"Sgt. Frog" The Invasion Has Begun!
Way back in the long forgotten year of 1999, planet Earth was invaded. By frogs. Or, frog-like things, anyway. The Keroro platoon from the planet Keron came to take over the Earth, and ten years later, they’ve finally reached North America in Sgt. Frog.
In the year 2004, er, 2009, the Keroro platoon descended upon the Earth, scouting it out before the invasion began. Unfortunately, due to a chance of fate, Sgt. Keroro was found out by two regular humans, Natsumi and Fuyuki Hinata. The poor alien was captured and tortured horribly in the Hinata home, but eventually was won over by young Fuyuki’s offer of friendship. Okay, granted, Keroro rewarded the offer with a threat to turn the boy into a space ferret, but who cares? Anyway, just as Keroro was about to win, the invasion force realized he had been compromised and retreated, leaving the Sarge all alone. Now a captive in the Hinata home, Keroro must find his missing platoon members: Tamama, a young tadpole with a violent split personality; Giroro, the military expert who can kill someone just by batting an eye; Kururu, the brains of the outfit, though nobody really likes him; and some other guy … Oh yeah, that Dororo guy. He’s some kind of ninja pirate … thing. Anyway, Keroro must reunite his platoon and form an awesome fighting team capable of conquering Earth. As soon as he finishes his latest Master Grade Exia Gundam Model Kit, that is.
In case the summary paragraph didn’t spell it out for you, Sgt. Frog is a very silly series. Keroro uses his vacuum like no other being should. Giroro blows stuff up without provocation and even hides missile launchers in Fuyuki’s bed. Tamama will do anything for the Sarge as long as he can stay being selfish and living in the rich, luxurious mansion of his owner. Nobody really likes Kururu, so he gets his revenge by putting the cast through all sorts of problems. And that Dororo guy? Well, I kinda forgot about him. There isn’t a real serious bone in this show and its pretty evident just by the episode titles. And it’s been a while since we’ve had a show quite this silly. Okay, so it’s only been since School Rumble, but still. The silliness of the various members are a joy to behold and the way they bounce off one another easily carries an episode, even without any of the humans. In particular, I always love seeing Keroro and Giroro act together. The two of them are comedy gold, and every scene they share is a winner, made even better in the FUNimation dub.
But the humans aren’t simply nameless faces that only appear for sight gags, as they all contribute to the crazy nature of the show. Fuyuki’s occult worship isn’t as evident in the anime as it is in the manga (in the anime, it shows up in about 2 or 3 episodes this season), but his childish exuberance plays well off the frogs, especially with some of the lines English Fuyuki is given. Natsumi isn’t quite as fanservicey as the manga version, but she too is quite a lot of fun to watch. She gets more jokes in the dub, which is great because in the original she’s usually the straight man, er, girl, and most of her comedy comes from either beating up the frogs or by being the target of Koyuki’s lust. Momoka, a girl who not-so-secretly has a crush on Fuyuki and is the caretaker of Tamama, never really gets old as she changes wildly from her cute and fuzzy self to her maniacal self, and it makes a few episodes on Disc 1 all the more funnier. Seriously, pretty much everything about this season is hilarious from top to bottom. We’ll get some stinkers later on, but right now all is beautiful on planet Pekopon.
One thing that might cause some worry for newcomers are the amount of anime references. Rest assured that you don’t need to have seen every single anime out there to get the picture. The most often-referenced anime is, of course, Gundam, since both shows are made by Bandai. However, all you really need to know about Gundam to get the jokes are the standard launch sequences and the fact that the Gundams are big giant robots called Mobile Suits. Yes, there are hidden jokes that will make any diehard Gundam fan (especially UC Gundam) laugh, but they’re not too important and they are often lampooned by the non-geek characters soon afterwards. Most of the other anime references in the English dub are for well-known anime such as Dragonball Z, but I do wonder why FUNimation got rid of the Neon Genesis Evangelion references at the beginning of Episode 8, especially since most of the viewers have seen it (or at least know the scene in question) and FUNimation likely licensed the Eva movies (or were in negotiations) while dubbing the show. Some of the more obscure shows are replaced with with references to 2001: A Space Odyssey, Terminator 2, and other such sci-fi flicks.
