With the action going at roughly the speed of sound, Judge Sandra Dozier recommends you do not consume caffeine while watching Super GALs.
Ran Kotobuki is a GAL's best friend!
Super GALs has succeeded in sucking me in—I'm completely hooked on this series about Japanese girls (called GALs) who dye their hair, wear fake nails, and dress up in a signature look of loose socks, short skirts, and platform shoes. They're feisty, loud, and opinionated, and they aren't about to take crap from anybody, especially on their own turf.
There is something compelling and endearing about the characters in this series—Ran, the leader, who rules Shibuya and her boyfriend Tatsukichi (although love-struck and sweet-tempered Yuya would rather be in that role); best friend Miyu, a former gang leader, who recently cleaned up her act when she was inspired by the love of Ran's policeman brother, Yousuke; and Aya, a shy girl they recently got to know, who very much wants to date the #1 GL (good-looking) guy in town, Rei. Joining them are appearances by Ran's little sister, who has the über-cute habit of saying "You bet" at the end of her sentences all the time, and her boyfriend, both of whom make up the Junior Detectives squad, investigating crime in the streets of Shibuya (little sis wants to be just like their policeman parents).
What works is the strong characterization and the focus on relationships and friends. Ran would do anything for a friend, including (in one memorable episode) working a series of odd jobs to buy a dress for her friend even though Ran is so broke she usually can't afford even her own lunch. Further, she won't hang out with anyone who wouldn't have a similar ethic. Ran has several ironclad rules such as this, and this is part of her charm—she is confident, knows what she wants, and is self-reliant, but she doesn't lord her skill or her ethics over her friends. In other words, someone any girl can look up to.
Of course, the flip side of this is that Ran is a hopeless slacker when it comes to school or obedience to authority figures. If she isn't falling asleep during lessons, she's copying someone else's homework or making up a fanciful excuse for why she didn't do her homework. Poor Naka-teach (the hated nickname given to their teacher by the GALs) has his hands full, and her father will likely go to an early grave, exhausted from his attempts to get Ran to recognize authority and carry on family traditions.
But Ran doesn't have time for that stuff—she has to watch her back and make sure no one has any funny ideas about invading her turf. Girls are always trying to horn in on Shibuya, from those super-tan girls with the light makeup who need to accept that their look is so three years ago to those stubborn Bakuro girls lead by Mami Honda. As far as Ran is concerned, they all get the same treatment—a string of colorful (but PG-rated) insults, a smackdown if required, and an express train back to wherever they came from.
The episodes center mostly around having fun—shopping, beating up invading skanks, dancing, shopping, collaring suspicious troublemakers, shopping, scoping out cute guys, shopping. In general, this series is aimed squarely at high-school-age and younger teens, and the pacing and nonstop action reflect this. It's pretty exhausting to watch, unless you have that kind of on-the-go-all-the-time life. Therefore, it is sure to quickly become a guilty pleasure.
Volume three has four episodes. Ran holds a contest for all the guys who want to be her boyfriend (which includes most of Shibuya) when Yuya challenges Tatsukichi for Ran's love; surprisingly dense when it comes to Yuya, Ran thinks he's just testing Tatsukichi out of friendship. Next, when Ran finds out her good friend, Kendo champion Shiori, is moving to America, she busts her ass to raise the funds in time to buy Shiori a dress that she promised to give her. Tables are turned on Ran in the next episode, when a magic photo machine transforms her into an obedient goody-goody who wears awful clothes and stays after class for fun; her friends have to track the machine down and restore the real Ran! Finally, Ran takes an apprentice GAL when Maki comes to town in search of a mentor; what Maki learns about being a GAL goes deeper than just the look and the attitude, though.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Super GALs is that it made it to America at all. It's very culturally specific, and the kids use their own slang and pepper their speech with a lot of English and sayings that are Japan-specific. However, ADV has once again done a great job in the translation. An anime neophyte can watch this series without fear (and may learn a thing or three about Japanese street culture in the process!). The English voice dub reflects this quality, with a superhuman effort put in by all the voice actors to make the roles hyper, authentic, and fun. Their efforts really sell the series and make each episode a great viewing experience.
As good as these performances are, it is definitely worth checking out the Japanese soundtrack, as well, to hear the undistilled slang and use of English. Both soundtrack options sound very good, with a crisp transfer that is lively and uses both channels well. The English dub has a 5.1 surround that makes good use of all channels for ambient noise and offscreen characters walking into screen. The visual quality is similarly excellent, with a clear transfer that has vibrant colors that show off the glossy animation well.
There is a key extra on this DVD called "Super GALs Explain It All!" that summarizes the episodes and fills in some additional gaps about the "GAL" lifestyle and Japanese culture. This time, Aya conducts the tour of GALdom. This extra can be viewed prior to watching the episodes, as it contains no major spoilers and provides a good foundation for the more unfamiliar aspects that will pop up, especially the Otaku-level cultural references.
The surprising charm of a series that looks, on the surface, to be a shallow glam-fest with "the popular gang" will charm just about anyone. Super GALs is definitely worth a look.
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