DRAWN & QUARTERED
COURTESY OF BANDAI ENTERTAINMENT
Clockwise from top left, Ranpha, Forte, Vanilla, Milfeulle and Mint are members of the Angel Brigade in "Galaxy Angel."
‘Galaxy Angel’ adventures feature females in force
The "Galaxy Angel" anime and manga franchise has two readily apparent strengths: cute female characters and food references.
The "cute female characters" portion is easily explained. The franchise is backed by Broccoli, owner of the Gamers chain of stores selling anime merchandise in Japan. When Broccoli launched "Project G.A." in late 2000, the anime, manga and computer games that followed prominently featured a quintet of attractively drawn young women. It made it easier to sell the accompanying collectible swag, after all.
As for the food part, just look at the names of those core five characters: Milfeulle Sakuraba, Mint Blancmanche, Vanilla H, Ranpha Franboise and Forte Stollen. The roster sounds like it should describe a high-class restaurant's dessert menu. The staff who worked on the anime took the idea one step further, presenting all of the episode titles as "menu items" like "Flower Crackers of Dispersed Hot Water" or "Mustached Beef Rib Rice Bowl with Rich Sauce."
The first version of "Galaxy Angel" to arrive in the United States was the anime, licensed by Bandai Entertainment and released starting in March 2003. The title changed slightly over the years with the addition of letters to denote different TV seasons; the original "Galaxy Angel" was supplanted by "Galaxy Angel Z" in the second season, followed by "Galaxy Angel A" and "Galaxy Angel AA" for the third season, a "Galaxy Angel S" special and the (as yet unreleased in the U.S.) fourth season, "Galaxy Angel X."
Throughout the various series, the Angel Brigade, under the command of Lt. Col. Volcott O'Huey, conducts missions throughout the galaxy in search of Lost Technology, ancient artifacts with mysterious, unpredictable powers.
IT BECOMES clear from watching a few of the 15-minute episodes that each of the Angels has been carefully crafted to appeal to a specific section of fanboy fantasy:
» Forte, the group's field general, is a tomboyish type who loves guns and being in action-packed situations.
» Ranpha is the boy-crazy blond bombshell who's into fortunetelling and Chinese martial arts.
» Mint has an extra set of ears sticking out from her blue hair that make a cute squeaking sound when she gets excited and they start wiggling up and down. She also has a thing for dressing up in cute costumes.
» Vanilla is the most religious member of the group and is quite soft-spoken when she speaks up (which isn't that often). She's often seen carrying around Normad, an artificial intelligence unit from a missile that was transplanted into a large pink stuffed animal.
» Milfeulle is the cheerfully ditzy pink-haired, flower-adorned member who loves to bake sweets and has ridiculously good luck.
The nebulous nature of Lost Technology basically gives the series writers carte blanche to throw the Angels into any ridiculous situation to look for it ... and even when they're not looking for it, things can get pretty crazy. In one episode the Angels attend a party on a yacht in which they're partnered with a gorgeous hunk (complete with sparkly pastel background), an alien octopus, an anemic boy (with an attendant doctor and nurse to revive him from multiple deaths), Volcott and a rice cooker. They play a game, the hunk dies, an "enka" (traditional Japanese music similar to American country music) song plays, everyone (including the previously dead hunk) ends up at a karaoke bar and a pink blobby thing pops up at the end.
If that sounds like your cup of tea, then jump right on in. Sure, there are a few changes here and there -- the rival Galaxy Twin Stars team of Malibu and Kokomo and commander Major Mary sign on with "Galaxy Angel A," and a sixth Angel, Chitose Karasuma, joins "Galaxy Angel X," but the unbridled wackiness never skips a beat.
When the series pauses to catch its breath with the occasional serious episode, the resulting abrupt change in tone feels forced. Sure, it makes for some bittersweet moments and all, but sometimes turning the ol' mind back on after having kept it off for so long for the mindless laughs can be jarring.
