Dancougar vol. 1
Mike Toole rates it:
Alien invasion is a common scenario in anime, but rather than using the accepted US convention of infecting the alien’s computer systems with a virus (thereby saving the world with a Powerbook), Japanese animation creators tend to favor the approach of entrusting the earth’s safety to a great big shiny robot. This is especially favored if the robot can easily be manufactured as a toy in several sizes and varieties. Dancougar is no exception to this rule– in fact, it’s not just about a big robot, it’s about four vehicles that transform into animal robots, and also combine into one big robot. We’ve seen this convention used in Voltron, so it’s hardly surprising to see it again.
What sets Dancougar apart are its memorably-stereotypical characters and grittier-than-usual feel. The earth is swiftly invaded by the Zorbados Muge Empire, a typically evil organization, but in the process we’re treated to plenty of scenes of unflinchingly brutal mechanized combat. Soon, earth’s defense forces lose control of much of the planet, and the aliens set up a base of operations near the Great Lakes. With the help of Shapiro Keats, a traitor to earth’s forces, they start sniffing out the remaining military installations and ammo dumps.
Fortunately, there’s a last-resort plan, being undertaken by the hilariously-named Cyber-Beast Force. The plan involves getting together earth’s best remaining pilots to use a new, experimental weapons system. The first such pilot is Shinobu Fujiawara. He’s a typical 70-80s anime hero– burning, fiery temper, and rude as hell. In other words, he’s a socially maladroit dickhead, just like the 10 year old boys he’s meant to appeal to. Despite this, he’s cooperative towards his bosses, Ross Igor and Dr. Hazuki, who give him a really cool plane to test out.
The plane has some interesting properties– not only is a surprisingly formidable weapon against the alien forces, when Shinobu gets really mad (which isn’t hard to do), the plane’s capabilities increase. There are also many more secrets to the machine– hell, there are a visible pair of robot hands on the bottom, so you know it probably transforms into something else. Anyway, Shinobu is soon joined by Sara Yuuki, his old classmate at the Space Academy in Austrailia. He’s distressed by her appearance, partially because she’s mean enough to stand up to his advances, and partially because she’s the ex-girlfriend of Shapiro Keats. But she proves to be a capable pilot of her Land Cougar, a powerful tank. She’s a bit more capable with her machine than Shinobu, in fact, and freely transforms her tank into a crazy mechanized cougar. (Shinobu’s reaction is great– he’s like, “Holy crap! Did you see that freaking tank turn into a cougar?!”)
Over the next few episodes, the Cyber-Beast Force is filled out by Masato Shikibu, the playful, amiable pilot of the Land Liger, and Ryo Shiba, the aloof older pilot of the Land Mammoth. This force is all that stands in the way of Emperor Muge’s forces, and they go into action readily enough. In true giant robot fashion, our bad guy Muge has a whole league of sub-gruesomes, which obviously must be toppled by our heroes one by one, as the series progresses. The first mark is General Death Gaia, which is possible the most awesome bad guy name since Machine Robo‘s Devil Satan Six.
There’s not a whole hell of a lot to explain beyond that. If you know the super robot formula and like it, this series will hit all of your buttons– there’s amusing interplay between the Dancougar pilots, and the bad guys are over-the-top and fun to laugh at. While a bit grittier and more complex than fare like Voltron, Dancougar is still kiddie fare, so don’t expect incredible intellectual or philosophical themes– it’s all about kicking the bad guy’s ass, and kicking it some more.
The production of the show is nice– it’s fairly high-budget mid-80s TV animation, which means some cool action scenes, a bright color pallette, and awful music (especially that opening theme. Euuuughhh.). Character design, by Indori-Goya, is nice and streamlined, and mechanical design is particularly cool– it’s handled by Hisashi Hirai and Masami Obari, two artists who are better known for their character designs. This makes for nice, “natural”-looking mech movement, which works well with Dancougar‘s animal theme.
In the end, what we’ve got with Dancougar is an enjoyably dumb mecha action show. What also makes the series appealing is its low price– it may only be available on subbed VHS, and the retail price may be $19.95 per volume, but a lot of outlets are offering it for less– the Right Stuf currently (as of 11/01) has it for $8.00 per volume. 8 volumes of the 39-episode series for a total cost of $64.00– well shit, who needs fansubs when you’ve got deals like that? Unfortunately, Dancougar is slowly going out of print, and Software Scuptors hasn’t announced any plans to reissue the show on DVD. As a video release, Dancougar was only an experiment, but it’s certainly worth taking in for the super robot junkie in you. Don’t pine for your lost Voltron episodes– get this instead.
Added: Friday, October 10, 2003
Related Link: Software Sculptors