Reviewby Nick Creamer,
Space Patrol Luluco
Luluco just wants a normal everyday life - waking up on time for school, sharing breakfast with her dad, and maybe getting to know that cute transfer student. Unfortunately for Luluco, her school is full of aliens, her dad has been accidentally frozen, and her daily tasks now include hunting down space criminals as a member of the Space Patrol. Getting through middle school is never easy, but juggling tests, romantic drama, and Space Justice is even tougher.
Hiroyuki Imaishi's name is almost synonymous with the Studio Trigger brand. After providing dynamic key animation and highlights like FLCL's manga sequences early in his career, he became the flagship director for Gainax's last big hits, handling Gurren Lagann and Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt before leaving to form Trigger with Masahiko Ohtsuka and other Gainax leading lights. His first major production there was Kill la Kill, a project that saw him reuniting with Gurren Lagann's writer to essentially produce a new version of Gurren Lagann. And now, after making perhaps the most succinctly Imaishi production possible in Sex & Violence with Machspeed, he returns to direct a short series about a middle school girl's first love.
“Middle school girl's first love” isn't really a topic that would seem to gel with Imaishi's style. Imaishi favors the big and brash, equally at home making bawdy sex jokes or depicting robots throwing planets into other planets. He's not one for subtlety, and that's perfectly fine; anime is an ideal medium for someone who loves hot-blooded action and climactic battle anthems. Even his favored style of animation matches his dramatic ethos - his characters leap from one dynamic pose to another, dissolving into wild angles and reemerging as triumphant heroes.
In light of that, Space Patrol Luluco isn't your average adolescent drama. Though Luluco claims she wants a “normal everyday life,” that daily life takes place in the city of Ogikubo, where humans and aliens mingle freely. On top of that, when her space patrol father is accidentally frozen, Luluco is forced to pick up the badge herself, and fight space evil wherever it lurks. The only bright spot in her life is her coworker Nova, a cute transfer student who seems to like her too. So nothing about her life may actually be normal, but hey, cute boys.
Luluco's early episodes proceed like a mix of Inferno Cop and Kill la Kill's domestic comedy sequences. There's a great speed and energy to the show's gags, and Luluco is an inherently likable character. Imaishi's taste in comedy may be kind of crass, but his understanding of how to set up a punchline is excellent, and the show never oversells any of its jokes. The show's early episodes are endearing, energetic, and consistently funny, a smart application of Imaishi's talents to material whose fundamental tenderness makes it significantly more charming than his usual fare.
Unfortunately, the show hits some pretty rough waters in its middle stretch. The focus on quick gags that made the early material strong is compromised in deference to an actual narrative, and that decline in humor is swiftly followed by the show's biggest failing - the cameo arc. Luluco's middle third is largely consumed by episodic visits to other Trigger shows, where the joke is mostly just “hey, here's another Trigger show.” These episodes both waste Luluco's existing cast and fail to justify their own presence - they're not only not funny, they also bring Luluco's own narrative momentum to a halt.
Fortunately, Luluco's final act is a return to form, one that even sees the show stretching its muscles with some legitimately impressive action animation. The show is definitely weakened by its middle stretch, and the comedy of the second half never matches the consistency of the first, but the balance ultimately works out in Luluco's favor.
Outside of those impressive final episodes, Luluco's aesthetics are pretty flat. The show sticks largely to the almost Adult Swim-esque aesthetic of Inferno Cop, with static characters pasted over repeated background templates. It's almost a little weird to think Imaishi directed this show, given how visually dynamic his work usually is; outside of the occasional animation highlights or dramatic still frames, Luluco generally plays it safe visually, its interchangeable layouts doing little to provide much energy or drama. The music fares better - the show features plenty of the wild rock tunes you'd expect from an Imaishi show, and both the opening and closing songs are distinctive, catchy songs.
Funimation's Space Patrol Luluco release is a fairly standard affair in all regards. The show comes in a slipcase and blu-ray case housing the show on both DVD and bluray. There are no physical extras, and on-disc extras are limited to the requisite textless closing song and assorted trailers. Aside from that, the only meaningful inclusion in this release is the English dub.
Dubs of Imaishi shows tend to feel like they bear more load than some other shows; after all, his style of madcap, irreverent comedy feels a lot like late-night American cartoons, and capturing the spirit of his shows often requires matching for over-the-top tone rather than line-by-line accuracy. The excellent, style-faithful dubs of shows like Panty and Stocking were a key component of those shows' success, so I'm happy to report that Space Patrol Luluco's dub follows in its manic legacy. Luluco herself has a deeper tone than the original and comes across as a more conventionally snarky teenager than the consistent straight man of the original dub. This somewhat changes the comic emphasis of a fair number of jokes—as opposed to relying on the forceful delivery of Luluco's conversation partners to provide comic impact, Luluco's own flippant rebuttals tend to receive a bit more focus. I personally preferred the more absurdist back-and-forth of the original to the english script's more punchline-oriented approach, but this could easily come down to personal preference. And when Luluco finds herself totally overwhelmed by some absurd situation, both scripts and actresses shine.
Outside of Luluco herself, the voice choices have their ups and downs. Luluco's boss Overjustice loses a bit of his over-the-top tone in English, instead coming off as still gruff and forceful, but more realistic of a person. Nova's voice has a little more warmth than his original, but still definitely maintains the distant quality of the Japanese take. Between Luluco's somewhat more flavorful script and Nova's increased expressiveness, I actually bought into their chemistry more in the dubbed version. Jamie March's Midori will likely be the most controversial dub choice; she translates Mayumi Shintani's signature gravel-voice tone into a stereotypical valley girl act, which felt like a tragic loss to me, but it still fits fine for Midori's character. On the whole, this is an unassuming but perfectly reasonable collection for an unassuming but ultimately charming show. Luluco is an idle lark, but it's a warm lark with a likable cast, strong sense of humor, and no pretensions. It's nice to see the softer side of Hiroyuki Imaishi.
Overall, I'm ultimately more excited about what Space Patrol Luluco might imply about Imaishi's future than I am impressed by the show itself. Luluco is uneven - lifted by strong early jokes and great finale animation, held down by its overall conservative aesthetic and terrible middle act. But seeing Imaishi handle a topic like first love at all is refreshing; the guy may be the definition of hot-blooded, but it's nice seeing him apply his passion to something as intimate as this. I'm ready for whatever's next from one of anime's most distinctive voices.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B-
Animation : C
Art : C
Music : B+
+ First half is propelled by strong energy and consistent humor, last couple episodes are animation highlights
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