The year was 1994 ...
First, there was a simulation videogame for the PC Engine (our TurboGrafx 16). Then, there was an artbook to supplement it. Finally, there were two OVAs, with CDs for the vocals and for drama stories.
In 1995, never missing a beat, Debut was ported over to the Sega Saturn (as Debut S) after the new videogame systems hit the market. Debut is an excellent example of the Japanese ability to market a product in multiple formats - the simulation games seem to especially lend themselves to this practice. The OVAs adapted from this game (and also the first two OVAs for Graduation, another terrific simulation game) are a very rare example of successfully creating a dramatic shoujo storyline for the time-restrictive OVA format.
In the game, you play the manager of three young, teenaged girls: Itou Aki, Fujimura Saori, and Tanaka Kumi. Your goal is to manage them into the top idols - you have only two years to accomplish this goal (this is the fairly typical length of time that an idol's popularity lasts, by the way, even in this country).
Competing against the three girls are about 8 rivals who are backed by other sponsors. They run the whole gamut of idol types, as far as age and personality goes, and all of them pose some stiff competition.
No problem, though, right? After all, you just have to make up the girls' weekly schedules, plan their time for various lessons (dance, karoake, etc.), ... Oops! Gotta fit in some free time somewhere, or they'll probably wring your neck! Nothing drops an idol's career faster than poor morale and attitude (not to mention sheer exhaustion!) Of course, they have to have classes, too ... maybe a 'juku' ('cram school') would be a good idea.
If the girls do well, maybe you should reward one of them in some fashion - gotta be careful not to play favorites, though! Oh, yes - you always have to get the girls' names into the public spotlight, so perhaps challenging one of the rivals to some type of contest would be good publicity ... better make sure that YOUR choice for the competition is ready for it, though, or such a plan might backfire!
What's this?! One of the girls is mad at you, and says that you've been working them WAAAYY too hard?! What are they talking about!? You've been working to set up a recording session at the end of the month so that their first CD single can be produced - and next month you were lining up commercials for them to star in, so that people will know who they are! Geez! Don't they have any gratitude?! (Nope! Not unless they win, of course - then they're VERY grateful!) (... and you thought this was gonna be EASY!?)
The artwork for this game is very good (as you can see from these pictures. These were taken from the Saturn version, I believe, but the PC Engine version has almost as good of art detail). One of the very cute features of the game is that the characters are normally portrayed in "kawaii" mode i.e. they are drawn super-deformed, and VERY cute!
The music for the game is all top notch J-Pop, as one would expect. I have FINALLY found a complete vocal collection CD for full versions of the songs that the girls sing (all of the rivals have their own songs, too!) - the catalog number is NACL 1161. This CD contains the OP and ED for the videogame, as well as the various vocals that all the girls sing throughout the game (a total of 12 songs!) However, the songs are presented as a "Top Ten CountDown" special, complete with DJ narration! And... you'll never guess who has the No.1 song...! I highly recommend this CD - with various different music styles, there's sure to be something here that you like (maybe the entire CD! ^_^)
Just remember games like Debut the next time someone makes a comment about the life-sim games being made just as an excuse to look at pretty girls. Yes, they are certainly targeted primarily for the male market - this is still the vast majority of the videogame market, anyway. However, they are certainly much more than just a bunch of pretty faces and bodies - they are very intricate simulations of various happenings that occur in real life. They are also some of the best games ever created, based simply on art, music, and story. It is a shame that they almost never get any exposure in America, except for ignorant criticisms.
When it was decided to create OVAs based on the characters in the videogame, the creators obviously saw that there was a great deal of potential in the basis of the game than had yet been realized. The OVA storylines have the girls debuting as actresses in half-hour shoujo dramas, and introduces a fourth girl as their co-star, Aida Sachiko. One of the nice touches in the OVAs is that the opening shows the girls rehearsing scenes from the actual OVAs. This is very funny! (^_^) Another nice touch is that the various rivals from the game make cameo appearances at various places throughout the OVAs - it's a lot of fun trying to spot them all! By the way, there is also a Vocal Collection CD for the OVAs, catalog number SRCL 2978. It contains only 5 songs - the OP and ED plus the 3 image songs, one for each of the main girls - but they are all excellent J-Pop vocals; I recommend this CD, too!
