Shibuya Silliness: A Super GALS! Season 1 Review

Mike Ferreira (Editor) — July 8th, 2011
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The image of Shibuya is one that sticks out in the minda of many people. The famous Hachiko statue, the Shibuya 109 building, and many other attractions add up to a powerful identity for the small ward. At the same time, the area holds a separate distinction for its role as a fashion center. In the late '90s and early '00s, the Gal culture began to arise, and become a major influence on the fashion culture of the area. With their short skirts, slouchy socks, and streaked locks, the look is distinctive, yet subtle in comparison to the ganguro movement that came and went in the early '90s. With such cultural importance, it's only natural that there would be a response in the anime community. Super GALs fills this role, both as a tribute to the movement and a shameless parody.

The series focuses on the spirited redhead Ran, who has a sense of honor that's second to none and a work ethic that's second to everything else. She proclaims herself the top Gal in Japan, and makes Shibuya her turf. Together with her friends, Miyu and Aya, Ran lives a life of glamour and prestige... on a 2,000 yen a week allowance. Being the queen isn't exactly easy, however. To keep her title of #1 Gal, Ran faces a daily barrage of challenges, be it from the local ganguro gals, from intelopers from Ikebukuro, or just in upholding the seemingly infinite set of Ironclad Rules for Gals. At the same time, she has to deal with her crazy police family and stay on the good side of the hottest guys in the district. There's simply not enough time in a Gal's life to get everything done!

Make no mistake. Super Gals is, for all intents and purposes, a silly comedy about girls that devote their lives to fashion. However, that's not a bad thing, by any means. Everything is fair game, from Ran's sloth to Machida Black's monkey-like appearance, and the writing is strong enough that there are far more hits than misses. There are a number of repetitive gags that begin to wear thin by the end, such as Yuya's single-minded pursuits of Ran (and Ran's subsequent use of Yuya to get free food), and Ran's sister's over-the-top TV cop acts. At the same time, there are a number of elements that are always fun to watch, like Ran's ongoing feud with the Ikebukuro gals, and Ran's melodramatic excuses for failing to do her homework.

The series seems to be at its strongest when it touches on the more somber aspects. Episodes where Miyu's past and home life are delved into are particularly compelling, and paint the often-cheerful bottle blonde in a more subtle hue. Similarly, Aya's distress at home, coupled with her rocky relationship with Otohata is as addictive as it is frustrating.

For everything it does right, there are a number of things that really hold the series back from the top tier. The first season runs for a total of 26 episodes, though the main plot-line seems to wrap up by episode 25, leaving a filler episode to round out the show. This wouldn't be terrible if the episode was actually unique, but instead, viewers are treated to a shameless rehash of episode 13, in which the same exact events occur with a mildly different pretense. it's disappointing, and really places a sour note on the end of the show. The most glaring detractor is the character of Ran herself. Frankly speaking, she's a childish bitch. Her temper tantrums and single-mindedness really begin to grate after a while. The secondary cast exhibits a far more interesting set of problems than Ran's common wails of "I can't afford this X¥ skirt/bag/makeup!"

For a show about the guys and gals of fashion and trends, it goes without saying that GALS places a lot of attention on its visual aspects. In particular, the character designs are simply fantastic. The cast sports a distinct look that really works well in the setting, and is expressive enough to convey both the manic comedic segments and rare darker moments. The sheer volume and quality of costume designs is also impressive, as even the secondary and tertiary cast seems to have a minimum of five costume changes and two to three hairstyles throughout the series. The landscapes are similarly impressive, as Shibuya is brought to life with vibrant color and detail. It comes as a bit of a disappointment that the animation is average at best, as it throws off the show's otherwise strong visual presentation.

The musical score for the series can be best described as a product of its time. Super Gals! came out during Japan's Para Para boom, and as such, features a number of references to the dance, from scene transitions of super-deformed characters Para Para dancing, to the character of Kuroi "Machida Black" Tatsukichi, Ran's ditzy boyfriend who is also the Machida prefecture's Para Para champ. As such, it seems only natural that the music draws heavily from the pastime, with energetic techno beats and a general reliance on synth. The opening and closing themes, A-I-TSU and Dakishimetai [I want to hug you] respectively, seem almost out of place because of this, as neither fits the show's musical motif.

While it's not the deepest show to air on TV, Super Gals is still a fun experience. Those looking for a quick laugh and some romantic angst will find their fix. Those looking for something a bit less fluffy and more substantial would be better served elsewhere.