Appellate Judge Mike Pinsky crushes Tokyo in his rage and fury. Grrr.
"The path goes on and on forever, red as if burning…"—Opening Theme Song
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 Yuuhi 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.
Oh, wait. This is really familiar. That's right. I already wrote about this series, in those exact same words, almost exactly three years ago. I enjoyed the first two volumes back then, mostly as a mild satire on modern Japan's loss of faith in the wake of economic struggles and political scandal. I called it "refreshing," not in the sense that it was a kaiju parody (there are lots of giant-monster parodies around), but in its grounding in the mundane real lives of its characters. And I looked forward to watching the rest of the series when it eventually arrived on DVD from ADV.
What a difference three years makes. Neo Ranga is now complete, packaged up in a five disc set. The first season of 24 episodes (all 15 minutes apiece) eventually settles into a cute story about three girls and their pet god. The "tribal paradise" theme plays as a sort of girl's power fantasy ("what if you were queen of a Polynesian island?"). But the humor comes from the real consequences of such a fantasy. Could you keep a god in your backyard without freaking out the neighbors? How much damage would result if you had a giant monster to slap down anybody who annoyed you during the day? Comedy is wrested from the quirky sitcom situations: a sneaky neighbor who fancies himself a television director and has a crush on older sister Minami; the crusading Ushio's efforts to teach the others about justice; sixth-grader Yuuhi's flirtation with her schoolteacher. Every now and then Ranga stomps through Tokyo, scaring the Japanese military and delighting the constant armada of television reporters. There is plenty of fan service (hell, these underage girls are even naked on the box cover!), and plenty of light entertainment without an overly dark tone.
Unfortunately, everything I liked about the first season of Neo Ranga gets tossed out the window in the second season. What made the show work in its first season was its careful balance of the real and the fantastic. But then that "let's try and outdo Evangelion" bug crawled up inside Studio Pierrot, and in the second season the political conspiracies and fantastical elements wholly overshadow the characters.
The second season (also 24 short episodes) pushes Ranga into a more conspicuous role—he evolves wings and fights organic mecha run by an evil conspiracy that runs the Japanese government. The Shimabara sisters run their own pocket state in one of Tokyo's suburbs. The show's focus slips. In one story, Ranga starts doing television sports shows to raise money. In another, an interesting subplot about Japan's swerve toward neo-fascism (as the new puppet government asserts its authority) gets sidetracked by an ugly bell-covered monster who gets into an arena battle with Ranga. In another story, the bad guys set loose giant vines over Tokyo in order to wreck Christmas. I expect this sort of thing in Gatchaman, but Neo Ranga should not be playing this as serious stuff—which it unfortunately is. The entire series begins to topple over into incoherence.
By the end of the series, everything that was good about Neo Ranga is swamped by an overly convoluted mythology (again, very heavily inspired by Evangelion's "faith-based mecha" approach) and a simplistic "good guys fight maniacal, world-threatening bad guys" approach that loses track of the characters and their real lives.
Neo Ranga began as a show about real people and their fantasies of paradise, embodied in an incongruous giant that cast a shadow over their mundane lives. By the finale, Neo Ranga became a series in which the wild, illogical fantasy took over completely and left the real lives of the characters as mere shadows. I had high hopes for this show when I began it. Few stories have disappointed me as much as Neo Ranga in its second half. Consider it a paradise lost.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: ADV Films
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