Reviewby Carlo Santos, Sep 1st 2005
The Daichis - Earth Defence Family
DVD 3: Pay Day
Mamoru, Seiko, Nozomi and Dai continue their family adventures as Earth's main line of defense against alien invaders, but the public's sudden interest in the "mysterious superhumans" puts their identities at risk. Meanwhile, Seiko's affair with her co-worker Hayakawa finally comes out into the open, and cuckolded husband Mamoru reacts by locking himself in the toilet—right when a dimensional anomaly surrounds the rest of the house in darkness. The last straw comes when Seiko misses her own birthday dinner because she's out with Hayakawa. With family bonds stretched to the breaking point, can the Daichis stick together long enough to stop a giant plant that plans to use all of Earth as its own flowerpot?
This can't be right. Anime spoofs are supposed to be throwaway confections where the jokes get old really quickly. Instead, The Daichis closes out with a compelling, well-built storyline that addresses real family issues. Take out the crazy aliens and comical superpowers, and you'd still have a believable drama about the consequences of a troubled marriage. This series succeeds not just because of high-energy action and comedy, but because it goes beyond that, saying something thoughtful about the dynamics between our closest relations.
If the story can be faulted for one thing, it's that the ending is predictably heroic. The Daichis do get back together, of course, and they fight off the alien menace in one final blaze of glory. However, it's the build-up to the ending that transcends the typical adventure plot: instead of being about fighting tougher and tougher aliens, it's about Seiko repeatedly giving in to Hayakawa's temptations. Just when you think she's about to turn it around ... no! She cheats again. This vicious cycle of irresponsibility drives the story so well, showing that the family's weaknesses are a far greater enemy than any alien. Nowhere is it more effective than in Episode 11, where the darkness threatening the Daichi household creates a paranoia that matches the best mind-bending anime out there, and Mamoru's battle of wills against himself is unforgettable. There's hardly any action in this episode, and even fewer gags, yet it's the best one in the series. Where else in anime can you witness the psychological breakdown of a husband in denial?
The character drama doesn't stop with Mamoru and Seiko either—even big sister Nozomi and little brother Dai have their own personal issues to take care of. It's easy to identify each member of the family with a single trait: the nerdy, weak-willed father, the irresponsible mother, the bossy daughter, the hyperactive son—and yet behind these traits are complex motivations and personal histories. What can be more heartbreaking than Seiko denying her own son's existence when she and Hayakawa pass him on a bridge? Where other comedies simply exaggerate personalities into absurdity, this one explores them and builds a real story out of it.
The storyline isn't the only aspect that exceeds expectations. Animation studio Group TAC goes all out with the action sequences, taking on difficult camera angles and high speeds to create a real feeling of excitement. Even the transformation sequences are fascinating to watch; normally such things are thirty seconds of boring recycled animation, but here they're thirty seconds of slick and innovative recycled animation. The character designs and color scheme aren't quite so impressive; although the old-school influence is intentional, it does make the art look more blocky and cartoony than what modern eyes are used to. The big shiny eyes, spiky hair, and brightly colored battle suits recall an era that's since long gone, but the quality is consistent, and you have to give them credit for making Mamoru one of the few convincingly fat characters in anime. Besides, it's not entirely retro: digital techniques enhance the crispness and contrast between colors. Even the visually sparse Episode 11 (the animators apparently ran out of time and resorted to repeated footage and lots of black) maintains a high standard, and when flashy animation isn't available, careful timing and cutting prove to be just as expressive.
Guitarist Shigeo Naka (of The Surf Coasters) complements the show's old-school style with a music score that blends the best of garage and classic rock. Few things are as energetic as distortion guitars at full blast in the middle of a fight scene, and they're even more effective when Seiko is arguing with Mamoru. Naka also knows how to lay off in quieter scenes, switching to a bluesy acoustic guitar as needed. The raucous (and suggestive) opening song is the ideal lead-in to each episode, while the closer is much more relaxed, recalling idyllic memories of family life.
Like the rapid-fire action in the show, the voice actors on the English dub are equally lively, delivering their lines with the argumentative flair of a real family. Although some of the Japanese names get mangled in pronunciation, it doesn't stop the rest of the dialogue from being clear and well-timed. The adaptation from subtitle to dub script is very high on accuracy, with maybe one phrase or two each episode being inverted just to make it easier to say. The only real issue is with the "Hachiko Dog" in Episode 10 being re-named to just "the giant dog"; apparently the cultural aspect of Hachiko Plaza in Shibuya is unimportant to English speakers. But that's only one episode, and has no effect on anything else.
The extras on this disc include an alternate Episode 11, which appears to be what the animators would have planned if they hadn't run out of time or resources during the show's airing. This one features Mamoru and Seiko trying out a full-immersion RPG, resulting in the usual video game gags and clichés. The original Episode 11 does a far better job of creating tension, but the alternate has the better confrontation between the two at the end.
What makes The Daichis unique is that it's not trying to push the boundaries of comedy itself—it pushes the boundaries of what can be done in addition to comedy. There's plenty of parody anime out there already, making fun of whichever genre has worn out its welcome, but the one that can tell a genuine story instantly sets itself apart. Follow this all the way through and you'll realize that, after a while, it's not about the silly weapons and funny attack names, but about husbands and wives, daughters and sons. Few anime titles—comedy or otherwise—ever reach that far. Don't miss out on this surprisingly good series.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A
Animation : A
Art : B
Music : B+
+ A fulfilling ending to a spoof series with real depth.
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