It’s the start of a new anime season, but for the TWIA folks that means diving into the troughs of anime history. This time, Chris joins up with alumni columnist Jean-Karlo to excavate Toka Gettan, the anime adaptation of a 2007 visual novel. Ready for a wave of mid-00s adult visual novel nostalgia?
This series is streaming on HIDIVE
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.
Whelp, here I am. Nicky and Steve just got through Cyber City Oedo 808
. Nick is slammed with Preview Guide. And it’s just me with this old porn game adaptation my editor has been subtly hinting she wants us to cover for the past few weeks now. I guess I’ve got no choice but to check it out myself. Not like there’s anybody out there who has familiarity with Carnelian
-adjacent projects and experience with TWIA duties.
You filled in my spot at This Week In Anime and reviewed FUUTO PI without me when I even left TWIA with a Kamen Rider BLACK gif?!
Also, who’s talking about Carnelian and their visual novels and the adaptations thereof? I got a few hundred paragraphs I could spew about those.
Holy crap, Jean-Karlo! Look, if it’s about your old job, I swear it wasn’t my idea! I was just running a long con to get Steve to finally follow me back on Twitter!
Tell you what, I need help with this column, and if you’ve got that Carnelian context, I will take it. Would you call it square if I asked you to help me answer that time-honored TWIA question: What the hell is going on in Toka Gettan?
Are you kidding me? Coming back to TWIA to cover another Carnelian
anime? If I had a nickel for every time I got to do that, I’d have two nickels, yadda-yadda-yadda. I can take a few moments from playing Xenoblade Chronicles 3
to jaw about this.
Folks, this is Toka Gettan: The Moonlight Lady Returns.
… And right away, we need to go over some explanations. Hoo-boy…
Aw, come on, we’re only covering the first six episodes that HIDIVE
has released so far. What complexities could there be to explain at that point?
So, back in the early 2000s (bear with me), the artist Carnelian
worked with her self-made studio Root to produce a visual novel titled Kao no nai Tsuki
(“No-Surface Moon”). This was, by the way, the same studio that went on to produce the Yami to Bōshi to Hon no Tabibito
VN that I wrote about with Nicky way back when. KnNT
eventually got an adult OVA
adaptation and was localized in the U.S. by Media Blaster
‘s Kitty Media
line as “Moonlight Lady
” (at least it wasn’t, like, “Shadow Sex Mansion” or something like that). Apparently, the folks in Japan liked that title because when Root made their next VN (a spin-off of KnNT
), the proposed title was Toka Gettan: Moonlight Lady II
. But the subtitle eventually got dropped… only when Sentai
picked the series up for localization a few months back, they went with the “The Moonlight Lady
Returns” subtitle, and someone in Japan had to sign off on that. And since I’m such a mark for Moonlight Lady
that I used my first paycheck from ANN to help import a 20th anniversary daki of Tomomi Harukawa, here we are.
Ah, starting as a hardcore hentai OVA
before switching to a general audience production for the follow-up installment in a maneuver known as the Reverse-Variable Geo
That kind of thing was weirdly common in the early 00s. Better adult VNs than light novels, if you ask me.
And as an aside, the writing in the VNs is such that even with the smut yanked out, the story is compelling. The original Moonlight Lady
dealt with an amnesiac protagonist who suffered from aphasia, a maid who was secretly an actress hiding her personality within a persona of a character she was portraying in a film, a woman who was just a sentient manifestation of pleasure, long-lost twins, a MILF who might be a ghost, and the requisite gay route bisexual guy who’s a closet otaku
All par for the visual novel course of the era. And perhaps it goes a long way towards explaining the out-of-the-gate complexities that the Toka Gettan
anime’s “first” episode opens on.
In the spirit of that “first” episode: no actual Moonlight Lady characters appear in this anime. That’s why you should have gotten the 20th anniversary dakis!
Though, for what it’s worth, I did some wiki-skimming ahead in my efforts to comprehend this series so far and confirmed that some Yamibō characters make cameos later on. So that’s something!
