ARIEL Anime Review
US Release By
Too many to list
4 episodes, 150 minutes total
1989-07-21 - 1991-04-21
Earth is being invaded! Fortunately, the aliens have a very limited budget, so their attacks are pretty sporadic and inconsistent. On top of that Earth is also defended by the ultimate weapon, ARIEL (All Round Intercept and Escort Lady), a giant, flying, heavily-armed robot lady that kind of resembles Arcee from the 1986 Transformers movie. The bad news is the pilots chosen for ARIEL by the designer, Dr. Kishida, are relatives--his grand-daughters Aya and Kazumi, and his niece Mia Kawai, two of whom would rather deal with school work and personal issues than fight to defend the future of humanity. But, as stated before, the alien attacks are fairly half-hearted, and on top of that there is also an invincible warrior guy who shows up to save the day whenever ARIEL is about to face defeat, so really, who cares?
Pretty stupid plot description huh? Well don't blame me, I assure you every word of it is accurate, and it's as bad as it sounds. ARIEL is one of the few anime shows I've seen that manages to screw up just about everything. It's just a hopelessly jumbled mess of various anime themes and genres, many of which are contradictory or simply don't mix well: zany, off-the-wall comedy, giant robots, science fiction, aliens, school girls, action, drama, and environmental disaster are just some of the themes I can think of, none of which are significantly utilized or effectively implemented. The final result is a series that seems to have no idea what it wants to be or where it's going, except right into the garbage heap.
The problems begin right from the start. The series opens with a rapid-fire introduction in which a ton of main characters and prior events (the alien invasion is already underway and ARIEL is already built) are introduced by a narrator who uses only a few sentences for each one, almost all of which include the word "unfortunate" for no apparent reason. The intro covered so much ground it left me wondering if they just forgot to include the first episode, and the character introductions shot by so fast I was unable to remember any of them. It gets even more confusing when it cuts to a title screen where the subtitles say "episode 1" even though the original text clearly says "Episode IV". Did the creators not know what episode they were making? When a simple introduction sequence contains this many problems, you know it's a bad omen.
I'll go ahead and skip to the most recognizable problem: Lack of humor. I got this expecting a zany comedy like Excel Saga or at least a more subtle action-based comedy like Project A-ko. I mean, come on, it's a series about school girls who pilot a giant mecha woman to do battle with financially insecure aliens who send down monsters that look like rejects from the Godzilla universe. Only a comedy theme could make this watchable. But it's not funny at all. Even worse, and more bizarre, is how it keeps using comedy themes without any jokes to go along with them. Probably the best example is the aliens' financial woes. There is one sort of funny scene where an epic assault early in episode 1 is recalled due to budget cuts, but after that all that happens for the rest of the series is the captain of the command ship says he wants to invade, his officers tell him how they don't have the funds and how the ship needs to be overhauled, and... well... that's about it. It's like we're supposed to find people telling the captain he has budget problems funny by itself. Another example is how one of Dr. Kishida's granddaughters would rather study for college than pilot ARIEL. All that happens is Kishida says she needs to fly ARIEL, she says she doesn't want to, he says she needs too, and eventually she does. Sometimes he has to use some deceptive tactics to get her to go along, but the key thing is there are no jokes involved. It's a set-up with no humor, kind of like an action scene with no violence.
I guess that leads to the next key issue, the lack of giant robot fights. For a movie supposedly about ARIEL, the series is surprisingly light on action. There are only two major fights between ARIEL and the Godzilla-style ripoff monsters sent by the aliens, both of which are in the first two episodes. The rest of the series is amazingly dull, and in the final episode, ARIEL doesn't even show up until the last few minutes. Instead, the whole thing is just about Kishida's attempt to prevent the Alien command ship from crashing into Japan, once again switching the theme of the series, this time to an Armageddon-style disaster flick, almost completely excluding ARIEL and her pilots for about 97% of the program. The whole time I was just wondering "isn't there supposed be a giant robot in this somewhere?". On top of that, there is this unknown, mostly unexplained warrior guy who is totally invincible and always shows up whenever he's needed, so there really isn't any purpose for ARIEL to exist in the first place.