The OVAs were produced by Studio Headroom (who also did the Graduation OVAs) and Studio Pierrot (who has years of experience in young shoujo shows). They are two of the most beautiful, emotional, dramatic and symbolic stories ever written for the OVA format.
Debut - OVA #1
Tip-Toeing In Love
The first Debut OVA stars Itou Aki in the lead role. She's thrilled that she's been chosen as the lead - until she sees how many lines she has to memorize! (^_^) (The behind-the-scenes rehearsal is very funny - after 13 takes for the fast food restraunt Burger Joe scene, Kumi-chan is about to burst from eating all those burgers!)
Aki has a crush on a young boy named Mikei who works at the local fast food joint, Burger Joe. Aida Sachiko also works there - it seems apparent that she has a very close relationship with Mikei, so Aki doesn't think she has much chance of winning his affections - but she can't stop loving him, anyway. She daydreams a lot about being swept off her feet by the right guy - and she's sure she knows who she wants that guy to be! She'll be wearing a gorgeous, red, flowing gown...
One day, while she and her best friend Kumi are eating at Burger Joe, she is telling Kumi about these two stray cats she has found and is feeding every day. She explains that the little kitten is named Chibi, and that the adult is named... well, she doesn't get a chance to tell Kumi that she has named the older cat Mikei, because just then the manager calls Mikei's name, and Aki gets a bit embarrassed.
The next day, when Aki & Kumi are about enter Burger Joe, they run into another young girl who is just leaving. After apologizing, the girl leaves. Aki wonders aloud who she is, and Kumi answers that she is sFujimura Saori, one of the top students at their school.
While they are eating, Kumi manages to figure out who it is that Aki likes (of course, Kumi is the type of girl who bounces from one boyfriend to another almost weekly, so she doesn't see what the big deal is, anyway). Aki also notices that Aida Sachiko seems to be flirting with another guy working there, and wonders if Mikei knows about it.
Later, Kumi has big news - she tells Aki that she has found out who a "certain someone" likes! When Aki asks her who she's talking about, Kumi almost starts to shout "MI - !" but Aki stops her as she sees Aida Sachiko sitting a couple of tables away. She tells Kumi that she isn't interested in who anyone likes. Kumi tells her she should be, because it's a girl at their school, but Aki says that it's none of her business.
When Aki is returning a book to the school library, she discovers that Saori is working there. Saori notices the romantic story that Aki is bringing back, and asks her if she likes dramas. Aki tells her yes, and Saori promptly suggests that Aki try Flowers For Algernon (for those of you who are unfamiliar with this story, it is very dramatic and very, very sad). Saori tells her that she just finished reading it after borrowing it from a friend, and that she really liked it. Aki agrees to try it, and thanks Saori for her help.
Aki notices Aida Sachiko waiting at the train station with the same guy from Burger Joe, and calls Kumi later that evening, telling her that she was wrong about "that girl" being Mikei's girlfriend. Kumi congratulates her, and tells her that she has to be kept informed if Aki is going after Mikei. They also discuss which summer cram school they will be going to - Aki decides that she'd better go get an application soon.
Aki meets Mikei at the cram school when she picks up her application. She is at a loss for words - this is like a dream come true! It turns out that he will be studying here this summer, too! He notices that she is reading Flowers For Algernon. He tells her that he had read that story, too, and that he also reads Sci-Fi occassionally. They start discussing a new movie coming out soon, Majestic Princess. Aki says that she'd like to see it, and Mikei tells her that she'll probably go with her boyfriend - she answers that she doesn't have one. Mikei says that he definitely plans on seeing this film on opening day... and shows her two tickets... then he has to leave, but he tells her that he will see her at the shop.
