A new kind of hero!
Ninety-nine percent of anime with the word "gundam" in the title contains massive robots battling over cities, skirting the edge of holocaust with their superior destructive weapons. The war-ravaged countryside, and the dumbstruck people who live there, try to recover before the next confrontation.
Superior Defender Gundam Force is a little like that…literally. Little robots battle over a little city. They skirt the edge of minor mishap with their little weapons. The slightly charred countryside and oblivious people try to notice before the next skirmish.
Superior Defender Gundam Force is squarely focused on young anime fans. The suggested age is seven and up, which means it is about right for five-year-olds. There are no options at all: no menu, no audio or subtitle choices, no scene selections, no extras. Insert DVD, play DVD until it is over. This ergonomic decision is puzzling, because most seven-year-olds could write theses on remote control navigation and programming.
This anime is as clichèd as they come. Plot and characters have been distilled to the most basic elements. The bad guys are dark-colored robots who snarl and talk about their evil plan to dominate the universe. The evil minions are fleets of homogeneous, cowardly robot units. A mysterious presence hands out directives to the evil robot commanders. On the other hand, the good guys are light-colored robots with police badges and perfect diction. Captain Gundam says things like "I have been granted special authorization to use firearms in protection of this city. Cease your evildoing immediately!"
The humor is a puzzling mix of adult sci-fi references (to movies like Star Wars, Terminator 2, and Robocop) and obvious puns. I'm not sure if the writers expect five-to-seven-year-olds to be familiar with such R-rated fare, or whether these references are supposed to be aimed at adult viewers. Either way, the referential jokes fall flat and the puns aren't much better. Maybe younger viewers will find these witticisms funny.
The series has a breezy tone of abstraction that removes any pretense of realism. For example, after one tense battle, the heroic Captain Gundam throws the evil command ship back through the portal. An anime with even the slightest nod to realism would have the sense to not send back the enemy's weapons.
All of this doesn't make Superior Defender Gundam Force bad, necessarily. The battles feature flashy fireworks and awesome-ish beams of light. There are fleeting moments of tension; though the outcome is readily predictable, it is still mildly amusing to see the antics unfold.
Kids make friends quickly, which may explain the near-lightspeed formation of the bond between Captain Gundam and boy inventor Shute (who should in no way be confused with Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius). Their platonic love for each other in spite of the apathy of those around them is faintly puzzling. Don't worry—soon the sky will open up to hordes of robotic invaders and we'll be distracted with another faux battle.
The animation is sophisticated. Superior Defender Gundam Force is 100% computer animated, which grants a measure of cohesiveness. Some of the sets are unrealistically sparse, such as neighborhoods with houses every 100 feet and nothing in between. Also, some of the human CGI models are unwieldy. But the robots have personality and their movements are fluid. Lighting effects are stripped down, but effective. One major distraction was strobing artifacts. When you mix 3D rendering with fine vertical lines, a strobe effect often results. That psychedelic mix is present often in Superior Defender Gundam Force.
The soundtrack is classically based and very listenable. My 15-month-old perked right up at the opening credits and started dancing. He has surprisingly good musical taste, so this soundtrack must be a winner.
Superior Defender Gundam Force is such an archetypal kid's show that it might ignite the imagination of young technophiles. I can't see it generating much crossover appeal to adults. At least there aren't any obvious product placements or thinly veiled morality lessons. There's nothing new here unless you haven't seen it before, which cuts out most anime fans.
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