Tentai Senshi Sunred

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Do you want to watch a series that features heroic heroes, villainous villains and mind boggling fight scenes where every punch, kick or special move is lovingly crafted and animated? Are you looking for a show that has a gripping storyline where every twist and turn of the plot will leave you on the edge of your seat? Do you crave excitement, adventure, and a hero who can kick more arse than the combined might of Kenshiro, Goku, Ichigo, Naruto, and whoever else you’d care to name? If so, then Tentai Senshi Sunred is NOT the show for you.

On the other hand, if you want a lighthearted series that mocks many of the heroic stereotypes and has some of the best comedy sketches outside of Gintama, then this may be right up your street.

Tentai Senshi Sunred (or Astro Fighter Sunred if you prefer), started life as a manga by Kubota Makoto that began serialisation in Young Gangan in August 2005, and three years later the anime adaptation began broadcasting on TV. Set in the city of Kawasaki, the story is all about the epic clash between Sunred, a semi-retired hero who lives with his girlfriend Uchida Kayoko, and his arch nemesis General Vamp, the leader of the Kawasaki branch of the evil organisation known as Florsheim.

Okay, so I lied about the epic clash.

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Masks are no barrier to a stable relationship ...

Aside from the basic premise there isn’t really any overarching plot, and the series is presented in the episodic format that seems to be the norm for comedy shows. Now the lack of any real focus may not sit well with viewers who are expecting some sort of conclusion come the end of the series, but in all honesty that would have spoiled the entire story. Each “fight” (the term used instead of episode), is a completely individual tale from start to finish, but breaking up the narrative are sketches from characters who have no bearing on the plot, mini cooking shows, and a lot of focus on the characters during their downtime.

And that’s all in the space of 15 minutes or less.

Unlike many other comedies out there, this anime isn’t afraid to play around with the format, turn the basic idea of heroes and villains on its head, or even mess with the viewers preconceptions about good and evil, and therein lies the genius of the series. The humour is presented in a very straightforward manner, but with an element of mockery that belies the somewhat childish visuals. The show is quick to establish several running gags, but in a break from the norm these are generally character focused rather than situation based, which allows for a greater degree of innovation that stops the humour becoming stale.

As far as the visuals go, Tentai Senshi Sunred is fairly … basic. The series has a distinct cartoon/pop art look that can initially appear to be nothing special, but as with many aspects to this show the trick is in the implementation. There’s a versatility to the design that belies the simplistic imagery, and viewers find themselves surprised at how expressive a full face mask and visor or static features can be. In addition to this, there’s a wide variety of creatures and characters on offer, from the everyday civilian population of Kawasaki to the imaginative (and sometimes cute), creatures that fight against Sunred.

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The Animal Soldiers. Cute, deadly, and strangely attractive to women and girls.

The animation is surprisingly utilitarian, and the show can sometimes look more like a lesson in the basics. Once again though, this anime springs another surprise as the often mundane actions contain an element of mockery in them that pokes fun at the overly convoluted antics of characters like Kamen Rider and the Power Rangers. That said, there are those who will believe that A.I.C. Asta simply didn’t want to put the effort into the anime, but the truth is that everything about visuals is either purposeful or a happy accident, and the proof of this can be found at the beginning of the final episode.

One thing that may catch viewers off guard is the quality of the acting as there’s a surprising level of consistency throughout the series. The rather strangely named Yamada Louis LIII delivers some truly wonderful performances as the nicest head of a branch office of an evil organisation that one might find in anime, while Takagi Shun brings out the comedy star in the freeloading, bad tempered pachinko junkie with a nicotine addiction. After watching a few episodes it may dawn on the viewer that the entire cast had just as much fun playing their roles as the audience has watching them, which is generally a good sign in comedy shows.

Things get a little strange when one considers the music as while the opening theme, Mizonokuchi Taiyou Zoku by Manzo, is a rather well made parody of the more traditional masked hero introductory song, it’s the ending theme that really takes the funny boat for a spin. The ED, Tori Tango Nabe byKumahachi Morino, is nothing less than the recipe for chicken meatball stew sung in a very stylised, almost continental manner. As for the background music, there’s a wide variety on offer from the absurdly dramatic to the mad little ditties that stick around in your head, and even though it may not seem that way at first, a great deal of care has been given to the timing and choreography of the audio tracks and effects.

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Nabe - Florsheim style.

Given the wide variety of characters and the type of show this is, there’s very little in the way of development, but balancing that is some very strong characterisation and situation comedy. Aside from the lead roles, the series has a number of recurring figures, usually the Florsheim monsters, all of whom have their own personalities and foibles. A large portion of the humour comes from knowing that these characters are all rather pleasant individuals who are upstanding members of the community, pay their taxes, respect their elders, get along with their neighbours, and generally make themselves useful to society in small ways. Add to that the über housewife known as General Vamp and what you have is quite possibly the most polite attempt to take over the world in anime.

Which makes one wonder how Sunred turned out the way he did. Did he hang out with the wrong crowd? Is it the fault of his parents? Frankly, you won’t care as the interactions between the characters is what makes the comedy tick.

On a side note, possibly the most memorable roles after Sunred, Vamp and Kayoko are the Animal Soldiers, all of whom are extremely cute (Usacotts drives women of all ages wild, and the plushies sell like hotcakes), have very little in the way of attack power (except for P-chan Custom … maybe), and can often be found plotting Sunred’s demise in some oddly childish ways.

Now given that I have a soft spot for unusual, and sometimes very odd shows, I’ll admit that Tentai Senshi Sunred caught me completely off guard. Like many others, my initial expectations were that this would be nothing more than a straightforward parody of the masked hero genre. In truth the comedy is very clever, and far more subversive than one might expect, which is one of the reasons I enjoyed this anime so much. The episodic format allows the viewer to pick up the series from any point, and because of this the show is ideal for anyone who just wants to have a good laugh without having to plow through lots of storyline. The simple fact is that this is possibly the closest anime has come to a true comedy sketch show, which is a bit odd when one considers just how old and diverse the industry is.

Tentai Senshi Sunred may not look like a good series, but as everyone knows looks can be deceiving, and that sentiment is what sets this show apart from almost every other comedy anime out there. If you’re searching for an alternative to 200+ episodes of Gintama, then this may be just the thing for you.

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