Reviewby Rebecca Silverman, Jun 21st 2013
Ninja Robots (Tobikage)
Episodes 1 - 7 Streaming
In the future, humans have colonized Mars, but it is ruled over by the despotic military man Hazard. Some human rebels have fled to the polar cap, but most of society lives under Hazard's vicious laws, leading regimented existences. But not plucky sixteen-year-old Joe Maya, who does things his own way. When a mysterious space ship carrying a beautiful alien princess arrives on the planet, Joe and his friends Mike and Rennie get involved and soon learn that only they can pilot the amazing robots the ship carries. Now they help Princess Romina in her quest to escape from not only Hazard but also the evil people of planet Zaboom as they seek the only ones who can truly save them – the legendary ninja!
Robot ninjas. In space.
If neither of those sentence fragments made your inner ten-year-old really excited, then Ninja Robot Tobikage, also known as simply Ninja Robot and Tobikage, is probably not the show for you. But if you're inexplicably thrilled by the idea of a beautiful alien princess on a quest to find ninjas to save her planet only to bump into three intrepid teens who can mysteriously pilot her giant ninja transformers, then hop aboard. Tobikage's odd combination of characters, lunacy, and 1985 sensibilities is here for your enjoyment.
Our story begins on Mars. It is several centuries in the future, and the planet has been colonized rather like Australia initially was – convicted criminals have been sent there. Of course since the initial colonization there are other people who have chosen to move to Mars too, but the entire planet is still run like a prison colony. The leader is a jowly toad of a man named Hazard, and he and his right-hand man Dog enjoy keeping the Martians down. When males turn sixteen, they are forced to undergo a series of tests which will determine their futures in Martian society – military or laborer. For plucky Joe Maya, on whose sixteenth birthday the story opens, Hazard's rules are mere suggestions, and damned if he's going to follow them. He goes zipping around the Martian desert in a futuristic dune buggy with his pals, happily flipping a metaphorical middle finger to The Man, which is fine until he runs into a mysterious ship. This vessel, it turns out, is the El Shank, a ship from another galaxy carrying the beautiful violet-haired princess Romina, her grumpy companion Irland, and her lady-in-waiting who just stands around a lot. Pole-axed by Romina's beauty and a small series of plot holes, Joe finds himself eagerly defending Romina from both Hazard and the men from the hilariously named planet Zaboom. How does he do this? By magically being compatible with the mech the El Shank just happens to be carrying on their quest to find the only people who can help them – the ninjas.
By this point it should be fairly obvious that Tobikage is more interested in being a thrill ride than in making a whole lot of sense. Joe is of course joined by his angelic-looking friend Mike (pronounced like the English name, not “mee-kay”) and token girl Rennie, who is harboring a major crush on Joe. Mike and Rennie can also pilot the robots, all of which can transform into animal-inspired mechs with the aid of a mysterious ninja robot that appears out of nowhere when he is needed. Very few people remark on this, which seems a bit odd, although given some of the other explanations that are offered for Romina's actions and Hazard's motivations, it's kind of a relief that the show hasn't delved into who this robot really is yet. Continuity and logic are not major concerns of Tobikage, and thus there is always a little niggle in the back of one's mind while watching, a small voice saying, “Wait, what?”
Luckily this show is so much fun that it is fairly easy to brush aside such concerns. This is true Saturday morning fare, the kind of show that makes you want a bowl of whatever sugary cereal you loved as a little kid. (In point of fact, Tobikage did air on American television in 1995, furthering the nostalgia factor.) Joe is the kind of badass/dumbass character who inspired devotion among little kid watchers and for the girls, Rennie is also pretty cool, although she gets less action time than the boys, while Romina is sufficiently kind and beautiful to fit into any princess phase. The 1980s fairly jump from the screen in terms of music, character clothes and hair, and the general sensibility of the show. It also helps that Tobikage has an excellent voice cast, particularly Noriko Hidaka (Ranma ½'s Akane Tendo and Gunbuster's Noriko, among others) as Rennie, who makes the most of her part. Character designs are very distinctive, with narrow faces and high foreheads, setting it apart from some of its contemporaries. If the animation isn't always stellar, particularly with regards to lip flaps, it can be forgiven to a point, if only because the lead mech looks kind of like a transformer wearing a Thundercat hat.
To sum up, Tobikage isn't the best show out there in terms of animation, plot, or overall coherency, but it is absolutely a ton of fun. Blatantly ridiculous and utterly over the top in many aspects, it still manages to have a lot of heart and some surprising moments within these first seven episodes, such as the fact that Joe's father plays a fairly significant role rather than being totally absent or a throw-away character. Whether you're feeling nostalgic or you just need something high energy to take you away for a while, Ninja Senshi Tobikage is a good way to just forget about the world for a time and to go back to a time when with a full bowl of Cocoa Puffs, anything could happen.
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B-
Animation : C
Art : B-
Music : B-
+ Constant action fun, interesting character designs, and an overall energy that keeps you watching. Opening theme is catchy if not ridiculous. The nostalgia factor cannot be downplayed.
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