Ran Kotobuki's family are all police officers. Even her kid sister amusingly plays Junior Detectives with her similarly pint-sized boyfriend. Ran however isn't interested in continuing the family tradition. She just wants to be the world's greatest Gal, which means devoting her life to shopping, dancing, eating, leeching off boys and goofing off. Ran rules the streets of Shibuya and woe betide any other freak of Japanese youth culture who dares to challenge her!
This show has its problems but also some superb episodes and it was successful enough when broadcast on TV Tokyo to get a second season. That's rarer than you'd think. This review is based only on the 26 episodes of season one, thanks to a mysterious reluctance from all parties to release the second season on DVD even in Japan. The sales figures weren't good enough, apparently. Personally I can understand that. There's a lot I liked in the discs I watched, but at the end of the day it wasn't a keeper.
My problem with Super Gals was its subject matter. Gals were a Japanese craze in 2001, the equivalent of Californian airhead "shop 'til you drop" bimbos. Ran Kotobuki lives for her false nails, hair bleach, shopping addiction and dance competitions. School? Work? The future? Pshaw, who cares! I'm on the point of diagnosing attention deficit disorder, since Ran's barely capable of remembering anything unconnected with boys or instant gratification. To put it mildly, I did not empathise with this character's lifestyle.
Fortunately, in addition to her passion for accessorising, Ran has also been blessed with a powerful sense of justice and no sense of proportion. She's aggressive, childish and violent, liable to wade in with her size fourteen fists and her size fifty mouth. When she delivers some overly moralistic speech, from her it's no "holier than thou" sermon. She's spouting off because Ran never thinks before she acts, usually without a millisecond's delay and pumped up to eleven. Individual episodes can be touching, silly, overambitious or just plain stupid. What will Ran tackle today? Teenage prostitution? Her horoscope? Comedy boyfriend challenges? The results will be unpredictable and sometimes terrific, even if they don't always work.
I've seen this show described as a low-rent Kodocha, which seems fair. Both shows have a goofy surface, a moralistic centre and a wild excess of energy. Both shows have artwork that's superficially as crude as Marmalade Boy, but roaring with energy and super-deformed sight gags. Kodocha was defter and cleverer, but Super Gals has the advantage of computer-assisted animation. It may be cartoonish, but visually it's one of the most engaging shows I've seen in a while.
The show's randomness extends to its characters. I loved Sayo, Ran's little sister who thinks she's the star of her own detective show and tries to police Shibuya with her pint-sized boyfriend Misato. If you haven't heard their theme song, you haven't lived. However I was less enthralled with Tatsukichi, Ran's amiable but empty-headed black boyfriend who lives only to dance and keeps getting compared to a monkey. It's not really racist, but I don't like the stereotypes to which it's pandering. His Engrish is bloody annoying too.
I love the opening song though, especially the Japanese robot chipmunks that they obviously hired in lieu of human singers. No, you can't fool me. Those aren't real voices.
For Westerners, one of the main reasons to watch this series is to glimpse the freakshow that is Japanese fashion. It's educational. Admittedly it's rooted so firmly in 2001 youth culture and slang as to be dated for a Japanese audience, but here you'll find everything from the likes of ganguro (my eyes, my eyes) to scary social problems like enjo kosai. That translates as "subsidised dating" and involves schoolgirls accepting money from older men. Sometimes it's simply a date and sometimes it isn't. Yeah, Japanese people think it's creepy too.
The more I think about it, the more I get the impression that this show was trying its hardest to be Kodocha. Both shows' heroines are unstoppable motormouths with hearts of gold and brains that were seemingly put in upside-down, although Sana was funnier and more emotionally vulnerable. Ran's "badass bimbo" schtick doesn't have the same comic mileage, let alone the same depth. No less importantly, Akitaroh Daichi always knew exactly what he was doing with Kodocha's apparent randomness. Super Gals tries to follow in his footsteps, but it's not clever enough. In this hyperkinetic and slightly confused package, you'll find airhead comedy, serious urban problems and deeper relationship issues. The results are perhaps a bit of a mess, but whatever your tastes, you'll probably find something to love in Super Gals.