UltimateDisney.com | Review Index | Upcoming Disney DVD Schedule | Disney/Buena Vista TV Shows Page

Miramax in Focus

The Best of Tokyo Pig DVD Review

Buy The Best of Tokyo Pig from Amazon.com The Best of Tokyo Pig
Show Details
Executive Producers: Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein; Keisuke Iwata (TV Tokyo)

Writers: Jeff Nimoy, Mark Handler, Mark Ryan, Tom Putnam, Steve Kramer, Ardwright Chamberlin, Steve Apostolina

Director: Shinichi Watanabe

English Voice Cast: Dorothy Fahn (Mom), Neil Kaplan (Mister Principal), Wendee Lee (Miss Spelt), Mona Marshall, Diane Michelle (Weather Lady), Colleen O'Shaughnessey (Dizzy Lizzy), Joshua Seth (Spencer), Brianne Siddall (Sweater Girl, Tiffany), Jason Spisak, Wally Wingert (Dad)

DVD Details
Running Time: 171 Minutes (8 episodes) / Rating: Not Rated
1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Broadcast Ratio), Dolby Stereo Surround (English)
Subtitles: English; Closed Captioned
DVD Release Date: June 7, 2005; Black Keepcase
Episodes Originally Aired September through December 2002
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9); Suggested Retail Price: $19.99


When contemplating just how to start a review of The Best of Tokyo Pig, I decided there was no better way to introduce this DVD than with the words of the show's infectious theme song:

Hey, can you dig
He's a Tokyo pig
He's an amazing little best friend
He's a hero with heart
He's cool and he's smart
He'll keep you in line
He's a friend genuine

But he's Suuunnnny
Tokyo Pig
But he's Suuuunnnnny Pig
Yeah, but he's Suuuunnny
Tokyo Pig
But he's Suuuuuunnnny
Dream large, think big
Dream large, think--Tokyo Pig!

Japanese animation, or anime as it's more commonly known, covers a very wide range of content, from Studio Ghibli's critically-acclaimed feature films to Saturday morning cartoons made solely to sell toys. Nonetheless, that all-encompassing label "anime" applies to a format which in recent decades has been embraced by many throughout the world. One of the most-cited attractions of anime is how it differs from Western animation. The broad spectrum of what can be classified as "anime" ensures that the degree of difference greatly varies. In any event, common threads can be found, from a distinct appearance and pacing to visual codes that do not exist outside of the form.

The half-hour anime series "Tokyo Pig" was imported from Japan by Disney's artsy branch Miramax. In America, the show aired on the cable channel ABC Family on Saturday mornings during the 2002-03 season. Despite that potential warning sign, "Tokyo Pig" is not merely a transparent commercial; it is a hyper, somewhat offbeat family sitcom told through the eyes of a child. In a word, it's different.

The first episode of the series, one of eight included on this The Best of Tokyo Pig DVD release, establishes its premise. The protagonist Spencer Weinberg-Takahama, an enthusiastic third-grader, reluctantly agrees to keep a journal like his teacher assigns. Turns out, everything he draws in it winds up actually happening, including the improbable: a sky filled with flying pigs. To reverse his ideas, Spencer need only erase his artwork. He misses one pig, but his parents break their "no pets" rule, and Spencer names his potent new friend Sunny. This provides the fantastical angle to the show; what Spencer wishes, Sunny Pig wills. All the pig needs to do is put his snout on top of Spencer's head...and magical things happen. Apparently, the same powers remain present when he writes in his diary, though squealy Sunny's method becomes the preferred apparatus for radical change.

Spencer and Sunny come out a-runnin' in the show's opening title sequence. Three out of four Weinberg-Takahamas display that distinctly anime airborne teardrop.

Outside of the unusual, powerful pet who accompanies him most of the time, Spencer's existence is not so much different from any other middle-class youth in a civilized present-day upbringing, but the show wisely skews reality from so that Spencer's life at school and at home seem as weird to viewers as they do to Spencer. Comprising the rest of the oddly-named Weinberg-Takahamas are a temperamental housewife mother who discourages homework for fear that Spencer will obtain some obscure disease, a humorously over-the-top father, and Spencer's intrusive younger sister Dizzy Lizzy. At school, Spencer's best friends are curly-haired Angus who speaks with a British accent and the portly Eggman. Their teacher is Miss Spelt who Spencer seems to think highly of at some points. Rounding out the regular cast is the Weather Lady, who inexplicably but frequently turns up with little jokes and tongue-in-cheek narration of what is going on in Spencer's life. There is often interaction between Weather Lady and a depicted audience or Spencer's family. In addition to her role as narrator for the audience, the vain Weather Lady serves as a source of self-aware humor, as there are often references to narrative devices the show employs or behind-the-scenes work. Her presence assures that the show never takes itself seriously, which is one of its stronger traits.