Aki's heart is flying - she's going to get to see this terrific movie with the guy of her dreams! She tells Kumi about it (well, Kumi figures it out, anyway ^_^) and starts planning on what she will wear. She tells Kumi that she wants to become an adult - she will wear a flowing, pure red dress, with her skirt blowing in the wind.
A voice calls Aki's name, and they turn to see Saori behind them. She asks Aki if she has finished Flowers For Algernon, and Aki responds that she's through chapter three, and that she likes it. Saori is glad to hear this - but Kumi seems puzzled by this entire exchange... she tries to talk to Aki about it at swimming practice, but they are interrupted, and she doesn't get a chance to finish her question.
Aki is busy preparing for the big day, laying out all of her clothes, and all the various accessories (earrings, bracelets, belts, etc.) She decides on a pure white dress, very beautiful - she doesn't own a flowing red dress, after all. She also decides to keep accessories to a minimum - she doesn't want to appear gaudy or flashy.
It's a beautiful day - doves take flight overhead from the train station as she looks up at the beautiful blue sky, the sun shining brightly. As she walks up the stairs to the shop, she catches sight of Mikei waiting outside. She raises her hand to call his name...
... and at just that moment, another voice calls his name from off to the side. As Aki turns to look, she thinks the voice sounds familiar. It is - she sees Fujimura Saori approaching the shop and Mikei, dressed very nicely. She walks up to Mikei and pulls his arm, asking if they have time to have some coffee.
They both catch sight of Aki at the same time - Saori seems genuinely surprised, and thinks it a wonderful coincidence. Mikei is a bit quicker, though. Saori notices how nicely Aki is dressed, and says that she must be going on a date. Mikei starts to apologize - but Aki cuts him off, telling them that it is her fault, that she had made a mistake... and runs away, yelling that she is so stupid.
She calls Kumi, and asks her to meet her to see Majestic Princess. While Aki is waiting outside the theatre, Aida Sachiko and her boyfriend show up for the movie. Sachiko tells her that she always envied and admired Aki, privately, and that she figured that Aki would probably be here to see this movie with her boyfriend. Before Aki can say anything, they move off into the theatre. Kumi arrives, and they watch the movie together (a very nice piece of work, with a beautiful "hero defeats Evil and wins the heart of the Princess" storyline ^_^)
Aki is in tears on the way home. She walks right past her beloved cats, not even seeing them, even when they meow to her.
She lies on her bed, thinking, for a very long time - she remembers how Saori had recommended Flowers For Algernon, and how she had said that she had borrowed it from a "friend", and also how Mikei had mentioned that he had read the same story. Eventually, she sighs, having made a decision.
She looks up Saori's number in the student directory for their school, and calls her - after all, it isn't her fault, and Aki had been rather rude, running off like that. The phone rings once... twice... and then someone picks it up. Aki hears Saori say, "Hello?", but she can't say anything. She hears Saori say, "Hello?" again, and almost manages to start apologizing... but then she hears a male voice - Mikei's voice - ask Saori who it is. Saori answers that she doesn't know, it must have been a prank call, and hangs up.
Aki is devastated - her dreams are shattered. She has no reason to hope anymore, so she takes out a pack of cigarettes (it is difficult to be sure, but I am certain these are Menthols - rumor has it that smoking Menthol cigarettes will result in infertility) and almost starts to smoke one - but stops, and collapses on her bed in tears for the second time that day.
The next day, Aki tells Kumi that she has withdrawn her application to the summer cram school they were both joining, and has applied to a different school, instead. Kumi is rather upset by this, naturally - she wanted to suffer with her friend! (^_^)
One the way home, Aki stops to see her beloved cats. She finds the adult, who welcomes her, but Chibi is nowhere to be seen. After she leaves the adult cat and continues on her way, she spots Chibi sitting on a fencepost. She starts to welcome him - but he races down the fence and jumps off, vanishing into the setting sun before her eyes. She sadly says to herself, "Well, you're not 'Chibi' anymore, I guess".
The next day, Aki takes Flowers For Algernon back to the library. It is very difficult for her to face Saori, but she does. Saori asks her if she finished it, but Aki says no - Saori assures her that it will always be available if she wants to check it out again.
