Reviewby Bamboo Dong, Jan 5th 2004
DVD 1: Gotta Have Heart
Ran and her friends own the streets of Shibuya and they won't let anyone take it away from them. Teaching each other valuable lessons like the importance of freedom and loyalty to your friends, they're not afraid to do whatever it takes to make sure that none of their friends get hurt. From shopping to singing to beating up stalkers, the Super Gals are ready to live out their lives as the greatest gals ever!
Amongst the teenaged girls in Japan, there exists a lifestyle where materialism is all the rage, and trivial things like grades just don't matter. Life is all about glamour and glitz, and if buying the best accessories and makeup means draining the last of your savings, then it's time to break open the piggy bank. Time won't wait for you, so you'd better have fun now while you still can. This is the lifestyle of a gal, short for kogal, and Shibuya's the place to be. Kogals are notorious around Japan and generally frowned upon by their parents and other members of proper society. These are the girls that hang around with loose socks and flashy attire, serving as living reminders that youth is a fleeting entity that must be gripped onto as tightly as possible. It's this world of rule breaking and norms-be-damned living that sets the stage for one of the most unique shoujo series out there, Super Gals.
Abandoning an overarching storyline for a more episodic “moral of the day” approach, the series relies mainly on the characters to deliver its content. With that goal in mind, it's no surprise that the characterization is so rich. With every possible personality trait that can be found in a typical Japanese classroom conveyed in one of the characters, the show is able to reel viewers in with the knowledge that someone in their life resembles someone on the screen. Ran is a fiery gal who, although she was raised in a family of law enforcers, spends her days brawling in the streets of Shibuya to secure her “turf” and protect her friends. Of course, it just wouldn't be a shoujo series without that added touch of underage lovin'. That's provided by her friend Miyu, who's a quiet ex-gang member in love with Ran's much older brother. Aya is the token smart girl who must live under her strict parents' unrelenting pressure.
What makes these generally boring archetypes so fun to watch is that as the episodes unfold, so do the characters' multilayered lives. As the girls and their relationships with one another grow, the viewers really get to know each person and their motivations. An example is the 2D Token Smart Girl, who develops into Exciting 3D Repressed Party Girl Who Wants to Be Rebellious and Sleep with Creepy Old Guys. It's this change that makes the story work and the characters come to life.
Unlike most anime series which try to teach children to stay in school and respect their elders, however, Super Gals seems to go out of its way to teach young girls that school is an unfortunate waste of time. Clearly, buying fake nails and drooling over high school boys is much more important than entrance exams and a minor thing called “college.” The difference between this series and typical American “Dumb Blondes and Co.” TV series is that Super Gals tries to balance out its outgoing partying with the right streak of justice and morals. Every episode eventually ends with Ran giving off a Fireside Chat speech about the lessons in life that are much more important than what can be learned in a book, like not sleeping with old men, or why having fun and being young is better than going to school so you can grow up, get a good job, and not live in a box next to the metro. Although some of the lessons she tries to teach raises some eyebrows as to what message the creators are trying to spread to Japanese youth, the underlying messages of loyalty and friendship are what give the series its emotional edge. It's true that the episodes are rather formulaic, but with the vivid and different events that happen to all the characters, it's easy to ignore any developing patterns.
For a foreign audience though, an added appeal to the series is the added insight into certain parts of Japanese popular culture. From shady practices like “phone hunting” and subsidized dating to “karaoke marathons,” audiences get the chance to see parts of Japanese teen society that aren't usually talked about. To make the oddities of “gal lingo” even more accessible to viewers, the show tangents into a brief SD language lesson every time a new word like “GL” or “sleep crazy” is used. This is where ADV comes in to further help out clueless Americans. The DVD comes with a mini poster of Ran whose flipside comes with a glossary of language terms and cultural references. This comes in super handy for viewers who are stumped by certain cultural in-jokes and references, even though there's an error where the guide lists pop star Namie Amuro's name as Amie Namuro. The glossary also sheds a little light on how the different kogal terms were Americanized, perfect for all the anal fanboys who were planning to launch a crusade about the translations.
Purist may as well put away their weapons though, because both the translation and dubbing are nearly flawless. The English script was written faithfully to match the original dialogue, with the exception of one or two lines that had their meanings slightly tweaked. This was carried out even further by the excellent dub cast who brought out the vigor and occasional ditziness of the characters perfectly. The one patch of awkwardness in the entire dub job was brought on by a character, unfortunately named Mami. Congratulations go to anyone who can watch the dub without bursting out in laughter with lines like “Come on Mami, let's go home!” and “Mami, I'm scared!” The Japanese cast performed equally well, rounding out the characters' personalities in a believable manner. Ear aches, alas, are dutifully handed out on both language tracks when their respective Ran characters attempt to karaoke the opening theme song in one of the episodes. I've come to the conclusion that all female anime protagonists are cursed with the hideous disease of not being able to carry a single tune. If they played Karaoke Revolution, their games would remain unlocked for eternity.
With all the fast paced adventure going on, it takes a slick animation job to do it justice. Well, Super Gals may not have that, but what does come out is adequate enough to get the job done. The animation is comprised of both fluid movements and cartoonish still shots, conserving the budget at just the right times to give the series gas when it needs it. Of course, along with the cartoonish animation must also come equally cartoonish art at times, and that's delivered as promised. From ridiculously long legs on all the characters, to exagerrated facial expressions, it gives the series the energy that it needs to complement the script.
Although it has its fair share of oddities, Super Gals is one of the most unique shoujo series to come into existence. Filled to every crack with cultural insights and accompanying humor, the series delivers its messages faithfully and energetically. Packed with just enough teen angst and frivolity to balance each other out, this is certainly a fun and emotional show for girls everywhere. Guys may enjoy it too, but don't be surprised if you find yourself lost at some of the girls' antics. In a market filled with magical girl shows, Super Gals most definitely does a good job in differently presenting the theme that “love and friendship” conquers all. Even if you still find yourself rolling your eyes at times.
Overall (dub) : A
Overall (sub) : A
Story : B
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B
+ Energetic series filled with comedy
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