Neoranga (Season 1)
The Shimabara sisters are poor. Dirt poor. It's all the eldest sister, Manami, can do to keep her two younger sisters, Ushio and Yuuhi, in school and a roof over their heads. Then one day, a strange young man from a foreign land arrives on their doorstep with tickets to a tropical island and a message from their brother, who has been missing for years. The girls take his invitation and travel to the South Pacific island of Barou, where it appears that their brother had married into the local royalty and become king. However, it seems that their older sibling has passed away, along with his wife, and since his son is too young to take over, the Shimabara sisters have become the next kings (err, queens) of Barou.
This new position comes with one very special perk: Neo Ranga. The primitive god of Barou is now at the sister's disposal, and when they return to Japan, it decides to follow them, rising up out of the sea like Godzilla. Chaos ensues as factions of the Japanese government, JDF, and even the Shimabaras' neighbors scramble to make sense of their new houseguest. But what exactly *is* Neo Ranga? A Machine? A monster? A true god of the old world or a reborn god of the new? In any case, things are never boring when Ranga is in town.
Neo Ranga is one of those rare shows, anime or otherwise, that manages to portray itself effectively as one thing, but actually be something else entirely and not end up sucking in the process. Ostensibly it's a "big monster" show, a tip of the hat to oldies like Godzilla and Gamera. But on the inside it's a surprisingly witty and cutting satire of Japan. Its politics, its culture, its religion, its military, nothing is sacred in Neo Ranga. They poke a stick at everything from corrupt politicians, to the yakuza, to the media and the JDF.
Due to its fifteen-minute episodes, the show moves at a breakneck clip, barely pausing to take a breath as we are drawn through Neo Ranga's arrival in Japan, the imminent destruction it causes, and finally uneasy acceptance by the people around it. Despite the fast pace, the characterization and story rarely suffer, as each of the main characters shines with personality. The three sisters are the main focus, naturally, and each of them has their own distinct flavor: there is Manami, the overly serious older sister who is constantly worried about money, but secretly enjoys being the center of attention. The middle sister, Ushio, is energetic and optimistic nearly to a fault, and deeply wants everyone to accept Neo Ranga rather than constantly try to blow it up. Then there is Yuuhi, the youngest, who openly enjoys the power that possessing Ranga allows her and flaunts it often. These three are supported by a dizzying array of side cast that include the local police box officer (who moonlights as a JDF mecha pilot), a snippy TV News anchorwoman, Ushio's friends from school, Yuuhi's economics teacher, A JDF colonel with a penchant for Hawaiian shirts, and a disenfranchised daytime soap opera director who runs the local oden bar (and has the hots for Manami). The story is told nearly simultaneously through the eyes of all these characters, giving a wide spectrum of viewpoints on what is really going on, yet the overall plot is never derailed by this.
All of this in fifteen minutes. Whoever did the screenplays for this series deserves a raise.
That said, Neo Ranga does have some minor faults. The animation is fairly typical of Studio Pierrot, but not as bad as Star Ocean EX or Tokyo Underground. The backdrops are well done and colorfully painted, but lack a lot of motion. The music as well, while mostly appropriate to the mood of the show, is somewhat bland and forgettable. Finally, because the show *is* so quickly paced, it may turn off some viewers. It can feel rushed at times, even disjointed, but these brief lapses in the continuity will only confuse and frustrate those who don't like the fast pace of the series to begin with.
Neo Ranga probably isn't for everyone, but I enjoyed it immensely, and I am anxiously awaiting the second season. Diehard fans of big monster shows like Godzilla may be disappointed with Neo Ranga as the main focus is not really Ranga himself, but if you like a well told story with entertaining characters, heaps of satire, and just a touch of the weird, then this show is for you.
Remove a star if you are not a fan of Big Monsters, satire, or like your shows more evenly paced. — Jason Bustard
Recommended Audience: Teens and up. Despite the somewhat racy reversible covers for the DVDs (ooh la la!), the sisters remain decently clothed during the course of the show. There are some adult situations, innuendo, and a dash of sophomoric humor (that most youngsters wouldn't get anyway), so this one is not for the kiddies.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD
Review Status: Full (24/24)
Neoranga (Season 1) © 1998 Aikawa Sho / Pony Canyon / Studio Pierrot / Marubeni
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