Soar High! Isami Anime Review
US Release By
Adolescent Superhero Action-Comedy
50 25-minute episodes
1995-04-08 - 1996-03-30
What's In It
- Samurai Tech
- 11-year-old Superheroes
- Tengu-masked Villains
- Cute Kids
- Violence: 1 (mild)
- Nudity: 0 (none)
- Sex: 1 (mild)
- Language: 0 (none)
Isami Hanaoka is pretty much your average fifth grader: She just moved from the US back to her dad's hometown in Japan, where she and her newscaster mom are living with Isami's expert-cook/swordsman grandfather. Her dad is a famous scientist who disappeared mysteriously years ago, apparently on the run from a powerful evil organization. Isami still believes that he lurks in the shadows somewhere nearby, but in any case the strain of having a mom who's never around, an absentee dad, and starting life in a new town aren't anything she can't handle. Things get interesting, though, when Isami and two of her classmates--the smooth-talking Soshi Yukimi and hotheaded Toshi Tsukikage--stumble upon an old cache of amazing weapons in Isami's basement. It seems that they're all related to the famous Shinsengumi, and their ancestors left them a message that they're not going to have much choice but follow through on: "Fight the evil Kurotengu organization!"
Quick ReviewSwitch to Full Review
Soar High! Isami is an all-around solid kids' action-comedy. It doesn't feature anything unusual or much that will appeal to a more mature audience, but it's got a high-energy pace, is remarkably un-annoying despite the rapid-fire humor, and manages a few fairly amusing jabs at its own genre. The spunk-filled Japanese acting makes it that much more fun, and although two of the three leads aren't well cast in the English version, Rumiko Varnes' great performance as Isami almost makes up for it.
I wouldn't say it's a first choice for older anime fans, but still comes out ahead of a lot of shows with a similar age target thanks mostly to some all-ages humor--an all around quality kids' show.
Full ReviewSwitch to Quick Review
Soar High! Isami is an all-around solid kids' action-comedy. It doesn't feature anything unusual or much that will appeal to a more mature audience, but it's well-paced, remarkably un-annoying despite the rapid-fire humor, and manages a few fairly amusing jabs at its own genre.
Since it's produced in part by NHK (the Japanese equivalent of the BBC), I was expecting a clean and solidly-built production, and Isami doesn't disappoint. The combination of high-energy directing and even-handed writing are its biggest strength; the simple storyline gets moving quickly, and the episodes cruise along at a brisk pace without getting confusing or feeling hurried. There's plenty of light and smoothly-written banter and a fairly constant stream of cartoony gags and offhanded humor to keep the monster-of-the-week episodes interesting, but there's also something of an ongoing storyline to at least loosely tie things together.
I was quite fond of the characters; the heroes (Isami in particular) are loaded with spunk and very likable. The gung-ho Isami is tough and smart enough to be a good role model without being at all cheesy, and Soshi, the smooth-talking adolescent player, makes for an amusing counterpoint to the hotheaded and more standard Toshi. The three of them are very well acted in Japanese, and their antagonistic (but still friendly) banter deserves a lot of the credit for the light, fun feel of the series. There's also Soshi's tag-along little brother, who's cute and didn't give me an urge to do bad things to him, so I'll credit him as a successful tyke character in comparison to most.
To throw just a bit of maturity into the mix, the trio's ditzy homeroom teacher and the jaded but not-particularly-competent cop they turn to for official assistance have a bit of a budding romance, which is effectively played for laughs once in a while. And there's the villains, who at least early in the series are far more funny than frightening, but aren't entirely incompetent, either, so they're still effective adversaries for the heroes.
Looked at from the perspective of an anime fan quite a bit older than its target audience, I can't say that Isami has a whole lot going for it. The storyline is very basic, the main characters are quite young, most of the jokes are broad and simple, and the whole production feels very lightweight and fairly cartoony. That said, the characters are likable, it pokes fun at itself (and superhero shows in general) enough to get a few chuckles out of this reviewer, and I never found it annoying (a valuable feature for parents)--just simple and obviously targeted at a young age group.
The visuals in the production are generic-looking, but generally quite good. The character designs are all very cute (both the kids and adults) and unlike a lot of series (particularly those targeted at older viewers), the kids don't look or act unrealistically mature. The art is straightforward but nice enough, the backgrounds don't stand out but are actually fairly well-drawn, and the animation is consistent.
The acting, depending on which language you go for, is either surprisingly good or surprising... but not so good. The Japanese version features a variety of colorful and extremely lively performances, and I liked the flow of the dialogue.
The dub, on the other hand, is inconsistent. Most of the acting, though broad, is reasonably good, and they actually do a decent job of pronouncing the Japanese names correctly (shocking!). The timing isn't too bad, although the lip flap wasn't matched all that well (forgiveable considering the quick pace) and the dialogue, though accurate, is a bit stiff. Unfortunately, the casting is off; Toshi is plenty lively, but doesn't sound like an 11-year-old, and Soshi sounds both too old and sort of sleepy. Rumiko Varnes' Isami mostly makes up for it, though--she is an impressively lively match for the original Japanese version.
The background music is cheesy, but functional. The opening theme, on the other hand, is a classic and catchy old-school anime rock intro, and the end theme is funkier and more modern, lively, and fun--the singer sounds like she's really enjoying herself, a must for that kind of song.
