Thursday 30 June 2016

Anime REVIEW: Space Patrol Luluco

Space Patrol Luluco

Love him or hate him, you can’t deny that Hiroyuki Imaishi is currently one of the hottest names on the anime scene. From the likes of Gurren Lagann and Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt to the more recent Kill la Kill, the former Gainax member and Trigger co-founder has made a name for himself with his own unique brand of fast-paced craziness. His latest work Space Patrol Luluco continues that trend in miniature form, with series comprised of 13 episodes approximately 10 minutes each in length - perfect for the director/writer to go nuts. Imaishi's series are always best described as a wild ride, and this could be the wildest one yet.

Luluco, Midori and Alpha Nova
The Space Patrol is recruiting young these days

Luluco is your average 13-year-old schoolgirl who dreams of a normal life. However, normality is quite relative when you’re living in Ogikubo – a space colonisation zone where all manner of alien lifeforms have come to reside. When her father is accidentally frozen during breakfast, Luluco takes him to Space Patrol Headquarters for help. However it’s Chief, Over Justice, has additional plans – to make Luluco an officer just like her father! Luluco’s normal life is shattered as she’s assigned with protecting Ogikubo from space criminals, from going undercover in at school to travelling halfway across the galaxy with her assigned partner and first crush Alpha Omega Nova, as well as their delinquent classmate Midori. 

When compared to most of Imaishi’s previous works it seems abundantly clear that Space Patrol Luluco was done with a “if it isn’t broken don’t fix it” approach. All the hallmarks of a typical Imaishi production all feel right at home here, from his almost signature art style to his own brand of simple, loud, high-octane comedy which rarely gives the viewer a chance to catch their breath. However the key difference here is Luluco’s shorter running time, which allows the fast pace to work without outstaying its welcome. The jokes come at a rapid pace, with the focus being on to entertain rather than tell an overly detailed story. 

However what it does have in the way of plot works well, and at the very least Space Patrol Luluco proves itself to be consistently pleasing on a visual level. However it isn’t all complete madness. Underneath that loud exterior is actually a believable coming of age story, looking at both the superficial nature of a first love as well as looking beyond that to find something deeper. Luluco’s constant narration makes sure this key theme is never lost in amongst it all, and the way Alpha Omega Nova shrugs off her advances nonchalantly is something we all can likely relate to. Despite Luluco’s situation having ripped her away from the normality she clung onto so dearly, the trials and tribulations that schoolgirls her age face stay the same.

Justice morphing

Space Patrol Luluco is also filled with wonderful, if sadly often one-dimensional characters. The running time doesn't offer a lot of room for development so anything meaningful is immediately dedicated to the star of the show, so the other characters are left to sell themselves solely on quirkiness. An easy task for the likes of Chief Over Justice ("justiiiiiiice!") and Midori, but not so easy for Luluco's parents - although her mother Lalaco has a pretty badass character design to work in her favour instead. The character designs themselves also harkens back to both Imaishi and Trigger's earlier works as well. Touches such as the Western-inspired Panty & Stocking aesthetic and Over Justice's likeness to Inferno Cop are obvious, but Alpha Omega Nova's passing resemblance to early Panty Anarchy concept sketches (which in turn looks to be inspired by Gurren Lagann's Viral) is a little more obscure and a nice little Easter egg for keen fans. It's also great to hear Mayumi Shintani's distinctive voice in another Trigger role, and just in time to drum up more excitement for the forthcoming FLCL 2.

The Little Witch Academia crossover
"Did we mention we have a LWA series coming soon? WELL SURPRISE!"

However halfway through the series the subtle Trigger references and homages turn into something more, as Luluco goes into full crossover mode. Trigger's most notable original anime works - Kill la Kill, Little Witch Academia and Inferno Cop all make an appearance, and there's even time for an episode focused on Imaishi's 2015 Anime Expo short Sex & Violence with Machspeed. It's at this point that Luluco stops feeling like a show on its own and part of a bigger Trigger celebration, which makes sense since 2016 marks the studio's fifth anniversary. How well each of these crossovers goes down with the viewer is going to somewhat depend how familiar they are with the other work, but all of them nicely adapt to work alongside Luluco's brand of humour. Sex & Violence comes off as the weakest of the four, partly because its the least developed of them and partly because its inclusion makes the absence of Imaishi's Gainax works all the more obvious. It's almost as if the show was screaming out to do a Panty & Stocking crossover, but it simply wasn't on the cards and had to settle for the next best thing.

Inferno Cop's cameo
Everything is better when you add Inferno Cop

While the short episode length may be ideal for Imaishi’s comedy style to hit hard and fast without becoming too grating, it does unfortunately leave an impact on the general development of the series as a whole. Everything has to happen at breakneck pace, which as previously mentioned makes character development a luxury to those lucky enough to receive it. 13 episodes also isn’t enough to close the series on a satisfying note, and fans will be undoubtedly left wanting more from. However with the format allowing perfectly for further stories and Luluco now seemingly taking the status of a Studio Trigger poster girl, there’s always hope for a continuation somewhere down the line.

Luluco Miss Trigger
And thus a mascot was born

If you haven't been able to get on board with Hiroyuki Imaishi or Trigger in general yet then Space Patrol Luluco isn't likely to do much to change your mind. However those that are will find themselves in for yet another slice of gorgeous looking insanity, presented in a digestible format that not only prevents it from getting stale but also makes it perfect for marathoning and rewatches. The show never attempts to break new ground, but rather sticks to what its good at and instead aims to push that to its very limits. However behind all the comedy and crossover craziness, Space Patrol Luluco shows some real heart in its story telling - and that's what really makes it such an endearing watch. 

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