The Winter 2015 Anime Preview Guide
Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE
Anime comedies have a bad habit of, well, not working at all for me. I often feel like the gags don't quite cohere into full jokes, or that the shows lean too hard on silly faces, or that the comedic timing is just plain terrible. However, once in a while a show comes along that really seems to get what I want out of comedy - and weirdly enough, the Magical Boy Love Hour seems to fit the bill. I don't know if it'll keep it up, but Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE! (whew) had a stellar, consistently funny first episode.
The story here is almost simple enough to be told by the title and cover alone. This first episode introduces our cast of five strapping young men, all with their own slight quirks (one's obsessed with money, one's obsessed with girls, one's hyper-energetic, and the last two are just kinda snarky commentators), as well as the strange pink not-wombat that serves as their animal sidekick. Our heroes start off as the aimless members of an as-yet-unnamed school club, but through the machinations of the not-wombat are quickly outfitted with handy transformation gear, forced to transform into their frilly Battle Lovers forms, and tossed into a Pretty Cure-style battle against the first of the evil Loveless, a human-sized wheat stick.
That summary really doesn't do this first episode justice, though. Yeah, it's silly and self-aware and kinda riffing on both magical girl shows and cute boy shows, but when it comes to parody fare like this, the execution is everything. And Earth Defense Club has execution in spades. Instead of laboring over any single joke, it spins quickly from “uh, did that wombat kill their teacher and steal his body?” to “oh god, they're being forced to make silly battle slogans” to “Love stick!” The battle and transformation animation is actually pretty solid, but the key here is the writing and pacing - no single joke lingers, and the rapid-fire script is full of natural-sounding banter and great random asides. Given that we're working with the director of Gintama and writing team behind Shirobako, it's not actually that surprising to see Earth Defense Club come together like this, but a comedy that really works is always something to be celebrated. Here's hoping the show doesn't run out of steam anytime soon.
Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE! is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Rating: 4 (of 5)
Review: I don't often get caught as thoroughly off-guard by an anime series as I did by this one. By all rights this should be the kind of fare that I most hate, and yet. . . I just can't. But that is the kind of disarming allure that this strange little bishonen series from the director of Gintama, School Rumble, and Gundam Wing has.
Essentially what director Shinji Takamatsu has wrought here is a parody of formula magical girl series which features magical boys instead. (Given the rise of darker magical girl series over the past few years, it is also entirely possible that this is intended at least partly as a rebuttal to that trend.) Nothing else has been changed; they still have transformation scenes where they are stripped nude before being reclothed, they still have color coding, they still use cutesy wands, they still have an alien mascot creature guiding them (in this case a creature which looks like a pink wombat), and they are still acting in the name of love; in fact, the bracelet that they were which enables them to transform is called a "Lovraclet". They even have a ridiculous enemy to fight with darker and more sinister foes lurking in the background. Heck, they even all wear giant bows!
As absurd and amusing as all of that is, though, what really makes the first episode work is the dialogue. It's awash in the kind of inanity that high school boys might talk about when they're really bored (that Takamatsu also directed The Daily Lives of High School Boys is no surprise), with a classic example being the opening bath scene involving Atsusi and En where they and blond-haired Yumoto first meet the pink wombat and have vastly contrasting reactions to it. Even better is the running commentary that they and fellow unofficial club members Io and Ryuu engage in as they go through the whole process of dealing with the wombat and becoming magical defenders of the Earth. Anime is all-too-often burdened by overly-talky action scenes, but this is exactly the right way to do it. The random names that they come up with for their magical attacks are also priceless.
Yeah, the character designs and personalities are pretty much stock shojo fare, and yeah, the artistry and animation are not all that impressive. However, the concept is just so silly, and so well-done for being so silly, that it is hard to resist. Even if dedicated bishonen fare is not your kind of thing, you owe it to yourself to at least give this one a sample.