Poor Hazuki is still chasing through those myriad books for Hatsumi with a goal that’ll only end in childrearing. It still brings a tear to my eye. Also, apparently in the VN, Io from Moonlight Lady is supposed to be one of the servants in the manor—but I digress. Anyway, let’s rip this Band-Aid off: Toka Gettan starts the series off with the last episode of the story. So what you see here is the emotional climax without the emotional buildup.
It’s very clearly all the coda to a big story climax we didn’t get to watch! And to its credit, even absent any context (though I at least had the information that what I was watching was the last episode), it’s filled with plenty of evocative imagery and declarations of developmental points. It’s a 2007 production by Studio DEEN
, who had well figured out this digital animation visual novel adaptation thing by this point. It does at least sell the vibe…
…though absent any understanding of the characters or concepts that led to this, I can only assume that a lot of people’s initial reaction to this “premiere” would be
Right off the bat, I’m reminded of Yokō Tarō
and how he writes his stories backward: starting from the crux of the story that is supposed to sell the main point and working back from that to make characters you’ll become invested in so that the knife is properly twisted once you are forced to delete your save. It’s confusing, for sure, and you have to want to stick with the show to see it through (or watch the series backward). But the story is well-structured in this regard. It’s like why I don’t believe that “spoilers” are a bad thing. Here’s the show dropping all of its big set pieces: characters sacrificing themselves, massive reveals about people’s true natures, and emotional climaxes about the weight of the new situation settling on characters who weren’t ready for how much things would change. But you need to figure out why that matters, and finding out is the point.
It’s like the “broadcast” order for The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya
. It’s not an “arbitrary” order: the episodes are written in a way where the broadcast order satisfyingly handles all of its myriad ideas and fleshes them out properly if you’d only shut up and watch the show.
I will say I appreciated it recapturing that specific “stumble onto a late episode of a random anime on the Action Channel” feeling of yesteryear. And many storytelling rules mean you can still glean something from it. We gather that some big anime-universe-reset event has occurred, as often happens at the end of these things. We watch our characters discuss fallout we presume we’ll peel back as we move backward through the story. Some lady shows up in a flashback with a shotgun. We can work with it.
It creates a unique situation where just sorting through my screencaps from “earlier” episodes, I would have context from “later” ones ignite in my brain for an “Oooooohhh, that’s what that was about!” feeling.
One way of adapting the multi-route puzzle-box sensibilities of visual-novel playthroughs.
The gist of what you can gather is this: a boy with a sword banishes himself and three girls from the world. Doing so banishes magic at large from the town of Kamitsumihara, but that’s okay because Kamitsumihara was at risk of succumbing to the powers of the supernatural and just outright dropping into the Demon Realm. Two of the people involved were Toka, a young man whose body housed the ancient Stone Sword, and Momoka, a young woman who loved him very much. They manage to get resurrected in another time and place, but only Momoka remembers Toka—but that’s okay because she remembered to kiss him if they ever met again. With true love’s first kiss, these star-crossed lovers are reunited.
A kiss that must undoubtedly taste of the hot dog she was carrying around in her mouth only moments prior.
Admittedly, this bit is somewhat funnier after I got deeper into the show and grokked that “Momoka likes eating” is like a whole running gag in this story.
Women be eating.
Like, how do we proceed? Because I guess we should also point out that Momoka is the reincarnation of an elder deity named Sei. She’s part of a trifecta of other deities whose banishment renders Kamitsumihara mundane. But where does that leave everyone else?
Heading back into the next episode gives us a better idea of the shape of Toka Gettan
as a show in general. Yes, there are intermittent magical battle bits, but a lot of it is spending time with the horde of a cast that’s been established through this story, learning about them and their requisite eccentricities.
Like there was this bit in the opening episode where chairwoman and convertible car enthusiast Shoko remarked that “the demons” had disappeared after the ceremony, and I immediately thought, “Oh, there must have been demonic monsters that the characters were fighting!” But then we get to the next episode, and nope, she was referring to the trio of haughty magical butterfly triplets with which she regularly had petty feuds.
