Eleven year old princess Astarotte (voiced by Rie Kugimiya) is a succubus. As ruler of the monster kingdom of Ygvarland she will someday have a harem of handsome men whose “life seed” she must suck to stay young and beautiful. However, a childhood trauma has left Lotte with a pathological hatred of the male sex. She surrounds herself with female courtiers who dote on her every whim. Hoping to cure Lotte of her phobia, court wizard Judit Snorrevik (Hitomi Yabatame) brings hapless male nanny Naoya Tohara (Rina Satou) back from the human realm. Aided by his hyperactive, hyper-cute little daughter Asuha (Yukari Tamura), Naoya serves as a kind of life-size, non-threatening toy for Princess Lotte, easing her path to adulthood and, er, life seed sucking. Hijinks ensue.
Now and then even a seasoned anime fan will run across something that makes Japan seem like an alien culture. Case in point: Astarotte’s Toy. Essentially a feel-good, family friendly sex comedy not only fixated with little girls but aimed at them! Beneath Mai Otsuka’s cutesy chara designs lurks a rather unsavoury premise even though “life seed” mercifully turns out to be something other than the substance viewers expect it to be. Based on the manga by Yui Haga, an admittedly talented artist who specializes in the troubling “lollicon” area, Astarotte’s Toy belongs to the ecchi subgenre of teen sex comedies packed full of pulchitrudinous nymphets, gratuitous panty shots and bouncing bosoms. The twelve part serial features some remarkably risque elements including Effie (Yui Horie), the pink haired elf maid whose Russ Meyer worthy massive mammaries provide little Lotte with her daily dose of milk (!) and the revelation that the princess’ psychological trauma stems from catching her mother in the midst of a sexual act (!!). And yet nothing the least bit sexually explicit occurs onscreen. The tone is sugary sweet and romantic, embracing friendship and family as a source of strength for youngsters coping with growing pains.
This combination of saccharine sweetness and salacious humour is something unique to Japan and not often easy for westerners to understand. Like the hugely successful Oh! My Goddess (1993) - later remade as Ah! My Goddess (2005) - Astarotte’s Toy draws ideas from Norse mythology and fantasy role-playing games, but is an innocuous rom-com at heart. Crucially, as in most instances of the ecchi sub-genre, the protagonist surrounded by this bevy of beautiful women (who include such stock types as the shy girl, the tomboy and the demonic nympho) is not some skirt-chasing letch but a straightlaced, romantic inept young man with a kind heart who may ogle but would never dream of pressing his advantage. Thus making Naoya the ideal non-threatening boy to serve as a young female viewer’s fantasy crush, because this foremost a gentle fable aimed at encouraging understanding between the sexes.
Predictably, Naoya’s feisty little daughter Asuha (a plot twist which implies he was underage when he conceived her!) soon seizes centrestage alongside Astarotte, sending the kawaii factor into overdrive even though the ensuing scantily-clad antics prove quite unsettling to western eyes. Some of the saucy gags do tickle the funny bone and the series has an uncanny knack for seeming oddly innocent in spite of its borderline paedophilic leanings. Beautiful animated with gorgeous colours and eye-catching production design.