Reviewby Theron Martin, Dec 10th 2009
DVD - Season 1 Part 1
Aliens from planet Keron, who look like short, humanoid frogs, have come to invade Pekopon (aka Earth)! The plan gets thwarted, however, when their advanced recon team members, headed by one Sgt. Keroro, individually run afoul of the local inhabitants. When the Keronian fleet suddenly pulls out of the system in response to a perceived obstruction to their invasion, the ARMPIT team suddenly finds itself abandoned, so each member finds a way to endure, typically by cohabitating with Pekoponians (i.e. humans). In Keroro's case it is the Hinata family, including 12-year-old Fuyuki, whom Keroro befriends; 13-year-old Natsumi, an athletic girl who regularly kicks Keroro's butt and monitors his world-conquering plans; and mother Aki, a manga editor who uses Keroro as inspiration for a manga series. Gradually Keroro reunites with the other members of his platoon, including the rookie Tamama, the combat specialist Giroro, the diabolical inventor/techie Kululu/Kururu, and the assassin Dororo, though Tamama lives with Fuyuki's lovestruck classmate Momoka and Dororo prefers the company of ninja girl Koyuki. The Keronians are also eventually joined by Angol Mois, a family friend of Keroro's from a different alien species who is able to pass herself off as a middle school girl despite being a Destroyer of Worlds. Although Keroro tries to keep his ultimate mission in mind, he all too often finds the hobbies and conveniences of Pekoponian life – especially Gundam model kits! – to be too distracting, much to the dismay of his fellows. Besides, he has to do the housework to earn his keep and is unable to get his all-powerful Kero Ball permanently back.
Based on a popular manga, the series known in English as Sgt. Frog is one of anime's longer-running pure comedy series, with more than 290 episodes aired in Japan over the past five and a half years as of this writing. ADV originally licensed it late in 2006, but for various reasons it languished in their care until it became one of the victims of ADV's licensing problems in early 2008. Funimation picked it up when they picked up many other former ADV titles in mid-2008, but after streaming a dubbed “test episode” late in 2008 the title again languished until the fall of 2009, when its first season finally started coming out in DVD sets. Whatever difficulties might have delayed its release, fan impatience with the handling of this title has been justified: this is quite a funny series, even in its original Japanese form, and thus is well-deserving of a more rapid turn-around than it got.
Although the original manga slanted more towards teen audiences, producer Sunrise tweaked the anime series to be more family-friendly. In base form its approach resembles that of the old Hanna Barbera shorts: offer plenty of slapstick and silly humor to entertain younger kids and all manner of parodies, puns, and topical references to hold the interest of older teen and adult viewers. It even manages to dump in loads of otakucentric homages without making the title feel like one has to be an otaku to “get” it. Certain parts will certainly go over the heads of younger viewers, but who would not appreciate the absurdity of being shrunk down to microscopic size to go into battle with Cavity Aliens inside a subject's mouth? (Yes, apparently for Keronians, cavities are caused by miniature alien infestation, not natural tooth decay.) Or the notion that randomly shooting around even microscopic guns and missiles inside a subject's mouth is probably not good for the subject? And yes, this whole sequence is even funnier in execution than it may sound, especially for anime fans who peg all of the Gundam Seed references present in it.
The majority of the gags nicely cross cultural boundaries even without English dub fiddling, such as the simultaneous parody of reality shows and classic perceptions of gray-skinned aliens. Like most other anime comedies, though, this one does have its distinctively Japanese and/or anime-specific elements, too, and these are hit-or-miss. The least funny bits typically involve Momoka's obsessive split-personality approach to trying to win Fuyuki's heart; we have seen this kind of character many times before, and by this point the routines seem tired. Much, much more effective is the magical girl parody involving Angol Mois, who chirpily goes about destroying the world, only gets stopped by an amusing contrivance, and is generally so cute and cheery that it is easy to forget that she literally has the power to split the planet in two – except, of course, when she uses a “One-Trillionth Armageddon” attack to blow open a door (a scene which, incidentally, is followed by one of the early episodes' biggest spit-take moments). Natsumi may be the standard anime butt-kicking athletic girl, but the very notion that Giroro falls for her because she embodies the kind of fighting spirit he respects, despite also being a standard anime gimmick, is endlessly amusing. Even the ninja gimmick works, especially when Dororo's background shows that he has always worn some version of his mouth-concealing face mask. They even throw a ghost in for good measure and get some laughs out of that.