In case the previous paragraphs haven't made it clear, "Tokyo Pig" is a rather bizarre cartoon. Beyond its silly premise (and sillier premises have launched other TV shows), it is fast-paced and highly stylized. The line between fantasy and reality is quite blurred, but having experienced nearly three hours of episodes, I'd say it's almost irrelevant. The skewed reality is heightened by the bizarre and you simply go with the flow, making even the most unusual thing fall within expectations. Each episode allows for at least one random dancing moment where Sunny Pig and certain other characters (this changes) take some time simply to move around to the same mostly instrumental electronic music. The show's animation style is very flat and limited, which is not unusual for an anime TV series. The awkward mouth movements may take some getting used to, but anyone familiar with low-budget television animation (be that "Pokemon" or Cartoon Network's Adult Swim programming) should be well-versed with the format.

Dad catches Spencer trying to escape. Spencer, Spencer, you have been a very disobedient dragon! Spencer's arms become three moving balls on account of Sunny's boo-boo in "The Incredible Shrinking School." I guess this means he's not too happy.

The series is first and foremost a comedy and though the principle character is a nine-year-old, the amusing antics on display can likely entertain viewers two or three times as old, as is the case for other anime. While there is some off-color humor -- in the first episode, Eggman displays a conceivable misunderstanding of "diary", for instance -- it's mostly a harmless series; hence, the Miramax Family label that graces the DVD. Its target audience would presumably be in the early years of grade school to well up, and though its appeal definitely doesn't cater to assumed tastes, it is more likely to win over teenagers than most new Saturday morning cartoon offerings (with the occasional exception of something slightly edgy and brilliant, like "Teacher's Pet").

The English dub job (and that is all that is offered on this DVD) is a very capable translation and more, resulting into a version of the show that is easy for English-speaking audiences to embrace...well, relatively easy anyway. There are allusions to Western things from time-to-time and at one point, it's implied that the family is in America, though that is unclear and also unimportant. More significantly, the voice cast, animation, and screenplay always seem to coincide perfectly. Any disconnect the viewer experiences from the show is not likely to stem from the screenplay, but from the highly different style which remains in place through the cultural relocation. The episodes may employ a hectic tempo, but often they travel very little from Point A to Point B, in spite of the fast pacing.

All this talk of a very different program - flying pigs, a magical snout and diary, psychedelic dance sequences - may have you scratching your head saying "Just what is this 'Tokyo Pig'?!" assuming you've made it this far in the review. Well, the American show whose style I would say this is closest to is, believe it or not, the Disney Channel's "Lizzie McGuire." Between the slightly off-kilter family dynamic, the rapid-fire flashbacks, and a similar central character (admittedly, Spencer is a bit younger and entirely more male), the shows have quite a few things in common. Of course, "Tokyo" is wholly animated and its visual asides closest resemble the cartoon segments of "Lizzie." "Tokyo" also never concerns itself too much with the reality that is being skewed or having a heartfelt message. Values are sometimes imparted, but the show is more interested in delivering wild and diverting tales. To that degree, it succeeds.

Pig sky at night, sailor's delight? Dad is supposedly a really bad cook, but don't you think Spencer's taking his fears a little far? Spencer has a heart-to-heart with a lightning-throwing monster.

The eight episodes included on this disc are as follows:

"When Pigs Fly" (Originally aired September 14, 2002)
As mostly covered already, this premiere episode finds Spencer excited for his first day of school. His assignment to keep a diary turns life upside down by making everything he imagines come true and introducing his new pet/friend, the strangely powerful pig he dubs Sunny.

"Dad is the Worst Cook in the World" (Originally aired December 1, 2002)
Mom goes away on a health spa vacation she wins, leaving Dad to make dinner. Spencer freaks out and tries his hardest to get out of what's sure to be a deadly concoction.

"Luck of the Draw" (Originally aired October 12, 2002)
Spencer's school has their annual sports festival. Spencer is disappointed when he gets paired up with "Sweater Girl" (an amusing recurring student whose wingspan is no match for her extensive sweater arms) for the three-legged race.

"Trouble in Lightning-Land" (Originally aired November 16, 2002)
The Weinberg-Takahamas are disappointed when their favorite show is interrupted by a special weather report. When the weather lady gets struck by lightning and vanishes, Spencer and Sunny get into their detective garb and try to find her. Their journeys bring them to a lightning farm operated by monsters.

This is the part of the show where they dance! Spencer and Sunny get jiggy with some produce in "A Bitter Fruit." The principal's wife and the samurai lunch lady duel it out. Yes, you see correctly. The wife has a vaccuum and the lunch lady is wearing a pot for a mask. Angus, Spencer, and Eggman battle with the bossiness of Southern Belle Tiffany van Hootenberg in "Pigs on Ice."

