Kodocha has been described by a lot of fans as Marmalade Boy on acid. Or Marmalade Boy on crack. There's probably Marmalade Boy on LSD, another variant of this dubious honor bestowed on Kodocha, that is out there if you look hard enough. I can see that. Sana resembles Miki and Hayama resembles Yuu. Naozumi sort of resembles Kei. Both Sana and Miki have weird families. And one of the main characters moved to New York at some point in the show.
However, comparing Kodocha to Marmalade Boy doesn't do Kodocha justice. This show can charm those cynics who would roll their eyes at Marmalade Boy and say "Oh, puh-leeze." You know, those people who can't stand sappy anime. And even though I'm one of those suckers for sappy anime, I like Kodocha much better than Marmalade Boy. I'm actually kind of surprised myself. Kodocha's main characters are in middle school, for Pete's sakes. Actually, the story starts with them in elementary school. That's probably why it took me a long time to watch this (it took me an even longer time to watch Hana Yori Dango, tho'). It just shows that main characters of an anime don't need to be at least in their teens for people to enjoy the show. Because really, this anime probably shows a hell lot more maturity than a bunch of other anime out there with older main characters.
Kodocha is based on a 10-volume manga series written by Obana Miho. Actually, after I watched the first episode, I went to read the manga first. It was certainly a first for me; I usually read manga after watching the corresponding anime. In this case, it was exhausting to watch Sana bounce all over my screen. She's just filled with boundless energy and seemed to be on large doses of caffeine all the time. It's not humanely possible for a real-life person to be as hyper as Sana. Actually, there's probably no other anime character who's as hyper as Sana. Come to think of it, probably one of the main reasons why it took a while for Kodocha to be fansubbed is because Sana just talks so fast. I never fansubbed anything, but I can imagine what hell it'll be like to transcribe and time Sana's dialogue.
I think it was actually a good thing that I read the manga, because I was able to appreciate the anime much more. It showed just how hyper Sana can be (seeing a black-and-white Sana bounce all over pages doesn't have the same stark effect). In addition, the anime had a longer storyline compared to the manga. It's great for rabid anime fans like me who couldn't get enough of a great series. Yeah. Like Marmalade Boy.
In-between starring on Kodocha and doing commercials, Sana attends school. However, ever since the new schoolyear started, she's been pissed because the boys in her new class have been terrorizing their teacher. Their ringleader is this smart, albeit sullen boy named Hayama Akito. For some reason, he had power over their homeroom teacher and that teacher's boyfriend, who is another teacher @_@
It's gotten to the point where Sana had enough of the boys' bullying and decided something had to be done with Hayama. So she poured all her energy (which is a lot) into targeting Hayama's weakness and making him stop. This task involved a lot of schemes that backfired on Sana. Like bungee jumping (yeah, these kids are 11 years old during this time). But finally, after going to extreme lengths, Sana managed to make Hayama stop terrorizing their teachers.
Hayama and Sana started a great relationship ever since the teacher-terrorizing incident, and they saw each other through troubles with their families and friends. Even though Hayama grouses about what a colossal moron Sana is, and even though she hits him over the head with this giant, red, plastic hammer all the time (yeah, she just pulls it out of thin air), they clearly meant a lot to each other.
Most of the time, Hayama and Sana's relationship recedes into the background as they deal with other pressing issues of everyday life--and life as a child actress, in Sana's case. The anime focuses on other characters as well, which made for a pretty profound storyline. There's Tsuyoshi, Hayama's only guy friend. There's Aya, Tsuyoshi's girlfriend. There's Naozumi, a really cute child actor with feelings for Sana. And there's Fuka, Sana's best friend whom she met in the girls' bathroom (she never fails to introduce Fuka this way to the audience). And of course, there's Sana's crazy family and Hayama's own just-as-weird family (father, at least). Most of the time, these episodes are simply hilarious and are meant for you to laugh your ass off. Other times, though, they narrate events that subsequently affect Hayama and Sana's relationship. Later on in the show, as Sana and Hayama mature, the focus returned to their relationship, and the topics in each episode became more serious. They had to deal with issues of betrayal, abandonment, ambition, scandal, hate, and isolation. Yep, all these while they're 12 to 13 years old.
