animefringe november 2003 / feature
Animefringe Coverage:
Mao-Chan - Keepin' the Cute in Check

Oh no, Japan is being invaded by cute aliens! How can you not notice? They're just sooo cute!

Here comes Mao-Chan in her little tank! Ain't she just the cutest, most precious little darlin'? Go get 'em Mao-Chan! Bop 'em like there's no tomorrow!

Still tuned in? Good.

There's a new ultra-cute bishoujo series on the scene by the name of Mao-Chan (the full title is Rikujyou Bouei Tai! Mao-chan). A 26-episode series sprung from the creative mind of Ken Akamatsu, the manga-ka behind Love Hina and A.I. Love You, Mao-Chan aired late last year in Japan and is part of the growing trend of series comprised of 15-minute episodes. For those keeping count, Steel Angel Kurumi, Neo Ranga and Risky Safety are some other shows in this same class.

Mao-Chan takes the classic 'magical girl' formula and tosses a cute-ified version of the military into the mix. The Ground Defense Force, the Air Defense Force and the Marine Defense Force all vie for the biggest piece of the government's budget. All it takes to unite these rival defense elements are three little second-grade girls in majorette uniforms. Brilliant, I say.

For comparison's sake, Mao-Chan most closely resembles Magical Project S (a.k.a. Pretty Sammy TV). They both take the tried-and-true Sailor Moon transformations and villain-of-the-week concept and throw in elements unique to their own universes. Pretty Sammy had the Tenchi cast, while Mao-Chan features the Love Hina cast. Holy smokes, did you just say Love Hina cameos?! Yeah, I did, but I'll get to that shortly.

If the anime market were not what it is today, it's doubtful Mao-Chan would have ever been licensed a few years ago. It's just too different. And much like Sugar, both of the series have a definite cuteness factor going for them.

Mao-Chan begins, interestingly enough, in the middle of the story. The entire first episode actually takes place around episode six or so. The idea must be to give the viewer a hint at what's to come and then continue on from the beginning.

The story really begins in Episode 2, as Mao Onigawara turns eight years old and is given her clover badge, one of only three in existence, by her grandfather, Rikushiro. As the Ground Defense Force's chief of staff, he has ingrained within Mao-Chan's head ever since infancy that she must take it upon herself to protect Japan when the time comes. That time is now!

With a tap of the badge's face and shouting of the word "Riku-bo," Mao-Chan is immersed in light and her clothing undergoes a quick switcheroo. It doesn't actually make her any stronger -- it's just a cosmetic change -- but still, it's a necessary one.

As Mao-Chan's training begins, she starts to make news headlines and becomes a pre-pubescent pop sensation almost overnight. Soon enough, the alert comes in. A cute alien is on its way to Japan! Mao-Chan heads to the scene and, with millions watching on national television, must face down the nasty, er, incredibly cute little bunny critter-thingy.

Why choose a little girl for such a job? Well, think about it for a moment. How would it look if the military just went in, guns blazing, to take out an invader so cute? What better way to boost public morale than to let a little girl handle it? Heck, Mao-Chan even gets a cute little snap-together tank called Mii-kun to ride around in. It's just for show though -- it can't actually fire anything.

But what about the Air and Marine Defense Forces? Not to worry -- they have their own little girl mascots as well! Mao-Chan's friend, Misora Chikusima, handles the air front and scatter-brained Sylvia Maruyama handles the water scenarios. The two even have their own little toys as well. Misora-Chan has a red jet and Sylvia-Chan has a mini-sub. Cool, huh?

While the defense forces themselves would prefer to be kept separate, the three little girls have no problems working together, and combined they form the Unified Defense Force. Sadly however, they can't just join forces and whoop ass whenever they want -- they have to wait for the government to give the go-ahead with special budget authorization. Truly strange, I must say.

Now, what's all this about Love Hina characters showing up?

Well, it's true. The first volume gives a small glimpse of what's to come with a surprise appearance by a rather large "Cosmic Tama-Chan." Tama-Chan, in her small form, is the loveable hot springs turtle from, you guessed it, Love Hina.

There are also plenty of lookalikes scattered here and there throughout the series. Colonel Kagome Mishima, Mao-Chan's homeroom teacher and commanding officer, is a dead ringer for Naru Narusegawa, the heroine from Love Hina -- but only physically. The two guys always seen pining over Miss Kagome and wasting time in the halls could very well be Keitaro's slacker friends, Haitani andd Shirai. There's even a person that looks like Motoko with short hair at one of the communication posts in the Ground Defense Force's command center.

For those of us looking for some real Love Hina crossover high jinx, Episode 20, which should be on either volume 3 or 4, literally has the cast of Mao-Chan visiting Hinata House! Yes, folks, we get a chance to revisit Naru in all her glory and learn what she's been up to since the end of Love Hina -- plus we get to witness a tad more fan service that only those amazing hot springs can offer. It can be considered Love Hina Again's epilogue.

Even some of Love Hina's voice actors make their presence known in Mao-Chan. Take, for instance, Yui Horie. Not only was she Naru's Japanese seiyuu, but she also provides the voice of Sylvia-Chan. Try not to let it overwhelm you -- just wait until you see it for yourself! Mao-Chan is a blast and you're sure to love every sweet moment of it.