The Fall 2021 Preview Guide
Muteking the Dancing Hero
How would you rate episode 1 of
Muteking the Dancing Hero ?
What is this?
In the cheerful seaside city of Neo San Francisco lives the kind-hearted Muteki, who, after meeting a self-proclaimed DJ, transforms into the dancing hero Muteking. Muteking and DJ sing and dance to save the city from invading monsters.
How was the first episode?
Looking at my notes for Muteking, the first line (which is underlined several times) is the following:
“Bored, so bored.”
To put it another way, nothing excited me about this production. The vast majority of the episode was just lazy slapstick. Muteki orders a hamburger and gets a soda float. Muteki ends up doing a dance as he attempts to not step on a mouse. Muteki runs into a strange boombox-carrying man who invades his personal space.
I get it: this is a show aimed at kids based on an 80s show aimed at kids. But really, I wonder if today's children would even laugh at this. And even if they would, I feel that there are plenty of children's shows out there that have an extra layer that keeps things interesting for adults as well—even from as far back as the 80s. Honestly, I get the feeling that this is a show aimed at people who grew up with the original (and want to share it with their kids today) more than the kids themselves.
But even beyond Muteki's aimless “comedic” wanderings through Neo San Francisco, the show has issues. Many of its design choices simply clash with each other. The visual design for the city and technology seems to be the 80s (cassette tapes, boomboxes) mixed with the 50s (diners and roller-skating carhops). Yet, at the same time, this is a futuristic world where smartwatches, hologram-filled concerts, and trans-continental tube trains exist. Hell, the villain is clearly a Steve Jobs analogue which brings in 00s aspects as well.
The other obvious clash in the anime is the “American” setting—which apparently means that everyone is weird and shouts English words randomly (which is, need I remind you, the height of comedy). Yet, at the same time, the show is centered around uniquely Japanese puns—like that the words “squid” and “taco” sound very similar in Japanese. It honestly feels weird from top to bottom—but not in an interesting way that makes me want to continue watching.
All in all, this show was a waste of my time to watch. I can't think of anyone I'd recommend it to—not even kids. There are a million better shows out there for them to watch that won't drive the adults in the room to boredom.
Muteking the Dancing Hero is the kind of show that is so confidently and charmingly deranged that I can't help but admire it, even if I wasn't always enjoying the act of watching it. Muteki is a new arrival in the candy-colored tech utopia of Neo San Fran Cisco, and in this first episode alone he must brave the following challenges: Rescue an anthropomorphic cartoon mouse from an angry shopkeep with the power of dance; save a ridiculous elderly lady from an oncoming trolley (also with the power of dance); get accosted by a Taco Bell robot and a strange DJ whose name is “DJ aka DJ”; flirt with a diner waitress that looks like if Princess Bubblegum had a lovechild with Wendy (from Wendy's™), who may also be an evil minion of the tech-bro villain of the anime, a guy named Theo Eight (who is himself what would happen if Elon Musk got fused with the corpse of Steve Jobs, and then had plastic surgery in order to more closely resemble an evil twin brother of Leonard Nemoy).
All of this occurs before we even discover what the hell Muteking the Dancing Hero is even about, mind you. That finally happens when the pop-diva Aurora, who I'm pretty sure is also that Wendy-looking waitress from earlier, uses the power of her incomprehensible technopop to turn every single person in her audience into sludge monsters. DJ aka DJ shows up and awakens Muteki's latent power to transform into a roller-disco superhero that defeats evil with the power of his “cool” dancing. Also, Muteki finds out that DJ aka DJ might possibly be banging his hip grandmother on the side (Muteki's grandmother, not DJ's. Just in case that was unclear).
Look, I don't know how else to recommend or even reckon with Muteking's premiere without simply describing what happens in it, because it's pretty wild. The show looks and sounds like a parody of anime that you might have seen on an episode of Law and Order back in the early 2000s, assuming that show has ever featured a story where someone was driven to commit roller-derby themed murder under the influence of a bizarre Japanese cartoon (which it probably has). It is the dictionary definition of A Lot, and contains not one iota of irony in its bones. I don't know if there's going to be convincing any fence-sitters, here. You're either already on board this Nanners Train, or you're not.