God, the vampire catgirl shows up three episodes in, having never had her whereabouts referenced before this, completely throwing off my sensibilities after they’d finally adjusted to this thing!
I know these sorts of character concept grab bags are typical for visual novels of the era, but it’s still a swerve to have her come hopping out, see characters reference her unseen origin like an early season Venture Bros.
gag, then swear revenge that she never gets around to taking.
Hers is a weird situation because even if you take her “first” appearance at face value (one of her last scenes in the anime), it’s still disappointing. After all, it means she vanishes after that, and nobody spares a second thought about her ever again.
Perhaps it is overshadowed by not even being the wildest thing in that episode.
See, Yamibō had a ton of moments that you could tell were sex scenes in the original VN that the anime adaptation cleaned up a bit. Toka Gettan… has a moment where Toka seeks maternal affection from Yumiko, and she takes advantage of the moment to have sex with him. And while the show tries to be as coy about it as possible, they want you to walk away convinced that Yumiko has ridden Toka like she paid for it. There’s even porno jazz backing music. It’s the most jaw-dropping scene in the whole first batch. Like, was it supposed to be funny? It’s towards the end of the series, so is it supposed to be dramatic?
God, readers, I cannot oversell the music in this scene.
There are two things curbing this whole fiasco of a scene that we know courtesy of the first episode. First, Toka isn’t Yumiko’s child—Yumiko just whole-heartedly believes Toka is her child when in reality, Toka was just a character Yumiko had written about in one of her novels (she’s a writer, it turns out, and part of the magic in her town makes her writings affect reality). Second, once Toka and Momoka vanish, Yumiko is absolutely and horribly crushed at the notion of being left entirely alone in the world, without even her maid Nene around to keep her company.
I mean, Toka calling her “Mom” all the way through (even as they’re doing the twilight tango) doesn’t help the unhealthy reinforcement of that believed parent-child relationship. But it’s weird because the bass-ackwards order of the story had already sold us on Yumiko’s eventually affecting fate. Along with the fact that, when she’s not seducing minors, Yumiko’s status as a writer who wants to lay in bed all day and ignore calls from her editors probably makes her my most relatable, favorite character!
I don’t know if that’s necessarily nuance, but it’s something.
I can say that further episodes illuminate that there’s much, much more to Yumiko than we’re getting right now, which not only recontextualizes the whole “Mommy knows best!”-bit and even makes her ultimate lonely fate even sadder but that’s outside of the purview of these episodes. Suffice it to say, Yumiko has earned the right to be lazy. Maybe not a cradle robber (get yourself a daki, girl), but definitely lazy.
Also, I should point out: Yumiko throws me for a loop because part of her climax is that she’s a dead-ringer for her mother, Yuriko, and given Yuriko’s name and appearance and the fact that Miki Itō voices her, that makes her a dead ringer for Yuriko Kuraki from Moonlight Lady. Is there a connection? I can’t say, but it’s a good detail.
For my part, I just got confused when I found out the aforementioned vampire catgirl was named “Yurika,” and I momentarily thought that’s who was being referenced when they were talking about Yumiko’s mom.
Have I mentioned that this show’s structure sometimes makes it hard to follow?
As you said, you just have to roll with it most of the time. It helps that a lot of Toka Gettan
, even in this ‘later’ part of the story, can feel very episodic and incidental.
This is as good a time as any to mention Nene, the family maid. She can do magic (like when she turns a pumpkin into a watermelon for Yumiko), and she has her own reasons for being a maid in the family’s service. We don’t see too much of her in these early episodes, though, so all we can do is promise that she knows more than she lets on.
For the record, this was because Mana wanted to send Momoka a message, and the most expedient way she found was a freaking letter on an arrow.
As mentioned earlier, Shoko has an ongoing feud with the Second Shrine Princesses and takes out most of her road rage against them on… everything around her. This isn’t helped by those darned butterfly triplets pranking her in every way possible.
