Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
GaoGaiGar: King of Braves
DVD 3 - Ninja Robots
The Zonders, having become aware of Mamoru's presence and powers, begin to target GGG's youngest member; first at a water park, and later on a trip with his school buddies. Naturally, the Zonderians aren't forgetting the rest of GGG. Their attacks begin getting uncomfortably close to the organization, eventually infiltrating the base itself. And for the first time, Gai, Horyu, Enryu, and Volfogg—a transforming AI robot from the intelligence department tasked with protecting Mamoru—come face-to-face with the four Zonder kings, powerful beings that dwell in the limbo between life-form and machine.
When they say "one for the fans" they're talking about something like GaoGaiGar. Not something that is best enjoyed by the fans, but something only for the fans. In this case, super robot fans. But unlike Godannar, another giant robot show made with fans of the old super robot shows in mind, GaoGaiGar isn't aimed at those fans that have grown up and developed a taste for extreme fan-service and romantic drama; it's aimed at the fans that never grew up at all. At the robot worshipping eight-year-old boy who dwells inside hoary old otaku, staring at the TV of the soul, waiting for some pure-hearted hero to kick evil butt.
The intended audience is branded into the show's every frame. In the cartoony character designs. In the intricately animated, majestically monumental (and oft-repeated) combining sequence. In its plucky little-boy hero. In the deliberate exclusion of all the traditional qualities of mature entertainment: the formulaic monster-of-the-week tales; the bushy eyebrows, beaky noses, shouted proclamations of courage, speech affectations ("waha!"), and behavior quirks (bad hygiene and flexing) that pass for characterization. There's a giant robot whose arms are formed by a bullet train, transforming fire-trucks that combine to form an even bigger transforming fire-truck, people who say things like "courage and guts are the key to victory" with straight faces, an opening song that lays out the entire premise of the show ("Rise in fury, Steel Cyborg!") and heroes who simply must shout out the names of their giant-robot moves. It's a veritable feast of preposterousness. The adult in your head will gag on the onslaught, but that eight-year-old kid—if he's there—will eat every bite. And love it.
It's all in keeping with the series' inspiration of course, but GaoGaiGar separates itself from the often cynically exploitative series that inspired it (e.g. Go Lion, one source of the vile Voltron) and barely escapes pastiche-dom by dint of the obvious affection with which it was made. Oft-repeated it may be, but the transformation sequence is impressive; and even as rife with short-cuts and infested with dated CGI effects as it is, the animation displays an obvious love for giant-robot battle. The generalized silliness, including the truly bizarre enemies and the heroes' team of courageous justice-loving misfits, is inflated to such proportions that you can actually see the animators winking, saying: "You know its stupid, we know its stupid, and we all love it just the same." They go even so far—the horror!—as to alter the episodes' strict plot formula. This volume includes little tweaks—such as the Zonders' shift in focus from general mayhem to specifically targeting Mamoru and more focus on GaoGaiGar's weaknesses—that hint at possible future developments that might actually be kind of interesting(!). Heck, the final fight on this disc, its enemy-clones-hero's-finishing-move premise notwithstanding, is actually impressive and—dare I say—a little exciting.
Cartoony the character designs may be—more reminiscent of Takahiro Kimura's work in Brigadoon and Betterman than his later, better work in Godannar and GunxSword—but the mecha are anything but. If you discount the absurd transformer-inspired AI robots, that is. And also don't ask yourself questions like "how do their mouths move like humans?" or "why would robots have teeth?" GaoGaiGar itself is intricately detailed, as are the various Zonders, buildings, and technologies. Outside of the mecha battles, animation is often laughably cheap, but hey, that's exactly what the shows that the creators so obviously loved were like too.
Kouhei Tanaka, a veteran of mecha shows, composes a giant, blaring score of a type that simply cannot be described as anything but giant robot music. That it is used incessantly and with a lack of subtlety that flirts with parody is really beside the point, since that's exactly what it's meant to do. The opening is a classic, half-shouted super robot theme that simply can't hold a candle to the similarly retro theme for Godannar's first season.
Given some of their other work, like the Green Green debacle, it's a relief to see Media Blasters turn out a professional dub for this series. It's almost ridiculously faithful to the original script, but manages to sound reasonably natural despite it. They've matched their cast with the characters quite well, and everyone seems to be having a blast going thoroughly over-the-top. It's far from perfect—the narrator hasn't the right gravitas, the acting falls flat on occasion, and some of the walla is woefully understaffed—but it'll do okay by less picky dub fans (and kids).
Before entirely dismissing GaoGaiGar as formulaic juvenile fun, one would do well to bear in mind that director Yoshitomo Yonetani is the same guy who pulled a gut-wrenching 180 in the middle of Brigadoon. Nevertheless, thus far the show is blithely going on its big, flashy, stupid way. As such, before digging too far into GaoGaiGar, it's a good idea to do a little soul-searching. Need some help? Listen to this: Ninja robot. Three ninja robots. Three ninja robots that combine to form a BIG ninja robot. Did the eight-year-old boy in your soul cry out in joy? No? Go back to yourFull Metal Alchemist and Gankutsuou then. Philistine.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C+
Animation : C+
Art : B
Music : B
+ +Infused with a love of all things childishly cool about robots; showing signs that the status quo may eventually be upset.
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