The basic personalities of the Keronians cast hit just the right mark, too. Giroro's militaristic style arguably plays best for laughs, but Ker>oro is no slouch with his screwball antics and ADHD-flavored behavior about anything that does not include Gundam model kits. Tamama impresses less, but Kururu is a delight with his slightly sadistic tendencies. Not enough has yet been seen of Dororo (who only appears in the final episode of this block) to make much of a determination about him, but the stark contrast between his attitude and that of the others, coupled with how it developed, gives him a lot of potential.
Of course, some of the draw of this series for otaku is going to be the rampant parodies of other anime franchises. The series packs frequent Gundam franchise references, which it can easily get away with since Bandai owns both franchises. Clear references to Neon Genesis Evangelion can also be found in the first thirteen episodes, as can more obscure references to Slam Dunk and a few other titles. Sadly, Funimation did not include any liner notes to point out all of these references.
Sgt. Frog has more going for it than just a structure of generally half-episode gag themes peppered liberally with lots of energy and fun, though. For what it is, this is a remarkably attractive-looking series. Sure, the human character designs give off a vibe very typical of more kid-oriented shows, but the Keronian designs are a wonderful balance of cute, quirky, and (in Giroro's case) mean. Sunrise does not skimp on the purely visual gags or flashy explosions, either. The animation may not be overly impressive, but it is sufficient to get the jokes across, and in this case that is enough.
The musical score also consistently hits just the right notes. In series like this it is much too easy for the music to come on too strong and become as much the focal point as the action itself, but here it stays solidly in the supporting role and thus contributes greatly to making most scenes play out just right. Both the opener and the closer are winners, too; opener “Ribbit March” is a light-hearted and infectiously enthusiastic military march whose nonsensical lyrics are best enjoyed untranslated, while closer “Afro Gunso” by Dance Man is a catchy, funkified dance number complete with CG-animated dancing platoon members.
When Funimation did the English dub for their release of Shin-chan, they almost entirely rewrote the script so that they could load it with American pop culture references and turn it into a raunchy, adult-oriented title. They did not go quite so far with Sgt. Frog, as it remains a TV-PG title even with its English dub, although the rewrites are still pretty extensive. (Also note that this is not the English dub made by Animax for broadcast in Asian markets.) Most of the time the English script changes just alter the nature of existing jokes and parodies or add in additional ones, although it also mixes in a lot of self-referential content, especially in the narration. The script tweaks Fuyuki's portrayal to make him seem like more of a pathetic loser and gives a different twist on some of the guest shots, but for the most part the basic essence of each core cast member remains intact. In a few places the changes feel like they are trying to force extra jokes in that are not needed, but generally they work quite well. The performances give the series a different sound in English than in Japanese, but with gems like Todd Haberkorn's distinctive rendition of Ker>oro or Chuck Huber's take on Kururu (Kululu in the subtitles) the English dub works at least as well as the original dub. The one quibble here is that some of the topical jokes fire past so fast in English that they can be hard to catch; never before has Funimation's onetime practice of including dubtitles been more missed.
The release comes in the standard thinpacked-DVDs-in-artbox format, with 13 episodes crammed onto two disks. Joining them on the second disk are clean opener and closer and the Pekopon Invasion Recon Data reports, which are faintly amusing on their own.
Whether you are a neophyte to anime or hard-core otaku, old or young, Sgt. Frog is a series at least worth a sampling. Few series peak higher with their humor or more consistently provide healthy laughs. The standard half-episode joke themes work perfectly, assuring that the comedy rarely runs jokes into the ground and is always serving up something fresh and good. Sadly, this one will probably never make it onto American TV to earn wider audiences, but it is worthy of such attention and would probably play well.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : A-
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B+
+ Consistently funny (sometimes extremely so), clever in its stupidity, strong musical support.
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