Like, to coin a phrase, this is an anime-ass anime. You’ve got people with ancient relic swords embedded within them, reincarnations of ancient goddesses, an absurdly powerful student council, and a massive high school where feuds over snacks lead to car wreckages… as I watched this and thought of ways to describe Toka Gettan
, I felt like I was slapping together all of the random clichés people usually make about anime. The catch is that the emotional core is also here; for example, in the case of the snack war, the student council president Kikyo (herself a magical figure who stands alone after the events of the first episode) has to taste-test snacks made by the Second Shrine Princesses and Shoko. Kikyo ends up choosing the Princesses’ snack (leading to Shoko crashing her car out of the building as seen above), but Kikyo later confesses to nobody in particular that she was giving the Princesses an act of mercy—after all, they were the ones whose time was running out, and as we’d see earlier, they vanish from Kamitsumihara (right in the middle of a food fight with Shoko, no less).
This whole Food Wars!
episode is accompanied by a subplot about the triplets coercing Momoka into bottling Yumiko’s gamer girl bath water, as you do.
It’s all very mid-2000s, very visual novel, and very anime. And like you just described, even in this earlier messiness, there are parts where it clicks. As I alluded to with the opening episode, a lot of the vibes of late-game plots coalescing comes through, even in parts where I was still struggling to keep straight the 4-7 different girls with long blue-purple hair. Toka, in particular, can effectively carry his central place in the show despite us spending little time with him. He comes off like he’s striving to figure out how to invest in and comprehend this story, and his part in it, as much as we are at this point.
Being so episodic towards its beginning means getting crumbs of action before things go wild. Like when this weird dude, Mihashi, kidnaps Momoka. He plans to use Momoka’s powers to trick Toka into killing the other two Goddesses using the Stone Sword, forcing him to disappear and leaving him (Mihashi) with Momoka all for his own. This is a tense episode, courtesy of everyone pooling their efforts together to keep Toka from being a killbot.
That tension is pretty impressive, given the narrative device of this show means we already know everyone comes out of this okay!
This is where we should introduce Makoto—she’s another of Toka’s classmates, and she houses the Dragon King’s powers, which means she wields great magical power. She’s intended to be the centerpiece for the Recital that kicks off the ceremony that banishes magic, but for now, the Dragon King’s powers let her use her flute to block Toka from accessing the Stone Sword’s powers.
That provides another moment of incongruous, funny weirdness, wherein Makoto gets a call from God on her spiritual hand cell phone, interrupting her bath to do the magical flute thing.
At least it’s not Diavolo’s frog phone.
Also, we should at least touch upon the Stone Sword, I guess? It’s pretty integral to the whole thing. It’s an ancient relic stored within Toka and what gives him life. But it’s a twisted life; the Stone Sword houses over two millenniums of memories of everyone else who’s wielded it, but anyone who uses it loses their soul. It leads to a lot of dysphoria for Toka at the, er, beginning of the series because Toka only has a few months of memories he feels are his own, but also has two thousand years of memories that are just as vivid. It doesn’t help that the strongest memories are of Isamihoko, who had initially used the Stone Sword to rescue Sei/Momoka from a forced marriage.
The Stone Sword also passes from user to user, and there’s a minor subplot of a young girl’s ghost who had once tried to wield the Stone Sword to earn the love of one of Toka’s classmates.
Oh man, I was actually following the whole thing with Toka and Isamihiko pretty well through this. It’d been articulated well enough in the show’s wrap-up spiel toward the, uh, story’s ending(?). But this whole ghost-girl thing in this otherwise straightforward rescue/swordfight episode was just a “What?” for me. I presumed this gets followed up on later (or should that be earlier?), but for now, this was one case in the show where I felt absolutely, bafflingly lost. Even with the characters doing the thing that people in this show do where they dramatically intone the same point over and over.
Part of the issue is that this ghost girl is Juna’s daughter. Juna had been inside Yumiko for 15 years, but now with the Doll Festival Recital approaching, Juna has transferred into Mana. I’m not going to pretend this was all super-easy for me to follow; I have to refer to my notes a ton here.
