AKA: NieA Under Seven, NieA_7: Domestic Poor @nimation
Year Released: 2000
Distributor: Discotek/Eastern Star
Running Time: TV series, 13 episodes, 23 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: 13+
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: Chobits, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, Sgt. Frog, 3rd Rock From the Sun, 2 Broke Girls, The Odd Couple, Urusei Yatsura, Azumanga Daioh
-The English dub was used while watching the original Pioneer/Geneon USA DVDs.
-NieA_7 features the directorial debut of Tomokazu Tokoro whould later direct Maria Holic Alive, Hellsing: Ultimate, The Seven Deadly Sins: Signs of Holy War, and he would work with Yoshitoshi ABe again with a certain anime series you’ve never heard of called Haibane Renmei (easily ABe-sensei and Tokoro’s best work in my opinion, but those who have known about this blog for the past 2 years already know that). This was co-directed by Takuya Sato who did storyboard work in Serial Experiments Lain and direct the most recent ABe anime RErieD. Oh…he also directed Steins;Gate for those who prefer more popular anime.
-Hilarious in Hindsight: Hey, Outlaw Star fans! You’re going to find this to be funny about the main characters in the Japanese version. Mayuko is voiced by Ayako Kawasumi while Niea is voiced by Yuko Miyamura, so that means Melfina and Aisha are roommates in a bathhouse with the former as a broke college student while the latter is a total freeloader. The Niea/Aisha connection is funny since both of them are aliens with blonde hair, pointy ears, and fangs. In addition to Niea’s unintentionally hilarious aspects in the Japanese version, there’s a hilarious in hindsight aspect to the English dub, too. She’s voiced by J-Ray Hochfield who would eventually voice another female character with short blonde hair in a Yoshitoshi ABe work since she would be the dub voice of Kuu from Haibane Renmei!
-NieA_7 was based on a manga of the same name which is also Yoshitoshi ABe’s only shonen work to date.
-This was animated by Triangle Staff who was also responsible for Serial Experiments Lain (the ABe-sensei connections never end! MWAHAHAHA!), Macross Plus, SoulTaker, and Shamanic Princess.
-The ending theme is provided by singer/seiyuu Maria Yamamoto. She’s been in two anime that I’ve reviewed before as a voice actress (Legend of the Last Labyrinth and Seraphim Call), but she’s also been in anime series such as His and Her Circumstances/Kare Kano, Elfen Lied, and even Bleach.
-Niea_7 is the only ABe series originally licensed by Pioneer/Geneon USA that didn’t get rescued by Funimation. Discotek took that anime series long after it was unlicensed.
Yes! I get to review another anime involving one of my favorite auteurs of Japanese animation and art. That’s another part of my 2019 goals complete for Iridium Eye in addition to my geography challenge and my DVD challenge that I self-imposed. You all should know that I’m a fan of his art style and story concepts which are experimental, cerebral, and highly original. Haibane Renmei still stands the test of time as one of my favorite anime series on so many levels. Texhnolyze is a very close second with its gritty avant-garde take on the cyberpunk aesthetic. His debut work Serial Experiments Lain has aged elements among other things, but it still took chances that even modern anime series wouldn’t dare to try with their narratives or characters. For this review, I’m dealing with his second series and what one could argue is ABe-Sensei’s most normal series ever.
For those of you who have seen this particular series, I understand the obvious irony of calling an anime series normal when it involves aliens and bizarre hot springs involved.
NieA_7 takes place in a near-future where aliens have already landed on earth. Instead of taking over the planet or trying to make some intergalactic alliance, they are busy getting used to human culture. Surprisingly enough, humans don’t have any issues with this in their everyday lives. Our main character is Mayuko Chigasaki who is a very snarky, yet very hardworking college student who is doing her best to study at cram school before she can go to a university. Because she’s broke and can’t afford an apartment, she lives in the Enohana Bathhouse that she works at to make ends meet. Much to her chagrin amongst work, school, and her penniless status, she begrudgingly has an alien named Niea as a roommate. To make this even crazier, Niea builds random spaceships, eats most of the food, and is a total loudmouth. Despite this alien’s brash and childish behavior, she’s considered an “under seven”. This means that she has no antennae unlike the vast majority of aliens and she’s treated like a fourth-class citizen in her culture which means she freaks out by people talking about her having no antennae like she was subjected to racial slurs. Mayuko and Niea have to work on living together despite the wacky aliens doing things and being perpetually broke.
