Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
Super GALS Season 2 DVD Box Set
The Heart of Shibuya
Come one, come all, to the three-ring circus that is Shibuya! Marvel at the antics of the exotic locals! Come see Miyu, the amazing one-note love-love girl, who can exist on nothing but the love-love beams that she receives from her fiancé! Marvel at Ran, gal extraordinaire, as she runs faster, shops harder, jumps higher, punches harder, eats more and just generally is all-around better than everyone else! Feast your eyes upon amazing mole-girl Aya as she once again wallows in an astoundingly potent pool of self-pity and doubt! And let's not forget such loveable sideshows as Macaca tatsukichius, a primate species native to Machida, the amazing Yuya whose special ability is to be second place at everything, and the fantastic Mami whose special ability is to be number one at (almost) everything! That's right, come all! Watch the Odaiba Shark swim and the Junior Detectives fall! It's big! It's loud! It's fashionable.
Super Gals' second season is one of a very few shows to be rescued from stateside oblivion almost entirely at the insistence of its fans. For granting their wish (even sans dub), Right Stuf deserves heaps of praise. However, one can't help but wish that they had chosen a worthier subject for their rescue effort.
Super Gals is like sandpaper for the nerves, as skull-splittingly energetic and heavy-handed as its brash protagonist, made all the more infuriating by the occasional glimpses one gets of its untapped entertainment potential. Ran, with her wholesome moral stances, social-order friendly "ironclad rules for gals," indestructible self-confidence, and unbeatable martial-arts prowess is obviously intended as some sort of role model for girls—a kind of Superman in platform boots, paste-on nails and kogal 'tude. Someone of flawless virtue and strength makes for a fine role model, but a poor character. Good characters are good because their flaws make them human and endear them to audiences. Ran has none of that. That the show insists that she always occupy the moral high-ground and that those around her always be the ones that are silly, wrong-headed, misled, or just plain wrong (and that Ran is forever getting on her soapbox and making this explicit) quickly grows tiresome. The last stretch of episodes (and Ran's surprisingly deep relationship with monkey-boy Tastukichi) provide her with some much-needed nuance, but it's too little, too late. Miyu and Aya fare better, but not by much. Miyu, after the character-building earlier in the first season, is confined to constant love-love mode with her beau, only taking time out for one more go-around with her rotten, no-good mother. Aya, on the other hand, almost single-handedly serves up the entire second season's share of romantic angst, which is fine for her screen-time percentage, but ends up painting her as a weak-willed emotional punching-bag.
Ironically, it's the supporting cast that provides nearly all of the show's finer moments. Tatsukichi, who has depth of character that belies his silly exterior, the impossibly cute junior detective Sayo (datchu), Yuya (AKA Second Place), even the actor who plays fictional Detective Kudo on Sayo's favorite police show all deliver moments of genuine entertainment, but its Mami-rin who surprises by carrying most of the second season's successful emotional scenes. Having a strong supporting cast is fine, but you know something is wrong when you find yourself enduring each episode in hopes of catching a glimpse of your favorite secondary character or when the prospect (raised in one of the next-episode previews) of Super Gals: Mami-mami Mami-rin is more exciting than the prospect of yet another episode of Super Gals: Kotobuki Ran.
The show's habit of complementing the ham-fisted preachiness of the script with equally ham-fisted scoring choices doesn't improve things in the least. It isn't that the music is bad (though the video-arcade electronica used in humorous scenes is occasionally outright annoying) so much that the director enjoys beating the audience over the head with it. Unsure of just how to interpret a scene? Chances are that the music is there screaming "Laugh! Laugh, dammit!" or "Cry here!" at you, so just tune in. It's somewhat insulting that virtually every emotion is telegraphed with such painful predictability by the music.
The hyperactive yet cheap animation recalls the stylistic choices made years earlier by Akitaro Daichi in Kodocha, with much the same results (minus the deft balance of humor and genuine emotion). Characters spin, dance, dash (and occasionally even walk) from one side of the screen to the other, morphing in and out of various stages of super-deformation. Each frame is crammed with so much action, color, and terminally stylistic decor that it's far more likely to induce migraines than boredom. Emphasis is on character's wardrobes (rendered in all of their gaudy kogal glory) rather than the characters themselves. Characters' clothing and hairstyle choices mean that they are easily distinguished (with the exception of some more minor characters) but they all have pipestem-and-bobblehead physiques that foreshorten their aesthetic appeal—though it does do wonders for Sayo's cuteness factor. Ironically, given all the emphasis on Yuya and Otohata's "GL" status, the cast's most visually appealing male character is Tatsukichi. Though they too go through various stages of simplification, the backgrounds successfully communicate the often bewildering kandy-colored neon wilderness of Ran's Shibuya. Other settings (school, Mami's mansion) are sometimes given short shrift, but Shibuya simply squirms with life.
Extras are as sparse as one would expect from a series with 26 episodes crammed on five discs in a space-saving thinpack box set. As promised, there's an on-disc (on every disc in fact) list of people who had early-bird preorders. Other than this the only extra of note is Right Stuf's usual inclusion of a booklet of useful liner notes (a necessity for anything as pop-culture reliant as Super Gals).
The cast of fashion-savvy moral role models, the heavy focus on romance (in this second half), as well as the preponderance of silly plot devices like power-suit gal-battles and magical personality-switching soccer balls pitches this show firmly at the teenaged girl market. Unfortunately, adults will probably find its sledgehammer-to-the-head style to be off-putting. The way the personality-switching episode is squelched by its Freaky Friday moralizing is a prime example; it isn't a good sign when something like Daphne in the Brilliant Blue can execute a personality-switching gimmick better than you can. If you're looking for a comedy/drama about an indestructible hero who protects the peace of Shib... er, Shinjuku while always maintaining the moral high ground, then watch City Hunter. Watching Super Gals reveals the supreme narrative importance of City Hunter's Kaori and her 100-ton hammer; the show could have been much improved were there someone with a 100-ton hammer on hand to whack Ran in the head on occasion.
Overall (dub) : N/A
Overall (sub) : C
Story : C+
Animation : C+
Art : B-
Music : C
+ Long-awaited treat for fans of the first season; entertaining, likeable supporting cast.
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