As class starts, her teacher announces that they will be reading Tale Of Genji... but Aki is daydreaming, looking out the window. She sees herself, as always, dressed in a flowing red gown, skirt blowing in the wind as she dances...
I have made this a very lengthly synopses, but it could be much longer, I think. The wonderful symbolisms and references in this story (and I'm sure I am not catching all of them!) are simply a joy to behold... and a sorrow, where appropriate. The music is perfect - it is one of the best emotionally supportive compositions I have ever heard (this also applies to OVA #2). Please see this show, if you have a chance - I do not think you will regret it.
Debut - OVA #2
Dear My Friend
The second Debut OVA stars Fujimura Saori as the lead character, but it would be more accurate to say that she is the "central" character, rather than the lead, as you will see. The behind-the-scenes rehearsal is very funny, again; there's nothing quite like Kumi-chan accusing the child actor who is playing her "kid" self of stealing her Teddy Bear (^_^) She's so very much like a child, herself, but she would NEVER admit it!
Saori is relaxing at the pool one day, her mind drifting off into the clouds that float by overhead in the sunny sky. As she thinks to herself that it's been a long time since she's seen such big, fluffy clouds, she starts to doze...
In her dreamlike state, she finds herself standing atop the building that forms the sports arena. She hears a young girl's voice say that, when she was a kid, there wasn't such a building here. Saori answers yes - and then looks to see who is speaking. She sees a young girl standing a short distance from her, wearing a flowing white gown, but she cannot see the girl's face. The girl starts describing how the area used to look, and says that 10 years ago, you could see the elementary school from where they are standing, but that it cannot be seen, now. Saori answers that this is true - and then looks on in astonishment as the young girl begins to walk upwards, seemingly climbling invisible stair steps into the sky! Saori slowly thinks to herself,"Ten years ago..."
Suddenly, she wakes up, remembering something about this day, something very important, something she had forgotten about until just now. She quickly showers and changes her clothes, hurrying home. Once there, she searches through her childhood belongings. Finally, she finds it - a childhood diary of her summer vacation, ten years ago. Looking through this for the event that she had suddenly remembered, she finally finds it.
Saori calls her two best friends, Aki and Kumi, and asks them to meet her. Neither are too happy about their plans for the first day of summer break being suddenly changed, but they agree to meet Saori. A flashback scene shows the three girls when they were much younger - ten years younger - burying something in the ground...
Kumi plays a UFO catcher machine while the girls are at the park, waiting for Saori to explain why she called them (Kumi-chan wins a Tsukino Usagi Sailor Moon doll... and later, you can see it above her bed, with all her other dolls ^_^). Saori asks them if they remember why it is important that today marks exactly ten years, but the other girls have no idea what she is talking about. Saori reminds them; they buried a time capsule (see note) under a tree in the schoolyard when they were in first grade, and promised to meet again exactly ten years later to recover it and open it.
Note: A "time capsule" is usually a container of some type - you bury it and recover it at a future date. You are not only burying some precious item(s) of your childhood - you are also burying precious childhood memories...
Aki and Kumi have a vague recollection of this, but it was so long ago... Kumi can't even remember what it was that she buried! Aki remembers burying a ticket from her family trip, and some seashells, but that's all. They tell Saori that it's amazing that she remembered, but Saori explains that she had forgotten, too, until just now.
The girls have to climb the fence in back of the school to get in - it has already closed for today. They find the tree where they buried the time capsule. Soon, they unearth the box containing their treasures...
After returning to Saori's room and cleaning up the box a bit, they anxiously look inside as Saori lifts off the lid. Kumi immediately recognises the pretty sack that she put her treasure in when they buried the box - but she can't remember what she put in it. Aki takes out the small box that she had placed her treasures in, while Saori removes a small bag... but, what is this? There's a fourth item in the box?
