This newsflash just in from the battlefront ‘burbs: Militant extraterrestrial frogs do dig anime, in particular the many series that happen to include Gundam in their title.
And when it comes to digging, let it be known that I love Keroro Gunso (ケロロ軍曹, aka Sgt. Frog outside Japan).
Mostly I think I’m enamoured with Keroro’s erstwhile colleague and sparring partner, the battle-scarred Giroro – voiced by the sublime Jōji Nakata, an otaku fave who also provided the vocal workouts for Alucard in Hellsing and Roy Revant in Solty Rei; in addition Nakata dubbed Gerard Butler’s Leonidis in 300 and Reverend Lovejoy in The Simpsons Movie.
My daughter Cocoa and I just now watched the latest installment in a series that kick-started before she was even born.
“You don’t need to be logical to have fun,” stressed the show’s producer, Makoto Shiraishi, from TV Tokyo when I interviewed him for Anime Insider magazine a while back. “We thought both children and adults could enjoy this series.”
The emphasis here is that it’s not just kids who adore this seemingly innocuous children’s anime – it’s also relatively consistently rated towards the the top in the viewing habits of Japanese otaku, if their message-boards and blogs are to be believed.
“Keroro is very cute,” says Harumi H, a self-confessed “hardcore otaku” salary-man from Tokyo who has his own blog and adores this show. He was once my student, so I get these quotes in a pinch.
“Keroro’s also a little stupid,” Harumi goes on.
“It’s funny that he’s supposed to be an invader, but instead lives with and sponges off the Earthlings, and then gets into the culture of Japan. For otaku, many of the parodies in the series concern Gundam, Doraemon, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Dragon Ball Z, Ultraman, Urusei Yatsura, Durty Pair, Macross, and so on; it’s difficult to count all the parodies but it’s very funny to find them!”
Shiraishi, the producer, agreed that the show’s success over the past few years in Japan related to its ability to transcend barriers.
“Though it was popular with otaku people in the beginning, it’s since also been embraced by children and their families,” he reported.
It’s basically the story of a slippery character called Keroro, an alien from a race of frog-like critters who set their sights on an invasion of the unsuspecting Earth.
Part of an advance party reconnoitering the local terrain, Keroro’s cover is blown in the Hinata family household, the invasion is called-off – and he’s stranded to the whims of the family’s kids.
Life for Keroro is no longer that of a globe-trotting master of menace, but instead filled with mundane activities like household chores and keeping the kids at bay, sorting out the various hangers-on from his destitute invasion squad – and putting together Gundam model kits in those precious few moments of freedom.
There’s set-piece action still, and more recently the show has gone back to its spatial roots, but this is a Sunrise production after all, and more than half the cast and crew – including director Yusuke Yamamoto – worked on one Gundam off-shoot or another.
“I’m a fan – now,” Shiraishi said of the influential Gundam franchise itself.
“In the past I knew about Gundam, but I had no particular interest in it until I met Keroro. I became a big fan after that!”
Most of the other seiyuu are no slouches either: Keroro is played by Kumiko Watanabe (Shippo in Inu Yasha), Kururu by Takehito Koyasu (who voiced Shigeru Aoba in Neon Genesis Evangelion), while Tomoko Kawakami – who made a splash as the nun with a gun, Rosette, in Chrono Crusade – breathes life with equal panache into the character of Fuyuki Hinata.
“Overall, it’s not only a parody or a matter of great seiyuu, but a good story,” says Hosono, the otaku fan who also says he prefers Jōji Nakata in the Giroro role.
“Even if you don’t know the original manga you can enjoy what happens in the anime series. I think Keroro has charm enough for all ages.”
Andrez Bergen is senior editor of Impact magazine in the UK. He’s a long-term writer on Japanese pop culture, music, anime, movies and weird stuff who has covered the space since 2001. Andrez also runs Tokyo-based IF? Records, makes music as Little Nobody, writes a personal blog called JapaneseCultureGoNow!, and can be found on Twitter @andreziffy