As for me, well…like I said, I respect Muteking, but I also found it to be more than a little exhausting. 14-year-old James probably would have gotten a kick out of it, but 29-year-old James couldn't get through even one episode of Muteking without taking some breaks to recombobulate himself. If you're in the mood for something weird and wild, though, and you appreciate art that is almost supernaturally uncool, then maybe Muteking the Dancing Hero will be for you.
There's something special about the kind of show that is so bright and colorful and nonsensical that when something truly bizarre happens, you're already primed to accept it with a shrug and a “Sure.” Such is the case with Muteking: The Dancing Hero, the newest Tatsunoko Productions reboot about a roller-skating hero who fights alien invaders on rollerblades.
This isn't the first time an old Tatsunoko series was reimagined for a new generation — notable examples include Gatchaman Crowds, Casshern Sins, and even Speed Racer X. Each remake reimagined the stories and concepts to make them exciting and relevant for today's audiences, often with a wildly different tone from the original. Unlike the other series, I don't even have passing familiarity with the original Muteking the Dancing Hero, so I can't gauge how similar or different it is to the original, but I suspect the 1980 series didn't feature evil alien technocrats slinging iPods.
Oh yes, much like Gatchaman Crowds, Muteking has a lot of thoughts about technology and society. An evil alien, complete with a sinister lair in the middle of San Francisco Bay, in the guise of a Steve Jobs-like figure tells people to throw out their old cassette players and replace them with slick mp3 players and slings tacos dyed black and served up by robots, but only if you have a membership at the restaurant. DJ, who carries a boombox, accosts the protagonist Muteki, and transforms him into Muteking, is over-the-top and energetic and colorful. A slick techno music performance transforms the audience into black goo, only to be stopped by Muteking roller skating and singing an old-fashioned tokusatsu theme song.
Its energy and bright aesthetic make it a lot of fun, but I do hope that it doesn't turn into “technology bad, old-style good.” Nostalgia is all well and good, and I hate techbro culture as much as the next person (as is right and proper for a Seattle resident who doesn't work in the industry), but I'm leery of stories that tar (or ink, as the case may be) all modern technology with the same brush; mp3 players are objectively better than Walkmen, and I say that having survived the era of portable CD players. Hopefully, it'll be more of a celebration of the bright colors, warmth, and personality of the analog era before Apple decided the modern aesthetic would be stark and minimalist, and not a blanket condemnation of everything to come out of the digital age.
I say this because while Muteking may not be my thing, the episode was fun, and I had a really good time watching it. The animation is just okay and at times the CG looks outright bad, but it was silly and weird enough to make it work. Plus, I appreciate the choice of San Francisco, the birthplace of modern tech culture (well, to the suburbs around it if we're being strictly accurate) as a setting. Hopefully the goofy good time won't turn into harrumphing about kids these days with their smartphones and internets.
A few years back, there was a bit of a mini-renaissance of Tatsunoko IP revivals. Casshern Sins, Gatchaman Crowds, Yatterman Night, and a few others put these classic, iconic (in Japan at least) properties in the hands of younger talent with their own visions for how to modernize them. They didn't always work out, but were almost always interesting to follow just as an experiment in defying or meeting nostalgic expectations. Unfortunately, after the big crossover series Infini-T Force squittered across the finish line, that trend seemed to die out. Yet here, in the year of our lord 2021, is a full-on modernized revival of an obscure Tatsunoko comedy show from the early '80s, living it up like roller rinks and Atari consoles never went out of style.
That aesthetic is the first thing about this new Muteking that will stand up and slap you in the face. This show is a candy color whirlwind of retro-futuristic urban design, incorporating everything from walkman players and vinyl records to boom boxes and 60's street diners. The OP is a technicolor fever dream of art styles and visual motifs that is either going to be pure visual noise or a blast of artistic fresh air depending on your tastes, and the ED is equally married to the visuals of a silver age Archie comic. It's garish, tacky, and incessant, but that's also exactly what makes it so charming in its own right. In both art and sound, this is a show where at some point chiptune became the dominating cultural force of the world, and there's nothing else like it in recent memory.
