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"The Daichis" Vol. 3 Cashes in its Chips a Little Early

by on August 4, 2005

It’s a mystery why a very mediocre series like Yu-Gi-Oh! can captivate millions of children while much more creative and intelligent fare like Astro Boy and One Piece can hardly get change for a cup of joe. Given their track record, it seems unlikely that we’ll ever see The Daichis Earth Defense Family on TV over here. But Volume 3: Pay Day again makes a strong case for why we should.

Dai-nomite!Pay Day continues the Daichis’ struggles to get along both as family members and as monster-fighting superheroes. (Any readers who have not seen the first two volumes of The Daichis can catch up on the backstory here.) As usual they are more successful at the latter. This volume is somewhat more serious than its predecessors, in that it focuses more on family drama than explosive battles. Seiko’s strained relationships with her husband Mamoru and son Dai come to the forefront, and for the first time we get some real insight as to their inner thoughts. Although action takes a backseat, there’s still plenty of laughs and interesting revelations about Japanese family life.

We kick off with episode 10, “Eight O’clock at Hachiko Plaza,” in which the Daichis are feeling down about working so hard to save the world for no recognition and lots of grief. Seiko rewards her young coworker Hayakawa by taking him out for dinner before dragging him to a love hotel near Hachiko Plaza after the liquor’s got the better of him. The Hachiko in “Hachiko Plaza” is a real place, named after the loyal dog Hachiko, who waited for his master at the train station day after day even long after his master had died. A statue of the dog sits outside Shibuya station in Tokyo and has become a famous meeting place for young Japanese. Dai and his sister Nozomi are suspicious when they hear that she’s been delayed, but Mamoru is blissfully oblivious to any possible problems. Positions at the hotel are leaning toward the compromising when aliens turn the Hachiko statue into a gigantic robot dog, and the Daichis rush to respond.

In “The Darkness Hanging over the Daichis” Nozomi finally explodes at Seiko for all her selfish activities, particularly her mother’s dalliance with another man. While Mamoru goes off to sob over this revelation, the others find themselves suddenly trapped in some sort of rapidly shrinking black hole. This strange and generally dull episode is like a sitcom clip show, in which the characters just sit around talking about what’s come before. Also atypical is the incessant recycling of dialogue and animation.

The show gets back on track with “The Birthday of Flames,” which opens with the family once more caught up in a self-destructive argument. Dai proposes they hold a birthday party for Seiko to smooth things over. While she’s secretly out with Hayakawa, Dai looks for a present, Mamoru buys a cake, and Nozomi prepares a meal. But Seiko loses track of time while drinking, Dai gets caught up in catching his pet Hen, Mamoru hits a video arcade, and Nozomi runs off to karaoke with her friends. Seiko and Hayakawa pass Dai in the street, and Dai is crushed that she pretends not to know him. Just then a huge plant monster emerges in China, and Seiko and a very sullen Dai, who are unable to raise the others, go to intercept.

The concluding episode, “Final Battle! Flowers for You!” finally reveals that Dai’s classmate Ellen is actually an alien who serves as the EDF’s overseer. She decides that the constantly feuding Daichis are incompetent and should be replaced but then surprisingly receives instructions to the contrary. While Seiko worries when Dai doesn’t come home, he runs into Ellen, who suddenly falls sick from exposure to the plant seeds in the previous episode. He takes her back to his apartment to recuperate, and she bids him retrieve some pollen from the new plant monster that has sprouted in Tokyo. The ending is, unfortunately, rather dissatisfying. I don’t know if the producers were anticipating a sequel, but they failed to wrap up several key plot threads. However, if they do make a sequel I’ll be first in li… What do you mean I’m not welcome? You’ve got me all wrong guys, in English “dissatisfying” means, er, “super fantastic.” Yeah. Guys?

It’s easy to condemn the generally unpleasant Seiko for flirting with Hayakawa, but there has been much talk about the high number of “loveless” marriages in Japan. I’ve witnessed several such cases myself. In Mamoru’s case it is unclear who started the problem, but he certainly doesn’t pay much attention to Seiko, so it is hardly incomprehensible that she would be charmed by Hayakawa’s passionate interest in her.

In my last Daichis review I talked about how the series could easily be adapted as a hit kids TV show here, but now I’m not as sure. This volume contains a larger amount of material that the censors would surely remove. Some problematic scenes: Mamoru enthusiastically obtains money and experience in a virtual reality game by beating up a frail old woman for her last two cents and slaughtering helpless cute creatures. Dai deflects his teacher’s criticism by pointing to a hair protruding from her swimsuit. Seiko, to her instant regret, grabs Dai while he is relieving himself out of doors.

The animation continues to be very solid, though maybe just a tad below the first volume. Maybe the budget shrunk, because there aren’t many huge battle scenes this time.

This DVD contains one of the best special features I’ve ever seen, assuming it’s not a marketing ploy. It is the “Alternative Episode 11: Into the Depths of Marital Hell.” Seiko and Hayakawa and (separately) Mamoru and Miss Ejima attend the grand opening of the Amber Crystal virtual reality role playing game center. Inside, they find themselves transported to a stunningly real Dungeons and Dragons sort of world in which they compete. Mamoru proves a surprisingly ruthless and power hungry gamer, killing other players left and right for points while he drags along the lovely and barely clad Miss Ejima by chain. Eventually Seiko and Mamoru have to face each other and address the problems in their relationship as they do violent battle. I’m not sure why this episode wasn’t aired, since it is very creative, funny, and revealing about the marriage. I suppose it was just too great a departure from the other episodes: there’s a lot of violence, Seiko is unusually sympathetic, and Mamoru is shockingly aggressive. The other extras are a very brief scene cut from episode 12 and a collection of TV commercials for the Japanese DVD.

The Daichis Volume 3 Pay Day is fun, insightful and a strong addition to the series. It doesn’t answer all of the show’s questions, but it does answer some of life’s. Although what I really wanted to know is where to find Amber Crystal. Beasts, bounty, and bikinis: how can you go wrong? I wonder what Miss Ejima’s doing Saturday night.

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