Hand Maid May, Steel Angel Kurumi, Chobits… we know the inanimate-turned-real female servant for a young, inept-master-type storyline very well without even touching titles beyond the level of “ecchi.” Yet give it a twist of live action and a tighter script that doesn’t have to fill 13+ episodes and you may just have something interesting to show for it. Following the shy otaku Ryouta, we see his life get turned upside down as a special figure given to him comes to life. Based in the famous Akihabara shopping district of Tokyo and first in a trilogy of films produced by Tetsuya Ikea (Shall We Dance?) comes Legend of the Doll from Asia Pulp Cinema.
Audio: Japanese 2.0 DD
Extras: Original Japanese Akihabara Trilogy Trailers, APC Trailers, 2007 APC Catalog (DVD-ROM)
Notes: Review is based on a Screener copy of the final product.
Ryouta Inoue (Hideo Tsubota) rushes to the model figure shop in Akihabara to pick up the limited edition “Aya Sazanami” figure released that day. The sign may read “sold out,” but Ryouta has been one of the few to secure a reserved figure. Happy to have his prized possession, Ryouta exits the store and notices two bullies trying to take a child’s purchased “Aya Sazanami” figure. Ryouta manages to get the men to run away, but not before dropping his own figure which the men nab. Disappointed, he doubles back to check on the kid, who begins to run away. Ryouta chases him a little before getting lost in the interior of the numerous blocks in Akihabara. Ryouta starts to wander around, noticing various acrobatic street performers. The area seems odd, but then a performer suggests he move forward, which reveals an old, unmarked junk store. Inside, an eccentric storekeeper welcomes him by name and hands him a package specially held just for him. This seems very odd, yet Ryouta looks inside the box to see a model figure kit. Obviously this boy has never seen a Gremlins movie or else he would know better than to accept weird gifts from total strangers. Then again, where would the fun be in that?
Back in his apartment, Ryouta toils with the task of putting the model figure together. He carefully trims, preps, and paints the figure to perfection. Happy with his work, Ryouta admires the lovely figure he has finished to join his collection. Ryouta falls asleep for a while when a voice tells him he has a message on his phone. Ryouta reads the text message from his friend Takuro, but isn’t in the mood to explain his bad day. It’s then that he notices a voice behind him and a very attractive girl sitting next to his work table in the same outfit his new model figure was in. He takes it well… by scrambling to the other side of the room. Ryouta’s figure has come to life and she is here to serve her master’s needs. This begs a few questions:
- Where is this shop so I can get a figure that comes to life?
- Anyone good at painting and putting together models? I’m terrible at it.
- How well will my girlfriend take the news that the figure just happens to become J-idol model Noriko Kijima and is my personal servant?
- Do I get to keep her for myself? Do we share her? Do I need to buy my girlfriend one so that she has her own hot J-idol servant?
Airu (J-idol model Noriko Kijima) has come to make Ryouta’s life better and Ryouta takes the news like all shy otaku do: baffled and in disbelief. His gift comforts him and offers her lap for Ryouta to rest on since he’s having a hard time accepting what is in front of him. The next morning, Ryouta finds his willing figure still alive and wanting to be of service. While he goes to work, he lets Airu watch TV so she can become more fluent in the language. Takuro and Ryouta work on their counting task outdoors while talking about the previous day’s events. Ryouta’s descriptions are often aloof, but he does ask if Takuro could bring over some of his cosplay outfits. Takuro gets excited at the idea of Ryouta finally becoming a cosplayer, yet he has no idea how wrong he is just yet.
When Ryouta comes home, Airu demonstrates how well she has adapted thanks to watching television all day. Ryouta is surprised to see the cute girl still around and working hard to make his wishes come true. It’s then that Airu asks a question about something she found in the apartment while he was away: a picture of a girl in a frame. Ryouta doesn’t really want to talk about it other than she is his old girlfriend Yuria (Japanese AV actress Yuria Hidaka) and that they are no longer together. Seeing that the picture obviously upset her new master, Airu apologizes for bringing up bad memories. The next day, Takuro stops by with the cosplay outfits, yet no one answers the door. Finding that it’s unlocked, Takuro steps inside to find a hot girl cooking in Ryouta’s kitchen. Yet again with the natural otaku reaction, Takuro apologizes and runs out the door only to meet Ryouta. Ryouta’s best friend has just met the ultimate unbelievable story.
Legend of the Doll has the appearance of a good idea that can go wrong, but nothing could be further from the truth. Aside from the DV-cam-look to the film, the storyline provides a deeper tale of love and woe that can often get lost when you stretch something like this into a full TV series. With a little over an hour to fill, Legend of the Doll becomes a cute story about a sexy girl who falls for her otaku master and is willing to do whatever it takes to see him truly happy. The acting is fairly solid (a surprise given the typical cast in a DV handcam film), with Noriko Kijima proving that she is more than just a pretty face. The title is labeled “recommended for mature audiences” due to a sex scene featuring Yuria Hidaka with some very light simulated sex and nude breasts towards the end of the film. Other than this, only Airu will get your heart racing between her usual aerobic attire and the cosplay sequence including policewoman, sexy teacher, maid, school girl, and swimsuit costumes.
Legend of the Doll is something that shouldn’t be missed and a cute start to the Akihabara trilogy. The combination of a good story, a decent cast, cute models, and the otaku-theme make me smile in what could have been a very cheesy movie. Central Park Media has done a great job providing a solid video transfer of the film and a flawless subtitle track to match. The only notable extras here are the original Japanese trailers for each of the Akihabara trilogy films. Each film in the trilogy is a stand-alone film, so you can watch these out of order, but Legend of the Doll is a good place to start if you are interested in trying the series out.