Outside of that though, things are a little more familiar. Anyone acquainted with your typical Magical Girl or Tokusatsu show will know the formula already – it's just that instead of turning into a butt-kicking superhero, our main character transformers into a rollerskating disco star who dabs across a neon-drenched San Francisco skyline. Any innovation on the formula comes from the plot trappings. The evil force our hero must battle is an octopus alien masquerading as a tech CEO, trying to replace the magic of cassette tapes with a thinly veiled iPod stand-in. The villainess is a vocaloid-looking lady who turns the masses into octopus ink with the power of heavily distorted hyperpop visualizers. For some reason there's a funny pizza guy who runs a restaurant called Funny Pizza Guy and another big guy whose shirt just says “BIG” on the front. The characters themselves are pretty standard for a kids show, but they're also meant to play second fiddle to the sheer visual and audio overload of the whole endeavor. I will say that I like the varied body types and styles of the cast we see in the OP, and would like to see more of them just to see those designs in action.
With some distance, there are definitely important flaws, though. While I overall like the aesthetic and design sensibilities of this premiere, by the end of the first episode it already felt like a bit much. The pacing and structure of this episode are all over the place, cutting around to establish seemingly every eventually important character regardless of whether it makes sense. There's a weird bit where DJ, also known as DJ AKA DJ, implies he may be doing more than just dancing with Muteki's grandma. Which hey, good for them I guess, but kind of a weird thing to say in front of said grandson, y'know? And while I find the concept of fighting against the ubiquity of Apple products funny as hell, I do hope there's more to this premise than just griping about how analog music media was way better than these new fangled MP3s that people don't even use anymore.
All that said, I can't deny having a ton of fun with this premiere. It's loud and ridiculous, but commits to itself with pure, genuine exuberance that I found rather infectious. I don't know how long I'll stick around with it, but for now I'm ready to groove along.
Do you remember Dazzler, the disco-themed member of the X-Men created in 1978 as a collaboration between Casablanca Records and Marvel Comics? You know, the one who converted “sound vibrations” into light and energy like a human disco ball? Well, I feel like whatever energy was put into creating that character was definitely present in the room when Muteking the Dancing Hero was born, and it's very clearly still around in this modern reboot. I mean, sure I'm saying that in part because there are roller skates and disco balls and boomboxes that play cassettes, but it's more than that – the vibe, if you will.
The story feels a bit more like a magical boy series than a mecha or sentai show, which works with the futuristic 80s mood of the episode. Muteki moves to Neo San Francisco from some unnamed country town to live with his grandmother, the super swingin' Sarah. Before he ever gets to her house, though, he manages to save an electric blue mouse from Funny Pizza Guy (seriously, it's on his shirt) and an old woman from getting run down by a streetcar. Somehow this gets the attention of DJ a.k.a. DJ, an enthusiastic guy with a boombox and hair that looks like it was made from pink playdoh noodles. Muteki does his best to avoid the man, but somehow can't shake him off, which turns out to be a good thing when pop star Aurora's concert at a local festival turns everyone into tarry black goo. Suddenly DJ enables Muteki to turn into the roller skating knock-off power ranger Muteking, who dances away the bad guy and turns everyone human again. Oh, and DJ may be Sarah's boyfriend/lover. Huh.
To say that this is weird may be to understate. The first three-quarters of the episode spend most of their time leaning into the wackiness, which can make it feel like a bit of a trial to get through; in fact, I was going to give this a 2 until Muteki's transformation, because it felt too much like the episode was working too hard to be zany. Evil corporate overlord Theo Eight, owner of OctinQ, which you can see as analogous to the evil tech corporation of your choice, would be twirling his mustaches if he had them, the colors are Playmobil-bright...everything is just a little too much. It does all come together once the main action gets going though, and this could turn out to be a lot of fun if it can maybe dial the setting and DJ down a little. (And if we never see waitress Aida again, I'll be very happy.) It's definitely worth giving a chance, because I really do think this is going to be one of those shows that either tickles your funny bone or sends you screaming out of the room with few people falling in the middle.
And if Marvel's paying attention, let's see a Dazzler/Muteking crossover. I'll be waiting.
discuss this in the forum (250 posts) |
this article has been modified since it was originally posted; see change history