Tribe Cool Crew is the kind of kids’ show I really enjoy, one that combines a surprising amount of maturity and actual consideration for children with an overall fun and vibrant spirit. Rather than just moralized preaching, it tries to understand where kids are coming from. It’s why I’ve already written two separate reviews for this hip hop dancing anime, one towards the beginning of its broadcast, and the other right in the middle. Now that the anime has finished, it brings me to consider how important the idea of “maturity” (and all that it entails) is in Tribe Cool Crew. By the end, there are a number of developments that are rather surprising and even arguably out of place for a kids’ show, but also create a varied image of what it means to be an “adult.”
Note that this post will be especially spoiler heavy compared to the other two reviews.
Throughout Tribe Cool Crew, there is a general sense of development and progression in the characters, or at least a few episodes dedicated to each character. For the main duo Haneru and Kanon, it comes across as learning how to dance better by overcoming psychological barriers. However, when it comes to the adults, there are three prominent versions of maturity that are presented.
For Kumo, Mizuki, and Yuzuru, the adults that team with Haneru and Kanon to become Tribe Cool Crew, their worries tend to be about managing expectations. The character Mizuki, for example, at one point has to learn that her tendency to overwork herself through multiple jobs, favors, and a lack of appreciation for sleep should be reined in a bit lest it wear her down to a nub. What’s interesting is that this all originally came from a good place: she worked hard as a kid to go from overweight, shy girl to a cool and curvaceous dancer. Rather than the lesson being “DO YOUR BEST!” or “NEVER GIVE UP!”, it’s a more tempered outlook that is valuable to both children and adults.
A different kind of maturity appears with the character Jey El, who focuses on ideals. Essentially a highly idealized Michael Jackson figure with all of the controversy stripped out, Jey El is a peace ambassador whose dancing is beloved throughout the world. He came from the slums and has dedicated his life to stopping war and violence. Because of this, Jey El is revealed to have numerous enemies in both arms-dealing and the military-industrial complex, with attempts on his life being not that uncommon.
Of course, just the fact that I typed “military-industrial complex” in reference to a show about kids dancing seems kind of weird. Sure enough, the reveal that the ever-important “Dance Road” tournament that defines the series is sponsored in part by warmongers is quite ham-fisted, reflecting a tendency in a lot of kids’ series in general (anime or otherwise) to slip in something more serious towards the end of their lives. Nevertheless, Jey El’s maturity is rooted in a kind of uncompromising vision that is optimistic even as he’s fully aware of the horrors of the world.
Then there’s the idea of adulthood and maturity from Jey El’s head of security Gallagher, which is grounded in cynicism and the need to compromise even when it goes against one’s values.
In the second half of the anime, the biggest problem facing Tribe Cool Crew, aside from their progression through the underground dance tournament “Dance Road,” is an unusual dance called “Crowd High.” With dynamic movements and easy to learn moves, Crowd High has gone viral on a global scale, but the characters discover that the dance is actually quite dangerous to perform as stories of injuries begin to pile up (keeping safe while dancing is a recurring message in the series). As Tribe Cool Crew reaches its climax, it’s revealed that the Jey El they’ve seen encouraging them on is in fact a robot, and the real Jey El is in a coma as a result of a bombing by a small child in a war-torn region.
Gallagher explains that he is behind the popularity of Crowd High, seeking to spread dance just as Jey El wished but utilizing a style that has no need for soul, talent, or inspiration so that anyone can learn it, even if it comes at the occasional risk of injury. He also happens to be working with the very military/weapons moguls that Jey El was fighting against. Gallagher’s idea of maturity is one where success is tempered by a view of reality as harsh and unforgiving, and that achieving one’s goals may require a deal with the devil if the ends justify the means. Underlining all of this is the fact that Gallagher was also emotionally affected by the bombing, questioning if Jey El’s methods are even feasible if they can’t reach that one small child.
Children are thus introduced to these varying perceptions of what it means to be an adult, and I think that on some level it allows young viewers to decide who to follow. That said, I think it’s not surprising that in the end Haneru and Kanon do not follow Gallagher’s example, and that Jey El’s revival (brought back thanks to the soulful dancing of our heroes) also inspires a change in Gallagher. Nevertheless, what I find especially notable is how Gallagher is in the end portrayed not as a true villain or even someone with malicious or self-serving intentions. On some level he still believes in their mission, and it is the tragedy of losing Jey El that prompts him to adjust his way of thinking.
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