Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Dec 22nd 2009
DVD - Season 1 Part 2
Life for erstwhile alien invaders Keroro, Giroro, Tamama, Kululu, and Dororo has fallen into a routine. That routine, at least for Keroro, involves chore-slavery for the Hinata household and perpetual self-medication via Gundam models. So what's a would-be conqueror to do to shake things up? A trip (or two) to the beach, to begin with. And a few hare-brained money-making schemes of course. (Radio shows to hawk Keroro goods anyone?) Plus more Gundam models and maybe even the occasional stab at subjugating humanity. Though the latter will have to wait until the chores are done. If that isn't enough, there are always the events that are out of his control, like the letter from Headquarters stripping him of his position and awarding it to bipolar poster-frog Tamama, and deep-sea encounters with the real Pekoponians, who apparently are, or live inside of, prehistoric sharks. Of course, gibbering madness of that sort is, in a way, also part of Keroro's routine.
The first set hooked with an imaginative premise and a gonzo sense of humor, but the real test of Sgt. Frog's mettle comes here in the second set. It is here, after all, that the show will prove whether it has the legs to survive the long haul through the nearly four hundred (and counting) episodes to come.
And, as it happens, it does. Like those of its froggy protagonist, they're stubby but sturdy little things, carrying the series at a quick clip through thirteen more episodes of amphibious alien madness. None of the jokes on this set hit the funny bone quite as hard as, say episode six's resuscitating alien octopus (still the funniest thing I've ever had the misfortune to watch in public), but they come close, and often. There are entire episodes of high entertainment (the beachside manzai contest), lengthy sequences heavy in hilarity (Ker>oro discovering the horror of commanding an army's worth of himself), and single moments of such idiot-savant comic brilliance that they can endanger your health (the Kogoroader—you really must see it to understand). There are few series that can compete with Sgt. Frog for consistent laughs, and in a way that's even more impressive than launching a joke through the stratosphere.
This is family fare, so it shouldn't come as a shock that the laughs share their screen time with little life lessons. What does come as shock is how well the two end up meshing. The lessons are delivered with tongue firmly in cheek (e.g. "good kids don't steal overtechnology from their friends and try to fix their Gun>dam models with it"), but more importantly chief director Junichi Sato brings a surprisingly human touch to his inhuman hijinks. The show has a core decency such that, no matter how self-serving Ker>oro's behavior or how violent the fates visited upon him for it (and they can be pretty violent), the morals about friendship, riffs on environmental responsibility, and various and sundry other youth-targeted messages never feel out of place. There are, of course, exceptions. Moments where the show shoots for emotional responses that it is ill-equipped to elicit (Ker>oro's "death" scene in episode 23 being a prime example), and others where it pushes a message too hard (will kids really respond to an environmental call to arms because it's backed by the threat of a giant shark invasion?). But when in balance, Sgt. Frog is that rare comedic beast: a show that is both child-friendly and really, really funny.
A lot of that funny comes from the show's mastery of the art of the sight gag. While generally a good-looking show (it is animated by Sunrise, the people behind Ker>oro's beloved Gundam, after all), Sgt. Frog's most outstanding technical achievement is its ability to toss off gut-busting images as if the act is as easy and natural as breathing. Here we'll see a dancing, afroed frog alien shot in the butt with an arrow-message, there we'll see a manzai duo composed of Mois and Ker>oro in a bikini-clad human-suit (of the female persuasion, complete with twin puffs of hair), and over there is Ker>oro leaking incongruous gravitas while aping Space Battleship Yamato's captain. Even the way Ker>oro and his platoon-mates move is funny: silly, oddly cuddly and completely at odds with their jobs as invaders. The cute simplicity of their—and for that matter, everyone else's—designs frees them up to be surprisingly expressive and fully mobile, all of which makes them just that much funnier as they drag each episode into glorious chaos.
Saeko Suzuki's score is equally funny-bone-focused. It's a completely and wonderfully frivolous affair, filled with instantly memorable themes and snippets of music that eventually become funny in their own right. Not sophisticated by any stretch, and perhaps too easily eclipsed by the series' indescribable yet profoundly catchy (and funny) opening and closing themes (the latter of which, "Afro Gunsou," is replaced after episode eighteen by a distinctly inferior tune), but nevertheless quite good.
Depending somewhat on your tolerance for arch cultural references and trendy metahumor, the English version may actually be funnier than the original. It's a turbo-charged, quip-a-minute take on the original script (not a complete rewrite—it still retains most of the original's plot and occasional chunks of its dialogue) so overstuffed with running jokes and mean pop-culture digs that you can watch it several times through and still find new laughs each time. The cast is obviously having a blast—particularly Todd Haberkorn as Ker>oro and R. Bruce Elliot as the intrusive narrator—and it's hard not to be swept up in their enthusiasm. Nevertheless there is a self-satisfied feel to some of the rewrites that is bothersome, and while the Japanese version successfully combines high humor with kid-friendly morals, the far more mean-spirited English version does not.
If you need a summing up of Sgt. Frog's second set, here it is: more of the same. Other than a waning of the first set's novelty, nothing has changed between set one and two. That is a good thing. Energetic and occasionally gut-knottingly funny, not to mention basically harmless, this is five hours of guilt-free fun. And if you just have to have that guilt (or just want a higher density of jokes) there's always Funimation's comparatively ill-natured (but hilarious!) dub. For a good time, it's pretty hard to beat either way. Just don't try marathoning it; that is bad for you in so many ways.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B+
Art : B
Music : B
+ More incompetent-invader hilarity than you could shake a dried frog at; hilarious (if not flawless) dub; as good for kids as for adults.
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