Are those cats ears, or is Judge Sandra Dozier just happy to see another unabashedly silly anime parody?
"The peace of Japan will be protected by the three of us, so you can feel safe!"
What do you do when aliens invade the planet bent on robbing all of Japan's cultural treasures and entertainment, but the aliens themselves are cute and cuddly? You can't send out a tank and camouflage besuited soldiers to kill a 50-foot teddy bear! Even if said bear has fangs and can lift a small continent, it would be a public relations nightmare! The solution is, of course, to create a team of adorable second grade girls with special uniforms to fight the cute aliens! Once the public sees these little sweet peas, they'll melt, and they won't mind innocent little girls knocking out the cute aliens.
Although these girls are cuter than a box full of baby chicks, they take their jobs seriously and work very hard to master their special energy defense field, which is activated by the three of them forming a triangle around the cute alien and sending their beam from one baton to the other. The field then knocks the alien out cold. If that isn't enough, each girl has her own defense craft to assist her. Mao-chan, being of the ground forces, has a tank called Mee-kun. Silvia-chan, being of the sea forces, has a submarine called Nah-chan. Misora-chan, of the air forces, has her trusty plane, Hayate. Each of these vehicles have a mind of their own, as evidenced by Mee-kun running away due to jealousy over a cute alien that was bred by the UDF team to help the girls locate hostile cute aliens in Mission 15 ("Kiku Ichimonji the Third Debuts!").
Mao-Chan is silly and fun, and should only be seen on that level. Just about every anime cliché is spoofed by this series, but it doesn't overwhelm the storyline or drive the plot as it does in something like Martian Successor Nadesico. The creators of this anime clearly want to you relax, have fun, giggle and squeal like the girls on-screen. To balance the perspective a bit, super-intelligent Kagome Mishima (who has an intense love for Mao-chan's grandfather, Rikushiro, also her boss), doubles as homeroom teacher and team leader for the girls, and is constantly exasperated and agog at the antics they get up to.
This is the type of series adults can watch with kids and still enjoy themselves. Anyone who has had to sit through the saccharin torture test of most kid-oriented titles will appreciate the entirely watchable Mao-chan, especially if they are an anime fan and can pick out the many silly gags and affectionate nods to other classic anime staples. Mao-chan has a continuing storyline with developing characters, but can also been seen out of order without missing too much. The only caveat is that Mao-chan should not be enjoyed in too heavy a dose, or you may find yourself squealing with delight when a small but blindingly cute dog comes on screen pulling himself along on skis because he can't quite walk yet. Not that this has happened to me or anything. I did not Google "kiku ichimonji plush doll" as soon as I was done watching the first episode in this set! (I waited until I was all done with the DVD!)
At 10 minutes each (with a generous re-use of the "uniform transformation" sequence), Mao-chan comes in a very digestible format, perfect for kids. In addition, more episodes fit onto one DVD without any loss in picture quality. Indeed, the picture is clear and bursting with color, as you might imagine in a series like this. Sound quality is also excellent, with a lively Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. The English voice dub is excellent, and I have to pause here and heap praise on the crew at Geneon for their attention to detail. The characters sound great, which is no easy task. They even took the time to give Silvia-chan a bit of an accent (to mirror the one she has in the original) and master the speech quirks and distinctive moan the girls utter when things go wrong. (I can't explain it, you'll just have to listen for it, but you'll know what I mean instantly.)
Extras include the usual previews, but also a hilarious blooper reel from the English dub recording sessions, and part two of an interview with one of the creators of Mao-chan.
While adult anime fans probably won't seek this title out just for their own collection, it is definitely a must-have if you want to introduce small children to anime, or watch a title with kids without getting bored or annoyed by the time the opening credits roll. I'll be honest—I thought I would hate Mao-chan when I first saw a preview for it, but I was pleasantly surprised at this fun and charmingly silly anime. I hope the day never comes that I can't appreciate a 10-story dragon that should, by all rights, be a plush toy.
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