Saturday, October 29, 2016
Video Backlog: “The Rolling Girls”
Format: Region A and B Blu-ray, NTSC, Japanese Dialogue with optional English dub and English Subtitles. Region 1 and 4 DVD, NTSC, Japanese Dialogue with optional English dub and English Subtitles.
Length: 12 episodes x 24 minutes
Production Date: 2015
Currently in Print (as of writing): Yes
A decade after the Great Tokyo War, the majority of the political and economic leaders mysteriously vanished. Japan’s prefectures became inward looking and eventually became ten separate countries. Instead of police or military, countries had vigilante squads to protect the land and sort out disputes with other countries in regard to boarders. Teenager Nozomi Moritomo is the daughter of a family who runs a local Japanese sweets store in Tokorozawa. She’s also a new member of the local vigilante group, the Hiroshi Town Propellers. Grabbing some dango for the fellow members to eat, she rushes off to a battle between two “Bests” (super powered fighters who are leaders or representatives of local vigilante groups); Maccha Green a masked anonymous hero who fights for the Propellers and Kuniko Shigyo, a hired Best from Tokyo who now fights for Higashi Murayama. Kuniko believes that Maccha Green is actually the leader of the Propellers, Masami Utoku, and is determined to unmask her. The battle continues with Maccha Green nearly loosing. However the Propellers launch their “giant robot” (actually a helium filled balloon), and the Higashi Murayama members retreat.
Later at the Propeller’s headquarters a young woman on a bike called Yukina Kosaka crashes into the front door. She tells them that she has been riding for three days in search of the Propeller’s headquarters. Mistaking her for a new recruit, the fellow members sign her up and give a staff jacket. Soon after a bus arrives to pick up the members for a surprise trip to the local amusement park. However this is a trap set up by the Higashi Murayama. After a confrontation with Kuniko at a local ramen restaurant, Masami realises that her underlings have been held hostage and hurries to the amusement park. The members including Nozomi and Yukina are being held hostage on a roller coaster ride which the Higashi Murayama have planned to derail and crash to the ground. Kuniko demands that Masami fights her. However she refuses to and says that Maccha Green will be the one to fight her. Meanwhile one of the Higashi Murayama members, Ai Hibiki, decides that what they are doing is too cruel and attempts to stop the roller coaster to save the Propeller members. Her plan is thwarted, but Maccha Green arrives to save them. The ensuring battle between her and Kuniko, which also unmasks Maccha Green as Masami, is so fierce that both Bests end up in hospital.
It is revealed that Masami hid under the Maccha Green garb so as not to influence her friend Nozomi, into fighting. However that plan has now failed. Knowing that Masami will be out of action for a long time, she decides to take a trip in answer to several letters to Maccha Green asking for help from various vigilante groups in other countries. She also wants to become stronger not rely on Masami for help and believes this trip will help her in that regard. Setting off in her bike with a side car, Yukina asks if she can join her on her bike to Tokyo. They soon spot Ai hitchhiking. Having been kicked out of the Higashi Murayama, she wants to move on from the town. In park up the road they discover a girl in gas mask on a Vespa. Her name is Chihaya. She is after the heart shaped stones that apparently give the Bests their super human strength. The four head off to their first stop, Tokyo, where the country of Always Comima now resides. However the four girls are mistaken as members of the terrorist group Dynamite Bomber and are hunted down by the local Best called Thunderoad. Meanwhile the president of Tokorozawa has sent out an agent to buy up and collect all the heart shaped stones he can find.
Wit Studio certainly has made some really interesting anime since they were founded a short four years ago. While this show was rather unfairly criticised by the majority of anime fandom, I think this is another great show by the studio. The first two episodes lull you into believing this show will be a fighting show a la “Kill la Kill”, except a lot lighter, but then it ends up as a rather fun road trip adventure. The set-up is pretty simple. Nozomi and her “gang” go to a new country to answer calls for help as per the letter sent to Maccha Green. While they don’t usually solve the problem at hand, their arrival and presence becomes the catalyst to solving the issue. Generally there are arcs of two episodes each as the girls travel from country to country. In the universe of “The Rolling Girls”, communication now seems to be really limited and the countries (formerly prefectures) really patriotic and inward looking. There are a lot of stereotypes of certain prefectures (especially Kyoto and Okayama) and at times it’s a bit too absurd and silly. However it’s always fun.
The show is brimming full of great ideas and the artwork is really colourful and fun. I especially liked the rather colourful attacks and explosions (some take the shapes of flowers) and the background art. Much of it is rather impressionistic watercolours, especially for the Kyoto and Hiroshima arcs. There’s also the music with songs from now defunct 1980’s rock/punk band The Blue Hearts. All of the songs are covers by the four lead seiyu, but they certainly do the songs justice. There’s a lot little interesting things in the show which I think a lot of reviewers have missed. For instance Chiaya is able to see other’s dreams while they are sleeping using device similar to what Maetel had in “Galaxy Express 999”. In the Kyoto arc there is a lead singer of a band called Misa Ichijo, which sounds awfully like a married name of a certain character in the original “Macross” series.
Perhaps at times there is an overabundance of ideas and it does lose it ways at times. The Always Comima arc is probably the least interesting in the series. But the criticism from fans regarding show sort of annoyed me. Accusations of it being confusing I found odd as the show pretty much explains everything; the power of the hearts, why they are being collected etc. It’s all there. Then there’s the criticism of the four leads getting sidelined and not actually doing anything. This is bunkum as well. As I said before they are the catalysts of the story in each individual arc. If there weren’t there the show wouldn’t work and they are always key players in each story. Sometimes I feel I don’t really understand anime fandom anymore. Do they think stories can only be told in one way? They just seem so closeminded to lot of ideas and concepts. If anything slightly off-kilter or left of centre is presented to them they reject it.
The series was directed by Kotomi Deai who has also directed the latter series of “Natsume's Book of Friends” and second season of “Silver Spoon”. Yes, another female director with a female character designer, tanu (“Flip Flappers”) providing all the designs. I think it’s great that there’s a lot more women in key roles in anime series now days. Certainly the direction is very good and the show just looks so vibrant and colourful. Perhaps the girls might have been portrayed quite differently with a male director and character designer. I note that there is no fanservice at all to speak of. Funimation’s set is on par with their other DVD/BD combos. They replace as much Japanese text as they can get away with in the opening and closing credits and as per usual there is at least some banding in the video which is pretty disappointing. I must admit it’s not as bad as some of their previous releases. Generally I find little to none in Sentai’s releases, yet I see a fair wack of fans ripping into Sentai for being “cheap”. Whatever. One of the things which frustrates me about recent Funimation releases is their insistence of subbing the songs on the textless opening and closing animation, then blocking the option to turn off the subs. It’s really, really annoying and makes a mockery of the fact they’re including creditless opening and closing animations.
Summing up, “The Rolling Girls” is a far more engaging and fun series than most of the professional and fan reviews make it out to be. I concede some of it doesn’t work, however more often than not it does. I think it's a real shame that series like this one will end up lost and forgotten in a couple years time. 7 out of 10.
Remaining Backlog: Three TV series. In addition I am also waiting for the second part of one TV series to be released before viewing it.