In all, Soar High! Isami looks to be a quality kids' show--it's fun, well done, and very lively without being annoying. I wouldn't say it's a first choice for older anime fans, but still comes out ahead of a lot of shows with a similar age target thanks mostly to some all-ages humor, so it might even be worth a look if your tastes are simple. I'd rather my kids watched this than Medabots, and in the end I didn't mind watching it, either.
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Though it shares some elements with kids' shows like Medabots, Pokemon, and the like, it's a superhero show not a marketing gimmick, and as a result frequently better. The most similar action-comedy I can think of is Jubei-chan the Ninja Girl, though that's much funkier and weirder. Others in the same general vein include Brigadoon (a bit more mature and much more unusual), Sailor Moon (more melodramatic), and a variety of Magical Girl shows, most of which are... well, more magical girl-y.
Notes and Trivia
Soar High! Isami is an original concept developed for NHK.
The Shinsen-gumi were a real organization, and have appeared in several anime series, a number of samurai movies, and even a Playstation 2 game. They were a sort of brutal police organization loyal to the Shoguns that operated in Kyoto in the wake of Commodore Perry's opening of Japan to the outside world in the mid-1800s, a period of internal turmoil in Japan. The group was founded by Kondou Isami, figuratively the ancestor of the Isami of this show; two other members, Hijikata Toshizou and Okita Souji, are the basis for the other two young heroes.
This is one of only two anime series released by Hirameki International, a small company that specialized in visual novels. They never finished translating it, and closed their doors in 2008.
The series director, Gisaburo Sugii, has been directing anime dating back to episodes of the original Astro Boy. Lead director Tatsuo Sato doesn't have nearly as illustrious a resume, however.
US DVD Review
The DVDs (or at least the first one of the series) are a bit odd. To its credit, the video looks nice, the mono Japanese and stereo English audio tracks sound fine, the episodes have chapter stops in the usual locations (allowing for easy song-skipping), and they actually included the Japanese version, which isn't usually the case with kids' series. The disc skips the menu, launching straight into the dubbed version of the program, but if you bring up the menu it provides complete chapter access as well as language control, although there are no special features.
The funky part is the subtitles; although they're accurate, they're done in a monospaced font (every character width is the same, making wide letters look crowded and "i"s and "l"s look lonely), and they're left justified (lined up on the left), which I've never seen on a professional sub before--it looks strange, particularly since the text occasionally extends to three rows. Still, a weird subbed version is better than nothing. They also didn't translate the songs, which was too bad. I was, however, pleased to note that the credits include a full translation of the cast in both languages. (In an odd side note it appears as if the titles and credits are actually done as a soft-subtitle track, though there's no way to turn it off... strange.)
Despite all the funk, my biggest complaint about the DVDs is that they only have 3 episodes each (even the first one), which seems very skimpy by modern standards. Well, that, and they never finished releasing the series, giving up after three volumes.
There's a lot of fighting and one accidental-chest-grabbing joke early on, but it's a very clean series.
Violence: 1 - Quite a bit of fighting, but it's bloodless and not terribly serious.
Nudity: 0 - Absolutely nothing.
Sex/Mature Themes: 1 - One very mild accidental-chest-grabbing joke in the first episode.
Language: 0 - Clean.
Staff & Cast
Isami: Michiyo Nakajima
Toshi: Yoshiko Kamei
Soshi: Noriko Hidaka
Kei: Yuko Mita
Reiko: Kikuko Inoue
Kanryusai: Koichi Kitamura
Kazuma: Kenichi Ono
Haruka: Yoko Sasaki
Black Goblin: Ikuo Nishikawa
Kai: Kouji Ishi
Eisuke: Hideyuki Umedu
Orie: Sakurako Kishiro
Sonoe: Mami Horikoshi
Jusuke: Toshiharu Sakurai
Heisuke: Sukekiyo Kameyama
Yasuyuki (1): Hirohiko Kakegawa
Talent Agency President (2): Kenichi Ogata
Idol (2): Akira Ishida
Mr. Spider (3): Hiroshi Yanaka
Section Chief (3): Keisuke Yamashita
Executive (3): Hiroko Kakegawa
Miho (3): Mami Horikoshi
English Dub Cast
Isami: Rumiko Varnes
Toshi: Sean Nichols
Soshi: Jaya Drats
Kei/Reiko: Angela Im
Kanryusai/Jusuke: Blake Crawford
Heisuke: Mathew Barron
Haruka: Soness Stevens
Black Goblin: Desnnis Falt
Kai/Kazuma: Richard Allen
Director: Tatsuo Sato
Executive Director: Gisaburo Sugii
Script: Tomoko Konparu
Producer: Masahiro Kim, Ken Tsuchiya
Direction: Kiyoshi Fukumoto
Storyboards: Tatsuo Sato
Executive Animation Director: Hiroko Kazui
Animation Director: Hideaki Maniwa
Character Designer: Kazuaki Mouri
Art Director: Takashi Miyano
Music: Hiroaki Serizawa
Opening Theme: "Heart wo Migakukyanai!" ("Nothing to do But Polish Your Heart!")
Songwriter: Rui Serizawa
Composer: Hiroaki Serizawa
Arrangement: Yoshiaki Shirai
End Theme: "Makerumonka!" ("Like I'll Give Up!")
Songwriter: Tetsuo Kudo
Composer: Takashi Tsushimi
Arrangement: Tatsuya Nishiwaki
The first part of the series was available in North America on bilingual DVD from Hirameki International. Only the first three volumes (with three episodes each) were released, and the company eventually went out of business. You can, however, still get as much as they finished new or used from Amazon: Isami DVDs.