Another thing that’s been changed from the manga is the fanservice. As any fan of the manga (yours truly included) knows, the original manga is rife with fanservice. Almost every chapter has a panty shot, or the girls in some sexualized position, or Natsumi being attacked by some slimy creature with lots of tentacles. At times, it goes far overboard and seems like it’s only including the scantily clad bits just to fill a quota or something. Luckily, this is drastically toned down in the anime. We don’t see Natsumi’s panties at all, despite Keroro vacuuming her skirt twice, and we have the standard bathing suit and onsen scenes, but even then it’s nothing we haven’t seen in a bazillion non-harem anime before. On the other hand, Aki Hinata, Fuyuki and Natsumi’s mom, is still quite stacked and the scene where she shows off her bikini is unabashedly fanservicey, complete with adjectives floating across the screen to cover up the good stuff.
Visually, the show is a treat to watch. Colors are bright and crisp, as would be expected of a show this recent, and the various Keroro Platoon members contrast excellently off each other. Even the humans have far more color than they have in the manga, with Natsumi’s bright hair and Fuyuki’s and Aki’s clothes standing out the most. As one would expect with such simple character designs, the animation is smooth and fluid. Some shots are purposefully limited to enhance the comedic effect, but all the crazy animations (and there are many) have plenty of frames to work with, and all have a visual punch that many other series these days do not have. Now, even with the excellent animation, it’s not going to challenge Ghost in the Shell or even Planetes or Gundam 00, but for a weekly show, it’s much better animated than, say, Bleach or Naruto Shippuden. My only gripe is that the show wasn’t animated in widescreen from the beginning, but that’s a minor complaint.
And now we come to the dub. I’ll admit, when I first saw the dub back at Otakon 2009, it was a little off-putting. I didn’t really like Todd Haberkorn as Keroro, or Leah Clark’s Fuyuki, Chris Sabat’s Giroro, or Cherami Leigh’s Natsumi. But over the course of the five-episode preview, I quickly began to like the voices more and more and now I love the English voice cast. In particular, Haberkorn and Sabat have great chemistry with one another, almost like they were born to play opposite each other. I’m still not completely sold on Chuck Huber’s Kururu, but that’s the only voice I don’t really like. Monica Rial’s Momoka is absolutely perfect for the role and was the only voice I didn’t need any warm-up for. The scene where she receives a pin from Fuyuki is proof enough how perfect Rial is for the role. Carrie Savage starts out okay as Angol Mois, but she quickly grows into the role and also excels. But, like most other English cartoons and dubs, the narrator often steals the show. While R. Bruce Elliott’s narrator doesn’t take over the show the way Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo‘s narrator does (in part because the other characters are stronger) he still gets in a ton of awesome lines and is a helluva lot funnier than his Japanese counterpart. As for the script, I thought most of the changes worked pretty well and up the comedy, but the Sumomo episode, from Sumomo herself acting like a typical smug celebrity to the constant American Idol references, was just horribly done. I also didn’t like how, in Episode 5, the old geezer was made to have a hearing problem, which led to a lot of unnecessary jokes. At least the episode titles are awesome, my favorites being “Blood, Death, Violence, Kill” and “The Day the Gundam Cried.”
Unfortunately, FUNimation forgot to pack the extras in the boxset. We get the “Pekopon Invasion Recon Data,” which is simply a bunch of lineart of the various human outfits with commentary by Keroro. However, because of the thin lines and the scrunched up picture, it becomes hard to see the images on a smaller TV (i.e. under 30″). Also included are textless versions of the excellent opening and closing and trailers, which also includes a lazy trailer for the second half of Season 1. What is it with FUNi and not making new trailers per release anymore? One extra I’d like to see on future sets was the initial test dub of Episode 1 FUNi launched way back when. Much like how American cartoons often include test footage, this would be a nice little behind-the-scenes look at the dub and a look at what could’ve been.
Overall, if you enjoy silly cartoons with funky looking frog aliens, Sgt. Frog is for you. And if you don’t, why are you reading this review anyway?