Before writing and directing 1987’s anime movie monsterpiece Crystal Triangle, Seiji Okuda served as series director on a 1985 TV cartoon show about robots. It was called Choujuukishin Dancouga (Super Bestial Machine God Dancougar), and true to form, it was a delightfully unapologetic clusterfuck.
On the surface, Dancougar looks to combine the gritty hard sci-fi feel of its contemporaneous 80s robot show brethren with the 5-person robot team and its associated tropes, established in 1976’s Combattler V. But… yeah, God, this show. This show.
Simple enough premise. Rowdy aliens attack Earth, decimating most of our fair planet’s established military forces through the use of well-animated 80s domed explosions, which look simply lovely. The only folks left after a montage or two of this are the students at the Space Academy, located in Australia. There’s Shinobu, who is angry all the ding dang day; Shapiro Keats, whose gaunt frame, penchant for purple eyeliner and terrifying Ziggy Stardust hair conceals (or betrays!) a lust for cosmic domination; and Sara, his girlfriend.
Within 16 minutes Shapiro bails on the Earth — and Sara, who almost tags along — to fist bump with the invaders. His reason? “The Earth is run by a bunch of pussies.” I am paraphrasing, but the fact of the matter is that Shapiro — voiced by that endlessly entertaining badboy Norio Wakamoto — is the only villainous character in the entire show with anything resembling character development. Super Robot Wars, eternal arbiter of the robot cartoon canon, frequently omits all of the bad guys from this show except for Shapiro, who can defect to whatever amalgamation of bad guys happens to be running the show that game. It works in that context. Here, it just sucks that the bad guys are so uninteresting.
With the Space Academy destroyed, the wheelchair-bound patriarch of the school suggests Shinobu and Sara go to a secret base in Japan, “the world leader in super technology.” Not paraphrasing. They do, and the next 3 episodes introduce the rest of the team — Masato, who is all about the ladies, no matter how young (otaku stand-in character); Ryo, who knows martial arts; and Sara, who is reintroduced as a hard-ass military killing-machine.
They are… the Cyber-Beast Force.
We are also introduced to the show’s complete disregard for logic, plotting and common sense. General Igor, the leader of the CBF, is constantly sending the team all over the globe. In the second episode, he gives Shinobu a Eagle-themed fighter jet, and tells him to fly to fucking Minnesota to fight the aliens single-handedly. It takes one 5-second shot for him to get there, and about 4 minutes to bust up the aliens and return to Japan. That is just how things work here.
It would be easy to assume that they’d introduce the titular robot after the first few episodes, and immediately get to the usual monster of the week brutalizing that is typically the showcase of children’s robot cartoons. But no. No, sir. This show has things to say.
In one episode, the CBF is sent to help out an American resistance group, and are shocked to find the rebel base filled entirely with kids, who were given kamikaze orders and abandoned after their adult superiors marched to their deaths. The name of the first kid the team speaks to? Dan Aykroyd.
In another, the aliens attack the destroyed Space Academy from the first episode, prompting much confusion on the part of the team. “Why are they attacking something that’s already been destroyed?” they ask. “It must be a trap.” They go anyway, and find not just the trap, but also a beloved teacher of theirs, who berates them relentlessly for being useless. After a fierce battle, the school is destroyed for real this time, along with the precious honorary diploma their teacher arbitrarily decided to reward them minutes earlier. I believe that is what is known as… symbolism.
There’s the one where they have to disarm nuclear missiles, and Masato ends up overseeing a bunch of kids who plan to hijack one of the warheads and Slam to the Jam the aliens all by their little pre-teen selves. The oldest of the group complains that the adults “just wanted to save the stupid town, those cowards!” In the episode’s climax, Masato narrowly prevents the kids from immolating themselves in nuclear flames during a crazy jeep chase.
It keeps going. One episode sees our heroes sent to the remote town of Tacos, located “300 kilometers north of Mexico City,” where pitchforks are brandished, sombreros get shot up, and Ryo solves everything by taking his shirt off inside his machine and using robot martial arts. This is all in spite of the many earlier shots of his cockpit, which is visibly too cramped to stand up in.
