Every so often I stumble upon an anime that infects my consciousness with its bizarre humour and leaves me maniacally giggling to myself long after I’ve finished watching. The latest series to achieve this is Tentai Senshi Sunred.
Set in the city of Kawasaki, the series documents the ongoing battle between its resident hero, Sunred, and Vamp, the leader of an evil organisation working towards world domination. Sounds a bit dull, doesn’t it? Luckily, Tentai Senshi Sunred parodies the superhero genre and instead delivers antagonists that don’t antagonise, monsters that could barely scare a small child, and a hero who just cannot be bothered. The series revels in turning every clichéd character on its mask-covered head, and plays brilliantly on this idea to create one of the craziest and most hilarious anime to ever grace my screen.
With a straightforward concept, simplicity is the series’ greatest asset. Instead of including dozens of bizarre scenarios and hoping to appear wacky, Tentai Senshi Sunred takes more of a relaxed, slice-of-life approach and places its characters in everyday situations. This uncomplicated idea evokes greater humour by balancing the extraordinary with the mundane. For me, watching Vamp attempt to use his new cell phone is more riotous than if he were piloting a giant mecha made entirely of ice cream.
The series’ casual attitude towards heroes and monsters alike enhances its laid back tone, and I often got caught up in its momentum. No one seems to bat an eyelid if a monster works at a convenience store or a superhero in full costume wanders down the street – and after a while, neither did I. By getting caught up in this nonchalance, a sudden realisation of the situation’s absurdity often occurs. This allows Tentai Senshi Sunred’s primary joke to remain funny for twenty-six episodes without becoming stale.
Tentai Senshi Sunred’s simplistic visual appearance fits well with the overall tone of the series. The vibrant colour palette and bold lines nicely complement the jovial nature of the show.
Little actual animation appears in the series. Lip synching is pretty much non-existent, with alternative methods employed – such as vertical movement of the head – in order to demonstrate which character is speaking. Also, there is often a deficiency of in-betweens resulting in snappy movement. However, I feel this is a conscious decision rather than the product of a restricted budget, since the abrupt movement fits well with the show’s pace, and the different expressions of speech serve to boost the comedic style.
Tentai Senshi Sunred’s opening and ending themes perfectly reflect the series’ tone. The opening replicates the style of theme song expected from any Power Rangers-esque show and, with its suitably corny lyrics, serves to add to the series’ humorous content. Meanwhile the ending duly highlights the series’ random aspect (I know I certainly wasn’t expecting a song about eating chicken casserole), which cannot help but raise a smile out of sheer disbelief.
The splendid voice acting displayed in the series enhances the comedy throughout. From the exaggerated and strained vocals of Khamenman to Usa’s adorably child-like voice, it is difficult for me to find fault with Tentai Senshi Sunred’s seiyuu.
Tentai Senshi Sunred presents a cast of extremely amiable characters with personalities that never match their roles. From Sunred whose apathy and propensity for lecturing Florsheim make him the sort of anti-hero that is difficult to hate, to the conscientious and polite Vamp, who is more like a housewife than an evil mastermind. Meanwhile Vamp’s endless legions of monsters are more akin to mild-mannered salary men than bloodthirsty creatures of darkness. Each character has their own gimmick that allows them to stand out from the others. While generally a negative point for any anime, this actually works in Tentai Senshi Sunred’s favour by creating a colourful cast to match an equally colourful series.
Though the reversal of expected character traits offers comedy on its own, the principal source of humour in Tentai Senshi Sunred comes from the interaction between its characters. In particular the relationship between Vamp and Sunred provides endless entertainment. It often seems like Sunred views Vamp as an annoying younger brother: he may not want him around but he always comes out to play – I mean fight – when asked. Likewise the exchanges between the Florsheim monsters left me sniggering, particularly at their petty squabbles over stolen ramen and tales of holiday woe.
Comedy is an extremely difficult thing to get right and by its subjective nature, may not be to everyone’s tastes. For me though, Tentai Senshi Sunred pushes all the right buttons. The amusing parodic element, mixed with an appropriate visual style and superb sound design, makes this series one of the best comedies I’ve seen to date. Fans of random humour should check this series out if they haven’t already. As for me, I’m off to try some of ‘Vamp’s Quick Cooking’ and contemplate the passive nature of pastries.
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.
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.
The animation is surprisingly utilitarian, and the show can sometimes look more like a lesson in the basics. Once again though, the series manages to spring another surprise as while the actions are often mundane, there's 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.
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.