It would be way too easy to call this anime 2 Broke Girls meets Chobits with an alien bent instead of robots, but that would be way too shallow despite some of the similarities (even though NieA_7 came before both series, just sayin’.). The two main characters have such great chemistry with Mayuko being the voice of reason while clapping back at anyone’s nonsense with biting wit like Ruri Hoshino from Nadesico. Niea herself has her habit of being annoying at times, but even she’s sympathetic in her own way as she deals with discrimination from the other aliens which is actually relatable. The human/alien dynamic was quite unique as people aren’t freaking out about other lifeforms, but they see them as other people which is something I haven’t seen too much in anime that takes place on earth. The humor here does feel like some over-the-top sitcom or parody series compared to ABe’s more serious works, but in the context of the anime macrocosm, it’s just fine. There’s a good mix of bombastic humor and more dry comedy in healthy doses. Some of it does get bawdy like the infamous episode where something illegal gets added to the hot springs mix which I thought was funnier than expected. I also liked how atypical some of the reactions were like the scene where Genzo (Mayuko’s guy friend) accidentally goes into the women’s bath in the bathhouse. You know in any other anime series, those ladies would beat the crap out of him and call Genzo a pervert, but instead, he admits that he was just looking for Mayuko to drop off something to her and doesn’t get aroused by this simple mistake that anyone in his position would’ve made (props to THEM Anime Reviews for noticing this, too!). Seriously, the creators and Genzo (if he was a real person) deserve a freaking medal for writing something like this instead of pandering to so many cliches that still go on to this day in Japanese animation. The English dub had great voice acting as well. Tricia Dickson (All That, Wendy from Read or Die, and Nenene from R.O.D. The TV) nails the jaded aspect of Mayuko which was a major highlight. Besides the storytelling and writing, I liked the ending theme. It was an interesting piece of experimental folktronica that was very unique. While I didn’t think it was as good of an ending theme in an ABe work such as “Blue Flow” from Haibane Renmei or “Tsuki no Uta” from Texhnolyze, it’s still worth listening to.
There’s one aspect of NieA_7 that I thought was even more relevant in hindsight that needs to be addressed. In this anime, it’s strongly implied that Japan has been facing a recession going on which has affected employment and the overall cashflow of multiple businesses. The Enohana Bathhouse was hurting because they rarely get customers which makes perfect sense despite being a traditional aspect of relaxing in Japanese culture. The thing that really caught my eye was Mayuko’s reality as a student. She works multiple jobs yet still barely makes enough to feed herself. She’s noticeably stressed out even when there are barely any scenes with the cram school and Mayuko is weary of aspects of the world despite her naturally polite demeanor. As someone who went to a four-year university and graduated when the recession happened, dealt with student loans, and worked multiple jobs that I was overqualified for, I found her to be incredibly relatable and I know others who have been in that situation will see where she’s coming from so much. This came out in the year 2000 which was years before that happened. I wouldn’t call it predictive programming, but that financial crisis makes the social commentary in that regard even more effective in retrospect.
NieA_7 does get underwhelming at times. The animation has aged much like Serial Experiments Lain even though there’s not as much CGI as that anime series. The opening theme was something I skipped as that lead singer sounds like some Japanese singer trying to sound like Tom Waits after smoking two whole packs of cigarettes. The story felt incomplete with so many characters who could’ve developed more and not focused as much on Mayuko’s college endeavors. What made me facepalm was the duplicitous portrayal of racism and discrimination that could’ve been handled better. Yes, Niea’s reactions were believable even though she overdoes it on some occasions (“Discrimination King!”), and there was some satire with the aliens who dress up like Chinese and Indian people as cultural appropriation, but it really becomes contradictory seeing the live-action “Dalgit’s Tidbit of Indian Information” which involves someone who’s clearly Japanese in brownface and wearing a turban which I facepalmed. I’m not even Indian and even I got skeeved out. The creators should really know better since Japanese let alone Asians have been subject to racist crap in movies like whenever there are Siamese cats involved in Lady and the Tramp, Aristocats, and Chip & Dale: Rescue Rangers or Mickey Rooney’s role in Breakfast at Tiffany’s where he’s in total yellowface. I would bet you if some Indian did some yellowface while cosplaying as some samurai, ninja, or Raiden from Mortal Kombat, you know Japan would freak out. This lowered my score on what could’ve been a great series.
This effort from ABe-sensei is definitely not my favorite, but there was a lot of good in it. The main characters and many of the secondary characters certainly had their own charms and qualities there. Elements with the economy and Mayuko surviving as a broke student are even more relevant than ever which makes core elements still timely. I do wish they would remove the problematic elements of the live-action outros since it would’ve made the anti-racist elements more effective, but it comes off as contradictory. NieA_7 wasn’t horrible at all, but I know it could’ve been my 2nd or 3rd favorite ABe series if things were handled better.
Adjustable Rating System:
Add 1-2 points if you’re a hardcore Yoshitoshi ABe fan.
Subtract 1-2 points if you need every character to be fully fleshed out.
-Funny comedic elements
-Great lead and some supporting characters
-The satire and social commentary on the economy are even more relevant in hindsight
-Dalgit’s Tidbit of Indian Information segments are VERY problematic
-The story isn’t fully fleshed out
-Terrible opening theme song
Final Score: 7/10 points
Content Warning: NieA_7 may not be as mature as Texhnolyze or Serial Experiments Lain, but I wouldn’t let younger children watch it. There’s the occasional swear word here and there, but the humor gets adult like an episode that involved weed as an ingredient in an alien’s hot spring and there are characters who get high while bathing (I can’t make this up to save my life) or a joke involving “butt buddies”. There are some bizarre elements like man-eating plants or weird slapstick humor. Some of the themes such as poverty, discrimination, classism, castes, and other elements are things that are better for older viewers.
All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. NieA_7 is property of Discotek. The Blu-Ray/DVD combo cover is from Amazon and is property of Discotek.