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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Doamygar-D: So Retro It's Tasty

Short anime are a subject that rarely gets discussed by most anime sites, and the reasoning is a simple one: How much can you really write about something that takes longer to write than it takes to watch? This is especially true when the writer has to do a weekly report on the show, hence why places like Anime News Network doesn't even bother to cover short anime for the most part (at least, anything shorter than 10 minutes/episode). Sadly, that has resulted in some very enjoyable series, like My Neighbor Seki/Tonari no Seki-kun, not receiving as much credit as it deserves. The show I want to talk about, however, didn't even receive the luxury that Seki did by getting a simulcast; it didn't even get fansubbed, and it only aired this past season! At the same time, it's not exactly surprising that this show didn't get a translation, because it also doubled as an advertisement for a Japanese locale, Kyoto.

Anime that's made mostly to advertise actual places in Japan is something that's been happening for the past couple of years, and just about none of them ever received any sort of English translation. For example, does anyone remember hearing about Tenpo Suikoden NEO, a 2013 ONA about a girl who gets teleported back to the past & was made to advertise the town of Tonosho in Chiba prefecture? I'd imagine the majority answer would be "No," simply because it was never simulcasted nor fansubbed (now that I've brought it up, however, watch me review this one day, just for the hell of it). In fact, the only anime of this type I can think of that saw an English release of any sort is 2009's Miracle Train, which advertised Tokyo's subway lines via anthropomorphism. This past winter had a short anime run on KBS Kyoto & Television Kanagawa/tvk called Doamygar-D, which was made to help promote Kyoto's sweets industry. What made this show catch some eyes when it announced back in September 2014, however, was the style of the show, as it utilized a completely retro, 70s mech anime-influenced look. Now that it has ended last month, I'm curious about Doamygar even more so. Was this 13-episode series of 2.5 minute shorts hiding more than its purpose indicated, or was it really nothing more than a 30-minute advertisement for an industry in the former capital of Japan? Or, simply put, was this show just as disposable & high in sugar as the sweets it promoted? Let's find out.

Daijirou Kyogyoku is the 15th generational proprietor of the Amasho-do sweets shop in Kyoto. One day, after falling down the steps into the basement, Daijirou finds a hidden door, behind which is a giant hangar housing a mecha named Doamygar-D. At the same time, people start getting turned into giant mecha/kaiju monsters called Mekaiju, and the only way to return them to normal is for Daijirou to prepare & feed them sweets made via Doamygar! While fighting off each successive Mekaiju, however, Daijirou will also find out who's behind the creation of these monsters, learn about the origin of his robot, & take on Mr. Robert, an American sweets magnate who uses his own giant robot to automatize sweets production.

If there's one immediate thing you'll notice about Doamygar-D, it's the absolute dedication to the era of mech anime it's both homaging & poking fun at, which is easily the early-to-mid 70s. Visually, it's astonishing at how stringent the anime sticks to its inspiration. The animation is super-limited, even stilted at times, which is very much how a lot of mech anime of the time was (especially when it wasn't a larger name). The colors are very simple & static, with very little (if any) gradation featured, also like anime of the time. There's the occasional appearance film grain & even things like hairs, which did sometimes appear on the cel or camera during filming at the time; the corners even darker & lighten at times, as if the lighting around the camera was naturally filmed. Another nice touch is the habit of coloring characters in a brown-ish tone when an explosion is nearby, something that was also popular back in that time. There's even one quick moment in episode 2 where it looks very much like the studio utilized live-action for an effect, which was used on rare occasion during the 60s & early 70s. Finally, all of this is housed in the old-school 4:3 (a.k.a. full-screen) ratio, minus the intro & ending, with the sides taken up by borders that feature extra info at times. The overall effect is so superbly executed that I sometimes wondered if this entire anime was actually hand-drawn, but I know that it obviously wasn't, since even Sazae-san (the last anime to still be hand-drawn) went fully digital in September of 2013. From a purely visual point of view, Doamygar-D is a must-see.

Luckily, it's not just about the way the anime looks, because this show also has a surprising amount of shout-outs & homages to how mech anime operated back in the day (& even still does now). The biggest reference, however, is easily to Go Nagai. Daijirou finding Doamygar is very similar to how Kouji Kabuto first found Mazinger Z, the idea of it being the greatest creation of one of Daijirou's ancestors is a reference to Mazinger being the work of Kouji's father, Robert is very similar to Jack King from Getter Robo (though he's nowhere near as confrontational as Jack was), & the characters in general are obviously meant to evoke Nagai's style from their designs; a little girl is even blatantly drawn in Nagai's early style from the 60s & 70s! Other notable tropes & references include Daijirou's father Hachikurou being a semi-antagonist (complete with his own dark mecha), absurd visuals (wait until you see what Robert's jet liner looks like!), lots of re-used footage, having a semi-serial storyline (i.e. there's an overall story arc, but not every episode leads directly into the next), & a strong dedication to taking itself seriously. In true super robot fashion, Daijirou is a hot-blooded lead who will shout out "Douzou! Otabeyaaaaasu!/Here you go! Eat Uuuuuuup!" while (politely) sliding towards his enemy with sweets in mecha hands, followed by him bowing & saying "Oagariasu/Eat well," very politely while bowing, showcasing his professional dedication to pleasing his customer. Normally, such actions would be preposterous & ridiculous, and it is, but here it just works.

