"Cyber Team in Akihabara Vol.1": A Little Old-Fashioned Kitsch Never Hurt Anyone
What do you get when Sailor Moon-style sentai magical girl antics are mixed with Pokemon-like owner/pet relationships and Bubblegum Crisis-style battle suits, all with bit of a Go Nagai-style twist? Why it’s Cyber Team in Akihabara! When an enigmatic prince (who looks like Tuxedo Mask and Char put together) attempts to steal Hibari’s PataPi, a small, mechanical pet (that’s somewhere between a medabot, a pokemon, an angel from Angelic Layer, and Kero from Card Captor Sakura), Hibari chooses to fight, invoking the secret power of her PataPi, calling forth a Powerful Diva (who bares an eerie resemblance to Hibari herself, albeit much more buxom, and decked out in battle suit gear) to fight off the arguably ecchi minions of this mysterious Prince. With the help of her friends, the bratty, overly-formal Suzume, and the spunky, sporty Tsugumi, who both have special PataPi, Hibari might just be able to defeat the prince, if she can survive the incredibly clichéd premise, that is.
Now, in a sense, to be a magical girl show there is a certain number of hoops you’ve got to jump through first, and in a sense, Cyber Team does manage to put a few tweaks on the standard hoops of the genre that make it more interesting and manages to throw in some great references. Rather than have the girls transform themselves, they’ve got their little mecha-pets, the PataPi, doing all the transforming into beings only referred to as Divas. The Divas’ battle outfits definitely have a wonderfully Bubblegum Crisis vibe instead of the usual school girl outfit trip, and the transformation sequences have a Go-Nagai-ish, almost Cutey Honey vibe with some fan service for all the otaku fanboys in the audience (you know who you are). While the basic premise is combining various genres to create a more interesting basis, some wonderful computer oriented humor is also incorporated (for example, only in Akihabara, Japan’s technology Mecca, would there be a fast food restaurant named “DOS Burger”), and parts of the setting also very adeptly capture the setting of the real Akihabara, down to the shady, natty, almost literally hole-in-the-wall shops where you can get all manner of electronic goods and parts, giving it a more authentic feel.
There are also fairly nice shots of the pop-idol culture woven in as well, and some of the visual humor, especially the facial expressions, is great. The interaction between the lead heroines is pretty funny as well, with jealousy and clashing personalities providing some great humor both visually and verbally. Some of the unintentional humor, such as the Engrish and fantasy sequences that are so accidentally over-the-top that it’s silly, definitely keep things rolling. It’s nothing if not kitschy, light, sort of-referential fun at a minimum because of all that, and it’s not that stale, despite borrowing liberally from all directions, probably because it’s creating something a little different.
However, Cyber Team is not with out its flaws. It takes a good three episodes to fully get things set up and running, and while it’s doing its setup, the humor isn’t really coming into play as much. The episodes definitely follow a formula through those early episodes, and they really shouldn’t have to, even if it is illustrating a point that the first of the buxom, underling villains they are dealing with are pathetically incompetent and uncreative, because while it’s making that point, it loses some of the humor.
The animation, while not bad for its era, certainly isn’t particularly high-grade either, as the lip movements for certain scenes were clearly not animated with much thought at all (particularly the pop-idol’s lip movements, which were in no way timed to the song, and instead had a open-closed pace that was more in time to the beat than the lyrics) and there is some awkward digital overlays and scene editing that really stands out when you’re dealing with cel animation. The fight animation isn’t particularly spectacular either, as even the weakest episodes of Card Captor Sakura and Sailor Moon manage to have more interestingly storyboarded action.
Character design is some what ho-hum as well, outside of the cool battle outfits the Divas wear. It’s also not really a particularly engaging show for adults and teens, as it is definitely a kiddy premise that wears its influences on its sleeve, but the bits of fan service scattered through out, particularly panty shots of the adolescent heroines, make the show somewhat inappropriate for children. It worked in Japan, with a feature-film adaptation and a manga serialization in Nakayoshi (a shoujo manga publication targeted at elementary school girls), but finding an audience here is easier said than done. All in all, the execution of the concept is a little slow and repetitive early on. Cyber Team isn’t quite glossy enough visually to get away with it and I’m not fully sure who would enjoy what is there.
The DVD itself is fairly good though. You get five episodes on the first disc, all with video quality good enough that if there are any encoding issues, the age of the animation (late 90’s traditional cel) hides it anyway. The bonus features include the usual round up of trailers, a line-art gallery, and both text-less opening and end credits, which is actually pretty good considering many DVDs give you one of those bonuses per disc plus the trailers, not all of them. The audio is fairly good, and dub and sub are about equal acting-quality wise, though the Japanese does have that wonderful Engrish that’s sort of lost in the dub. The menu is cute and functional, which is really all that counts, and the box is as bright and colorful as the show it’s for. All in all, the DVD itself has nothing to really worry about or pick apart.
So, setting aside that Cyber Team in Akihabara hits every cliché it possibly can — Dense lead girl? Check. Stereotypical side characters? Check. Evil, mysterious mastermind? Check. Fan service transformation sequences and over-endowed underlings? Check and check again — and that the show doesn’t really begin to hum until Episode 4, I found it ultimately to be a surprisingly entertaining show. It’s generally fluffy, sweet and funny, but the fan service bits do keep it from being too kiddy, and allows for the addition of a few characters whose ecchi antics add an edge to what would be some dull, if not outright saccharine, moments. If you’re looking for a little magical girl, you’re patient enough to deal with the setup episodes, and you dig a bit of tech-geek humor and idol-humor along side some good character-interaction comedy, Cyber Team might just be what you’re looking for. Personally, I’m curious to see where it goes from here. If only because of “DOS Burger,” I’m lovin’ it so far.
Cyber Team in Akihabara Vol.1 will be released on November 16th by ADV Films.