A personal favorite: General Igor is pissed at the team’s lack of teamwork, so he sends them to New York City to bail out the “Harlem Resistance”. Shinobu muses that “perhaps the apple was a cross-cultural symbol of unity,” (Ed. note: maybe?) while Masato travels through the abandoned subway system to find the survivors, who are — shock of shocks — a bunch of typical anime black dudes playing jazz music. Masato attempts to get them to flee the city, but the leader of the Resistance assures him that “nobody can stop the music!”
I could keep rattling these off, but I think I’ll leave it at the episode where they go up against MD Geist and his Fist of the North Star punk pals. This show has everything.
There are recurring villains, of course. The first is General Death Gaia, who wears a mohawk. He shows up in most episodes, usually after saying something like “this is the perfect chance to show those fools!” You’ve seen this character before. After about 15 episodes, he gets shipped off in favor of another alien general, who looks in retrospect like a 3D polygonal head from an Amiga demo with mutton chops hanging from the top of his cheek bones. All these dumb aliens spend a lot of time bickering with each other. They’re boring.
A little bit after that, the plot’s focus shifts more towards the relationship between Sara and Shapiro, understandably strained from his earlier betrayal of the entire fucking planet Earth, and… the whole thing is kind of ridiculous, actually. We get some flashbacks to the early days in their relationship, but usually only in the context of “Shapiro hinted that he was going to make a bio-weapon out of flowers to drive all women in a 7-mile radius into a nonstop berserker rage back when we were dating oh my god.”
Production values start strong and quickly drop off a cliff. It’s hard not to conclude that something went horribly wrong for the production staff. In the first few episodes the battle scenes are fluidly animated, with silky smooth missile trails and pornographic levels of detail paid to explosions and shrapnel. By episode 10, things are looking decidedly more slapdash, particularly the transformation sequences for the CBF’s fighter jet/animal hybrids, which are done in a “style” the show wants us to believe is inspired by computer wireframe graphics. Really, though? They didn’t color in the cels.
When big bad Dancougar finally combines in episode 15 (episode 14 having just inflicted a devastating wave of robot blueballs on every damn kid in Japan), we are treated to Seiji Okuda’s apparent stock-in-trade: baffling religious themes. After inputting a suspicious code, the team glows red, and a booming voice urges our heroes to “move beyond the beast’s anger, beyond mankind’s hatred! Be reborn as God’s Warrior!” They totally do. Boom. Dancougar, standing tall.
Its first order of business as God’s Warrior is to punch the enemy alien in the face, using zero frames of animation. A slow pan across a single still frame of the robot with its arm extended is the best Ashi Productions can muster. Kind of a shame, considering how neat Future Superstar Anime Director Masami Obari’s mechanical designs are. By episode 20, we start seeing scenes without in-betweening, and while things do pick up a little towards the end, there’s a long, long stretch where it feels like they completely ran out of money. Ryo throws down in a couple of episodes, and the ensuing fight scenes are not so much animated as presented as slide show. Hey. TV anime. It happens.
Word is that Ashi Pro wanted to market and sell this show to American distributors, which would explain the mostly episodic nature of the production, and the amazing episode title translations. Whatever they were hoping for, it didn’t quite pan out — the show was cancelled early at episode 38, major plot threads left unresolved.
A series of OAVs attempted to fill in the blanks, with the first one — 1986’s Requiem for the Victims — being about 70% recap episode, and 30% the “quick guys we gotta tie this up before they pull the plug” final episode that was presumably supposed to air on TV. 1987’s God Bless Dancougar looks great and has some amusing character moments, but the plot is boilerplate 80s OAV fare, and the production as a whole only highlights the incomplete feel of the TV show. On the other hand, it does end with an impromptu 80s music video, CBF rocking out on-stage and everything. Let’s call it even.
Special mention has to be made for Blazing Epilogue, a 4-part OAV released between 1988 and 1990 which — unlike the rest of the series — was not licensed and released in English. I haven’t seen it, but even big fans of the the series assure me that it is trash. Obviously, my interest is piqued. Somebody fansub that thing, guys!
Dancougar is wacky. It’s absurd. It’s serious and silly, stupid and… extra stupid. It’s also shockingly boring, despite the near-constant barrage of absurdities present in every episode. When Seiji Okuda and company went on to make Crystal Triangle, I suppose this show was their way of saying “we fucking warned you.” If only we had listened.