Kumi proudly holds up her treasure after opening her bag - it's her Creamy Mami compact! (See my page on Creamy Mami for more information on this series.) She starts to babble about how popular they were back then - but then she notices Saori's expression, and asks what's wrong. Saori asks about the fourth item - a miniature dresser with three drawers - and wonders who could have put it in their box. The little dresser does not belong to any of the girls; all of them are sure of that. Saori lifts it out, and takes it to her desk.
Kumi suggests that they open it, and Saori agrees - it seems like the only way to solve the mystery, after all. She feels apprehensive for some reason as she opens the top drawer... and there inside she finds a small bouquet of dried flowers, pressed flat, but very pretty. She says, almost to herself, that it looks familiar, somehow. Aki asks what's wrong, but Saori doesn't know - all she knows is that the little bouquet seems to be bringing back memories...
She hears a voice, a young girl, asking her to please be her friend. Saori sees herself as a little girl, standing beside the roadway with another little girl, who is waiting for her answer. Little Saori tells the other little girl, "Sure!", and hands her a little bouquet of flowers. The little girl gives her very heartfelt thanks as she accepts this gift of friendship...
Saori wonders out loud who that girl was... Kumi and Aki ask her what she is talking about. Saori wants to know if they remember if there was anyone else there when they buried the time capsule; the other girls don't remember anyone.
Kumi wonders what is in the other drawers and, before Saori can stop her, opens the second one. She looks at it bemusedly - it's empty! Saori slowly rises to her feet, taking the little dresser from Kumi. Kumi tells her not to get so worried; the drawer is empty, anyway. However, Saori tells her that she is wrong - the other girl put something in the drawer but, since they cannot remember her, they cannot see her treasure. Aki and Kumi do not know what she's talking about, but Saori insists that they can't open the last drawer. The others agree, but think that she's acting very weird.
Later that night, before going to bed, Saori tries to think through this mystery, but concludes that there really was only the three of them in the time capsule. As she looks through her old summer diary, reading the caption below her crayon picture that tells of their promise to open the time capsule in ten years, her breath suddenly catches in her throat. In the upper left corner of the page, barely visible, is the lower legs and skirt of another young girl! So... there WAS another person ...!
Kumi is asleep in her bed. As she dreams, she is a small child again, burying her treasures with the other girls. She asks Aki what she is putting in the time capsule, but Aki won't tell her. She asks Saori-chan, but Saori tells her it's a secret. Little Kumi wails, yelling that she can't wait a whole ten years to find out, and they probably won't remember, anyway! Turning, she looks behind her, and asks someone else what they are going to put into the time capsule. She sees another little girl, in a flowing white dress and hat, who answers that she will put in a little bouquet, and ... Kumi suddenly comes awake, breathing very hard - who WAS that?!
The next day, Kumi tells the others about her dream. Aki is surprised - she also had a dream the previous night! She dreamt that she was a kid again, and in grade school. There was a young girl in their class, sitting in the front row, but no one ever really noticed her. Even when the teacher asked a question, and the girl raised her hand to answer, the teacher didn't notice her. The teacher asked if anyone knew the answer, but she didn't pay any attention to the little girl. Kumi thought this was very sad.
Saori remembers that, when they were in first grade, there was a seat in the front row that was always empty. The teacher said that the girl who sat there was "permanently excused", but that was the only explanation they ever had. Saori remembers that the seat was in the very first row, right beside the window...
That night, Saori pauses while writing in her diary. As she listens to a song on her radio, she seems drawn to open the last drawer - but just then, the phone rings. It's Kumi - she's calling to tell Saori that she asked her Mom about the girl in Aki's dream. Her mother told her that there was, indeed, a girl in their class back then. She couldn't remember anything else about her, though. The girl was going to be in their class, but had died in an accident before she could attend. Saori is shocked by this news.
The next day, she wanders through town, visiting places she hasn't been to since childhood. She stops by a waterway, and her memory slowly drifts back through time. She remembers how they all graduated from Kindergarten, and how she came here the spring before entering Elementary School. Of course, it looked different, then - there was no cement waterway, just a grassy slope going down to the stream.
