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Dangaio
Old-school giant robot combat gets a slick update
Dangaio
US Renditions
Directed by Toshihiro Hirano
Japan, 1990
Philosophy, high art, complex insights into human nature--none of these things are to be found in Dangaio, and that's just the way we like it, thank you very much.

On the other hand, giant robots duking it out in city streets, perky girls heaving boulders, dramatic poses--Dangaio delivers those in spades. Dangaio, to borrow a hip-hop term, is an old-school jam; it gleefully follows the tradition of older team/giant-robot shows--heck, one 'bot even has rocket fists--but with 1980s animation production techniques. It's rife with clichés and predictable plot developments, but it's so much fun that the viewer really doesn't care; in fact, the viewer is waiting for more.

The fun starts when four people awaken to find themselves amnesiac, super-powered, and under attack. Naturally, they are all young and good-looking. Mia seems to be the main character of the first volume; she's the first character we're introduced to, and more time seems to be spent on her introspection and dramatically wafting long brown hair. She's also the one with the cool psychic powers. Namba is short, cute, and speaks in that "short, cute girl" high-pitched voice that the Japanese seem to have down to a science. She shoots energy beams from her fingertips (cutely, if that's possible). Pai's got great hair, a great tan, and an attitude. Her power is super strength, which complements her attitude nicely: she uses it to boot bad-guy butt from Boise to Betelgeuse. Roll is the only male of the group, and not coincidentally the only member who isn't wearing a tight-fitting swimsuit. He's got super-speed, and is invulnerable so long as he's using it. The quartet get to fly neat-looking spaceships, which combine to form the really big, sword-toting robot Dangaio.

It just makes you want to say, "Way cool!"

Director Toshihiro Hirano had already made his mark on the anime scene by the time he put together Dangaio; Western anime fans can refer to his earlier Megazone 23 and Iczer One, both of which share some Dangaio characteristics, most notably pert girls and nifty robots whaling the tar out of each other. In both cases, however, these productions were fairly innovative. Megazone 23 was one of the first OAVs--direct-to-video productions--in the early 1980s, and had interesting Orwellian overtones. Iczer One successfully combined elements of the horror genre along with the mecha fights and alien invasions.

Dangaio offers very little that is new, and anyone seeking innovation or depth should move on to something else. If Hirano has brought anything to this production, it is experience: Dangaio's elements are tweaked to perfection, from the visual composition to the sound work. One particularly impressive shot occurs during the battle in the ruined city; Roll, in the manner of all those old-school mecha pilots before him, announces his nifty combat move ("Psychic... WAAAAAAVE!"); the camera follows Dangaio as it rears back... and suddenly zooms out as Dangaio's hand thrusts forward, in a shot straight out of an old Jack Kirby comic book.

If watching that doesn't send a surge of adrenaline through you, you just might be beyond medical help.
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