Since back in ancient times, Japan has upheld the tradition of the 12 Zodiac signs and their travels. Eto-musumes are Zodiac girls that have the appearance and behaviour of the Zodiac signs. They are known as pure-hearted messengers who act as a bridge between humans and the gods. Every 60 years, the ‘ETM 12’ tournament takes place in the Akihabara district in Tokyo and aspiring girls from all over the country gather for the chance to become one of the next zodiac signs. One of these girls is Nya-tan, a plucky cat-girl who was tricked by the mouse zodiac and so was not able to become a Zodiac girl. There is only one condition that you must fulfil in order to become an Eto-musume: you must defeat the other 12 signs in combat. However, the 12 signs have had strength bestowed on them by the heavens and have been undefeated for 2,000 years. Then Nya-tan meets Takeru Amano and finds a way that she can reach her goal.

Etotama is a fast-paced show that mainly focuses on comedy. From the first episode we are launched into the premise of the ETM 12 tournament and Nya-tan’s determination to become an Eto-musume. Takeru, on the other hand, is the long-suffering straight man of Nya-tan’s antics and has no say about his house being bombarded by the large personalities of the energetic god-spirits (this is where I started drawing similarities, oddly enough, between this anime and Fruits Basket). Being host to a large cast of super-powered women who have little knowledge of the human world and their society, he is often caught in the middle of the constant chaos and comedy.

One of the reasons why the zodiac are attracted to him is because of the kind of energy he gives off. With his humanity and earnest feelings, he gives off a very strong kind of sol/lull, which is something that the eto-musume thrive on. It gives them the power to fight and show of their skills within the tournament, and it’s Takeru’s particular production of powerful sol/lull that is giving Nya-tan the boost she needs in order to combat the other signs.

Nya-tan herself is a very cute character. She’s very energetic and full-on without being one of those annoying characters that can ruin this type of anime. For some reason that has yet to be explained, she has lost her memory. This conveniently coincides with her unabashed friendliness with most of the zodiac team – even though some of them clearly dislike her. She quickly became one of those anime character archetypes that you can’t help but like because they want to be friends with everyone.

The one thing with having a large cast is that it does take a while to get to know all of them and identify them as separate entities rather than just a large cluster of characters dressed like the various signs of the zodiac. We are slowly beginning to learn a few things about the different zodiac signs, but the show doesn’t seem to be in any hurry in this regard, preferring to focus on action. However, the ride promises to be an amusing one as it moves around quickly between character interactions in a collection of comedic skits.

It also uses asides to point out facts about the zodiac that the audience may not be familiar with, or are a bit confusing, without completely breaking the fourth wall. Characters refer to previous situations by saying “in the last episode” whilst other characters look nonplussed and wonder what they are talking about. I love this vague awareness to episodic situations and the audience – it’s one of those areas that doesn’t often get explored.

One of the best bits about this anime is the transformations that the zodiac girls undergo before they battle one another in their special arena. It’s like a magical girl transformation meets a pinball game. The characters rocket through shrine arches thanks to sol/lull and transform into some super-powerful chibi-style versions of themselves. This is where the animation really shines – sometimes literally. The use of colour, particularly within these chibi battles, is well done. Since it uses characters in chibi style, the anime can really play with reality and we have flashy attacks, gravity-defying jumps and characters instantly springing back from being punched through walls. Anime fighting at its best.

Although not one to watch if you’re looking for a substantial plot and developed characters, Etotama is a lot of fun. It takes the story of the 12 zodiacs in another direction and blows some new life into it. I am looking forward to some spectacular fights and maybe, as a bonus, some unexpected character development.