The last major thing worth talking about in detail is the story. Like most bad anime shows, this one has no real ending. But it also has no beginning, middle or any resolved story issues. It just throws us right to middle of things and then cuts us off abruptly without finishing the main plot or any of the sub plots at all. Among the issues left open are a romantic relationship between the alien captain and an officer that goes nowhere, Aya's reluctance to fly ARIEL because of her school work despite the fact that it would all be for nothing if the aliens conquer earth anyway, a series of love letters to Mia asking for meetings that she can't make due to her piloting duties (we never even find out who sent them), anything about who the warrior is who keeps saving the planet when ARIEL falls short, as well as the overall status of the alien invasion itself (no explanation of if it's over or not). There is not one single plot point that gets a reasonable conclusion, which is simply unforgivable for a series that's a staggering 150 minutes long.
Then there are plenty of smaller problems which can be summed in a single paragraph: An overabundance of main characters that are not properly developed, or even explained. An absurd amount of scenes where it seems like the show wants to be taken seriously. Lackluster animation and a stunningly dull soundtrack (save for one lovably campy ARIEL fight song, which is only used once). The fact that the aliens look like elves from Lord of the Rings, except for one guy who looks like a green conehead for no apparent reason. The fact that Kishida is so insistent on having his reluctant family members fly ARIEL when he could just as easily find someone else. Am I forgetting anything? Probably, but I'm certainly not going back to check considering all I've been through so far.
Overall, ARIEL attempts to blend a whole buch of genres together and manages to create a series that won't satisfy fans of any of them. If you're a fan of giant robot anime, school girl anime, alien invasion anime, drama anime, comedy anime, or any other genre that is present in this series, you're much better off looking elsewhere. The results aren't pretty when one very bad series tries to be all of them at once.
The most obvious similar show is unquestionably the cult favorite Shinesman--it does the same sort of sly, underhanded comedic take on a sentai show, but unlike ARIEL pulls it off nearly perfectly. If you want a semi-parody of giant robot shows that goes in the exact opposite direction--outrageous and over-the-top--check out the flashy, fanservice-laden, solidly entertaining Godannar.
Notes and Trivia
ARIEL is based on an epic series of light novels by Yuuichi Sasamoto, with illustrations by Masahisa Suzuki. The huge series, which began in 1987 and is still ongoing as of 2010, consists of 29 main books and two books of side stories as of this writing. Sasamoto also co-wrote the non-parody sci-fi war story Venus Wars and scripted the second episode of the Dirty Pair OVA series.
In addition to the novels and the two short anime adaptations, there was also a fairly long (but generally forgotten) comic adaptation by Dr. Moro (never translated into in English as of this writing), a couple of manga side-stories, and three audio drama cassettes that serve as prequels to the anime.
The not-particularly-secret super-science organization that developed the ARIEL robot is SCEBAI, an acronym of the English "Science, Chemical, Electronics, Biochemical and Aerospace Industry." This is a pun; SCEBAI is pronounced like "sukebe," which means "perv." This presumably tells us something about its leader's thought process.
The alien superman's real name is Crest Saberhargen (not Frest, which USM used in the subtitles based I think on the fact that it sounds that way when he says it); Strablast Saber is, for no readily apparent reason, a nickname. On that note, his name could actually be Starblast Saver, which would make sense as a joke given his role in the plot, and indeed it was spelled "Saver" in at least the promo video for the anime.
The alien invaders' names are also something of a joke; many of them (only a few appear in the anime) are entirely bland European names. Captain Hauser's first name, for example, is Albert, and he has sisters named Diana and Cynthia. The invading Gedou Corporation is also a joke; "gedou" means "heretic" or, more generally, "bad guy."
While most of the voice cast was the same through both ARIEL and Deluxe ARIEL, as well as those three drama tapes, the three female leads had no less than seven different actresses, one of whom played two different characters. Aya was voiced (against type, at that) by Yuuko Mizutani (Mihoshi from the Tenchi franchise) throughout the anime and in the third audio tape, while in the first two audio tapes she was played by Naoko Watanabe. Kazumi was an early role for Megumi Hayashibara in both anime series, but was voiced by Michie Tomizawa in the first two audio tapes and Chisa Yokoyama (another Tenchi alum) in the third. Mia, confusingly enough, was voiced by Michie Tomizawa as well, in both the third audio tape and Deluxe ARIEL, while Mami Koyama played her in the first anime series, and (again, against type) Eriko Hara (Hikaru in KOR) in the first two audio tapes.
I can't imagine too many kids would want to watch this, but it is exceptionally clean by anime standards.
Violence: 1 - Some destruction and a few bloody monster deaths
Nudity: 1 - Almost nothing.
Sex/Mature Themes: 0 - Nothing.
Language: 0 - None to speak of.