted to hear about Tezuka in more depth, but for now I’ll just focus on what his manga for Melmo was like. The manga is fairly similar to the anime, with many stories being adapted directly to the anime. A key difference between the manga and anime, though, is that the candies not only change Melmo’s age, but also grant her clothing for various occupations she tries out in her adult form. For example, when Melmo tries to become a stewardess to board a flight to Africa, in the anime we follow her going to great lengths to sneak into the airport, find a closet to transform in, change into clothing she brought from home, and take a stewardess flight exam in order to board the flight she wants to get on. In the manga, she just magically transforms into a stewardess and gets on the plane with no issues, similar to how the Disguise Pen works in early episodes of Sailor Moon

In general, the manga version of Melmo rarely has to worry about her clothes not changing with her, which is… nice, I guess? On the one hand, the strict “realism” of the candies’ rules in the anime is more interesting to watch, since the writers often get very creative trying to work within their bounds. …However the manga does have a lot fewer of those discomforting panty shots, so… yeah. Remember kids: there’s a reason we don’t worry about the mechanics of The Hulk’s pants, and I would prefer not to worry about Melmo’s clothes on that front either.

The manga didn’t last long. It was reprinted in 2018 as a single hardcover collectors’ edition called the Marvelous Melmo Treasure Book, which contains materials recently discovered by Osamu Tezuka’s daughter, Rumiko Tezuka, This includes several chapter layouts, sketches, and colour illustrations that never saw the light of day until this year. Unfortunately this book is Japanese only and I was not able to look at a copy for this episode. 

There does appear to have been a second Melmo manga serialized in 2010, simply titled Melmo-chan. However, I can’t find much information about this manga other than it was written and drawn by artist Keiko Fukuyama, and it ran in Monthly Comic Ryuu. …And it apparently had the CUTEST MELMO EVER AAHHHH LOOK AT THAT PWECIOUS PLEASE PROTECT THIS DARLING ANGEL AHHHHH~ Um, but yes, if anyone knows more about this one or owns copies, let me know! I’d be really curious to read it someday!

Anyway, outside of the main anime and manga, Melmo never resurfaced much outside of some star system appearances in other Tezuka works. She had cameo appearances in Black Jack, Unico, and Rainbow Parakeet, and prior to the anime airing, her adult form played a role in the 1970 manga Apollo’s Song, there appearing under the name “Hiromi Watari”. Apollo’s Song is considered to be another part of Osamu Tezuka’s “Sex Education Trilogy”, alongside Marvelous Melmo and Yakepacchi’s Maria. So yes, Melmo was not an outlier on this topic for Tezuka, to say the least.

Melmo’s animated appearances after her solo series were, weirdly enough, both in advertisements. The first was in an extended music video made to promote an electronic album. No, not Interstella 5555, although that would have been a wild crossover. No, this was an 18-minute OVA called Ravex in Tezuka Land, which promoted an album by the Japanese band Ravex, and also celebrated Osamu Tezuka’s 80th birthday. The short features Ravex meeting up with various Tezuka characters, including Astro Boy, Black Jack, Kimba, Unico, Princess Sapphire (eyyy girl, welcome back to Mahou Profile!) and of course, Melmo. Together they use the power of music to defeat the evil Soggies or whatever, and everyone celebrates at the end with a big dance party. Yeah, there’s not much of substance here, but it is nice to see Melmo animated in a modern digital format, and with a cool futuristic outfit to boot. Also cool to see her in so many scenes with Sapphire, highlighting their shared magical girl heritage. Please look at these two very good and wholesome girls. Just… look at them. 

And finally, as far as I can tell, Melmo’s most recent animated appearance was in an actual commercial. In 2013, Japanese dietary supplement company Wakasa Seikatsu very briefly had a licensed product called “Melumo Love”, which claimed to rejuvenate women’s beauty like Melmo’s candies rejuvenate her age. And they produced this animated commercial to promote it.

[clips from the commercial]

That’s… well, it’s a little weird, but honestly, what about Melmo isn’t weird? I get the concept and it’s cute for what it is, so there you go. 

So yes, that wraps us up on Marvelous Melmo! This entire series is a treasure trove of bizarre logic, baffling science, creative situations, and honest moments of human connection. Also I didn’t get to say before, but compared to the Toei series we’ve seen so far, the animation is really a step up too, with lots of uncommon angles and uses of camera movement, as well as an interesting fluidity to the character motion. It has some very troubling aspects, as I think I’ve made very, very clear. However, if you go in knowing it’s a product of its time and brace for some of the discomfort that comes with that, it’s a very engaging watch. There’s a reason Osamu Tezuka and his production team are as venerated as they are. For all the criticisms you can make of the man and his work, he knew how to tell a strong visual story.

And next time we’ll be hopping from one humongously influential creator to another, as we get to the long-promised episode on Shotaro Ishinomori’s beloved magical ninja girl, Sarutobi Ecchan. Look forward to it and I hope to see you all again soon~!