Chocolate Underground is a short ONA from 2008. It was brought to us by Production IG & Trans Arts. Because it’s completely necessary to have two studios work on thirteen episodes that run for five minutes each. It’s based off of the novel Bootleg, by British novelist Alex Shearer. You know, the bloke what wrote The Greatest Store in the World. That’s the actual title, not me praising him. It was directed by Hamana Takayuki. Who also did director work on Prince of Tennis, which I haven’t seen but am bringing up because it’s well known & directed a few episodes of Psycho Pass, which isn’t a bad sign. So, let’s look at the ONA and see how well it holds up.
Our narrative is set in a dystopian future where the Good For You party has banned all sweets, including chocolate. You wouldn’t think that would be a winning political platform but they were against Cyborg Trump and Mecha Theresa May. Two lads with names that sound like they should go with raider bosses in Fallout, Smudger and Huntley, are determined to eat chocolate again. So, they set out to find people who are illegally manufacturing and distributing it. Which starts them on their own path to stand up to the Good For You party.
Honestly, there are a lot of minor issues here that the target audience will likely not notice. The absurd, overblown action sequences of chocolate detecting robots chasing our heroes are quite silly. At one point one of our heroes somehow manages to escape from an internment facility in the old “one child stands on another’s shoulders with a heavy coat over them” routine that would never work. There are several completely gratuitous, one-sided crushes that do nothing but waste time. Seriously, these episodes are around five minutes each. We don’t need filler. We also get a lot of ridiculous “purple prose” moments where our heroes are just talking about the unbridled majesty that is chocolate. I know she has that heavily sexualised dominatrix outfit, but that’s taking things a bit far, isn’t it? These kids act like she saved all of humanity while writing episodes of the best kids’ show out there.
With all that being said, the overblown aesthetic does have its appeal. I will also give the series credit for having a strong sense of tension. The episodes are short, so each one has to concisely end at a point that will get people interested in what’s coming next and give it somewhere to go. Which the series manages very well. It’s also where the series gets its strongest moments.
The biggest issue with the characters is that they aren’t the most consistent group out there. There are a couple kids who are established early on as being very obedient towards the party. One might even say zealous for it, but then they change sides with no foreshadowing or prior indication that something wasn’t kosher about their relation to the party. As a whole, the characters are just kind of mediocre. They’re very basic archetypes. The only character who really moves beyond that is one who seems like a generic bad guy but turns out to be actually doing what he thinks is the will of the people which results in a shift that makes sense.
On the positive side, the character designs are nicely done. The animation is fairly smooth and the action sequences, though they can be ridiculous, are interesting to watch. On the negative side, a lot of the world objects, especially vehicles, look very low effort. Almost like the artists spent about ten minutes drawing them in a basic paint program and called it acceptable.
the acting is passable. The performances aren’t brilliant. I’ve heard better from Toyonaga Toshiyuki, Mizusawa Fumie, Takahashi Mikako & Nakagawa Rie. That being said, they aren’t bad performances either. They’re functional. I could say the same for the music, actually.
There is none. All the entirely pointless one-sided crushes are het.
So, that’s Chocolate Underground, based on the children’s book, Bootleg. All in all, I think it’s a work that small children can enjoy. As for its appeal to older audiences, it’s all right. It’s probably not the type of kid’s show you’d seek out if you weren’t actively trying to entertain a child, but it’s one you could put on without being annoyed or even finding something else to occupy yourself with. My final rating is going to be a 6/10. Next week I’ll take a look at Tsuritama.