The Real Captain Planet: Brave Fighter of Legend Da Garn

The 1990s Brave franchise—most famously known for its swan song, King of Braves Gaogaigar—is a series of children’s anime centered on boy heroes and their heavily merchandisable giant robots. While the overall quality varies, each show indicates a push and pull between being half-hour toy commercials, displaying impressive mecha animation, telling stories that kids enjoy, and imparting important lessons for young viewers. Over the years, I’ve been told multiple times that one of the turning points is 1992’s Brave Fighter of Legend Da Garn: the third entry and first to attempt a more mature and long-form story. Having finally watched it, I can see a more serious yet also a scattershot approach that belies the competing forces dictating the direction of Da Garn.

Takashiro Seiji is a normal ten year old boy whose mother is a news anchor and whose father is a member of Earth’s Global Defense Force. When a mysterious robot attacks the city, he comes across a power lying within the Earth itself that manifests itself as a giant robot guardian known as Da Garn. As the masked commander, Seiji leads Da Garn, and eventually other robot allies who emerge, against ever greater threats—especially the enemy’s ongoing attempt to rob the Earth of its “planet energy.” There’s an ongoing environmentalism and world peace theme underlying everything, exemplified by a line from the opening theme: “This planet is our cherished ship.”

Due to this show’s opening, I once had a very mistaken impression of Seiji. The way he’s drawn and animated in it, there are times when he looks like an adult. It’s almost as if they either hadn’t decided his age, or figured that making him look 6 feet tall and muscular would make for a more exciting intro regardless of how odd it looks. Whatever the case, my expectations had to be modified, though Seiji’s quality voice acting from Matsumoto Rica (best known as Satoshi from Pokemon) helps keep him an endearing if somewhat typical protagonist.

The robots, in typical Brave fashion, are all about combining. Da Garn combines with a plane and a train to become Da Garn X. Later robots combine together and then get additional partners to combine together. However, they’re also kind of a thematic hodgepodge. Da Garn himself is a police car. He gets plane allies and motor vehicle allies. Then they start introducing robots based on animals, even making it seem like one is going take over as the star of the show, as if someone said, “The surveys say kids like lions!!”

There are so many mecha, and they’re given so few opportunities to show their personalities, that only a handful ever get highlighted, leaving many to be less memorable. In contrast, it’s hard to forget any of the robots in Brave Police J-Decker or Gaogaigar. Even compared to a series like Girls und Panzer (which also groups a gigantic cast into “squads” with collective personalities), Da Garn can feel sparse in terms of characterization. The main exception to this glut is an antagonistic robot named Seven Changer, who (of course) has seven different forms, and whose cool arrogance is delivered effectively by Koyasu Takehito (Dio in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure).

Speaking of villains, I’m not sure if I’d call them particularly strong, but they are definitely memorable, and they’re explored in great detail. Many of their identifies are initially a mystery, and they’re woven into the simultaneous small-town/global atmosphere in interesting ways. As the series progresses, their stories are increasingly a part of the narrative, and it allows Da Garn to touch upon ideas that would make less sense with Seiji or any of his friends. In fact, I’d argue that the anime doesn’t really find its footing until it starts to do more with its villains.

Brave Fighter of Legend Da Garn ends up being the kind of work that is best viewed as taking a step beyond its trappings and its immediate predecessors while still somewhat beholden to them. It’s polished in some areas like visual presentation and general momentum of its narrative, but it sometimes succumbs to the weight of all the different expectations placed upon it. But while it may be outdone by later Brave series, it’s still a joy to experience, quirks and all.

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His Characterization is Maximum: “Dragon Ball Super: Broly”

There’s an old and famous picture from a newspaper’s children’s section, where they asked kids, “If you could be a superhero, who would you be?” In response to this question, a boy named Markus answered, “Broly from Dragon Ball Z. His power is maximum.” But while people online have gotten lots of laughs from this innocent answer over the years, Markus’s words almost perfectly encapsulate the character of Broly, the Legendary Super Saiyan.

As an antagonist, Broly was always a one-dimensional character whose primary trait is being ridiculously and impressively powerful. To be fair, the way it’s portrayed in his appearances leaves a lasting impression, and has a clear, primal appeal to Dragon Ball Z fans. However, he’s ultimately a simplistic villain to be overcome by blasting him harder.

