Written by Richard Brown
The original Gaogaigar TV series took a lot of people by surprise. While it did not draw in especially good viewing figures, it did succeed in drawing in an older and unexpected audience, the old school Super Robot Fanboy. The sequel, Final is deliberately targeting that audience, but is it any good? Read on to find out.
(Important Note: This is a review of the original eight episode OVA, not the reedited 12 episode TV series, titled Grand Glorious Gathering.)
The Basic Plot
It’s been a year since the Zonder menace was defeated, when Mamoru and the mechalion Galeon left for space. The GGG organisation has rebuilt itself in their absence, taking on terrestrial threats such as the Bionet crime syndicate. However, this relative peace is not to last, as mysterious objects known as the “Q-Parts” have been discovered across the globe, and dark forces are rushing to claim them. Renais Kerdif Shishioh, cousin of Gai and a fellow G-Stone Cyborg, finds the first of the artefacts during a mission in Paris. Events spiral out of control, as Mamoru and Galeon have returned, with a dire warning for Mankind.
Return of the King
Gaogaigar Final acknowledges its older audience in several ways, most notably in mecha design. The new Gaofighgar, having been built entirely on Earth is a much more uniform robot than the original Gaogaigar, which was formed from a lion, a drill tank, a stealth bomber and a bullet train. There’s also an increased amount of fan service, and some of the younger cast members are pushed into the background, and a marked change in story themes, as well. The original was relentlessly optimistic, and rigidly formulaic, Final is far less so. It’s a significantly more serious affair, with GGG facing the 11 Sol Masters, a force that is far more ruthless and evasive than anything they had faced before. Episode 2 is a real shock, which very definitely states that the anime isn’t holding back, despite the fact it’s a bit of cheat. That having been said, the tone is not Evangelion level darkness, more teenage in tone than kids TV. Renais in particular seems a character created by and for teenage boys, being French, leggy, heavily armed, and usually seen in a low-cut leotard. Fortunately, there’s a bit more to her than that, as her embittered and anti-social personality makes for a good contrast with the idealistic norm for the series.
Final still retains all that made the TV series fun however. Episode 1 is basically a tribute to the early days of the franchise, featuring a rather one-sided fight against a monster of the week, before going into the all-together more serious main plot. The new additions to the robot roster are just as daft as their forebears and the villains are certainly inventive. The elaborate stock animation sequences are back, and improved. Factor in a general increase in production values, and Final does more or less everything the original did, only better, as it doesn’t spend half its running time getting up to speed, and doesn’t have to act as a toy advert.
While this OVA has abandoned the flaws of the TV series, (those that don’t count towards its character, anyway,) it’ still has its own problems, the most significant of which is an overstuffed cast. While far from complex, the TV series had built up its share of characters and baggage, and Final does not only have to properly reintroduce these, but also many more from secondary media such as novels and radio plays. It definitely struggles to do this, making a very straightforward anime more inaccessible than it might otherwise of been, although the burden is nowhere near as great as the one the Nadesico movie, for example (review pending if I can ever force myself to watch it again). There seems to be an acknowledgement of this towards the middle of the OVA, when circumstances drastically reduce the number of on-screen characters, although I have to say the anime works better as spectacle than small scale drama. The main victim of this is Final’s significantly expanded female cast, who I don’t think were given a fair shake of the stick. Not only is the series having to work hard to find the time to develop them, it tries to push them to the foreground at the cost of the core cast. Then there is the matter of the bee dominatrix, who invites some worrying speculation, and is the most definite proof this anime isn’t for children. Still, at least there are female characters worth mentioning; the TV series hardly had any.
On balance, these are by no means significant problems. In many ways, this series typifies the hot-blooded/manly-tears style of anime, and has pretty much mastered the overblown and cheesy staples it uses. Specifically, it uses them to build up towards a big finish. A huge one in fact. Final was intended as a swansong, a farewell to the cast and the “Brave Saga” in general. As such, much of the running time sees the cast facing real difficulty. The courage ideal is challenged, the optimism of the series tested. As setback, after tragedy, after setback, affects Gai and the cast, the stakes only get higher, as does the tension. This only makes the inevitable battle royale all the better, because after watching the characters struggle for most of the series, seeing them turn the dials to eleven and start dispensing beat downs is both a relief and a joy. Episodes 7 and 8 are the best possible swansong, and certainly an equal to Gurren Lagann, although not quite as creative. Like the Soul Society arc in Bleach, Final splits the cast so just about everyone worth mentioning gets a personal duel with an evil counterpart, and for many characters, its their finest moment. Fighting against seemingly immortal foes, without having to worry about collateral damage, the multinational force of robots truly shines. The sheer over-the-top epicness of this anime is best compared to two different divine pantheons meeting up for a fight to the finish. The episode titles “Superhero Apocalypse” and “Mythology” should give you an idea of exactly what you are in for, and if you still have an inner child, this should appeal.
The rare sequel that improves on the original, Gaogaigar Final is a superior example of its genre. Essentially the TV series distilled and left to mature, this anime will be loved by fans of cheesy mecha. Its appeal is emotional, rather than intellectual, as there’s no small amount of action, and a total absence of irony or depth. Everyone else will have a harder time enjoying it, because it doesn’t try to be more than that, and automatically assumes familiarity.