Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
When Emi was seven years old, her father vanished with barely a word. In the ten years since, Emi has grown increasingly isolated and bitter, wondering what the point even is of being alive when she's so completely alone and taking larger and larger risks each day. Everything changes, however, when she's rescued from both her situation and her life by three mysterious men. They all claim to be from parallel worlds where they operate as heroes, and despite Emi's loud protests, they are determined to save her from her loneliness and herself – all while stopping Z, the madman who has been killing worlds for his own purposes. Emi doesn't believe in heroes, but she's about to get a very fast lesson in why she may need to start believing and why survival might be worth it after all.
Nostalgia productions like Infini-T Force have a very fine line to tread. They need to appeal to the people who will get all starry-eyed at the thought of seeing their childhood staples walk and talk again, but the story and characters also have to appeal to an entirely new audience who may only know the characters' names, if that. As if that isn't enough, there also needs to be a storyline that's interesting and compelling so that both audiences will want to watch it to its completion without feeling like they were just suckered by a nostalgia scam. Fortunately for us, Infini-T Force largely succeeds on all of those levels (I watched with someone who had no knowledge of the source shows to double-check), creating something that's both new and fun even as it revels in the cornier aspects of the four Tatsunoko hero shows from the 1970s that gave it birth.
The story draws from early-to-mid 1970s series Gatchaman, Tekkaman, Casshan, and Hurricane Polymar, lifting a hero from each of them and transporting them to Shibuya of the late 2010s. The conceit is that a mysterious villain named Z is going around destroying all of the many parallel worlds that make up the universe, leaving it so that only one version of earth, ours, remains. When their worlds are casualties of Z's machinations, the four heroes land in the remaining world to try and figure out what's going on and how to stop it. They do not, however, all show up at the same time – when the story opens, we find that Takeshi from Hurricane Polymar has been in our Shibuya for a year, with Joji of Tekkaman showing up sometime shortly thereafter. Ken of Gachaman and Takuya of Casshan both arrive with the start of the series. This staggered arrival allows us to see the acclimation process while also highlighting the personality differences (and flawed coping mechanisms in a few cases) of each hero, which helps us to get to know them very quickly.
They're all drawn together not only because of their mission, but also because of one person: a seventeen-year-old girl named Emi Kaido. When Emi was seven, her father vanished, leaving her entirely alone, and as the years have passed, Emi has become ever more disaffected and nihilistic. While part of that at first comes off as her simply being a truly obnoxious teenager, as the story goes on we begin to see that she's just covering up an intense, deep sadness and sense of abandonment. Yes, she's awful, but she has every reason and right to be, just as she's justified in not trusting the heroes at first when they pop into her world claiming that they're going to protect her. After all, wasn't that her father's role? And didn't he drop the ball spectacularly?
The story itself works on two levels: the zany LEGO Movie-style mishmash of series coming together in fanfiction right out of your eight-year-old dreams and the character angle. It's hard to deny that a large part of the appeal is that first part – the thrill of seeing so many childhood heroes all fighting together is a great draw, whether you watched the shows in question in the 70s or later in reruns. This part of the series also has a delightful time with its campier aspects, from scenery-chewing bad guys to the fact that all of the heroes are very much stuck in the mindset and themes of their original shows (Ken is particularly mired in the 70s), there's just a lot of silly fun to be had with both concept and execution. The art style enhances these aspects as well. The show is animated in 3D so that it looks like machinima, the animation style of video game cut scenes. Not only does this give the series the feel of watching an extended cut scene, but it also makes it abundantly clear that three of the four heroes are adult men, and listening to them spout earnest lines about the whole world being friends becomes more entertaining than it otherwise might be were they animated in a more traditional anime style.
But while this is undoubtedly a draw, the character interactions are where the unexpected heart of the show really lies. Emi's spiky attitude is a direct result of her feeling worthless and like she has no one, and the repeated and steadfast reassurances from Ken specifically are what truly help her to see beyond her hurt. While all four of the heroes do try to help in their own way, Ken stands out as the one who seems to be looking specifically at Emi and what she needs rather than just on stopping Z. Takeshi and Joji are clearly more preoccupied with the grander scale heroics (saving the world); Ken is zeroed in on saving the one person in front of him. (Poor Takuya is mostly trying to regain a modicum of his humanity; his dog Friender is simply a good boy.) While they all do look at both aspects of being a hero, their individual focuses are telling, and the development of Emi and Ken's relationship is an interesting piece of the overall story. There does seem to be at least a partial romantic component to it, but it's largely left up to your own interpretation.
This is a nice touch because of the other major relationship that Emi has to sort out – that with her father. There's a clear theme of good intentions becoming corrupted (as Emi comes to understand through her conversation with sometime-bad guy Raja Kaan, another good piece of the overall narrative), and later parts of the story could be interpreted as a statement on helicopter parents who are afraid to let their children go. At least three of the main characters have difficult paternal histories, but it doesn't come off as “Daddy Issues: The Anime;” rather the entire plot functions as at least a partial metaphor for how children and parents communicate – or don't. It has the feel of a classic late 20th-century coming-of-age film, and that really works well with the nostalgia aspect.
The English dub cast is in most cases very strong and compares well to the original Japanese vocals, and given that there are some impressive names on the original cast list, that's saying something. Cassandra Lee Morris is a stand-out as Emi in that she perfectly captures both her petulance and vulnerability, and her sarcastic delivery of the snotty teenager lines is excellent. Nicholas Roye as Takeshi is also impressive, delivering his cheesy lines with sincerity and then switching to drop a couple of f-bombs with the same believability. Xander Mobus isn't quite as memorable as Damian Gray (the David Bowie lookalike with the dead flamingo for hair) as Daisuke Hirakawa, but the cast is excellent overall.
If you're familiar with the original hero shows, there's a good chance that you'll get more out of Infini-T Force, if only in the ways that the characters react to each other and the various situations. (It's worth noting, for example, that Ken is the leader of a team while most of the others work largely alone.) But even without that knowledge, there's just something enjoyable about this show. From the little details like Emi translating Miranda's “Brave New World” speech from The Tempest in the end to the gleeful game feeling of the characters all being together, this is a show that will remind you of Saturday mornings with a bowl of sugary cereal, when just trusting people really could save the world.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B+
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B-
+ Strong casts in both languages, good little details and overall sense of fun. More meaning if you want to look for it.
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