Reviewby Bamboo Dong, Dec 7th 2010
DVD - The Complete Collection
Ran Kotobuki is a gal, and darned proud of it. She's the self-proclaimed queen of Shibuya, and she won't let anyone or anything get in the way of her and her buddies having fun, whether it's other gals, bumbling boys, or pick-pockets. She may seem like a rough and loud-mouthed teenager, but underneath her materialistic exterior, she's the most loyal friend anyone could ever ask for. Between looking after her crew and pining for new accessories, she's got her hands full.
Ah, the opulence of the early 2000s, back when consumerism was still king of the mountain, and long before the dirty truth of the recession rocked the retail capitals of the world. Back when gals were the queens of Shibuya, a ward in Tokyo known for its high-end fashion and glitzy street life. These gals belonged to a sub-culture that dazzled teenage girls around the world, and terrified the middle-aged population of Japan. They wore loose socks to piss off their high school administrators, and spent their parents' money on makeup and hair dye. So really, it was a matter of time before they made an anime about these girls.
That was Super Gals, a series that takes its roots from a girls' manga published in Ribon magazine. It follows a trio of gals as they navigate the same things every high school girl eventually faces—boys, quarrels with friends, insecurities, wanting to fit in. Luckily, the leader of their troop always seems to have the answer to everything. Laid back and ever-positive, Ran Kotobuki is the personal cheerleader that every girl wishes she had in her life. She always has her friends' backs, she never freaks out about anything, and she'll be the first one to speak up if one of her pals is dating a scumbag.
Her role as the ultimate friend is what makes the first season of Super Gals so compelling. Yes, there are enough ancillary conversations about karaoke and handbags to fill up a year's worth of Cosmo, but they're just there for extra flavor. Most of the first season imparts feel-good lessons about staying true to oneself, no matter the circumstances. The first episode introduces the third member of their circle as a straight-A student who's resorted to compensated dating in order to afford the things her strict parents would never let her get. It was a good way to start the series, considering the prevalence of comp-dating amongst the gal community—something that contributed to the bad rap that the subculture got.
And of course, there are other pro-self-esteem messages in the show, like a brief arc where Ran confronts a girl who steals in order to please her abusive boyfriend, and another where she exposes a teacher who demeans his students. The episodes are cheesy, but in a world where positive role models are in short supply, it's nice to see someone pointing girls down the right path.
Like most things in life, Super Gals is far from perfect. For every load of knowledge bombs it drops, it also gives some pretty bad advice. Advice that, upon watching, one can only hope that female viewers around the world are taking them with a heavy dose of salt. Two in particular stood out—now that perfect student Aya has realized she can fit in and have loyal friends without selling herself, she's let her studies slip by the wayside. Logic would dictate that her friends would say, “Hey, it's cool you're hanging out with us so much, but you can find time to study too!” Not really. Ran's words of wisdom are, to paraphrase, “Hey, don't listen to your parents! Seize your youth now and hang out, because what's important in life is how you feel right now.” Words to live by, for sure, but maybe not the right ones for high school students who plan on testing into a good university.
Then again, how would they know in 2001 that even less than ten years later, the job market would be so rough that even the most educated and best qualified applicants would have to scrap for entry-level jobs?
But worrying isn't in the gal vocabulary—which does include fun abbreviations like “self-cent” (self-centered) and acronyms like GL (good looking), all of which are explained by Ran and her crew. So instead, Aya rebels against her parents and decides that karaoke with her buddies is way more fun than going to cram school. As fate would have it, she's involved in more bad decisions later in the season, in the form of some of the worst dating advice girls could possibly get. Namely—if a guy doesn't express interest in you, promise you'll change to suit his whims and keep throwing yourself at him until he does.
So yeah, Super Gals isn't hitting all of them out of the park, but considering it's a show that actually uses para para dance-offs as plot devices, it doesn't do too badly for itself. And for the most part, the first season does pack a lot of heart and well-intentioned messages.
This is in direct contrast with the second season, which is hardly worth talking about, or acknowledging the existence of. Gone is all of the positive thinking from the first season, and gone is all the heart-felt (albeit sometimes misguided) conversations that Ran has with the troubled girls around her. Instead, the second season is one hijink after another, making it feel more like the OVA specials that anime studios release to milk more money out of a franchise. Only instead of just one or two Christmas episodes, or beach episodes, it's another entire season of Ran and Gang flitting around their stomping grounds doing stupid things.
The characters from Super Gals are a fun bunch, to be sure. They're varied enough that anyone could easily pick their favorite gal and GL dude, but let's be honest—they're not interesting enough to carry on 26 episodes of meaningless Shibuya adventures. Without Ran's words of wisdom, which was the meat of the series, it's nothing but brightly colored fluff and a few too many dance-offs.
Surprisingly, considering the age of the series, and how so much of its subject matter definitively dates it (who still remembers para para anyway?), Super Gals doesn't feel that antiquated. Some of the cultural buzzwords at the time, like ganguro gals and kogals, may be a little foreign to new viewers who weren't exposed to them the first time around, but the vibrant character designs make it very apparent which characters belong to which group. It's also just a fun show to stare at. Everything is bright and colorful, like sugar for the eyes. The show distinctly has an early-2000s vibe for sure, but the messages that it sends to viewers are timeless…for the first season, anyway. If there's a message anywhere in the second season, it's buried between a handbag and a takoyaki ball.
Notably, a dub wasn't even produced for the second season. This isn't that much of a surprise, but it's testament to the already fading popularity of the series by the time it was released stateside. Viewers aren't missing out on much, though. The English dub for the first season is well-done, and well-acted, but it's nothing spectacular. Some of the casting even feels off at times, with the girls sounding more like catty housewives ripping on each other than teenagers. Props should be given to the script writers, though—translating gal-speak into English couldn't have been easy, but they managed to do it with remarkable deft. The slang rolls off the tongue easily, and all of the abbreviations made a flawless transition from Japanese to English.
Super Gals is kind of a relic from a bygone era. It had its moment in the spotlight, and even though it's still enjoyable now, it's lost some of its dazzle over the years. Still, the first season is worth watching, partially for the social anthropology lesson, but mostly for the charismatic ball of energy that is Ran Kotobuki.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : A
Story : B+
Animation : C
Art : A-
Music : B
+ Positive role models, fun and energetic vibe
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