Review for Dai-Guard: The Complete Collection
Of late, I have been subjecting myself to more and more mecha anime, a genre I usually go out of my way to avoid. There's something vaguely ridiculous about giant robots doing battle with various foes, piloted by teenagers who really should be in school. But it's a popular and well-subscribed genre, a lot of fans swear by it, and I begin to wonder just what it is I'm missing out on. So far in my quest to become a more rounded anime fan, I've tried to avoid the pure stuff, looking for something with a twist, a little nudge that makes it different, and may give me a hook into the show. Next in my journey through the UK mecha anime back catalogue, I'm giving Dai Guard a spin. It was released by ADV back in the day, and as they were winding up in the UK, it got a budget boxset release as well, which may be a tad hard to find now. It's a mecha show from the late nineties, when every show wanted to be Evangelion, and few could manage it. Dai Guard has the ingredients, but in this show, it's the white-collar workers who get to save the world. It's the bureaucrats with the fate of humanity in their hands. God help us all!
All of a sudden, aliens attacked. Dubbed Heterodynes, these strange, giant creatures appeared on Earth, attacking at random, wreaking havoc on Earth's defenders. The response was to develop a giant robot to deal with the aliens. The problem was that the contract was given to the lowest bidder and the resulting weapon was flawed. Luckily, by the time the giant Dai Guard rolled off the production line, the Heterodynes had vanished. Of course this left the company that made the Dai Guard with a giant robot that the military no longer required. So the robot was shipped off to the company's Public Relations Division 2. Now its purpose is to serve as an advertisement for the company's other, more profitable endeavours. It's down to its three pilots, Shunsuke Akagi, Ibuki Momoi, and Keiichiro Aoyama to show off the company mascot to eager fans, not that there are that many eager fans of a robot that costs far too much to even start its engines. The Dai Guard is a joke, as is the Public Relations Division in charge of it. That's until the day that skies open up, and a Heterodyne appears. They're back after 12 years, and it will be down to Akagi, Ibuki, and Aoyama to save the world. It's too bad that the builders cut corners on the robot, and now that the aliens have returned the military finally want their robot delivered.
26 episodes of Dai Guard are presented across six discs.
Disc 1: Hostile Takeover
1. Disaster From The Sea
2. The Fort at Night - Huge Offensive-Defensive Battle
3. Circumstances of a Hero
4. The Heroine's Melancholy
5. Can't Run Facing the Setting Sun
Disc 2: To Serve and Defend, But Not to Spend
6. Memories Taught Me
7. Fire and Ice
8. A Strange Day
9. Explosion! Knot Buster!
Disc 3: Checks and Balances of Terror
10. Wages that Correspond to Justice
11. Alibi: Two Heterodynes Attack Tokyo
12. Shinjuku at Night: Big Battle
13. Things That Can Be Forgiven, Things That Can't Be Forgiven
Disc 4: Red Tape and Proud Hearts
14. Oosugi Report
15. We Are All Alive
16. Always Sunny in the Soul
17. I'd Like to Sleep as if Dreaming
Disc 5: In The Red
18. Run Towards Tomorrow
19. White Contract
20. Blue Promise
21. False Memories
Disc 6: The Bottom Line
22. So That I Can Remain Myself
23. What Do You Want To Protect?
24. Something That Covers The Sky
25. Thoughts That Keep Piling Up
26. Victory Song For Tomorrow
Dai Guard gets a really quite pleasant 4:3 regular transfer courtesy of ADV. It's an NTSC-PAL conversion of course, but other than a few blended frames, there's very little sign of such. It's a bright, colourful, and clear transfer, free of any major judder or ghosting. It's a show from the hind end of the twentieth century, and the animation is one of the earlier ones to be accomplished using computers instead of cel acetate. The character designs are simple but effective, the world design similarly so, and the animation may not be exactly flashy, but it does what it sets out to. Dai Guard itself is adequately rendered, but the Heterodyne foes that it faces are a little simplistic and rudimentary in design.
You get the choice between DD 2.0 Stereo English and Japanese, with optional subtitles and signs. I went with the Japanese audio as I usually do, and wasn't disappointed. It's a pleasant enough audio track that suits the show well, with good actor performances, and the stereo sufficient in presenting the action. There were a couple of flubs with the subtitles on the earlier discs, but it was a problem quickly ironed out. The music has some luminaries attached to it, with Kenji Kawai providing the show's incidental music, and with Yoko Kanno arranging the end theme. The opening theme by the Cobratwisters is surprisingly catchy, and I'll defy you not to join in. As for the English dub… well 'stinks' is too strong a word, but not by much. It's enough to make you grind your teeth in embarrassment, but then again, this is a dub from the dark days of anime, almost ten years now.
All six discs are presented in an m-lock style case. There's one disc at the front, and one on the back. There are two central hinged panels, and both grab hold of one disc on either side. There's no problem with overlapping discs here. The case gets a reversible sleeve, and it's well worth reversing, as the blueprint style front cover is a little unimpressive.
All the discs have similar extras. You get the textless credits repeated across each disc, each disc also gets its own selection of Production Art images, a few dozen on each, and finally there are trailers for other ADV products.
If you're wondering about the trailers, there are promos for Noir, Zone of the Enders: Idolo, Bubblegum Crisis 2040, Martian Successor Nadesico, Rahxephon, Burn Up Excess, Spriggan, Samurai X, Streetfighter II, Zone of the Enders: Dolores, Martian Successor Nadesico: Prince of Darkness, Zaion, Full Metal Panic, King of Bandit Jing, and Final Fantasy Unlimited.