The character is also non-canon, appearing only in Dragon Ball Z anime films, which is why it’s rather significant that the creator of Dragon Ball himself, Toriyama Akira wrote the script for Dragon Ball Super: Broly. It not only means introducing Broly into the Dragon Ball universe proper, but also an opportunity to transform this flimsy rage machine into a fully fleshed character.

On a skeletal level, Super Broly is basically the same character: an instrument of revenge for his father, Paragus, against Vegeta  (the son of the man he hates most, King Vegeta), who goes berserk and must be stopped by Son Goku and his allies. There are a couple of crucial changes, however.

First, in the original Broly film, Broly is shown as having an inadvertent deep-seated trauma caused by Goku when they were fellow infants, which causes him to wantonly attack Goku. This no longer is a thing, and when he and Goku fight as adults, they’re meeting for the first time. Second, in the new film, Broly is shown as being ridiculously strong and terrifying but ultimately innocent inside—as if his personality isn’t inherently that of a fighter.

Both are smart choices that lay the groundwork for making Broly a properly three-dimensional character. The Goku grudge used to come across as largely a flimsy device to get Broly in direct conflict with the hero of the story, and it kind of punks out Vegeta in the process. Without it, his background focuses more on him being unfairly raised by his own father to be a tool for revenge, and the different ways in which Goku, Vegeta, and Broly have been shaped by their upbringings and experiences. An extensive background story in the first half of the film highlights these differences.

That being said, I don’t want to make this film sound like a deep look into character psyches, as it’s mostly one gigantic fight scene full of the fast and frenetic combat Dragon Ball is known for. However, those crucial differences between Goku, Vegeta, and Broly come out even as they’re pummeling each other. Goku’s Earth-bases martial arts background, Vegeta’s elite Saiyan training, and Broly’s mostly unrefined berserker rage are all conveyed in the action, which does a lot of showing instead of telling somewhat reminiscent of Mad Max: Fury Road.

A few bits of welcome comedy alongside some new characters help keep Dragon Ball Super: Broly from feeling too heavy—a clear indication of Toriyama’s hand in the process. Overall, it ends up being a really solid film, and one that manages to give depth and meaning to a pure power fantasy character like Broly without taking away the strength that made him popular in the first place.

 

Never Give Up: Hugtto! Precure

In the opening to Hugtto! Precure, the very first thing spoken by the heroine of the story, Nono Hana, is a motivational mantra: “You can do anything! You can be anything! Embrace your shining future! Hooray, hooray, everyone! Hooray, hooray, me! Here we go!”

At first, it feels a little hokey platitude you say to kids: “You can become president one day!” But over the course of 49 episodes, the words grow and grow in weight and significance. Hugtto! Precure knows it’s not easy to do what’s right, that failure can feel devastating, and that life can turn from joy to sorrow in a moment’s notice. Still, it tells its viewers, both young and old, something ever-important but especially in today’s world: “You define your own success, and who you want to be.”

The premise is standard magical girl stuff: Nono Hana is a 13-year-old girl who won’t let the world get her down, when a mysterious baby named Hugtan nd her talking hamster companion fall from the sky. Gaining magical powers to fight off the nefarious forces after the baby, Hana becomes Cure Yell, and over the course of the series makes new friends and allies who join in her fight. Hugtto! also celebrates the 15th anniversary of the Precure franchise, and it pulls out all the stops as a result. The animation and vibrant, impactful action scenes are frequently among the best in franchise history, and the Hugtto! makes numerous subtle and not-so-subtle references to past series.

But even before the first episode, one bit of news about the show stood out to me more than anything else: the fact that the director of Hugtto! is the famous Sato Junichi—in fact, it’s his first Precure! One of the best ever at making magical girl anime that are both poignant and respectful of the young audience watching them, the same attitude seen in works like Sailor Moon, Ojamajo Doremi, Princess Tutu, and Fushigiboshi no Futagohime is on full display in here. When the primary themes are dreams and motherhood, it can be all too easy to create something contrived, but Hugtto! leaps over that hurdle with grace and enthusiasm.

Major and minor characters alike are robust and fully realized, with their own strengths and weaknesses and unique circumstances, as if they all have their own lives and stories to lead. My favorite character is Aisaki Emiru, a rich girl whose overactive imagination leads her into being overly cautious. However, I think the character who encapsulates what makes Hugtto! so powerful is Nono Hana herself.