As for the show being made to help advertise Kyoto's sweets industry, it actually doesn't try to hit you over the head with it. Sure, every time Daijirou defeats an enemy it's with a different type of confectionery, obviously done to advertise Kyoto's variety, but outside of that the show doesn't really push that agenda too much. The closest thing to the show pushing a certain type of sweet was with the water yokan, a jellied sweet that was showcased as being that damn good & seemingly becomes a big seller for Daijirou. I'm not going to say that the anime fails in that regard, but rather I think that the people behind the show wisely used the advertising aspect in a way that didn't come off as obtrusively blatant; instead, it fits the silly & absurd concept very well.

Doamygar-D was animated by ILCA (pronounced "iruka", like the Japanese word for "dolphin"), a relatively new studio, with it's only notable work prior being Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories, which can be seen over at CrunchyRoll. Being a new studio, ILCA obviously is playing to its strengths by relying on simpler animation styles, but if Doamygar is any indication then its a studio that knows how to do a lot with so little. The staff behind it doesn't have any real known names in anime, though writer Wulonta Yoshida is apparently a known comedian, stage actor, & voice actor in Japan. While this show has no English subtitles out for it, from what I could understand, Yoshida's writing worked very well, helping deliver on the retro style. The occasional bit of poking fun was also amusing, like Daijirou not knowing what to call a new sweet in the middle of a fight, so he mishears his teacher saying "Andatte?/What'd you say?" & calls it the Andattei; another good one is the reason why Robert tries to kill off Daijirou & his father in the final episode (Daddy issues). The direction & character designs are by Shimon Doi, and both are done very well. Doi's character designs, as mentioned above, really do evoke Go Nagai & it works outstandingly here. The music by Yasuhiko Fukuda (RoboGeisha, Karate Robo Zeborgar) is used pretty sparingly, but what's there is excellent, especially the main theme, "Ike! Bikkuri Doamygar-D", which you'll hear in every episode (sometimes sung & sometimes instrumental). The ending theme, "Dondoko Doamygar" by Jiro Takano, is normally only heard for about 10 seconds in each episode until the end (though it's obscured by talking), but even with the little you hear it's easy to fall in love with. Much like the visuals, these theme songs are completely 70s in style & now I want full versions of both.

Leading the voice cast is the major anime debut of tokusatsu actor Ryota Murai (Kojiou in Fuma no Kojirou, Yusuke Onodera/Kamen Rider Kuuga in Kamen Rider Decade), and he does a nice job here as Daijirou. It's admittedly a relatively simple role, but Murai puts a lot of emotion into the lead & you can just tell by the way he puts so much passion into voicing onomatopoeia like "neru, neru, neru!/mix, mix, mix!" that Murai had a lot of fun with his first ever lead role in an anime (he apparently had some bit parts in Yamishibai). Advertised as a lead character is Anna Houdou, the news reporter who reports on nearly every fight, & she is voiced by fellow actor Eimi Naruse, who also sounds like she had a fun time doing the role. The rest of the cast is also made up of traditional actors, including an actual American "gaitare/gaijin talent" named Robert Baldwin (likely no relation to the Hollywood Baldwins) to voice Robert. In fact, Baldwin's performance is pretty damn entertaining, sounding like a stereotypical foreigner speaking Japanese, complete with English loan words being spoken in natural English compared to the unnatural-sounding Japanese pronunciations he does.

So, to answer the question I posed in the beginning, Doamygar-D is most definitely just as sweet as the confectioneries it showcases, i.e. it's an anime that total fluff. That being said, however, this anime is the best kind of fluff, because while it doesn't last long, with it's total runtime of roughly 30 minutes, it gives a great aftertaste that you'll be in no hurry to get out of your mouth. Visually, this is probably one of the best retro-styled anime productions I've seen in a while, absolutely nailing the 70s aesthetic it aimed for. While it might still look a little too clean in comparison to the real deals, this really wouldn't look out of place among the likes of Mazinger Z, Getter Robo, Gaiking, or even Gowapper 5 Godam. Add to that some fitting music, enthusiastic vocal performances, & an wacky concept that works because of how dedicated it is to it, and Doamygar-D is a short anime that I think really should have seen some sort of stream over at CrunchyRoll. As it is, however, you can find the entire thing over at YouTube, there are supposed plans to fansub it by a group, and there is a DVD release in Japan scheduled for May 27. While I'm not quite sure it's worth the ~$40 Amazon Japan is asking for via pre-order, I will likely buy the DVD one day when the price lowers.

It may be fluff, but it's tasty as all hell.

[ADDENDUM: Since I first wrote this review, FUNimation both streamed this series online & also released a sub-only DVD for the entire series. You can now buy Doamygar-D for ~$10 on DVD, so there's really no reason to say no to such a deal.]

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