"The Daichis" Vols. 1 & 2: All for One but Fun for All
For American viewers, most anime is escapist entertainment, a way to forget about the everyday. To us, distant galaxies and Japanese high schools are all mysterious worlds of wonder. Naturally, for Japanese viewers, the latter setting is much less surreal. Although they rarely reach action-crazed U.S. audiences, a number of anime closely explore the nuances of day-to-day life in Japan, albeit usually with a twist. In the delightful The Daichis: Earth’s Defense Family, that twist is a healthy slice of superhero action, sprinkled with zany humor.
The concept of a family that moonlights as superheroes to combat evil might remind some of The Incredibles, but The Daichis is a very different creature, and in any event was made three years earlier than the former. The Daichis do not have any innate powers or any particular desire to seek adventure, they’re just trying to make the best of their simple lives, which are constantly interrupted by new alien menaces. Think, perhaps, Married with Children meets Gatchaman. The Daichis are just as dysfunctional as the Bundys, but this aspect of the show is played as much for drama as for laughs. When the show switches gears to action, more chuckles come from loving homages/parodies of everything from Gatchaman to Power Rangers. Colorful costumes, exotic weaponry, dramatic transformations, an exciting theme, monsters both creepy and goofy, and loads of city-leveling mayhem: don’t tell me that doesn’t sound like fun.
As our story begins, the Daichis are your typical Japanese middle class family, living in a cramped apartment in the city. Father Mamoru is fat, wishy washy, and geeky, mother Seiko vain, self-absorbed, and materialistic, teenage daughter Nozomi fearful, hardworking and conscientious, and young son Dai rambunctious and mischievous. As the series begins we find Seiko demanding once again that Mamoru sign divorce papers, which he is reluctant to do but unable to speak up against her. The kids are put off by the whole business, and feel their needs are being neglected. Morale is dangerously low. The family is in great need of a change, and they get one in spades.
Volume one, “Dysfunctional Heroes,” begins with “Earth’s Final Day,” in which the family drama is suddenly interrupted by a message from the mysterious Galactic Federation inviting the Daichis to earn cash rewards acting as the “Earth Defense Family.” They each receive a special card enabling them to receive messages and transform into weapon-laden battle suits. Once the transmission is over the family shrugs it off as some sort of hallucination, but the intriguing proposal lingers in their minds. When they receive news that a giant meteor is on a collision course with Earth, Mamoru and Dai awkwardly spring into action. Next, in “The Broken Family,” a giant tentacled monster descends from the meteor to raze downtown Tokyo, and Mamoru and Dai try desperately to enlist the aid of the highly reluctant Seiko and Nozomi. “Yellow Card” depicts a fight between Seiko and Nozomi that causes the latter storm off and sulk, just when the Defense Family is needed to stop a new slug-like monster in China. In “Surprise! The Daichi Family’s Weird,” Dai adopts a strange little alien creature called Hen (“weird” in Japanese) and all sorts of trouble ensue. Volume one concludes with “Special Training! The Sleepless Night!” in which the EDF employs the giant Voltron-like Mighty Robo to destroy an alien spaceship, only to discover to their alarm that they have to pay for all the very expensive equipment they use, and have therefore fallen deeply in debt to the Galactic Federation.
Volume two, “Debt Doomed,” opens with “Warriors’ Rest,” in which the exhausted family tries to keep up their nightly training schedule to hone low-cost fighting techniques. Nozomi and Seiko get distracted by a concert and handsome coworker respectively, so when a robot attacks Mamoru and Dai the girls must weigh their commitment to the team. “The Guy in the Rain” sees Dai, still depressed over losing Hen, discuss his feelings with a friendly stranger while the family investigates Russian factories that have begun to levitate and suck energy out of nearby electrical power sources. In “The Cute Invaders” an insanely popular robotic pet called Pokemaru goes on sale, and soon everyone, including Seiko and Nozomi, has one. Mamoru is suspicious of their unearthly abilities, however, and Dai prefers the company of the recently returned Hen. Finally, in “The Day Love Destroys Earth,” a massive pink heart appears on top of Tokyo Tower, and causes everyone to suddenly fall in love indiscriminately, which instantly drains them of their energy. Only Nozomi, “the girl without love,” is unaffected, though two classmates vigorously compete for her affections.
