Cutie Honey: The Best Japanese Superhero You’ve Never Heard Of


Cutie Honey’s evil sister Jill has used her goon squad, Panther Claw, to kidnap Cutie Honey’s uncle, a renowned scientist — and Cutie Honey’s got to save him! With her heart-shaped armor, Honey Flash choker and stunning blade, she takes down armies of goons and bad guys and, presto, changes her costume for the next adventure.

Say “Hajimemashite” to your new favorite Japanese superhero — Cutie Honey.

Cutie Honey has perhaps the greatest opening scene in history. The first thing you see is a kitty. The second thing is a beautiful girl in a bubble bath. The next thing you know, she’s running down a busy street in a makeshift dress composed entirely of torn plastic bags while downing rice cakes and tea. Luckily, the rest of the movie holds up to those high standards.

Hideaki Anno directed the live-action film adaptation of the old Cutie Honey anime series, but he’s best known for his animation for GAINAX, including Neon Genesis Evangelion and Kare Kano/His & Her Circumstances.

cutie honey, live action, hideaki anno, neon genesis evangelion
The Japanese poster for Cutie Honey

Above all, Cutie Honey is an exercise on how to make a “live-action cartoon” film that isn’t terrible. Usually, you hear that phrase and know to run away screaming (the 1988 film Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and the 2000 movie The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle both come to mind). But Cutie Honey works — it’s goofy, fun, and follows its own cartoon logic. The film could have been animated, but in a weird way, it works better not animated. It heightens the goofiness a bit more seeing real people act out various anime cliches and quirks — whether it’s insulting a pompous supervillian or gaping wide at another character’s certain doom, the real-life histrionics become all the more fun.This isn’t Anno’s first live-action film though; it’s his third, after the beautiful Love & Pop and the not-released-in-the-US-yet Ritual, And though it’s a bit of a departure from those two “serious” films, Cutie Honey still fits right in with Anno’s style. Lots of his signature shots as well as his trademark style of exploring character emotions remain — although admittedly not in quite their usual depth this time.

The plot, however plays second to the film’s well-crafted feel and mood. Anno’s background as an animation director shows as he has a great eye for composition and layout. The beauty of the film alone keeps you interested. It’s purely entertaining fodder that it does that job well, with enough action to keep things moving along at a good pace, and lots of humor.

Plus, film itself just oozes good-natured-ness, which I’m a complete sucker for. The bad guys come off more goofy than scary, and the whole thing wraps up with a sequence on the Power Of Love (not the song). In the end, everyone’s friends and one of the bad guys busts out a staff with a microphone, singing while four anonymous henchmen play violins as back up.

Honestly, I’ve never seen the original Cutie Honey — I came to this as an Anno fan — but you don’t need any familiarity with the original. The film tells you basically all you need to know, and knowing its anime origins will prepare you for the cartooniness the follows.

I’ve heard from fans of the original anime that this film is equally enjoyable and fun, so if you’re a big fan of Cutie Honey, don’t fear a Michael Bay-esque ruination of one of your favorite cartoons. Just keep avoiding Bay’s films and check out this Anno one instead.

A new live action Cutie Honey film is slated for this year — Hideaki Anno isn’t involved (he’s too busy making the new Godzilla film) — but will it be as good as the 2004 film? We’ll have to wait to find out.

Previously published February 15, 2015.