Reviewby Carlo Santos, Mar 23rd 2005
Cyber Team in Akihabara
DVD 1: Cyber Genesis
Hibari Hanakoganei has just started middle school, and like any self-respecting pre-teen, she wants this year's hottest toy: a Pata-Pi electronic pet. She gets her wish at the end of the school day when a mysterious, nameless Prince gives her a Pata-Pi seemingly out of nowhere. All is not well, however, as Hibari finds out that a ridiculously clothed (and even more ridiculously endowed) woman is after her new toy—but when the Pata-Pi transforms into a superhuman "Diva" and defeats the would-be thief, Hibari realizes that greater forces are at work. Her best friends at school, Suzume and Tsugumi, soon discover similar powers in their own Pata-Pis, and together they decide to form Tokyo's newest defense against evil: the Cyber Team in Akihabara!
One website bills Cyber Team in Akihabara as "Sailor Moon meets Bubblegum Crisis," which is unfair to both Sailor Moon and Bubblegum Crisis. Think of something more along the lines of Wedding Peach meets Pokémon, and you'll begin to understand the level at which this show operates. It's hard to tell whether this is a failed parody or just a rip-off of every anime cliché that was popular in 1998 (when it originally came out in Japan), and few people will want to stick around to figure it out. If the mindless story and characters don't chase you off, then the shoddy visuals and frightening fanservice probably will.
Think back to the state of anime in 1998—a world where the "monster-collecting" phenomenon had just begun to crest, where Sailor Moon was still on Cartoon Network all the time, and Cardcaptor Sakura was fast becoming the new standard in mahou shoujo. Some producer must have looked at this and thought, "Well, if we combine magical girl anime with 'digital pocket monsters,' it will be the most popular thing EVER." However, all the cute pets and transformation sequences in the world won't save a show that has no story to tell. Cyber Team in Akihabara starts out like every other series of its kind, presenting the origin of Hibari's powers and how she first meets her archnemesis. With each episode introducing a new character or a new challenge, it follows formula perfectly, but provides no motivation as to why we should care about Hibari. Combine that with the fact that every confrontation in the first three episodes occurs in the same shady alley, and this becomes a pure test of endurance. The only sign of hope is in Episode 4, which was apparently helmed by a different director and staff. The comedy moments are snappy and faster-paced, the characters are more lively, and for the first time the show actually has a sense of fun. Too bad everything else is such an ordeal to sit through.
Hibari breaks new ground in character development by becoming insufferably annoying within the first two minutes of Episode 1. As a magical girl, she lacks the innocent charm that's supposed to make such characters likeable. Rather, her loud and klutzy nature (not to mention outright stupidity) seems to be just a vehicle for drawing attention to herself. Her classmates, the spoiled-rich-kid Suzume and sporty Tsugumi, are little more than stereotypes, although Episode 4 shows that there's great potential for some funny, rapid-fire exchanges between all three. Sadly, most of that potential is ignored and the relationships between the girls are simplified into cases of "she likes this, but she hates that."
Like magical girls and collectible monsters, the visual style of Cyber Team in Akihabara is stuck in its own late-90's time bubble. With huge, vertical eyes and no cheekbones, the character designs bear a strong resemblance to the Saber Marionette series; in fact, both shows share the same character designer. While there's nothing wrong with "old" anime in itself, certain styles like this don't hold up after a few years because they depend so much on superficial elements. Even the peanut-shaped Pata-Pi and the Divas' mechanical battle suits point to design ideas that are now outmoded. The stiff animation also makes the show look older than it really is, being dominated by still-frame panning and recycled footage—after all, nothing kills time like an elaborate transformation sequence or a pointless CG eyecatch every time there's a change of scene. What's most offensive, however, is the excessive (and poorly executed) fanservice. Hibari's archnemesis Jun has enough chest to stun a domestic housepet, and Hibari's tendency to walk right into those water balloons should be good for several cringes of disbelief. There's also a running joke about an old man who peeks up the girls' skirts, which becomes more annoying each time it comes up.
Throughout the series, Tsugumi's secret desire to be an idol singer is reflected in the fact that she keeps rehearsing the chorus of a cheesy hit song. The rest of the music in the show doesn't get much better than that, with pop instrumentals setting the tone for day-to-day action and the transformation sequences being backed by a brassy melody that was apparently stolen from a 70's giant robot show. The ending song is actually somewhat pleasant to listen to, but the rest of the soundtrack is highly forgettable. Fortunately, it's also pushed so far into the background that most viewers can ignore it (except for the transformation music).
ADV makes a fundamental mistake in dubbing the series by assuming that every girl in middle school must have a high, chirpy voice. Luci Christian, who normally does some terrific voice acting for lively and talkative characters, makes Hibari even more hyperactive than she needs to be, while Suzume and Tsugumi suffer similar fates. Comparing the two audio tracks also reveals that the three main characters all sound lower-pitched in Japanese—a sure sign that the English-language interpretation of these characters is misguided, regardless of whether the voices match or not. Suzume's overly-polite mannerism of adding "desu wa" to every sentence also gets translated into "that it is" in the dub, which sounds extremely forced and unlike anything that an English speaker would say. Why not just give the girl a posh upper-class accent?
By ADV's standards, the extras on this disc are rather sparse, consisting of just the clean opening and closing, some production sketches, and previews for better shows. With no external extras like a reversible cover or a booklet either, this looks like a release that was shoved out the door just so they could say it was there.
Cyber Team in Akihabara arrives about six years too late to poke fun at the magical girl and monster-collecting/virtual pet genres, and even if it were timely, the jokes still aren't funny at all. With bottom-of-the-barrel production values and a storyline that blindly imitates every other magical girl show, this is one release that should have stayed in a back catalog rather than being licensed. Some anime genres fade in and out of popularity, but no amount of time will ever make a terrible series better.
Overall (dub) : F
Overall (sub) : D
Story : F
Animation : F
Art : D
Music : C-
+ That glimmer of hope in the frenetic, snappily directed Episode 4.
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