If you put aside all the crazy extraterrestrial activity, The Daichis does an excellent job of realistically summing up Japanese life at home, school, and work. This is not an over-the-top sitcom family, but one that probably closely resembles many real ones. For example, American viewers may be astonished that Nozomi basically runs the household by herself, doing all the cooking, laundry, etc. in exchange for precious little gratitude. But this is a highly possible scenario, and in fact I have seen families in Japan that come close to it. Although the show is generally episodic, there is a lot of continuity and it is interesting to watch the family relationships slowly evolve.
The Daichis could easily be a ratings hit on TV in the U.S. if you take out Dai’s skirt lifting and the poop jokes [I thought Americans loved poop jokes! -Ed]. Also Seiko might have to be made slightly nicer, lest she scar the more sensitive kids. I cannot fathom why there is unnecessary profanity in the translation when this show could easily be marketed to young audiences. The episodes often include positive messages such as believing in oneself, setting loved ones free, being fiscally responsible, and the main theme of family togetherness, all neatly woven into the plot and never heavy-handed.
Anime is full of crazy characters, but the Daichi family is composed of very real ones who just happen to constantly run into crazy situations. Only Dai’s perverse antics stretch credibility. One feels sympathetic for Mamoru, who is always trying to bring the family together over everyone’s protests. On the other hand, he’s such a spineless slob that it’s not hard to see why he gets little respect. Largely unsympathetic, at least so far, is Seiko, who spits venom left and right like the Wicked Witch of the West. Attractive and fiery, it’s hard to imagine how she ever ended up with the hapless Mamoru. Perhaps she married too young and now feels trapped by the demands of family, but her constant abuse of the kids is still a bit unpleasant. Also appearing is Dai’s much put upon and ever-so-cute teacher Miss Ejima, whose underwear he is always trying to expose. Mamoru takes a liking to her. The one very anime-like character is Ellen Shiratori, Dai’s mysterious classmate who somehow always manages to show up to observe the EDF in action, seeming to know far more about what’s going on than they do.
Like SpongeBob SquarePants, The Daichis is consistently amusing, and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny. Whenever the family’s battle suits run low on energy they play “Auld Lang Syne,” which in Japan is commonly heard in shops at closing time. When the world falls under the spell of the giant heart, the Japanese army receives a flood of “I Love You” messages from the U.S. Navy. Elsewhere Nozomi’s alternately gentlemanly and creepy male admirers turn out to be absolute fanatics; each possessing numerous gaudy statues of her and even a five-story pagoda built from her used chopsticks.
The Daichis features some of the best animation I’ve ever seen in a comedic TV anime. Most of these shows, even the venerable Crayon Shinchan and Doraemon, have a washed out threadbare loo, but not Daichis, which is bright, detailed, and quite smooth. Seiko looks awfully similar to Cutey Honey, but unfortunately stays mostly clothed. Mamoru’s privates are thankfully blacked out when he transforms, although we still have to suffer him lolling about in his underwear with his enormous gut hanging out. The show’s energetic, upbeat score is quite catchy, especially the rousing intro theme by effeminate Japanese rocker Rolly. As usual, the lyrics are completely nonsensical. Do anime studios pay in crack?
Special features are quite light, but then it’s only a brief TV series. Even so it would have been nice to hear from the creative staff that dreamed up this highly imaginative show. Volume 1 contains a nice art gallery, and Volume 2 a collection of repetitive Japanese TV spots.
If you enjoyed Gatchaman, The Incredibles, or heaven forbid Power Rangers, you’ll have loads of fun with The Daichis Earth Defense Family. It’s endlessly creative and you’re never quite sure what’s around the bend. Never mind the fact that if we had to rely on our own parents to save the Earth we’d all be dead several times over. I can just picture my father furiously swearing at the suit’s instruction manual while Rome burns. Oh well, at least they’re still heroes to us. Right?