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AKA: 天体戦士サンレッド (Tentai Senshi Sunred)
Genre: Comedy
Length: Television series, 26 episodes, 13 minutes minutes each
Distributor: Currently unlicensed in North America
Content Rating: PG
Related Series: Astro Fighter Sunred 2
Also Recommended: Cromartie High School
Notes: Directed by Seiji Kishi. Featuring the vocal talents of Shun Takagi and Louis Lamada. Based on the manga by Makoto Kubota, originally serialized in Young Gangan.
Rating: Five StarsFive StarsFive StarsFive StarsFive Stars

Astro Fighter Sunred

Synopsis

Astro Fighter Sun Red! His name alone strikes fear in the heart of any monster who hears it!! For many years this heroic defender of justice has protected the city from the ruthless machinations of the Evil Florshiem Army!!! Now, he must face his greatest challenge yet... a mid-life crisis.

This anime is the stirring tale of truth, justice, a bored hero who NEVER takes his mask off, a supervillian who is more interested in French cuisine than taking over the world, terrifying monsters who also work part-time at a local supermarket, and the girlfriend who tolerates it all. Will Sun Red protect the city from the evils of General Vamp? Will he finally win at pachinko? Will he ever stop mooching around his girlfriend's house? All these questions and more... are hardly relevant, so just enjoy the show


Review

Japanese pop culture is rich and strange, filled with odd conventions and fads that sometimes look like a twisted fun house mirror of our own entertainment. My own narrow interest in animation has given me a glimpse of other pieces of Japanese pop culture that I'll probably never explore- pop idols that people worship by spending huge stacks on yen on merchandise; the cult of the kawaii; low-budget, star-driven doramas; and imaginative video games. But the oddest of them all is something that any child of the late eighties is familiar with: superheroes who dress up in spandex suits and use awkward kung-fu to defeat monsters in rubber suits. When I was seven years old, I was one of millions of kids convinced that there wasn't anything cooler than Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers. Of course, I had no idea at the time that the Power Rangers was a bastardized product of crass American commercialism and tokusatsu shows from the land of the Rising Sun. In fact, I have only recently learned what tokusatsu is thanks to a podcast interview featuring Patrick Macias and Mike Dent. To sum up what they said, "tokusatsu" literally means "special effects," and while you could use the term for movies like Transformers 2 or Cloverfield and still be correct, it's most commonly applied to the low budget, special effects television series that were developed by people like Eiji Tsuburaya and Shotaro Ishinomori in the Fifties and Sixties. Shows like Kamen Rider and Ultraman are cultural watermarks for children in Japan much like Scooby Doo and Spongebob are for children here in the West. Tokusatsu is the home of giant monsters, powerful robots, and manly opening themes sung with lusty bravado. It's a rich and fascinating facet of Japan's culture...

...and you don't need to know anything about it to love Astro Fighter Sunred.

That's part of what makes this anime so good. All you really need to know to enjoy this comedy is who are the bad guys and who are the good guys, then watch the series delight in subverting your assumptions. Perhaps I'm oversimplifying it, and I might even get e-mails from more knowledgeable fans detailing just how their extensive expertise in Ultraman made the gags so much funnier. That's all well and good, but I went into this series knowing almost nothing about tokusatsu, and I adored it by the end of its run. And not just because it's funny- it also gives characters that could easily have been one note jokes a soul.

Someone once said that the best kind of satire is made by people who love what they are mocking. This is an excellent example of that. Take General Vamp. Sure, he's out to conquer the world... for an evil organization that has gone corporate. And evil isn't a growth industry when your opposition can kick your tail so easily, but Vamp holds his team together as best he can. He cooks for them, celebrates when they recover from their Sunred-inflicted wounds, and above all, maintains a clean house that's more like a boy's home than an underground lair. He's part maternal housewife, part life couch, and with the considerable talents of his voice actor, comedian Louis Lamada, he easily shines as the best character. Sunred, the hero and defender of the city, is a slacker whose battles with the Florshiem Army amount to nothing less than bullying. But he's more than a one note gag, as a touching scene when his girlfriend explains why she won't leave him illustrates. He may be a jerk, but he may also be the easiest character to identify with.

The series has no real plot, and is mostly a collection of seven minute vignettes. Superhero stories often feel like they're stuck in their own version of Endless Eight: you can switch Villian A with Villian C, change the scenery a bit and swap the time bomb for a bank robbery, but it's still the same damn story over and over again. In Sunred, that routine is just part of the work day. The Florshiem Army dutifully shows up at a generic playground to get their ass handed to them, they go home, have dinner, and then repeat the whole thing next week. I think they get Christmas off, though. But most of the vignettes happen at home, between their weekly battles. After all, if only work a few hours defending the world from sure destruction every week, what are you going to do with the rest of your time?

It's strange that something this mature would come from the same crew that made such dreck as Magikano. But a successful gag comedy pays attention to the details, and the crew at AIC rose to the challenge. The animation has many great visual gags, but clearly the best idea the production concocted is the closing theme, a polka ode to the joys of eating chicken dumplings. As of the writing of this review, a second season is in the works, and I would welcome many, many more.

Clever, funny, and sometimes touching.Bradley Meek

Recommended Audience: Some off-color humor, but nothing too bad. This is probably best enjoyed, though, by anyone over the age of twenty, or who has endured the working day grind.



Version(s) Viewed: Prerelease fansub
Review Status: Full (26/26)
Astro Fighter Sunred © 2008 AIC / ASTA / JVC Entertainment Company
 
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