THOSE SEEKING a more even blend between comedy and drama with a bit of romance added in -- and a more well-rounded story in general -- should seek out the manga version, released in the U.S. by Broccoli Books starting in 2004 with the five-volume "Galaxy Angel" series and continued in the three-volume "Galaxy Angel Beta" series.
All eight volumes tell a single, cohesive story rather than the fractured vignettes the anime presents. Broccoli Books' attention to exhaustive detail is in full play here, with character biographies, author's notes, translation notes and extra four-panel comics included with every volume.
In this version, adapted from the Japan-only series of "Galaxy Angel" strategy role-playing/dating simulation games, the Angels must serve as protective escorts to Prince Shiva, the sole survivor of a coup waged by Lord Eonia. Volcott and Normad are out; as manga artist Kanan explains in an author's note, the two characters were the original creations of the anime production studio and thus could not be used.
Taking Volcott's place at the helm is Takuto Meyers, the male protagonist in the games and a somewhat carefree individual who can nonetheless get down to serious business when the situation calls for it.
It's a jarring enough change that anime fans looking for more rapid-fire gags in the manga certainly will be disappointed. Fortunately for those fans, a third series released by Broccoli Books, "Galaxy Angel Party," restores the madcap approach, serving as an anthology where "doujinshi" (amateur comics) artists take a crack at drawing the Angels' adventures. As expected with an anthology with multiple creators, though, the story quality can be inconsistent. Two volumes have been released in the U.S., with a third on indefinite hiatus.
COURTESY BANDAI VISUAL USA
SO YOU'VE WATCHED all three seasons of the "Galaxy Angel" anime and read the five volumes of the "Galaxy Angel" manga and the three-volume "Galaxy Angel Beta" follow-up, and the two volumes of "Galaxy Angel Party" that came out before Broccoli Books put that series on hiatus. Perhaps you imported the "Galaxy Angel" games, the "Galaxy Angel X" fourth-season anime, and/or the special soundtracks with songs by the Japanese voice actresses as well.
That's a sign of incredibly hard-core "Galaxy Angel" fandom. And that means you'll probably scoop up the latest evolution of the "Galaxy Angel" franchise as well ... even though the original Angel Brigade has effectively been retired and replaced by an entirely new cast.
In the "Galaxy Angel Rune" anime (available on U.S. DVD from Bandai Visual) and the "Galaxy Angel II" manga (available from Broccoli Books), each new young woman has a link to the original cast. Apricot "Rico" Sakuraba is Milfeulle's younger sister; Lily Sherbet was trained by Forte; Nico-Nico Pudding is a nanomachine and a piece of Lost Technology who considers Vanilla her "mother" for finding her; Kahlua Marjoram (and her alter ego, Tequila) looks up to Ranpha as a role model; and Anise Azeat owes Mint a pile of money.
It should feel like a natural continuation and evolution of the series ... and yet it feels like something's missing from this new generation of Angels. Perhaps it's the fact that, other than Nico-Nico's tendency to add "nano da" to the end of all of her sentences and the Kahlua/Tequila transformations (induced, naturally, by alcohol), there aren't any particularly strong traits that make the characters stand out in a crowd. Perhaps it's the change in the anime episodes' lengths from 15 minutes each in the first four seasons to 30 minutes in "Rune," making once-compact, rapid-fire gags drag out for twice as long. Or perhaps it's a feeling of déjà vu setting in to a franchise that turned eight this year.
It's for these reasons that "Rune" and "Galaxy Angel II" ends up being appealing only to hard-core "Galaxy Angel" fans. And for those fans in the U.S., another considerable financial hurdle awaits: "Rune" was published by Bandai Visual, which, until it was absorbed by Bandai Entertainment earlier this year, earned a reputation of releasing high-quality products at some of the highest prices in the domestic anime market. The suggested retail price for the first 30-minute episode was $20, with the other three volumes in the series, containing four episodes each, ringing in at $50 each. Whether it's worth spending that much for an adequate show and glossy 16-page guidebooks is a dubious proposition, at best.