Movie: Anime is not just for kids but that doesn't mean there isn't a thriving sub-genre directed at those kids too. Children's anime is much like those Saturday morning cartoons we all grew up with except that the anime tends to have themes that are also adult in nature, allowing parents to enjoy shows with their kids (rather than act like a babysitter like the domestic shows seem to be used for). My experience with such anime is limited but leads me to believe that they are usually colorful, loud, happy in tone, and silly by nature. Such is the case with the latest release by Geneon (formerly known as Pioneer), Mao-Chan 2: Go! Unified Defense Force.
The show centers on a group of three eight year old girls in Japan that possess the ability to control some sort of energy through batons, using the resulting beams to fight off alien invaders and save the world on a routine basis. They go to school together and each one represents one branch of the military (army, navy, and air force). They are, Mao Onigawara, a pink-haired gal that serves as the lead of the show, controls a tiny tank, and is as clumsy as I am (with similar athletic abilities); Misora Tsukishima, a blue-haired gal that serves as the leader of the group, flies in a small airplane, and has a terrible habit of using the phrase "I say" like a junior version of Ed Grimley; and Silvia Maruyama, a black-haired gal that controls a tiny submarine and acts like a toady to Mao. The three have an immediate supervisor, twenty seven year old Kagome Mishima, who is both their military liaison and schoolteacher, even though she acts like the kids will be the death of her.
In any case, there is some sort of on-going threat from aliens coming from outer space that have spies on Earth. The aliens have decided to use monsters that are cute so that public sympathy will be on their side if the military attacks the monsters (one is a giant sheep, for example). The gals get activated by means of radio transmitters and when they hit a button, their clothes turn into what look like band uniforms, batons and all. I guess this was one way to sell the series as kid friendly and it was a harmless idea.
The episodes of the show were half the length of most anime, running a bit under fifteen minutes each (much like Neo Ranga, and the DVD included seven episodes to provide some value for your money. Here's a list of the included episodes:
Mission 8: Project: Defense Barrier
Mission 9: The Unified Defense Force Formed
Mission 10: Operation: Japan Collection
Mission 11: Before Everything Else, A Sports Meet
Mission 12: Awake Or Asleep, We Will Defend
Mission 13: Mother Has Come, I Say
Mission 14: Headquarters Of The Defense Forces In Imminent Danger
I thought this was so silly and cute that I was going to burst but after watching several episodes, I started to think it was something I'd suggest for younger kids to appreciate. I had problems playing the DVD on my Toshiba player, something that has rarely been a problem so I rated it as a Rent It to be on the safe side. I don't think most older anime fans will like this one much as it was directed squarely at kids but parents will get a chuckle watching it with them too. Check it out if you want some clean anime for your kids to enjoy.
Picture: The picture for this colorful little show was presented in the industry standard of 1.33:1 ratio full frame, as originally shot. It was very much a child's show and the bright colors reminded me of the kind of eye candy kids love to watch, entrancing them as if by hypnosis. There was little grain or other visual defects and I saw no compression artifacts. The anime style itself was limited but the kind you'd expect to be made for the younger crowd.
Sound: The audio was presented in with the usual choices, both in 2.0 Dolby Digital stereo, of English or the original Japanese, with optional English subtitles or subtitles for the signs only. I have no idea how accurate the subtitles were to the original vision of the creator but it seemed silly enough to be true to form. The audio was a bit limited in terms of depth and had little separation between the tracks but it was also appropriate to the theme of the show. In terms of quality, the dub was not up to the standard set by the original language track but it had a charm of its own.
Extras: The extras included the standard trailers and non-credit closing but also an extended interview with Yoshiaki Iwasaki (the creative mind behind the show), which was billed as the first part of the interview, by the way, and a section on bloopers and outtakes by the dub cast. There was also a paper insert and a double sided DVD cover.
Final Thoughts: I don't know why it wouldn't play on my DVD player but it seemed okay on a Sony so I'm not going to hammer its rating. The show was cute and kids will like it as it has everything they want in a show. Check it out with your kids and train them early to appreciate the wonders of anime.