In Saori's mind, she sees herself as a little girl, picking flowers off the slope. Suddenly, another little girl appears, wearing a flowing white dress, and a hat. She tells Saori that they will probably be in the same grade school class. Even though they don't really know each other, the little girl asks Saori to be her friend, and Saori agrees, sharing her new bouquet of flowers with the girl.
Finding her way to the town library, Saori begins to check through the old records, looking through news articles dated that year. There should be some information about the little girl and her accident, if she can just find it.
Meanwhile, Kumi and Aki were waiting for Saori at a cafe' (the cafe' is called "Debut" ^_^). Kumi can't get Saori on the phone to find out why she's so late, so she gives up and orders a HUGE lunch - after all, since Saori is so late, SHE can foot the bill when she gets there!
Saori has spent a long time going through the town records. Finally, she finds what she is looking for - an article titled, "The Day Before School Starts", with a small caption below it titled "Hit Right Before Her Mother's Eyes". The picture is of a cute little girl - the name under the picture is "Aida Sachiko, 6 years old".
After Saori meets the others (and pays for Kumi's lunch ^_^) the girls go back to Saori's room. The day has become very hot and humid - it looks as though a summer storm is brewing, as clouds gather overhead. Aki asks Saori about her research into the identity of the little girl. Saori explains that, since she was so little at the time, she didn't realize what was happening. The little girl had wanted to make a memory with the three of them in their lives. Kumi points out that the second drawer was empty, though. The sky has turned black, and lightening flashes through the clouds. Saori explains that it should be okay, now, since they remembered the little girl. She suggests that they open the third drawer.
As the three girls gather around the little dresser, lightening crackles through the sky. Saori slowly opens the last drawer - and brilliant light begins to shine from it! As a blast of lightening knocks out the power, the room is plunged into darkness - but is suddenly turned into day as a glowing light floats out of the drawer! The girls are astonished to see the spirit of a young girl their age, standing before the window as the rain pours down outside - Aida Sachiko. She smiles as the other girls get to their feet.
Saori asks if she is Miss Aida. She replies yes, and tells them that she had wanted to see them again. Saori apologizes for forgetting their promise, but Sachiko tells her that it's all right. She trusted that they would remember, so she waited for them for ten years, just as they had promised. Saori asks her if she was lonely, but Sachiko tells her, "Of course not. You became my friend on that day, didn't you?" Saori thanks her for remembering the bouquet. Sachiko tells her that she wanted to give her something in return, and that she left it in the time capsule. Even though it isn't much, she hopes that Saori likes it. Sachiko gives the three girls her heartfelt thanks, and then slowly drifts up into the sky, until finally her light is gone.
As Kumi slumps to the floor, Saori goes to look at the little dresser. Surprised, she calls the other girls to look at the second drawer. Kumi isn't sure what is in it, but Aki tells her that it's sweet pea seeds. Kumi thinks this is odd, but Saori reminds her that they used to plant lots of these in grade school.
The girls are very happy that they didn't let Sachiko down, and that they remembered her. Later, as they prepare to leave for a trip to enjoy the rest of their summer break, the sweet pea flowers wave good-bye to them from Saori's window, blowing gently in the summer breeze.
I have again made this a very lengthly synopsis. I have avoided stating explicitly what the various symbolisms mean in these stories for two reasons. For one thing, I think that it is much more effective, and much more in keeping with the intent of the story writers, for the viewer to experience the emotional impact of the symbolic references first-hand while viewing the show. Also, I'm sure there are some symbolic references that I am missing - but that's why these stories are so good, after all.
I truly hope that all of you reading this will see Debut. These stories could do very well in our market, I think - at the very least, they offer a more positive view of anime (and videogames, too!) than much of the material that has been distributed in the past few years. If you love these types of stories, with lots of drama, symbolism, and angst, please remember to ask for them from the various import dealers. After all, if we want to see more of these stories made, and more of them brought over to America, we have to let the dealers know, right? Debut is an excellent anime and videogame in every respect - if you see it, I am sure you will agree.