Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Anime review: Sgt. Frog (season one)

From the same creative team behind the original Mobile Suit Gundam, Sgt. Frog is a much less serious sci-fi series centering around the alien amphibian known as Keroro and his A.R.M.P.I.T. platoon. Keroro was originally sent to Earth to conquer the Pekoponians (his term used to refer to humans) in order to further his race’s galactic conquest. Fortunately for all of mankind, Keroro’s plans are foiled after his technology malfunctions, telling the fleet orbiting Earth to retreat and leaving Keroro and his comrades stranded.

The series sells itself as something of a kid’s series, sporting colorful, innocent-looking characters in humorous situations. To an extent this is true, as much (though not all) of the material in Sgt. Frog is relatively family-friendly. But it is because of the witty one-liners, situational ironies, and pop-culture references that this series will hit closer to home with viewers in the teenage group on up. The writers spend plenty of time early on poking fun at their brethren series of Mobile Suit Gundam, but also take time to parody other well-known anime such as Evangelion, Macross, and Dragonball Z. Even non-anime shows such as Kamen Rider get nods here and there.

Depending on which version viewers watch, the humor within will change slightly. The Japanese version tries to provide vague references at times to make the jokes more universal, but ultimately the funniest jokes in the original Japanese version of the show are aimed at Japanese viewers, as they can easily relate to the shows, films, books, etc. that are the focus of the jokes. The English dub takes a fair amount of creative liberties into account, but it pays off it an incredibly positive way. It may seem odd for an anime to be referencing and subsequently making fun of Indiana Jones and Britney Spears, but the localization works wonders for the fluidity of the show, making it ‘click’ better with North American viewers.

The characters are stereotypical enough that viewers can keep in mind that the series is a comedy, but not so flat and underdeveloped that they become boring or too predictable. Keroro is the star of the show and is such a likeable failure of a sergeant, while Giroro is the tough-as-nails soldier who inevitably falls secretly in love with Natsumi Hinata. Tamama is the platoon’s grunt yes-man, always agreeing with Keroro in competition for attention over Keroro’s friend/pupil Angol Mois. Dororo is a strong and stealthy ninja, though he argues for pacifism following the arrival of the platoon to Earth. In stark contrast to Dororo, Kululu finds pleasure in torturing others with his various inventions and experiments, most notably Keroro.

Keroro’s adoptive family, the Hinatas, keep him in the house for the safety of the others outside and have him complete chores while they are at school/work. Natsumi finds Keroro particularly repulsive at first, and this changes only so much later in the series. Natsumi’s brother Fuyuki, on the other hand, is an oddball sci-fi geek who is socially awkward and relies on Keroro as his closest friend, which Keroro uses to his own advantage on a few occasions. Fuyuki and Natsumi’s mother Aki works at a comic book company and sees Keroro and his comrades as a golden source of inspiration. She also pays Keroro an allowance for his chores, much to the surprise of her children, which Keroro spends exclusively on Gundam model kits.

The main characters are overall very likeable, though Kululu can become a bit repetitive and is easily the weakest development-wise of the platoon members. Still, Kululu does see some improvement in the second half of season one and becomes much more interesting because of this.

While the series does employ some running gags in its ongoing humor, these aren’t brought up in every episode and refrain from becoming repetitive to the point of being nauseating. The narrator delivers a fair share of humor to the show, becoming his own distinctly separate character over the course of the season. Each episode delivers a strong narrative, which is very much welcomed in a comedy-centric series - that is, save for episode twenty-three, in which Keroro clones himself and his very existence is threatened after too many clones become present. Based on the plot, one would presume this to be a hilarious episode, as one Keroro causes enough trouble by himself. But the episode portrays Keroro with a sudden lust for power and a notably minimal amount of humor is delivered throughout the entire episode. This, coupled with a weak and sudden resolution may lead some viewers to skip the episode entirely, as the narrator and characters spend a good three-quarters of the episode repeatedly telling the viewers what it is they are trying to get across.

The art style of Sgt. Frog is a bit more ‘cartoony’ than some more recent anime, but its bright colors really aid the ridiculousness of the inner-weaving stories. The soundtrack isn’t spectacular or overly-complex, but it is very fitting to such a comedic series. The voice actors give it their all in the English dub and work incredibly well with one another. Arguably, they’re better than the original Japanese voice actors, who do an impressive job all their own. Some of the choices seem a bit typecast, such as Chris Sabat (Piccolo in Dragonball Z) as gung-ho Corporal Giroro, but in the end the show is much stronger because of this.

Sgt. Frog is a hilarious romp through countless television, movie, book, and video game parodies. The characters poke fun at anything and everything possible, so long as the joke will evoke genuine laughter from viewers. The situational humor and wit therein fuels all of this further, and the series does an excellent job in defining itself as something so much more entertaining and complex than many more crude comedy anime series. Even if viewers don’t catch all of the jokes that Sgt. Frog dishes out, they're certain to find a plethora of laughs from the parts they do catch on to and the cast of characters are difficult not to find enjoyable.

My rating: 9.5 (out of 10)

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