Hana’s Precure name, Cure Yell, comes from how “yell” (eeru) is used to mean “cheer” in Japanese. This explains not only her cheerleader-inspired outfit but also her general life philosophy: Everyone needs a supportive voice to lift them up sometimes, whether they’re ultra-talented naturals living their dreams or struggling to achieve anything, and that includes Hana herself. As the series points out numerous times, being that source of encouragement might seem easier or less important than what the superstars around her accomplish—Homare as a figure skater, Saaya as an actress, and more—but it’s just as challenging and valuable to inspire others to not give up. It doesn’t come totally naturally to Hana either; she actively works on it, essentially exuding a motherly and nurturing quality not just towards Hugtan but everyone else too.

People can fail and dreams can change, but “You can do anything! You can be anything!” is not meant to be taken literally. Rather, it encourages a mindset that doesn’t let any obstacle, no matter how big or small, trap people into doing nothing.

In terms of messaging, Hugtto! Precure is one of the best in franchise history. It’s very easy for any show of Precure’s kind—a massive merchandising machine—to play it safe and push toy sales, but Hugtto! actively emphasizes a plethora of important lessons that allow it to overcome that pitfall. For example, while Hugtto! has that excellent fighting action Precure is known for, it still foregrounds the idea that violence is ultimately not the answer, that it is the Precure’ s compassion that wins the day in the end. A key instance of this is when Cure Yell gains an elegant and powerful-looking sword, but rejects its violent appearance, claiming that it isn’t what they need in that moment to not just defeat a villain but save him as well.

Other notable stories highlight a progressive bent in Hugtto! Wakamiya Henri, is introduced as a figure-skating rival for Homare but becomes a key figure for challenging gender and sexuality norms. A stand-alone episode about childbirth becomes a lesson to viewers about the wrongful demonizing of Caesarean sections in Japan. The villains, each named after a different era of recent Japanese history, are all portrayed as having succumbed to cynicism and in need of the Precures to show them that they can still believe and dream. As a side note, it’s highly amusing to me that the villain who represents baby boomers, Daigan, loves to talk big about how he’d fix everything with ease, but ultimately proves ineffectual.

So where does Hugtto! Precure rank among its fellow Precure series? A part of me is still more fond of Heartcatch Precure! (which I consider the pinnacle of the franchise), but Hugtto! carries much of the same spirit and DNA that made Heartcatch great. In other words, it’s a top-tier show that’s at once familiar and daring, and perhaps casts a long shadow on what’s to follow. Best of luck to Star Twinkle Precure—it’s going to need some.

Hands-On Experience: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 12

Kurata Shion’s history with piano and some lewd humor make up Chapter 12 of Hashikko Ensemble.

Summary

The chapter begins with Mimi-sensei recalling her past. Growing up shy due to her large chest, she was inspired by a high school teacher to go into teaching herself. Unfortunately, her students treat her more like a friend than an authority figure, leaving her unconfident.

Shion tells the classroom about her own history. Encouraged to learn the piano from a young age by her mom, she eventually developed a form of tendonitis. When she suggested to her mom that she wanted to quit, her mother’s response was that Shion has no ability otherwise—if she stops playing, she’ll have nothing left.

Jin figures out that Shion was taught poor form—a byproduct of being coached by her inexperienced mom. This lines up with everything else we know about Shion: she uses too much force for everything, whether it’s sawing or playing piano. The conversation gets heated, especially because Shion discusses quitting the school due to her seeming inability to learn how to let up on her grip.

Oumi-sensei steps in to try and convey to Shion that there’s more to Hashimoto Tech than just learning trade skills, that it’s about having new human experiences. Mimi-sensei feels the spirit of her old teacher inspiring her, so she offers herself as an open ear. Shion immediately squanders this good faith by asking for a smartphone, to which Mimi responds, “Why don’t you ask your mom?”

Shion leaves, childishly frustrated at Mimi’s response, but accidentally trips and lands with her hands on Mimi’s chest. However, squeezing them and alternating her grip strength helps her figure out what it means to have a gentle touch. Excitedly, she runs to the woodshop classroom to demonstrate her suddenly improved sawing technique. Jin then asks her to try and play piano, and using that chesty eureka moment, Shion applies her new lighter touch to the ivory as well. The Chorus Club has their pianist now.