Disc 3 gets an added bonus in the form of a Behind The Scenes Featurette. It's only 3½ minutes long, and is just a montage of the production staff at work, location scouting, in the office, and at work with cast in the ADR booth. It's all set to a pop song, and is over before you realise it. Disc 4's added bonus is a 3½-minute collection of TV Spots.
My timing is lousy! I started watching Dai-Guard on March 7th, when earthquakes, and natural disasters in Japan were just entertainment. People running for the hills, oversize weaponry, bureaucratic obfuscation and double-dealing governments and corporations, threats to nuclear power stations and the dangers of pollution and contamination were all just weapons in an anime writer's arsenal. For four days, Dai-Guard was a whole lot of simple-minded fun. Then on March 11th 2011, the real world intruded on my DVD viewing, and suddenly all these things weren't as much fun anymore. Of course, given how much the spectre of natural and nuclear disasters informs popular Japanese entertainment, especially the speculative fiction in anime, it's hard to find a story that doesn't have some element of resonance to recent events.
At its core, Dai-Guard is really just a monster of the week show, in which every week, an earthquake heralds a dimensional rip, through which appears a Heterodyne monster, which proceeds to wreak havoc on some area of Japan. It's up to our three intrepid office workers to mount up in their giant robot to save the day. In that respect you could say that it's very much like any other giant robot show, and with the somewhat arcane origin of the Heterodynes, and their rather unconventional but simplistic design, Dai Guard cribs from the best, Evangelion. Then again, with Dai Guard a three part robot that has to combine, with three pilots working in unison, it's also much like countless other Sentai shows, not least of which would be the Power Rangers.
What makes Dai-Guard more than just tolerable though, is the combination of the characters and the back-story. It's emblematic of a nation that is based strongly on structure, organisation and regulations, that Dai-Guard winds up being piloted by office workers in the PR department of a security company. Created to battle a foe that promptly vanished, the giant robot became a white elephant that 21st Century Defence Security sidelined as a PR attraction, something to appeal to the kids at the company fairs, while their businessmen parents did some real work. When the Heterodyne threat reappears, you would expect that the sole weapon created to challenge them would be quickly commandeered by the military, but this is a society so hidebound by adherence to rules and regulations, contracts and agreements, that it remains the PR Department's responsibility to pilot the robot into battle.
It also turns out to be a wise decision, as the military are just too gung-ho about fighting the Heterodynes, and invariably their actions wind up making the situation worse, while the crew of the Dai-Guard through trial and error somehow muddle through, mostly because their aim is not to fight the Heterodynes, but to protect the populace. Still, there's plenty of comedy to be had seeing their efforts against the Heterodynes matched by their efforts against bureaucracy, just to keep hold of the Dai-Guard, keep it supplied and repaired, and above all to balance the budget. The strains of such an effort run up and down the company structure, with various factions and interest groups trying to control the Dai-Guard, and use it to enhance their positions in the company.
You'd think that up against such bureaucracy and paperwork, any potential pilot of the giant robot would be snowed under and overwhelmed. Fortunately, Dai-Guard's chief pilot is eager young space cadet Shunsuke Akagi. He's initially misplaced in Public Relations, a pilot who isn't allowed to waste the money in starting up the robot's engines, and reduced to wearing a bird costume to entertain the kids. Yet he comes from a very geeky background, having seen far too many heroic anime as a kid, and is determined to be a champion of justice. Naturally he leaps at the chance when the Heterodyne threat resurfaces, but slowly a little realism begins to rub off on him. With a far more realistic attitude is the systems analyst Ibuki Momoi, who is quick to be irritated by Akagi's up and at 'em approach. But she too has a reason to fight the Heterodynes, and one far more personal and immediate than Akagi's lofty ambitions. Her father first researched the Heterodyne phenomenon, and was killed during the initial attack 12 years previously. She tries to emulate his devotion to protecting people, but her life choices bring her into conflict with her stepfather and her mother. The final member of the crew is Keiichiro Aoyama, who it seems sees piloting the Dai-Guard as merely a job. He's the playboy of the department, focus of a lot of office gossip, yet as so often is the case, he is devoted in his own way, even if his priorities are different.
There's added friction when the military insist on having a say on Dai-Guard's missions, and quite understandably co-ordinating their efforts. Agent Shiro Shirota is assigned to the department to see that the office workers at least understand military protocol, and to advise on strategy and tactics. He's also there at the behest of the military to arrange events so that the Dai-Guard eventually falls back into military hands. But slowly as he sees the devotion and duty that the PR department give to their work, he develops something of a respect for them. It gradually causes more and more problems for him as he becomes torn between his loyalty to the military establishment and his respect for Akagi and his co-workers.
When escapist entertainment stops being an escape from reality, and starts reflecting it, it's time to step away for a while and watch something else instead. But how many sci-fi anime don't have some sort of disaster in their back-story? I'm still not all that inclined to the giant robot genre, but Dai-Guard's implementation of the usual tropes isn't at all tedious or derivative. There is some thought to how everything works, and a decent degree of consistency. What appeals most about Dai-Guard are the characters, and the way they have to work through Japanese bureaucratic structures and rigid hierarchies to achieve their aims. While the real world made the show lose its lustre for me pretty quickly, by the end of its run it was beginning to sparkle again. I can envisage that the next time I watch it a few years from now, I'll enjoy it a whole lot more, hence my optimistic grade.