That’s a lot of the Toka Gettan
experience. I have to confess I didn’t have as much fun with the various skits involving convertible crashes and magic swordfights. It feels like a series where you have to want to do more of your own work to engage and figure it out as you’re watching it. This is no breezy, digestible substitute for playing the game. You’ll need to keep a wiki tab or two open (or, like you said, take notes) like you’re referring to some TV anime GameFAQs.
Does that make it a good or a bad show? I don’t know that I can say this early in, but it’s the sort of experience you have to be aware you’re going into.
When I covered Yamibō
with Nicky way back in my first column, I mentioned how you could visualize it adapted as a quick-and-dirty five-episode hentai OVA
—but to its credit, it probably would have been remembered as a very ambitious one with better-than-average writing and tone (which is how I feel about Moonlight Lady
and why I was genuinely obsessed with the writing and characters back in the day). Instead, it was a one-cour
TV series with good art, mood, characters, and a lot of memorable writing but not quite the right amount of emphasis on its better elements. And I feel like Toka Gettan
is the final piece of the puzzle: this is what Yamibō
and Moonlight Lady
would have been if they’d been given a full 26 episodes to explore their characters, themes, and world. In some ways, it’s hampered by the central gimmick of having its story presented backward. In others, it’s a fascinating experiment and a very novel way of presenting what would otherwise have been a very trope-laden series that nevertheless does a great job of sucking you in. It’s not quite Haruhi Suzumiya, where the show hinges on the gimmick of how it’s presented to you, but I won’t blame folks for getting frustrated at having to watch a show backward to have a more reasonable time with it.
As someone who’s sat through stuff like the rather rote, safe anime take on a visual novel like Muv-Luv Alternative
, I can say that Toka Gettan
comes off as a “Nothing else like it” proposition. Speaking in terms of puzzles, this all works better once the whole thing has been marathoned and all the pieces are in place.
And it says a lot that the headaches I got from the few moments of trying to keep things straight were evened out by integrated irreverence from the characters. Like I love this bit in the fifth episode where these two characters discuss their denied intimacy (which we know they’ll get to fulfill in the end) based on a butterfly effect metaphor, only to end up backing off at the end and admit they were making crap up.
I still can’t recall these characters’ names, nor could I necessarily identify them on sight at other points in the show, but I’ll remember this joke for a long while.
If the worst thing I can say about a show is that you need to pay attention for the story to make sense (at the cost of having to trot out the ol’ “It Gets Better™” canard), then that show is batting at a pretty high average, as far as I care. So maybe don’t watch this show if you’re huge on Moonlight Lady
(I kid, the only person like that is That Bitch™ who writes This Week In Games). But check Toka Gettan
out if you don’t mind a lot of charming fun between supernatural teenagers mixed in with esoteric paranormal mysteries.
I don’t know if I’ll keep following HIDIVE
‘s weekly episode drops for the show right after this. There’s that whole winter season to keep up on, and heck, Summer Time Rendering
dropped as we were writing this column. But I could see myself returning to it in a few months when the whole thing’s available to stream as much as I like.
Heck, at that point, one would even have the luxury of watching through the show forwards if they wanted.
That’s the spirit! And hey, it’s out on physical media from Sentai, too. Just in case you need more Carnelian on your shelves.
Obviously, they did it for you, Jean-Karlo. And I have to show my appreciation too! I should’ve known I could count on you to help me figure things out on this weird little stroll through the moonlight!
It’s a pleasure! Being able to go hog-wild with the weird detritus I’ve become passionate about makes my job the delight it is to carry out. Folks who don’t mind me bringing up other weird nothings can join me in This Week in Games. But also, thanks to This Week in Anime and its readers. I asked ’em to take good care of you guys, and it does me proud to see they’ve done just that. Who knows, maybe the day will come when you guys need to hit The Button and drag me back out of the Hyper World for more backup. Until then: remember to look up every once in a while.
To you and all those fine readers: I’ll see you next time.