Cutie Honey – The Sexiest Android On The Planet!
By Spencer Lloyd Peet
She’s a hot, hip chick with a lethal sidekick; she’s Cutie Honey, the sword-wielding Soldier of Love.
Since making her debut in 1973, Honey has slashed and punched her way through an array of media outlets including anime, film and television. The man responsible for this busty red haired android is none other than Go Nagai, the man who earned his reputation as a manga master after creating the hugely popular Devilman and Mazinger Z, two titles which led to a new style of manga that includes plenty of sex and violence. His work also gave rise to the giant robot craze.
After the success of Devilman and Mazinger Z, Nagai was approached by the film and television production company Toei to create another possible hit, and it advised that he develop a character of many forms. Nagai soon came up with the idea of a female protagonist – whom he partly based on the robot from Metropolis – and that she would battle against the dreaded Panther Claw organisation.
In Nagai’s story, Honey Kisaragi is an android developed by Professor Kisaragi, a man who wanted to create the perfect human being. After hearing of the professor’s invention of the Elemental Manipulation Device that can create anything from air, masked henchmen from the Panther Claw organisation track him down and attack him, leaving him for dead while they search his property for the plans of the secret mechanism. When Honey appears on the scene, the henchmen flee as she discovers her father’s motionless body on the floor. Through a hologram of Professor Kisaragi, Honey learns of her true identity as an android. He warns her not to let the device, which is housed inside her body, fall into the hands of the evil Panther Claw.
By touching the heart emblem located on a choker around her neck and saying ‘Honey Flash’, Honey can transform into various personalities, such as a police woman, a biker and a singer. Helping her in her mission to rid the world of the Panther Claw organisation is the Hayami family; Danbei, Seiji (a reporter) and young Junpei. Keeping her identity a secret, Honey attends an all-girl school, and is best friends with Aki Natsuko. Not only does Honey have to fight off Panther Claw, but she also has to contend with the regular sexual aggravation of her vulgar teacher Miss Arborn, who has the hots for Honey.
Honey Through the Ages
In 1973, Cutie Honey found herself in the pages of manga and in an anime series. It was originally to be a shoujo series – meaning it would be aimed at young girls – but due to its violent content and sexual connotations, it became a shonen series (for young boys) instead, allowing Nagai to incorporate lesbian and sadomasochism undertones into the stories. Two volumes were produced of the manga version (re-released in 1985 as one volume) and 25 episodes of the anime series which ran from 13 October 1973 until 30 March 1974. Eiko Masuyama lent her voice to the character of Honey.
It was almost 20 years later that Cutie Honey reappeared. In 1992, a series of graphic novels called Cutie Honey 90 by Go Nagai were published. Due to their popularity, an adult-orientated OVA series – consisting of eight episodes in all – entitled New Cutie Honey was made and released in 1994. In the English version, the voice of Honey was provided by Jessica Calvello, who was specifically chosen by Nagai. This was followed in 1997 by the anime series Cutie Honey Flash (aka Cutie Honey F). The sexual references and violence were toned down considerably, as the creators aimed to appeal more towards the huge Sailor Moon audience. Most of the characters from the original series returned and a new arrival, Misty Honey, a competitor for Cutie Honey, was also added. As well as all this, between 2001 and 2006, several manga Cutie Honey adventures appeared on the market.
In 2004, the anime RE: Cutie Honey, produced by Gainax, aired on Japanese TV a couple of months after the release of the tokusatsu (live-action) film version on which it was based. This movie stars the 5’ 8” leggy actress and model Eriko Sato – who spends a lot of her time in just her underwear… not that we’re complaining.
Eriko has appeared in numerous films and TV shows in Japan, including the fantastic series Densha Otoko (2005). She portrays Honey as a naïve and slightly kinky heroine who battles Sister Jill, Panther Gold, Black Claw, Scarlet Claw and the rest of the members of Panther Claw; all wanting to get their hands on her I-System.
In the live adaptation directed by Hideaki Anno, the character of Aki Natsuko (Mikako Ichikawa) is a straight-laced, female police inspector who wants to bring down the Panther Claw organisation. At first, Natsuko is hostile towards Honey, but soon succumbs to the charms of the playful warrior, and together with the help of reporter Seiji Hayami (Jun Murakami), they take on Panther Claw.
Style-wise, it’s very much in keeping with the likes of the Kamen Rider franchise and other tokusatsu TV series of that genre, and it depicts similar kitsch moments found in the 1980 cinematic camp sci-fi adventure Flash Gordon. But you’ll be able to see for yourself in the MVM DVD release.
Throughout its various formats over the years, the basic story of Cutie Honey, and its infectious opening theme tune, has remained pretty much the same, with only slight variations – most noticeably in the 2007 tokusatsu series Cutie Honey – Live.
Many colourful and outrageous characters are added to the live action TV version, including the cross-dressing Panther Claw member called Yuji Nakajo (Kohei Murakami), who has multiple personalities, and a lesbian music teacher called Mayumi Karasugawa (Erika Oda) who can transform into a harlequin. Honey also has two half-sisters, Miki Saotome (Misaki Ayame) and Yuki Kenmochi (Makoto Takeda), who were created before Cutie Honey by Professor Kisaragi, but were disregarded as pieces of trash after he realised they had flaws. When it becomes known that they too can transform, Cutie Honey tries to get them both to join her in her fight against Panther Claw. But their clash of personalities makes this difficult.
The popular curvaceous gravure idol Mikie Hara dons the red wig in Cutie Honey – Live. She plays Honey as a vivacious, bubbly, almost Pollyanna-like, school girl. There were concerns from the makers of the show that perhaps Hara was not the physical type, but she soon proved she was more than capable of handling herself in the action scenes.
That’s not to say they were plain sailing, however. The fight sequences left their mark on Hara’s body, often leaving severe bruising on her body which then had to be covered by the make-up artist. In an interview published in the Cutie Honey – The Live Official Visualbook, Mikie admits that, although she did most of her own stunts, a ‘double Honey’ was used for the more dangerous sequences, and the gruelling filming schedule that lasted one year resulted in Hara getting only three hours of sleep a day. Speaking at a press conference, Misaki admitted, “The highlight for me is all the action scenes; and the stylish clothes. Even after the filming is done, I love wearing it.”
A nice added touch in this production was the casting of Go Nagai in the role of Professor Kisaragi, neatly creating a visual pun as the creator of Cutie Honey in the real world took on the role of her creator in the fictional one. Nagai also makes a cameo appearance in the 2004 MVM film version as a driver.
Unlike the 2004 movie, which runs at 93 minutes, Cutie Honey – The Live has more room for character development and sub-plots. And at 25 episodes – equal to the number of episodes of the 1973 anime series – it doesn’t over stay its welcome. Shamefully, it has yet to be commercially available in the west, but it can be purchased as a DVD box set from a number of online sources, including eBay.
The character of Cutie Honey can best be summed up as a combination of the space sex kitten Barberella, played by Jane Fonda in the 1968 psychedelic film of the same name, and the leather-clad Emma Peel from the ‘60s cult TV series The Avengers. She is strong, yet vulnerable; sexy, yet cute. And although saving the world is a tough job, Cutie Honey does it with sugar-sweet grace.
Special thanks to our friends at the Yoshino restaurant in Piccadilly, London for their assistance with translation.
This article first appeared in Neo issue 59, 2009.