Mama Wa Shōgaku Yon-Nensei

Tagged: TV

["Mama is a 4th Grader"] Animated tv series (1992 Japan). Sunrise, NTV, AsatsuDK, Vap. Directed by Shūji Iuchi. Written by Osamu Nakamura, Tetsuko Watanabe, Yumi Kageyama et al. Cast includes Kazue Ikura, Satomi Kōrogi and Riyoko Yoshida. 51 episodes of 25 minutes. Colour.

An accident in the year 2007 sends the infant Mirai ["Future"] through a Timeslip to 1992, where she is raised by her mother's younger self. Early episodes play up the situation comedy, while later episodes introduce more science fictional elements as the 11-year-old Natsumi (Kōrogi) tries to get her daughter back to the future.

Japanese television has a recurring, and occasionally creepy, interest in the liminal space between childhood, puberty and adulthood, and in those legal and social areas where the boundaries appear flexible. The starting point for this obsession was the non-genre, live-action Television show Okusan wa 18-sai ["My Wife is 18"] (1970 Japan), in which a teacher is transferred to the school where his spouse is still a student; comedy stems from their attempts to keep it quiet. Osamu Tezuka experimented with issues of puberty in the TV anime Fushigi-na Melmo ["Marvellous Melmo"] (1971 Japan), whose heroine is able to artificially age and/or rejuvenate by taking a combination of magic pills. Made in the immediate aftermath, not of the first Back to the Future (1985) film, but of the twin sequels – Back to the Future Part II (1989) and Back to the Future Part III (1989) – that made it clear Time Travel was a growth area, Mama wa Shōgaku Yon-nensei plays with similar concepts, allowing a pre-teen girl to take playing with dolls to a new level, by making her a surrogate mother to the daughter she will eventually have for real. Implicit in the framing of the story is the answer to a question that Natsumi has yet to ask: will she be loved in the future?

Merchandise attached to this prime-time series initially suggested that it was intended as Children's SF, although the popularity of the show with older viewers was attested by several audio drama spin-offs and a Seiun Award for Film and Media, bestowed the following year. It was the last Anime to win a Seiun for six years, suggesting that the active voting in the Film and Media category was already apathetic, and that this frankly unremarkable show's award was something of a fluke. The director himself received the award with a degree of bafflement, pleading with Fandom that Time Paradox was only part of the work, and that they should not regard it as sf. The storyboards for the opening sequence were drawn by Yoshiyuki Tomino.

The premise has been pastiched and refashioned on numerous occasions, most notably in Bishōjo Senshi Sailor Moon ["Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon"] (1992 Japan), whose heroine similarly acquires a Timeslip daughter from a future self, and in the straight-to-video anime Kirara (2000 Japan), in which a young woman's ghost leaps back in time to enlist the help of a teenage boy (her future husband) in preventing her death. Nippon TV would return to time travel drama with DNA² (1993-1994), based on the Manga by Masakazu Katsura. This was a Terminator pastiche in which the Time Police inadvertently create the very Overpopulation explosion they are attempting to prevent, by turning a shy Japanese teenager into a confident Lothario. Comedy ensues as an attractive female agent attempts to rectify the problem by pushing him into a loving relationship with the girl next door. [JonC]

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