Poor Mimi-chan

I feel for Mimi, especially how she doesn’t seem to be treated seriously as an adult. Even her heartfelt recollection of how she became a teacher was a setup for a boob joke.However, I like how this chapter revealed that she actually has a tiny bit of an edge when Shion asks her about getting a smartphone. The way the page is framed, with each of them equally prominent in separate panels, makes Mimi’s response feel immediate and somewhat terse while still conveying her generally gentle demeanor.

The Road to Hell

Shion’s past is yet another instance of conflict between parent and child, but unlike Orihara’s situation of neglect, it involves a mom with good intentions. Shion’s case is when a general approach to life (work harder!) fails to take into account the particular needs or feelings of an individual. The fact that her mom actually suggests that Shion has nothing without piano is an all-too-real sentiment from a loving but perhaps overbearing parent, and on some level I can empathize with Shion’s situation more than any other character so far. It also makes me wonder if Kio Shimoku is laying a general criticism towards parents in Japan and the different ways they can negatively impact their children’s lives. As a father himself, perhaps he’s also warning himself—like a reminder to never forget what it was like to be that age.

Because Hashimoto Tech is a vocational school, it brings to the foreground the notion that these are kids on the cusp of becoming adults. For Shion, there’s also the question of what happens when one’s passion or hobby is tied to one’s career. At one point, she reveals that she always assumed a dislike of piano meant a dislike of music in general, and it’s a window into how all the different elements involved with her starting and giving up playing are jumbled together. Decoupling them is one of the outcomes of this chapter.

Talent vs. Hard Work

The question of whether hard work can compete with talent comes up while the class is discussing Shion’s situation. We know Shion’s opinion on this—that hard work can’t compete. Jin disagrees, but what’s especially curious is that Jin doesn’t see himself as talented. The question is if his incredible vocal skills is indeed a product of constant striving, or if he’s comparing himself to some kind of titan. The fact that Jin expresses empathy with Shion growing up with an overbearing mom might say it all.

Songs

Once again, “Kanade” by Sukima Switch. It’s the song Shion plays.

Final Thoughts

When Shion accidentally trips and is about to fall, Hasegawa (the judo girl) rushes to save her but then accidentally bumps into Akira. If you look closely, Hasegawa was behind the teacher’s lectern a moment before. Either this was a mistake, or she actually slid over the lectern to get there in time.

Also, she likes puns.

Basically, Hasegawa’s awesome.

They’re all awesome.

The Best Nonsense: “Himote House: A share house of super psychic girls”

The “semi-improv” anime genre began in 2009 with gdgd Fairies, and since then it’s been a source of both laugher and confusion. 2018’s Himote House: A share house of super psychic girls is the latest take on this formula, and it feels in certain ways a culmination of all the previous works. If gdgd Fairies is the pioneer, Tesagure! Bukatsumono the most consistently funny, and Naria Girls the strangest failure, then Himote House is simultaneously the most indicative of experience and the most successfully experimental.

Ostensibly, the series is about a group of girls with super powers who all have trouble getting boyfriends, but the premise (as always) is mostly a pretense to set up joke after joke. Like most of its predecessors, the show is built around varying degrees of scripted comedy and impromptu improv moments. More than any other show of its kind, however, Himote House is willing to break with its own established patterns. Trying to find ways to be attractive to guys gets plenty of laughs, but only because they highlight the absurdity of the characters themselves. An episode at a bathhouse has to be seen to be believed—at once spoofing the exploitative power of fanservice and leaning hard into an awkwardness like no other.

These types of shows live and die by their actors, and Himote House fortunately brings back multiple veterans from past series such as Straight Title Robot Anime and Tesagure! Bukatsumono. Himote House will even occasionally call back to previous series as a nod to the returning fans. The biggest thing of all, however, is that the three of the gdgd Fairies are here too, and that includes seiyuu mega-star and Okada Kazuchika girlfriend Mimori Suzuko. I’m particularly impressed by Mizuhara Kaoru, who plays a very different but equally amusing character compared to her role as shrshr in gdgd Fairies.

As with its predecessors, Himote House hits home if you’re into a kind of disorganized humor that thrives just as much on when jokes fall flat as when they succeed—it’s all about the actors sticking the landing. Existing somewhere in the range between Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Inferno Cop, Himote House is, if anything, memorable.

The World Wide Web of Human Pain: SSSS.Gridman

If you were to ask me what my favorite Power Rangers-type show was as a child, it would undoubtedly be Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad. I distinctly recall running around the house yelling “SUPERHUMAN SAMURAI!!!!” mimicking both the theme song and the TV commercial jingle. So while I’ve never seen the original Gridman the Hyper Agent in Japanese that provided the source material, SSSS.Gridman was an instant must-watch—especially because it was being made by Studio Trigger (Little Witch AcademiaKill la Kill).

