Reviewby Theron Martin,
Sub.DVD - The Complete Series
Young Leopard grew up on stories about how the righteous Yatterman long ago defeated the evil Doronbow Gang and its master Dokurobey and then established the Yatter Kingdom across the waters from where they live. She always imagined that it was a heavenly place, and her mother told her that if she was very good then she might eventually be able to leave their poverty-stricken life behind and live there. All of her illusions are shattered when her mother falls deathly ill and a desperate effort – aided by loyal family servants Elephantus and Voltkatze – to reach the Yatter Kingdom to get necessary medicine is violently thwarted by what appears to be Yatterman. With her mother gone, Leopard cannot tolerate the injustice of it all, so she, the two men, and the pig Oda decide to take on the identities of their forebears (the original trio and mascot who comprised the Doronbow Gang) and administer their own brand of justice to Yatterman. As they journey into the Yatter Kingdom and pick up new companions Galina and Alouette, though, they discover that the corruption of Yatterman's heroic nature runs far deeper than they could have imagined.
The original Yatterman TV series aired in the late '70s as the second and longest installment of the Time Bokan franchise. It featured a 13-year-old boy and his like-aged girlfriend who took on the identities of Yatterman-1 and Yatterman-2 to fend off the wicked plots of chief villain Dokurobey and his team of minions known as the Doronbow Gang. The latter consisted of the tall, sexy blond Doronjo; the muscular Tonzra; and the skinny ace mechanic Boyacky. Both sides used a variety of (mostly animal-shaped) 'mechs and had signature knickknacks, including a smoking pipe for Doronjo, a ball-and-cup toy for the male Yatterman, and a telescoping shock wand for the female Yatterman. Though the show was aimed at kids, it threw some bones to adult audiences, too, such as with Boyacky's lecherous behavior or some historical parodies and homages that would easily fly over the heads of younger audiences.
And that's about all that a newcomer to the franchise really needs to know in order to understand and appreciate this 12 episode series from the Winter 2015 season. To be sure, Night is a nostalgia work specifically targeted at those who fondly remember growing up on the original '70s series or its 2008 remake, and those not familiar with the earlier entries may miss the plethora of references to elements from them. (The nostalgia trip isn't just limited to Yatterman, either, as there are clear references to other Tatsunoko series, including most prominently Speed Racer.) However, it functions well enough as a standalone effort that I can give it an unqualified recommendation.
It earns that recommendation by taking a great concept and turning it into something much more than just a kids' show. This is a full subversion of the original premise, as here the descendants of the original villain team are now not just the protagonists (which has been done before, even within this franchise) but also the ones who have justice on their side, while the original heroes have (apparently) become corrupt. It further posits that being defeated by Yatterman has consigned the Doronbow Gang and their descendants to an unbreachable cycle of poverty, in effect punishing their descendants for the deeds of the originals. Additionally, everything that was cute and charming about Yatterman has become a disturbing perversion. The signature pose/salute by the original heroes has become a fascist symbol of oppression, one that citizens are forced to do lest they face the wrath of the robotic replicas of Yatterman-1 and Yatterman-2, and they are expected to give thanks for being hauled off for decades of hard labor. So, too, does the signature emblem of Yatterman become a tool for oppression, all under the auspices of the public being protected from supposed threats and supposedly being supported by Yatterman.
If this all sounds rather dark, well, there's a reason why Night is attached to the original series' title. It definitely is not kids' fare anymore, as even the elements which might normally skew younger have a nostalgic flavor rather than a kid-friendly feel. No, this is a series which has distinct spans of silliness mixed in with its darker elements and yet can also muster some deeply, achingly emotional content. Its wonderful first episode is awash in potent sentimentality as it lays out the love and loyalty which make the central trio a veritable family, and that is hardly the last time that the series tugs at the heart. At other times it achieves a rousing spirit worthy of the boldest adventure series. Watching Galina gradually grow into the hero that he will need to be by the end of the story is also a heartwarming treat, as is seeing how the childish but nonetheless sheer strength of will of Leopard drives the group forward; she may not be the tactician that the original Doronjo was, and is powerless to do anything on her own, but without question she is the heart and soul of the story, as nothing that happens here would happen without her. Because of that, Elephantus/Tonzra and Voltkatze/Boyacky gradually start to realize that they aren't just following her out of loyalty or a desire to protect her like they couldn't protect her mother, and that's a big plus, too.
The writing and directing choices are definitely not flawless in pulling this all off, however. When the silliness in the series tanks, it really tanks, such as in one episode where one running “joke” involves Boyacky and Tonzra trying to play Mother and Father when Leopard gets sick. Another episode involves a fisherman who is a masochist as well as having a perverse love for creatures of the sea. The transitions into the opener and closer could also be a lot smoother. Still, those parts are much more the exception than the rule, and the silliness works at least as often as it does not. The series also works a lot better if you just go with the flow on things like the improbability of Boyacky's mecha inventions because hey, this is still trying to call up the spirit of a kids' show. The stunning twist at the end of episode 10 and beginning of episode 11 is also a treat for how clever it is, though those who watch very carefully may pick up a subtle clue or two in earlier episodes about which direction it will go.
Throughout the series the visuals emphasize dreary, often cold and/or desolate settings, ones seemingly symbolic of a world suffering through its winter. Contrasting against that are the brighter, warmer scenes which make the strongest emotional pitches. Character designs tend to slide well off-model during the human-focused action scenes and other rough spots also arise, but on the whole the series presents appealing designs which retain some of the characteristics of their forebears. (Elephantus and Voltkatze both have prominent “outies,” for instance.) The animation effort starts strong but gradually weakens as the series progresses, with the final episode being the most problematic.
Much more consistent is the musical effort. Gentle string numbers push along the feelings of the more sentimental scenes, while rousing orchestral numbers back the more dramatic scenes. In all, the emotional impact that the series can have at various points is probably more attributable to the music than any other factor, as it can turn scenes that might otherwise be ridiculous into ones that can engender a lump in the throat. By comparison, the opener and closer are largely unremarkable. The original theme song for the original series' opener also comes up at a couple of points.
The Japanese dub has some interesting connections to previous franchise material. While the Doronbow Gang trio are all newcomers, some other roles do carry over from equivalent parts in the 2008 incarnation of the original series, especially Shizuka Itou as Alouette (and Dorothy) and Hiroyuki Yoshino as Galina. (And who they played in the 2008 version should be a tip-off for this version if it wasn't obvious enough already.) In one of the series' neatest special treats, also listen at the very end for a brief vocal cameo by Noriko Ohara, the original voice of Doronjo.
Funimation's release of the series is a bare-bones one by their standards, as apparently they expected only a limited market for it. Unlike most of their first-time releases, it is only available on DVD and lacks an English dub or even a slipcover. The only Extras are clean versions of the opener and closer on the second disk.
Despite some pitfalls along the way and a shaky final episode, Yatterman Night comes together well enough overall. While it does have some tonal dissonance, in this case that seems like the point: that what should be a fun, high-spirited tale has been twisted into something darker, with the characters' efforts to be comical butting against the malaise of the setting in a way that's supposed to be sharply contrasting. That doesn't always work, but between that and the heady concepts underlying the series, there's a lot to like here.
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B-
Art : B+
Music : A-
+ Great ideas, strong musical score, content can be emotional at times.
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