Daichis: Earth's Defense Family
Mike Toole rates it:
I've been mentally lumping Daichis: Earth's Defense Family in with the huge glut of titles Geneon have bought and published for no apparent reason. It's a little unfair of me, I guess; sure, the comapny's bizarre licensing spree has brought us underappreciated classics like Master Keaton and Fighting Spirit, but also tepid fare like Human Crossing. It quickly became apparent to me that I was missing out when I finally got down to watching this series; it's snappily-animated, charming and witty, and with a good pedigree (Group TAC and the inimitable Shoji Kawamori created and animated it).
The Daichis are a family in crisis. Mom Seiko, a talent agent, is an aggressive, ambitious woman who has finally had enough of dad Mamoru, a fat, unsightly toy designer who's all too willing to hang his head and take her constant verbal abuse. As the series opens, she's angrily pushing divorce papers at him, while angsty daughter Nozomi stiffly does housework in the background. The only optimist in the family is son Dai, a 4th grader with a lot of energy and a wild shock of unkempt brown hair. He's happy to shake off the bullies and annoy his teacher at school, but the seemingly inevitable divorce has him confused. But if anime has taught us anything, it's that nothing will distract a broken family from divorce proceedings like invading aliens and the news that they've been drafted as the planet's only hope, the Earth Defense Family!
This news is met with a lot of hilarious confusion and indifference; Seiko is outraged that her time is being wasted (until she learns that there's money involved in saving the world), Nozomi is baffled and embarrassed by their new weapons, which are gaudy and skintight, dad is unsettled but curious thanks to his natural love of gadgets, and Dai... well, Dai is all for it! It's no mystery, really-- he gets to wear a bright red costume and skate around on a flying surfboard, after all, and his high-tech power suit simply harnesses the immense destructive power of a typical little boy and amplifies it a thousandfold. Nozomi, in blue, plays the defender, using a fire-belching umbrella to shield the family. Mom and dad are in support roles; dad issues instructions and develops strategies (he has a few tricks of his own, as well) and mom... well, mom drives the family car, of course. Did I mention that the car, a humble hatchback, turns into a hovering superweapon?
The Daichis' new situation is exhausting, as they're repeatedly forced to face off with teeming hordes of runaway furby-esque toys, giant lobsters, demonically possessed jet planes, a giant brainwashing heart, and plants right out of Day of the Triffids. We never get to find out who appointed the Daichis to be Earth's Defense Family, but their logic probably involved the constant combat forcing the family to deal with their problems and get closer together. But Kawamori and his team refuse to play to that simple plot device; the constant fighting just makes the family cranky, especially when they find out that their fancy special attacks are costing them more money than they're earning. Nozomi regularly loses her temper (to hilarious effect, especially when it involves her using her devastating high-tech weapons and letting loose with a window-rattling "DON'T SCREW WITH ME!!"), and Dai tries to take refuge in playing with Weird, an alien pet, only to have it taken from him. Meanwhile, Mom continues to contemplate an affair with Hayakawa, her photographer; Dad, passive-aggressive as ever, duly ignores the warning signs and spends his free time in a chatroom, flirting with Dai's comely teacher.
Two things I really enjoyed about Daichis are the dubbed version and the soundtrack. The dub is very competent work courtesy of Ocean; as much fun as the Japanese version is, featuring great veterans like Akira Kamiya as Dad and Mami Koyama as Mom, the dub is just as entertaining. Sadly, there aren't individual credits, but there isn't a weak spot in the entire cast. The soundtrack is glorious, and perfectly suited to the show's quick pace and slapstick humor-- it's blazing, Man or Astro-man-esque surf rock courtesy of Shigeo Naka's Surf Coasters.
For the most part, Daichis is a total pleasure to watch. It's well-animated, and I really can't stress that enough in this age of cheap, awful digital animation-- very rarely does Daichis skimp on animation, even when it's time for some stock footage. It's also well-acted in both languages, and well-directed by Kawamori and his cronies. Some of the mechanical and costume designs are... questionable, but this is honestly a very good, fun show. It's priced to move, too, five bucks cheaper per volume than your typical series, and with just as many episodes. There's also an unusual surprise in Daichis' final disc-- an alternate episode, one that apparently ended up on the cutting room floor. It's actually a pretty funny episode, but I can understand why it got axed-- it doesn't fit in well with the mood of the rest of the show. All told, Daichis doesn't really end with the bang I hoped it would, but it's still quality stuff. It's not on par with The Incredibles, animation's other shaky superhero family, but it's not far off the mark at all.
Added: Tuesday, August 23, 2005
Related Link: Geneon Animation