Wow! Includes seven yuru-yuru episodes!!!
If you're hoping that Mao-Chan is the long-awaited anime biography of Mao Tse-Tung, I'm afraid you'll have to keep waiting. About the only thing that Mao-Chan has in common with Chairman Mao is that they're both super cute eight-year-old girls. Okay, in fact Mao-Chan has nothing whatsoever to do with Communist dictators, but this hyper-adorable anime series may inspire its own brand of dread and terror in any viewer over the age of 12.
Japan may be the only nation in the world capable of getting away with a story like this: in the near future, Earth is threatened by aliens bent upon conquest; these aliens, obviously familiar with alien-conquest-themed anime, take the unusual approach of using extremely cute forms, such as gigantic plush sheep, the idea being that the populace will be so charmed and overwhelmed by the aliens' cuteness that they'll be unable to fight back. In the face of this adorable attack, the world's armed forces are stymied: they can't exactly mow down cute aliens without looking like inhumane jerks in the process. The solution? Fight cuteness with cuteness!
Enter Mao, Misora, and Silvia, three second graders and granddaughters of the heads of each of the three branches of the armed forces. Mao is a bit of a klutz, but makes up for it with oodles of moxie; Misora (who ends nearly every sentence with "I say," just like Ed Grimley, which may strike the viewer as endearing or annoying, or both) is the shy one, but her meekness covers up a precocious intelligence and strength; and Silvia (whose vocal tic is an accent that wavers between British and German), a sailor who can't swim, is a bit of a goofball, but like Mao she tries hard and is dependable in a pinch. These cute little girls are inducted into the Earth's Defense Force and trained to take on the aliens, with the aid of superpowered batons.
Yes, that's right: it's Neon Genesis Evangelion meets The Powerpuff Girls. God help us all.
Go! United Defense Force is the second volume in the epic saga of Mao-Chan, and contains seven episodes, each a kid-friendly 10 or so minutes in length. In this installment, Mao-Chan and her friends continue their training, interrupted occasionally by sports events and cute-alien attacks on Defense Force headquarters. Meanwhile, they're stalked by two aliens disguised in human female form (but for two pairs of ill-concealed furry dog ears) who spy on the girls and plot their defeat (though nothing ever seems to come of their scheming). The girls are supervised by Kagome, a young woman with a huge crush on Rikushiro, Mao's grandfather and Chief of Staff of the Grand Defense Force (who looks eerily like a crazed Albert Einstein).
Mao-Chan is very much aimed toward younger viewers, and initially the hyper-cuteness of the series—little girls with insanely exaggerated eyes, no noses, and voices that sound like the characters are on a planet with an atmosphere of pure helium—threatened to send this reviewer into a cuteness-induced coma. But to my surprise, with each succeeding episode the series drew me in a little more, until at last I was forced to submit to the plushy power of Mao-Chan. (The final episode on this disc, in fact, features a cute alien that renders anyone who sees it into a semi-conscious state due to cuteness overload…let's just say I could relate.) As much as I wanted to resist, Mao-Chan finally won me over, with surprisingly good writing, sly humor (references to anime classics like Space Battleship Yamato abound), and a disarmingly tongue-in-cheek attitude. This is an extremely silly series, but it's aware of its own silliness, and isn't afraid to make fun of itself. Mao-Chan may be cloying, but it's not dumb.
Geneon has come through with a solid DVD package with Go! United Defense Force; this volume offers a flawless transfer with vibrant colors and terrific clarity and crispness. This being a kid's show, the artwork is bright and cheerful, and hypnotically intense. Mao-Chan is based on a story by Love Hina's Ken Akamatsu, and features similar artwork and character designs. Audio is presented in a decent Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo in equally appealing English and Japanese dubs; English subtitles are offered in two forms, one including dialogue and signs, the other for signs only. An entertaining set of extra features includes a funny blooper reel and an informative interview with director Yoshiaki Iwasaki, in addition to a "clean" closing sequence and the usual Geneon trailers.
I have to admit that I expected to hate this series when I first sat down to watch it, but I ended up enjoying myself. For a kiddie anime title, Mao-Chan is surprisingly well-written and has much to offer even a jaded grown-up. Younger kids will enjoy the action and colorful eye-candy, while older viewers will appreciate the subtle self-parody and anime in-jokes. But be warned: the cuteness level in this series may be overwhelming to those not accustomed to weapons-grade cuteness. Approach with extreme caution.
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