Cute Earth Defense Club LOVE! is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Rating: 4.5At some point in the absolutely magical first episode of Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE!, one of the frou-frou-clad male leads says that he and his friends should "just treat a farce as a farce." He's referring to the boys' new identities as Sailor Scouts, suggesting that they just shout things like "Awesome Fire!" and "Random Water Attack!" while waving their wands around and hope for the best, but it's also a clear tongue-in-cheek summation of the show's approach to itself. Whereas a more lazy "magical boy" parody might rely on a few references and the misplaced assumption that the basic idea is so silly that no effort need be made to step past the one joke, this show devotes itself to the goofy concept completely. The show's world itself plays the idea straight, leaving the comedy in the hands of its five diverse leads, and turning an eye-rolling premise into a genuinely hilarious half-hour of sharp jokes, great timing, and a production with a lot of love in the making. (Related: the boys shout "Love-Making!" in engrish before transforming into Sailor Scouts.)
It also helps that the show shoots for specificity in its humor, rather than opening under a generic "magical girls except they're boys" comedy umbrella. The spoof here is directly Sailor Moon, from Luna as a kind-of-cute-but-kind-of-gross pink wombat to transformation devices called "Lovracelets" to the zombification of ordinary citizens into weird nonsensical monsters through the influence of a love-sucking purple haze. There's even a boy-Usagi who brings the less purehearted members of the team together, arriving complete with her trademark mixture of cheery optimism and empty-headed annoyance. The animation becomes deliberately more detailed during the fight scenes, (although there are some nice bits during the school comedy material too,) and it's obvious that whatever else this show may be, it's not phoned-in, it's not a cash-in, and it took a lot of talent and effort to craft something this deliberately "stupid."
This surprising burst of quality becomes less surprising when you take a look at the staff behind it. Director Shinji Takamatsu (School Rumble, Daily Lives of High School Boys) and head writer Michiko Yokote (Princess Tutu, Shirobako) are no greenhorns when it comes to snappy cartoon hijinks or smart genre-aware humor. This was not only a lot better than I thought it was going to be, but easily the funniest anime I've seen since maybe Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun, but I think it can even hold its own against that popular darling. Don't let the garish title and pandering key art fool you: this is definitely a farce to keep your eye on this season!
Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)
Are you tired of dark magical girl stories? Then get ready for Cute High Earth Defense Club Love, which is neither dark nor about magical girls. A parody of Sailor Moon and its ilk combined with a healthy dose of Care Bears, this show is about a magic pink space wombat who possess a school teacher in order to grant five beautiful boys the power to transform into the Battle Lovers. If none of that hooked you, perhaps the (very) naked transformation sequences, the boys' embarrassment, and the fact that they have the most bizarre transformation phrase since “Star Gentle Uterus” will. (It's “Love Making!” for the record.)
The story follows Atsushi, En-chan, Io, Ryu, and Yumato, five ordinary high school students. Atsushi and En-chan have a run-in with Wombat (his name isn't translatable into Japanese), a creature from space who pops into the public bath they're using. Yumato, who has an unhealthy love of wombats, is the son of the bath's owners, and immediately crashes the party while the other two boys flee. The next day, however, Wombat shows up at their school and forces Lovracelets – marketable transformation items – upon them, turning they and club-mates Ryu and Io into the Battle Lovers. All of this is totally against their will, and watching the lovracelets force them to say cheesy lines and strike poses is nearly as funny as their transformation sequences. Those are obvious parodies of the Sailor Guardians' transformations, down to the bubbles for Cerulean's and Epinard's green color scheme and weather powers, which are ripped from Sailors Mercury and Jupiter. The fact that they make up their own attack names has been done before in other places, but the rest of their transformation and battle is insane enough that it really doesn't matter.
Clearly most of the attention went into the magical boy aspects of the show, with the characters looking noticeably better drawn when transformed, and the actual magical feats and trinkets showing smoother animation on the whole. Since this is really the meat of the episode, it doesn't matter, but it will be a trend worth keeping an eye on. At this point only Yumato really has much personality, and while he is annoying – and not unlike Elmira from Tiny Toons in his love of Wombat – this seems to fit in with the satiric elements of the show, because if you think about it, Usagi of Sailor Moon is also quite irritating, although it is not true of all magical girl team leaders.
It may not be able to carry it through, but right now Cute High Earth Defense Club Love is really very funny. With its weird mix of colors and planets for characters' names, enemies who look like they escaped from Revolutionary Girl Utena, and a spot-on parody of the magical girl genre in general and Sailor Moon in particular, this is a first episode you ought to watch. Even if it turns out not to be your cup of tea, it's almost certain that you'll laugh at some point.
Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
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