animefringe june 2003 / reviews

Neo Ranga Vol.2: Lost in the Spectacle
Format: bilingual DVD, 8 eps., 120 min.
Production: ADV / Studio Pierrot / Pony Cannon / Sho Aikawa
Comments: A fun show that blends many opposites seamlessly.
Animefringe Reviews:
Neo Ranga Vol.2: Lost in the Spectacle

Neo Ranga is an interesting show. Essentially, it's about a giant god (that's Neo Ranga) summoned to Tokyo from the tiny island of Barou by his rulers - the three young Shimabara sisters. Life becomes drastically different with the gargantuan Ranga as a guest, especially because of his incredible power.

Each of the three sisters controls Ranga according to their personalities. The eldest, Minami, sees everything in practical terms. As the head of the household, she can't help but envision the god as a means to gain some more solid financial footing for her family. The youngest sister, Yuuhi, is appropriately the most childish of the three. She desires to use Ranga to punish those who have wronged her, and her judgment tends to be rather harsh. The middle child, Ushio, is perhaps the most balanced of the three. With Ranga under her control, she hopes to bring happiness to everyone around her, and longs merely to see other people smile.

After the first volume, the Self Defense Force has finally stopped trying to destroy Ranga - not only because it is morally wrong, but also because they simply can't faze the giant creature. However, the National Interest Party (a make-believe Yakuza faction) hasn't quite given up, and with their wide assortment of resources - and just plain muscle - they still present a threat against the island god.

This volume also marks the reintroduction of three elders from Ranga's home island, along with their young attendant. They provide a great source of wisdom (and a bit of comedy) with their "Barouisms," or witty sayings.

One of the reasons I've really become addicted to Neo Ranga is the show's willingness to throw adult themes around with the absurd idea of a giant island god romping around Tokyo. Let's face it; the premise is very weird. However, Studio Pierrot doesn't use Ranga as a gimmick, but as an important plot device. As it turns out, the conflicts the girls face in each episode can't always be solved by brute force, and their growth and development as good people is the reason this show is so engaging. It's true that Ranga isn't always the star of each episode, but those of you who are fans of giant creatures will be glad to hear that he does get his share of the action on this disc.

As I mentioned above, there are some adult themes in this series. People die. They drink alcohol. They kill. They make bad choices. However, this relative realism helps to balance out the absurd elements of the plot and put the whole thing into an appreciable perspective. Not everything is dark, realistic, and dreary, though.

In fact, episodes 15 and 16 feature some of the most lighthearted scenes on the disc, with the exploits of a panty thief highlighting the 15th and a uninhibited festival in the 16th. It's especially cute to see Ushio's friends after they've had a little too much to drink. Also, when Minami (the eldest sister of the three) is inebriated, the alcohol's effect on Ranga is pretty amusing. I especially got a kick out of the scene in which a group of boys think they've discovered Ranga's remote control, and point various objects at the god and command him to move.

Visually, this is a sharp show. There's quite a bit of watercolor used in the background, but much of the scenery is very realistically portrayed. The animation is smooth and lively, and Hiroto Tanaka's character designs are admirably diverse. Especially impressive is Ranga's design; it must be hard to come up with a new giant creature nowadays. Shiho Takeuchi was responsible for both Ranga and the various other mecha featured in the show, and the results are respectable.

The music for the series is a unique mix, with tribal chanting as well as more contemporary music. The opening and ending themes exemplify this mix, with an ethereally beautiful opening song led by a feminine vocalist and a jazzy ending song that contains some English. The music isn't stuff I'd like to hear in my car, necessarily, but it all suits the action very well.

Neo Ranga's dub is better than average, but I'm not turning off the Japanese track any time soon. I still have trouble with the voice actors all sounding far too old for the characters they're playing. I don't mind if the actors or actresses aren't the same age or sex as the characters portrayed, but it's disconcerting to hear a cute young-sounding Japanese voice on one track and an older woman speaking in a high-pitched tone on the English track. However, my preference for the sound of actors aside, the pacing of the English production is well done, and the English performers do a good job of emoting believably. I guess I had a little problem with the fact that the National Interest Party in the show all have stereotypical Chicago or New York-style gangster accents, but I suppose that's how gangsters are separated out from the rest of the crowd.

Technically, this is a good disc. The case is clear with a reversible cover, and all 8 episodes are easily selectable from the title menu. Included on this release (along with most ADV discs, lately) is the same annoying front-loaded Newtype trailer I'm already tired of. First of all, I think it's a little condescending, but I'm not a big fan of trailers that play without my approval beforehand anyway. At least it's easily skipped. The most obvious technical oddity was the romanization of the Japanese word for vacation in episode 15 as "bacation." I'm not sure if the translators were trying to be faithful to the original (for the "va" sound does come across as a "ba" in Japanese), or if it was just a silly mistake. Either way, it was kinda funny.

I really enjoy the openings and endings of series. However, it would make my day if there was an alternate track path that viewers could opt to take that eliminated them from the run of the show. Of course, it should be optional, for we all remember the Kimagure Orange Road fiasco, but it would make an excellent option for those of us who don't want to see the same credits 8 times per disc. I'm not sure if there are technical barriers keeping disc authoring studios from offering this option, but if there aren't, its inclusion would be greatly appreciated.

There's the usual assortment of extras included here, from a slideshow of production sketches (using the show's opening and ending themes as background music), to clean opening and ending animations, to the original trailer for the series. My favorite bonus feature would have to be the translation notes that are invaluable to viewers desiring to learn more about cultural references in the show. As Neo Ranga showcases a wide variety of real-life locales, it's somewhat nifty to get a detailed description of what's going on in the background. I wish liner notes were included with every show, but they are very welcome in this particular case.

Neo Ranga is a show I've become very attached to. It's unpredictable, and it blends quite a few moods and themes together to form an extremely enjoyable series. I never thought that a show featuring a giant god stomping around Japan could be thought provoking, but Neo Ranga does get you thinking. More importantly, it also will have you concerned about the characters, laughing at the funny moments, and sad when something dire has occurred. It generates some real emotions using a collection of far-out plot elements, and for that alone, I'll be back for more when the third disc arrives.