SSSS.Gridman is ostensibly about a boy named Yuuta who can merge with a computer entity called Gridman the Hyper Agent and use his abilities to fight off giant monsters attacking their city. However, it quickly feels more like a bizarre paranormal mystery that seems eager to deal out the truth piecemeal. Often times the show is seemingly less concerned with personal character development and more about pulling back the curtain. One of the biggest questions is how the monsters and even Gridman himself, who were previously confined to the computer realm, are manifesting in the real world.

The result of SSSS.Gridman‘s peculiar mixture of ingredients is that it can feel like a never-ending ocean of information to explore in both profound and frivolous ways. Somehow, it simultaneously presents itself as both a shallow case of “geek-info/reference overcharge” and an introspective look at the pain and suffering of human interaction.

The series is full of odd details that aren’t exactly vital but add to a certain meta-ness that can enhance enjoyment of SSSS.Gridman. Two side characters in the series actually come from a yuri short story by the series director. Most if not all of the characters in the anime are based on a Botcon convention-exclusive mirror-universe series called Transformers: Shattered Glass. it’s a strangely elaborate reference to make, almost purely for enjoyment’s sake (and to get the Transformers fans jumping out of their seats), or perhaps as a wink and nod to the fact that the company Takara had a hand in both Transformers and Dengeki Choujin Gridman. Even the title, SSSS.Gridman seems to be willing to play into its own American adaptation. After all, how else would a fan of Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad interpret the series?

But then the anime also makes references so as to hint at the true natures of its characters, or to foreshadow what’s to come. It’s really deep-cut stuff that generally involves using monsters and motifs of past tokusatsu works (especially from Tsubaraya Productions, the studio behind Ultraman and Gridman), and far beyond my knowledge or experience to have picked up without outside reference (thanks to Mike Dent!) However, it’s not as if one needs to get every in-joke or obscure callback to understand SSSS.Gridman and where it’s going. The series is another showcase of one of Studio Trigger’s great strengths: the ability to put in all of that under-the-surface content for hardcore fans without alienating newcomers. The references aren’t a barrier to entry so much as a reward for the faithful, and it’s as much a sign of love as the very movements of the monsters themselves, who despite being animated in 3DCG are made to behave like people in rubber suits as a way of replicating the live-action feel of the original Gridman.

Right to the end, SSSS.Gridman seems to change and shift, and it can be difficult (though not impossible) to predict where it’s truly headed. Watching the series unfold is a quiet yet boisterous joy that captures simultaneously the anxieties and wonders of both childhood and adulthood.

Dreams Before Harems: Why I Like “We Never Learn”

We Never Learn is a popular harem manga currently running in Weekly Shonen Jump, and one I actually like a good deal. With the anime debuting next season, I’ve been thinking about why I’m fond of this particular series over other similar works, and I realized something. While We Never Learn is indeed a harem series, and thus shipping is ostensibly an important factor for enjoying the series, I find that I don’t actually care about pairings at all, and this makes the series better for me.

Because the anime is coming out this season, I’m going to make this post as spoiler-free as possible. Actually, I don’t even think I need spoilers to explain my point, so it works out.

The basic plot of We Never Learn has high school boy Yuiga Nariyuki tasked with tutoring two of the smartest girls in school. However, while Furuhashi Fumino is a genius of literature and the arts, and Ogata Rizu is a math and science wizard, their respective dreams are to go to college in their worst subjects instead. Along the way, other girls join the cast, and the close calls with Nariyuki never stop, in typical harem fashion.

One thing clear from the start is that each character has their own goals they want to reach. Sparks fly and fanservice abounds, but their attractiveness doesn’t define who they are as people. Moreover, they’re all supportive of one another, and this makes it a refreshing experience.

Nariyuki could end up with anyone, or no one. Any of the girls could end up with each other. Perhaps they might all marry random, unrelated characters. To me, none of it truly matters, because I want all of them to succeed in ways beyond relationship success. While the girls and their cuteness is a major part of We Never Learn, you want to see these girls achieve their dreams as they try to overcome genius with hard work in a Rock Lee-esque way. The fact that the geniuses they’re to beat are themselves makes it all the greater.