"From far away, Ranga, in all his clumsy grace, has come."—Narrator
From across the sea, a shape moves toward Tokyo Bay from Barou Island. Is it a whale? Is it Godzilla? No, it is Neo Ranga, the giant god of the Barou. He has come to find his new owners, the Shimabara sisters. But Minami, Ushio, and Yuhii really would prefer that Neo Ranga not hang around in their neighborhood. After all, they are only three ordinary teens who inherited the monarchy of Barou Island by accident (their long lost brother had been the previous king), and they are more worried about making ends meet in Japan's slumping economy.
Thus begins Neo Ranga, an odd little anime series originally broadcast as part of an anthology program on Japanese television. What looks at first like a kaiju movie (giant monsters stomping on the city) quickly evolves, after the first few episodes, into a domestic sitcom that satirizes Japan's current economic crisis and the loss of faith among young people in that country. Each episode runs less than 15 minutes, so ADV packs eight on each disc, along with some translator notes, a few production sketches, and a set of opening and closing sequences without the English credits.
Apart from the 100 foot tall god sulking in the Shimabaras' yard, Neo Ranga generally approaches its themes realistically, opting more for droll satire than slapstick most of the time. Stories usually run over two or three episodes: gangsters menace a local grocery store, the girls go on a summer cruise to their hometown, and so on. All the while, tourists come to gawk at Ranga, the military smolders and hopes for an opportunity to shoot at something, and everybody looks for a way to cash in on a real live god. Ranga himself is really a supporting player in all of this, a walking metaphor for Japan's loss of faith and innocence that occasionally stomps on a car or two when tempers flare. Most of the storylines are driven by the three sisters: Minami as the pragmatist (working a paper route and at a bar until her sisters are old enough to get jobs), Ushio as the idealist (and the real heart of the show), and Yuhii as the cynic (foisting off the advances of her schoolteacher and entertaining dreams of using Ranga to conquer the city). Native pal Joel from Barou Island hangs around as well, but does not seem to have much to do.
The 15-minute length of each episode forces the producers to use voice-over narration and additional exposition during the "upcoming episode" teaser in order to economize storytelling. But overall, Neo Ranga is a refreshing take on the giant monster genre, more the story of why we feel the need for great gods who fight for justice in a world where justice seems another commodity to be bought and sold.
While ADV does a decent job packaging Neo Ranga with an acceptable English dub, I wonder about their marketing strategy for such an offbeat series. Advertised as if this is about awesome mysteries, sexy girls, and mecha action, this subtle parody of kaiju is less Daimajin than domestic comedy. So selling this as three separate discs at $30 a pop is rather mean: since the complete series only runs three discs, Neo Ranga should be packaged together at a more reasonable price—like, come to think of it, ADV did last year with all three exciting Daimajin movies (a giant stone god crushes medieval bad guys—check it out). Neo Ranga is an entertaining show, and probably will teach viewers a lot more about contemporary Japanese culture than anything running on Toonami, with enough comedy and property destruction to keep things moving, but it only feels cohesive when watched all at once. Anime fans who are tired of increasingly redundant action shows will find it a nice distraction.
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