Kodocha anime has approximately five arcs. The first one dealt with Hayama and Sana's initial relationship. The second arc took place after the series' first Christmas and started with the Kuratas' house getting foreclosed. The third arc showed Sana and Hayama starting middle school. This is where they grew up and apart from each other. The fourth one is the New York arc, when Naozumi enticed Sana with "Let's run away" and they went to perform on Broadway. The last arc is about Sana's career nosedive and Hayama's school behavior issues. Most synopses of Kodocha are only about the first arc, which is only the tip of the iceberg. The story is actually a hell lot more profound than it seems. The manga did not contain the second and the fourth arc, and the fifth arc had some elements that are different.
Each episode is like a shot of espresso. I really don't think I should drive after having a Kodocha marathon, because I always find that I'm too keyed up. Or too sleepy because I would stay up all night watching every darn episode. It's just so darn funny, and at the same time it strikes a nerve. Even though Sana's incredibly, annoyingly hyper and has a tendency to break out in these weird rap numbers, she's also one of the most profound anime heroines out there.
As for Hayama, he just moved to the top of my coolest anime characters list. Although he's not a traditional bishounen, he has this great voice by seiyuu Nakazaki Tatsuya. In the OAV, Hayama's voice was done by Haruka Tenou's seiyuu, Ogata Megumi. Oh yeah, I should point out that the OAV's nothing to get excited about. It just compressed the initial episodes into one show and had different artwork. Sana there has blond hair. Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, about how cool Hayama is. I never had a roll-my-eyes-at-the-mushiness moment with Hayama (then again, I'm also a totally hopeless sap so I have high tolerance for mush). He actually gets pissed that he had to tell Sana what he felt (and sometimes tries creative ways to get out of it).
Much to my disappointment, there's no sequel of Kodocha that sees Sana and Hayama through high school. But that's okay...even though I'm not really up for closure on this series. However, Obana wrote another manga called Mizu no Yakata. It's the movie that Sana and Naozumi filmed. Nope, it's not just some lame movie plot tossed into Kodocha. It actually has a fairly solid storyline. You can reach about it here.
The soundtrack is great. Like the series itself, the songs seemed loaded with caffeine because they're so upbeat. My favorite song is "Panikku," which comes with the first closing sequence. The second closing song, "Daijoubu," has this great intro but ends up being too frenetic for my taste. The message, however, is very fitting to the arc of the show. It actually fits Sana herself, as she's one to always say "daijoubu" even though she's not ^_^
Sort of like Final Fantasy games, Kodocha has certain pervasive elements. The anime has this white bat called Babbit. Frankly, I didn't like Babbit at all (nor his ten thousand relatives that infested the show), but he doesn't seem as distracting when I watched Kodocha the second time around. There's also the Sana photo of the week, which catches her in one of her random, usually hilarious poses during the episode. Sometimes the TV people would shake things up and take a different person's photo. And Obana Miho appears in practically every episode, which I thought is pretty cool. She's usually seen in the background, either playing a saxophone or floating about. And as I mentioned before, Sana has this tendency to break out into rap songs, which would take some getting used to. She also uses a lot of different gadgets, which just scream "sponsors!" and "ads!" These elements aren't found in the manga. Maybe that's why they stood out more when I watched the anime. Oh yeah, and after every arc, there would be a special episode that's just about fantasy/random stuff. Like talking toilet seats and robot mothers :D
Bottom line: if you like anime at all, you have no excuse to not watch Kodocha. Be warned, though, that it can seem overwhelming at first. But it grows on you. Oh yeah, and expect life to stop once you start the third arc. From there on, you just have to finish the entire series right away or else it will eat away at you. And yeah, I'm speaking from experience.