Wednesday, March 12, 2014

President Dog Takes On... Super GALS!: A Retro Review

Hello everyone and welcome back to President Dog Takes On... this time with a special retro anime review!

Since I started on this journey of writing and reviewing I've been wanting to go back and honor a few underrated gems of the past that I've bonded with for one reason or another. To lead things off here, there's not a bigger show that comes to my mind than our subject today, Super GALS!


Now before I get into what the show's all about, a little bit of backstory is in order, both for the subject matter and what bonded me to this show. I first discovered GALS! when I was in high school, somewhere either in 2004 or 2005, as part of a collection of on-demand programming through my cable TV subscription. For those unfamiliar, as part of most major digital cable packages in the U.S. and other countries, cable companies will often give their subscribers a small library of shows they can access at any time, ranging recent episodes of popular shows to obscure, new or unknown programming with a more dedicated focus than a typical cable channel. The anime available through these services came mostly from The Anime Network, though a few other collections existed from Funimation and other companies, and rotated through series on a week-to-week or month-to-month basis. Being the naive pup for anime that I was at 16, I decided to basically spin the wheel of what was available and try my luck. Fate happened to land on GALS! (specifically episode 23, “Tear it Off! Rip Rip! Teacher's Golden Image) and with its blend of action, drama and comedy with just a touch of romance and heaping helping of solid characters, I was sold. I quickly found the first half of the show on DVD and watched it all the way through, only reluctant to the fact that after episode 26, it previewed another episode that didn't exist on that set. It wasn't until a few years later when I was just starting my first year of college that the second half of the series was finally released, albeit only in subtitled form as opposed to the sub and dub options on the first half. Undeterred by that small fact, I gladly ate up the rest of the series, especially as a way to pass the time in between classes or when I would have to take public transportation to the campus.

The series was one of my first looks into more direct Japanese culture as GALS! is a slice-of-life show in the sense that it looks at a specific subculture of teenagers, the kogal, as well as the cultural center for fashion and said subculture, the Shibuya ward of Tokyo. Like how otaku and technologically-minded people flock to Akihabara, the fashion-minded and (at least during the turn of the millennium and the time in which GALS! takes place) the kogals flock to Shibuya. It's still a major focal point for the fashion world in Tokyo, but as with any trend, the kogal subculture passed and the female youth of Japan moved onto other things. If anything, this show would just be an interesting little media representation of a subculture and nothing more. Fortunately for GALS!, it is much more substantial.

Our show centers around Ran Kotobuki, the self-proclaimed 'World's Greatest Gal.' Now most people tend to have a bit of a split in intelligence, either towards education (a.k.a., book smarts) or learning facts of life and good morals (a.k.a., street smarts). Ran seems to have a pretty lopsided split towards street smarts. Usually lazy and absent-minded when it comes to school (the only class she doesn't tend to fail is PE and she often mooches homework answers off her more adept friends and acquitances), Ran truly shines on the streets and when dealing directly with people, always willing to dispense good advice about friends, life, or when needed, a good swift kick in the rear or slap in the face. Literally. It all comes from Ran's upbringing, living in a family of police officers and instilling within her a deep-rooted sense of justice. Unfortunately for her folks, she has no desire to join up to the family calling and decides, at least for now, to keep on being herself while dishing out a bit of vigilante butt-kicking on the side. In between shopping, karaoke, parapara dancing, octopus balls and other fun things in Shibuya, of course.

As we follow Ran, our cast naturally builds around her, from her best friends, Miyu and Aya (a former troubled teen saved from her delinquent ways by Ran's older brother, Yamato, and a smart, yet sheltered girl that Ran helps to come out of her shell and enjoy life as a gal, respectively) to a few guys from a popular all-guys school, Rei and Yuya (An aloof, somewhat snarky guy who Aya falls in love with and his upbeat partner-in-teen-idolness who has eyes for Ran) and eventually grows to include rivals, other boyfriends (including Tatsuki/Tatsukichi, Ran's energetic, silly and very monkey-like squeeze) and many others. There's no shortage of colorful, interesting and intriguing characters to be had here, which keeps episodes fresh. Another aspect of GALS! that keeps the viewer engaged is the variety and balance the stories provide in each episode while maintaining an evolving state of relationships. Plots can range from the serious, such as romance, finding jobs, or even family issues, to the silly and absurd sometimes. No joking at all, there are at least three episodes where Ran gets either hypnotized or hit in the head and her personality changes completely. It even gets lampshaded after the first time it happens in the episode previews. The most gripping overall plotline of this show has to be the relationship between Aya and Rei, as it's the longest-running and it quickly gets the viewer invested emotionally. Several times throughout I felt myself feeling so sad for Aya and getting increasingly angry at frankly, how much of a stone cold jackass Rei as acting towards her, but that's just my reaction and things do eventually grow towards the positive for both characters.

I do recommend checking out this series in one form or another between the anime and the manga (of which I also own a few volumes and gives its own spin on the show, but includes many if not all of the same stories), but the anime itself is an odd duck in the way of how it was licensed and translated, as I alluded to in my introduction. The first half of the series was distributed by the now-defunct ADV Films in both its original Japanese and an English dub. As much as I highly enjoyed the dub, which I can't say for very many anime in general, and its colorful choice of slang and dialogue, I have to recommend that any prospective viewers watch this series in its original Japanese because that is the only way the second half of the series is available, as the transfer of distribution rights to Right Stuf International neglected to continue the dubbing. However, Super GALS! is an ample length at 52 episodes, has enough going on to keep a viewer invested and is an enjoyable, albeit not the most original show. It does fall in line with some of the main character archetypes of the early 2000s era of anime and usually sticks to their guns about it; although characters do grow, not everyone truly does and those who do tend to do so very slowly. Another small nitpick is that the art style doesn't stand out all that much compared to its contemporaries. All the girls tend to have the same thin, almost twig-like body type just differentiated by their clothes and hair and such and outside of some colorful choices of palette, a lot of the set pieces are your typical cityscape of streets, shops and public areas (location accurate hotspots such as the Hachiko statue and the Shibuya 109 building are present and prominent, however, so points for detail). Overall, as an objective review, I give Super GALS! 3.5/5, but with my sentimental value factored in, it's at least a 4 to me. An enjoyable show with an ample length and story, but may not be something that sticks with you long after the final episode.

As a special bonus for anyone interested in checking out the show, not only is the entire subtitled version available on YouTube, I compiled all 52 episodes into a playlist for your viewing pleasure. Just follow the link below and see what it's all about.