"A Bitter Fruit" (Originally aired September 28, 2002)
Spencer doesn't know what he wants to do, but he doesn't want to write in his journal. He and Sunny Pig venture into their refrigerator where the cunning strawberry has convinced the other fruits that they need to study to overcome their shyness. Needless to say, it's one of the most bizarre episodes of this mostly bizarre show.

"The Incredible Shrinking School" (Originally aired October 5, 2002)
It's open house night at Spencer's school and he's terrified at the thought of how his family will behave. To eliminate the occasion, Spencer comes up with a plan to shrink the school for one day. But will he be able to bring it back to its right size?

"Samurai Lunch Lady" (Originally aired December 14, 2002)
When Spencer skips breakfast to eat at the school cafeteria, he raises the wrath of his mom. The school principal is in a similar situation with his wife. Throw the samurai lunch lady into the mix and you have quite the duel over food. Meanwhile, the Weather Lady must deal with an evil twin undermining everything she says.

"Pigs on Ice" (Originally aired December 8, 2002)
With his parents away for the day, Spencer and his friends Angus and Eggman get lured to the house of bossy classmate Tiffany. There, they try to overcome her princess behavior and her powerful threats, while also trying to placate a kid who wants nothing more than to spend time with her.

Spencer and Sweater Girl may be the team to beat in the three-legged race. The Weather Lady is the jokey recurring narrator and those rainbow color bars mean a transition is in order.

VIDEO and AUDIO

Video quality on the DVD is great. It naturally presents the show in its native 1.33:1 "fullscreen" aspect ratio. The element is completely clean. The picture looks a little soft, but that may be how it originally looked. I can't vouch for the authenticity of the colors, but they remained consistent throughout all of the episodes.

Audio is presented solely in the English dub which as stated earlier is dutifully handled. The soundtrack was satisfactory, even offering a bit more kick than I expected. There's a surprising amount of bass, and though channel separation is kept to a minimum, dialogue, music, and effects are capably mixed and crisply conveyed.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and DESIGN

Unfortunately, there are no bonus features included. A featurette on the show's history or at least the English dubbing procedure would have been quite informative, as those out of the loop (like me) might well be scratching their heads trying to figure out just what this show is. Alas, no such luck.

All of the menus are 4x3 and silent, but they're colorful, clear, and easy to navigate. A "Play All" option lets you obviously view all 8 episodes in succession without interruption or any further button pressing. Buena Vista's trademark skippable sneak peeks are present at the start of the disc. These preview Chicken Little (like seemingly every other animated DVD from the studio these days), this fall's Bionicle 3: Web of Shadows, Spider-Man: The Venom Saga, and the same day release Power Rangers S.P.D.: Volume 1 - Joining Forces. The Sneak Peeks menu adds additional promos for Power Rangers: DinoThunder, Beyblade: The Movie - Fierce Battle, Pokemon: Destiny Deoxys, Tarzan II, and "Power Rangers: S.P.D." on Toon Disney's Jetix.

A total of 29 episodes of "Tokyo Pig" were produced, so this "Best of" disc represents a little more than one-fourth of the entire series. Each episode runs run 21 minutes and 20 seconds long and is presented with no scene selections. The shows are arranged by production order and each contains the 30-second opening intro (which, in spite of my earlier citation, really doesn't explain or represent the series very well) and a couple of brief interstitials that presumably would lead to commercial breaks.

Oh boy! Dizzy Lizzy surprises Spencer. Spencer says "The Best of Tokyo Pig" is recommended for fans, while Sunny Pig simply squeals.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

"Unusual" is one way to describe this hyper and bizarre show about a 9-year-old boy able to alter reality with either his diary or his squealy pig sidekick. With eight episodes and an SRP of just $19.99, The Best of Tokyo Pig is a better value for fans than most single disc show compilations, but this series is likely a little too crazy for those who aren't familiar with anime. Since the heavy style won't work for all viewers or many who find the straightforward narrative and artwork of American animation just fine, the unacquainted would be better off renting first. Only, I doubt you'll find too many places renting this out. For those in search of a cartoon that's quite different, this fits that definition like a glove. The English dub makes it somewhat accessible to Western audiences and beyond its fast pacing and random design, there is quirky humor for kids in grade school and up to enjoy.

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com

Related Reviews
Porco Rosso Beyblade: The Movie - Fierce Battle
Pokemon: The Movie - Destiny Deoxys In Search of Santa
The Cat Returns Gargoyles: The Complete First Season
Growing Up with Winnie the Pooh: Friends Forever Spider-Man: The Venom Saga

UltimateDisney.com | Review Index | Upcoming Disney DVD Schedule | Disney/Buena Vista TV Shows Page

Reviewed June 8, 2005.