Super Gals! Kotobuki Ran
What an interesting little anime this one is. On the other hand its going to be hard to review, seeing as it draws its inspiration from Japanese `Gal' (young female) culture. On the positive side it's entertaining enough to make it worth sampling.
The model of a good Japanese female is one who is quiet, elegant, deferential and hard working. And then there's Kotobuki Ran who scores about -1000 on all of these indexes. She's loud, aggressive and direct. Fortunately, while she has no intention of following the family tradition of entering the police force, her heart is in the right place and she's determined to do what feels right. Although, it seems, what feels right is generally for her to have fun with her friends.
Her friends include an ex-gang member who seems to have recovered her sweetness when she falls for Ran's policeman brother. There's also a `proper' girl who is saved from going the wrong way (enjo kosai) in having fun and dragged into Ran's world. And, finally, there's the number one and two boy of Shibuya. One who wants to become close to Ran and the other who just wants to escape the area. With Ran as the `engine', and lots of youth issues providing context and depth, there's no shortage of trouble and fun for them to find.
The synopsis doesn't really give much of a feel for the `style' of the show. At the core it is a shoujo show, with some pretty good depth coming from the characters. At the same time it contains extra large servings of humor and comedy, which is informed and shaped by various elements of youth culture. Ran, in her own over the top enthusiasm, is plenty fun to watch just be herself. Add in lots of incidental and character humor, even a surprising amount of physical comedy, and the show has a fast pace and quite a few grins.
But shoujo isn't all fun and games. Each episode generally has some serious story or element to under-pin it. Although, in the shoujo fashion, this is expressed primarily though the characters. For example the issue of Japanese youth being poor while living in an extremely consumerist society is referenced several times. It's also the basis for a lot of comedy when Ran's parents use this to manipulate her. This is then extended when such issues as Enjou Kosai (effectively youth prostitution, search on google to find more than you'll ever want to know) become the basis for a story. Thus some is funny, some is serious handled in a funny way and some is seriously intense. Which, of course, is part of what makes shoujo material so much fun.
There is a downside however, and while I don't know Japanese youth culture I've seen the equivalent over here. When a show draws from `youth culture', for expression on a mainstream media such as TV, it goes through a strange filtering process. To begin with it is affected by the fact that the experiences, let alone the perceptions, of youth culture are not universal within even quite small societies. Furthermore the way in which the story is expressed must meet the format of the show and the considerations of the audience. While I'm not going to even hazard a guess as to how close or far this is from Japanese youth culture (of X years back) I will admit that it aroused my suspicion. Lots of the elements felt quite artificially set up (although time constraints have a lot to do with this) and the conclusions were a little too convenient and `preachy'.
On the positive side a western fan really doesn't have to care too much. At the end of the day the important thing is that it's quite entertaining, you do get a good feel for the characters, and some of the stories are fairly memorable. I wouldn't call it the most imaginative thing I've ever seen, and you really have to be comfortable with both shoujo style and content, but other than that its a good watch. Whether they can keep the energy going and growing for a season remains to be seen however. Meanwhile the glimpses into this culture, however real, are intriguing.
Normally I talk about the animation, but in this case first comes the opening song. Get the hell out of my head already. High pitched while insanely cute in a way only the Japanese seem to be able to manage. When linked with the cute opening animation it goes straight into the brain and holds the cerebellum hostage. It's going to take a search party and industrial solvent to save me. Then again, perhaps I'm just susceptible at the moment (starts humming the gigantor theme).
The animation is decent as long as you accept the fact that it is heavily stylised. While there are periods of almost normal shoujo there's lots of other stuff that looks pretty cartoony or like a fashion illustration. I suspect it draws from the style of the manga, although some of it (and lots of super deformed and visual jokes) is to add to the comedy and pace. There's even a reasonable amount of action, although smoothness of motion is less important than expressing the energy and intent. It's a bit unusual, more so if you're unfamiliar with shoujo styles, but you'll adjust quickly and it definitely fits the story. The voices are excellent, dialogue is rich in character and the music (aaargh, save me!) is good and energetic.