Reviewby Rose Bridges,
Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE! Episodes 1-12 Streaming
The members of Binan High School's Earth Defense Club, dedicated to shooting the breeze and little else, are relaxing at their classmate Yumoto's family hot spring. All of a sudden, they're confronted by a talking pink wombat, who claims to be from another planet and recruits them for a mission to save the world. The boys run away (except for Yumoto, who wants to cuddle their new furry friend), but the wombat catches up with them and gives them "lovracelets." These transform Yumoto, Atsushi, En, Io and Ryuu into the Battle Lovers, magical frilly-suited warriors. They must defend the Earth from the evil machinations of the Student Council and their green alien hedgehog Zundar.
There are two reasons this show was already hotly anticipated before it came out. One, with the rise in popularity of bishonen shows aimed at fujoshi, it was basically inevitable that somebody someday was going to riff on the magical girl genre but with boys. The only surprise was that it didn't put the guys in actual skirts (instead it uses shorts with skirt-like frills around them). The other was Michiko Yokote, also responsible for series composition on Princess Tutu. People worried CHED would be a mean-spirited roast of magical-girls could rest assured, knowing its head writer was also responsible for one of the genre's most beloved masterpieces. Princess Tutu also might be one of the smartest magical girl shows ever made, so that raised hopes that this one would have something to say, too.
That's not necessarily how I would describe this show, but Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE! certainly shares a lot of Princess Tutu's charms. Evil characters take advantage of emotional students to turn them into cartoonish baddies, which the main magical girl/boy must then "cure" with the power of love. The victims-of-the-week are fun and distinctive as they are disposable, with the blond dancer in particular reminding me of Princess Tutu's flamboyant Femio. It even gets metafictional in the finale. The point is that Yokote's voice is all over this, but CHED is still very much its own thing, and not just because it's a comedy. Princess Tutu, after all, was more interested in breaking apart fairy tale conventions than magical-girl ones. Cute High Earth Defense Club! is the silliest "mahou shojo" ever made, and that's the point.
The show aims particularly at Sailor Moon and other team-based magical girl shows most familiar to Western viewers. The villains even share a similar "mineral"-based naming and power scheme to Sailor Moon's Shitennou. Protagonist Yumoto is like a strange combination of Usagi Tsukino herself and Nagisa from Free! He's blond and bubbly, eats a lot and is not very smart. He's the team leader by virtue of his relentless optimism, not because he has any actual leadership skills. The rest of the boys' personalities are really simplistic, like "loves money" or "loves girls." This is on purpose, and pointed out in the final sequence where every boy yells what he's fighting for, with the least-developed saying "I'm not sure!" It's a jab at the way team shows boil down each girl to one trait like "smart," "tomboy" or "musician." Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE! asks What if we made it even simpler? and boldly goes there. Another sharp gag is based on transformations and secret identities. Even as a six-year-old, I couldn't get how Sailor Moon was unrecognizable just by changing her outfit. Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE! blurs out the boys' faces when they transform, like in police videos! It's ridiculous, but is it any more so than the usual ways you're expected to suspend your disbelief? It continues this with the boys' transformations, designs, and so on. The show's biting satire runs the full gamut of magical-girl genre clichés.
That said, this is very specifically an affectionate parody. There's an unabashed love for this genre, in all its campy goodness. In that, it's closest anime kin would be something like Ouran High School Host Club. However, what made Ouran special was not simply its mockery of common reverse-harem tropes and character types, but when it delved beneath that. It showed how troubled the "Cool Glasses Guy" was deep down, how the "Prince Type" was compensating for a strained family life. It gave us reasons to care about these characters and their journeys on their own, even beyond the hijinks and smart satire. There are a few attempts at character depth in Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE!, particularly in the relationship between Yumoto and his older brother, Gora. Most of the time it prefers to revel in its silliness, even building up relationships only to boil them down to something silly. Where Ouran, or Princess Tutu, criticize genre tropes by showing how people are more than those shallow categories, CHED does by taking them as far as they can, to make us laugh. That's all well and good, but characters-as-bundles-of-clichés are still hard to connect to, even if they're written that way for a good reason. It roots the show's appeal purely in its comedy and the camp. That makes it hard to watch when those run a little stale. Which is exactly what they do, for a while.
CHED has a promising beginning, where it establishes itself as wholly unique and with a big heart. It has a whopper of an ending, pulling a twist so shocking and yet hilarious to make everything worthwhile, and delivering on that with a satisfying final battle. However, the middle leaves a lot to be desired. It doesn't help that a lot of it's rooted in wordplay or jokes on Japanese culture and cuisine that get a little lost in translation. Even a detailed, literal translation of a joke doesn't always tell you why a fluent speaker would find that funny. It gets into a routine that's merely variations on the same joke, which inevitably lags after a few episodes. It's only when it moves into the final four or five episodes, and toward its bonanza of a finale, that it picks up again.
It's hard to be negative about something this entertaining, though. Even when its humor fell flat, it was still weird enough to keep watching. You're always waiting to see what's next for this strange story of magical pretty boys led by a talking Technicolor wombat channeling their undead teacher. There's also plenty of homoerotic subtext to go around, but with friendships based on curry or something equally shallow. It's little details like that that make Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE! so unforgettable in spite of its many riffs on familiar genre patterns. Its final twist, while nothing that hasn't been done in anime before, comes so completely out of nowhere that it dials up all the weirdness to the max. It folds out with expert pacing, making the final two episodes an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride. The humor is also at its sharpest here, the perfect icing on the cake.
The technical aspects also improve in that final installment. The art and music are good, though nothing spectacular, for most of the series' run. The character designs and backgrounds are typical of higher-end bishonen shows, and the music jaunts between bouncy pop music and prissy piano pieces for the snooty student-council villains. The weekly monsters' designs are particularly inspired, usually based on some elaborate visual pun. In the final arc, it's all amped-up, especially with the much greater variety of musical choices. There are people turning into angels and mecha-animal battles. Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE! is easy to recommend just based on the ending alone.
But it isn't guaranteed that you'll make it to the ending. It really slows down on the way there, and if you don't love this kind of show, that gets frustrating. Then you start to wonder if that isn't all a part of the larger joke. Is it making fun of magical girl shows' tendency for inane filler by offering its own? Who knows? Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE! is one of the most thorough and biting genre parodies anime has to offer, and that alone ought to count for something.
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B-
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B-
+ Strong beginning and even stronger ending; good comic timing; innovative and sharp, but affectionate parody of magical-girl shows.
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