Saturday 8 March 2014

Anime REVIEW: Robot Girls Z

The Robot Girls Z - Grenda-san, Z-chan and Gre-chan

It's about time the Mazinger franchise saw some action again isn't it? The last time the original super robot reared its head was four years ago with Mazinkaiser SKL, and that was only three episodes. Before then it was Shin Mazinger in 2007, which was thankfully a full-length show but also ended (or began in some respects) on an agonising cliffhanger. However the franchise has finally returned home  to Toei Animation for a brand new outing, which is really the polar opposite of what SKL was doing. Instead of a brand new Mazinger reboot/continuation, here was have Robot Girls Z - a miniseries which reimagines Toei's rich super robot history as a team of magical girls. Well, that's certainly something different isn't it?

Unfortunately, the franchise is once again doomed to being something short. Only three 30min approx. episodes (each split into a further three 10min approx. episodes) were made, one released for each month of the Winter 2014 anime season. There was also a shorter preview episode released late last year for those who want to go all completist, but it doesn't really offer anything the main series doesn't.

The Underground Empire make their move!
Ashura's all woman! A first time for everything.

Robot Girls Z sees the eponymous Team Z (consisting of Z-chan/Mazinger Z, Gre-chan/Great Mazinger and Grenda-san/Grendizer) battle against the evil forces of the Underground Empire (well, Baron Ashura and her minions Doublas M2 and Garuda K7) to protect the city and the secret of Photonic energy. Their methods are a little questions being the hot blooded "super robot" girls that they are - often causing more collateral damage than necessary. However they get the job done, and it isn't belong before they're facing more of Doctor Hell's henchmen as well as the bigger threat of the Mycenae Empire and their leader - the Great General of Darkness-ko. However help is at hand in the form of Team G and T - fellow Toei super robots including Get-chan (Getter Robo), Jeeg-san (Steel Jeeg), Gai-chan (Gaiking), DanDan (Danguard Ace) and more.

Doctor Hell's new look
Doctor Hell's a bit camera shy around all these girls

As you can probably guess by the title, Robot Girls Z is an all-girl affair with the only regular male character being Doctor Hell (who is just some eyes on a monitor and voice anyway). While the cast mostly ranges from cool to cute, big makeovers like the new half woman half OTHER woman are  especially funny. The first episode of the show is a mixed bag - easily being the most accessible to newcomers but possibly deterring super robot fans with its few in-jokes and references to the shows it is parodying. That isn't to say they're all bad - right away its clear that the Underground Empire trio are going to completely steal the show, but be prepared not to write it off straight away.

Episode plots are pretty basic, but they still manage to cram quite a lot into their designated ten minute time. It's not really particularly clever humour either (a lot of it being visual), but jokes don't fall flat and the overall tone of the show is nicely maintained throughout.

More Super Robots!
Team T - DanDan, Gai-chan, Bara-tan and Gacky

However once you reach the episodes featuring other Toei robots outside of the three lead characters, the fun really starts to begin as the show feels much more of a parody and less of a run-of-the-mill skit show. There are plenty of faces from the Mazinger franchise and beyond, each bringing their own hilarious little quirks - which really helps to make them memorable characters in such a short space of time. There's a hilarious twist to popular Mazinger "fembot" Minerva X and Get-chan's aversion to dirt just makes the way the show handles Getter Robo's form changes all the funnier. The staggered way the show introduces these characters makes it get better and better with every (mini) episode, which makes it even more of a shame that its run was so damn short. My only disappointment is that part of me was hoping for a heavy metal/punk Mazinkaiser girl, but maybe that's something for the future if the show were ever to return.

Getter and Jeeg on the scene, and not a moment too soon.
Team G - Get-chan and Jeeg-san

Robot Girls Z is definitely a fun show, but at the same time it feels like a lot of wasted potential. Three episodes split into a further three simply isn't enough, and with them having only come out one episode a month the fun feels fleeting at best. The show takes a bit of time to fully embrace how much of Toei's extensive back catalogue it had to work with, but once it does things really pick up and by the final episode it's gotten so good that it's saddening to know that the whole show is over. A full-length series, more webisodes, toys...Toei - if you aren't going to do a new Mazinger show any time soon the least you could do is make more of this.

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