Cyber Team in Akihabara

There is marketing power in the "magical girl" genre of anime. Although not a gigantic hit, Sailor Moon still made some waves in the US market, and it was certainly a big deal in many markets (not the least Japan). But what makes a magical girl show any good? There are certain characteristics that many of them share: a secret love who provides gifts, an approaching evil that wants something from our heroines, and perhaps a cute sidekick. There is a comfort in understanding that you'll see particular signposts on your journey. And yet, in the case of Cyber Team In Akihabara, we feel not like we're watching a significant adventure but a grinding trip down the shoujo supermarket aisle. Pick up a can of "Precocious Pre-teen," a bag of "Power of Love" chips, and away we go. The first DVD volume of the series contains 5 episodes, and I must admit it was a chore to get through them all (despite a short surprise in episode 4).

Hibari is a new junior high student who thinks she's cute and talented and wants the rest of the world to like her. She keeps dreaming of a white prince that she may just love. She's a normal 12-year-old, but there's one problem: she doesn't have a Pata-Pi. The latest craze, Pata-Pis are cute toys that respond to their owners much like a big Tamagochi. All the girls in middle school are crazed about them, but Hibari doesn't have the money to purchase one. One day, in the midst of a daydream (or is it something else?) about the white prince, a Pata-Pi winds up in her lap. Happily convinced that somehow her prince has tried to win her heart, she names the Pata-Pi Densuke and carries him around everywhere she goes.

The problem is, of course, that white princes don't go around the universe bestowing gifts on young girls...unless there's a black prince waiting in the wings to steal those presents because they are part of some great cosmic scheme. Akihabara has said black prince, who looks like a cross between Tuxedo Kamen and Char Aznable, and he sends a big-breasted bad gal to retrieve said Pata-Pi from Hibari. Hibari is quite surprised not only to be attacked by an enormously endowed woman and her homunculus zombies, but also that in the middle of the danger Densuke turns into a warrior princess that's a grown-up version of herself and tackles the meanies!

As the story progresses, we meet Hibari's two friends, both with their own Pata-Pi dolls. Inevitably, they too wind up under assault, and their Pata-Pis turn out to be warrior princesses as well! In a hysterical exchange, they decide to form the Cyber Team in Akihabara, though they themselves really have nothing to do with these bizarre incidents where they find themselves duped by the bad guys only to be saved by their dolls. As the first DVD ends, we are virtually where we started--the universe is still in toil over a couple stuffed toys.

Cyber Team is not the most impressive looking DVD I've seen. Though the show is only six years old--from 1998, as I understand it--the age of the print looks like something from the early 90s. The animation itself is OK, decent for TV quality, certainly, but nothing spectacular. From a visual perspective, it reminds me of Magic Knight Rayearth combined with The Slayers. It's fine, but derivative. The music is catchy enough, but I've got some beefs about that we'll discuss in a minute.

Cyber Team In Akihabara is like an airliner that's delayed takeoff for an hour, gets off the ground, and then immediately has troubles that land the craft. The first three episodes of the show are numbingly repetitive as we are introduced to Hibari's friends Tsugumi and Suzume. The same villainess is present during the first three episodes, using the same techniques the same ways. It's monotonous. Sure, the characters have some personality traits that are sufficiently quirky--Suzume speaks in highly formal Japanese to the chagrin of her friends, while Tsugumi is an idol singer wannabe that can't quite make those high notes--but quirks do not a show make. I was bored stiff during the first three episodes.

About the time I was ready to give up, the fourth episode shuffled things up. The girls were suddenly manic talkers with some hysterical lines, and the show felt like a different screenwriter had gotten ahold of the script. Was this where we were going? I hoped so. Sadly, the fifth episode plodded along much like the first three, and I can't recommend a show based on one good episode and four crummy ones.

I could accept that Cyber Team had to fit itself into the standard "magical girl" formulas within its first two hours, but the show has serious flaws that cannot simply be attributed to genre expectations. First, these girls are idiots. Several times, the villains create homunculi dressed in regular clothing that fool the girls into taking a wrong turn or going to the wrong place so the baddies can finally nab their Pata-Pis. You'd think that these girls would start figuring out, "Hey, these people with bad hair-dos over their eyes are henchmen!" But it happens three times in five episodes, and our heroines never notice. Second, unlike a situation like Magic Knight Rayearth where the characters are transported to another world, everything in Cyber Team happens on terra firma. If you were attacked five times by weird nethercreatures, don't you think you'd tell somebody? Your parents, maybe?

Meanwhile, other issues smack on this show as well. The Pata-Pis, when they turn into their "diva" forms to protect their owners, have no personalities. The girls just stand around and watch as the "divas" destroy the bad guys without batting an eye. It makes for dreary battles where the audience can't get involved, since nothing is at stake. Meanwhile, the director drives the show's music into the ground, playing one idol singer's song so often that I was about to stuff my ears with cotton balls. It was a cute song, but golly gee, do you have to play the same song twenty times in the same episode?

Finally, and this is a kicker for me, Cyber Team features quite a bit of fan service. Apparently, the designers were trying to get a crossover hit, and so there is lechery all over the place. One character, a recurring grandpa fellow, exists only to impart wisdom and gawk at panties (which do show up from time to time). I've already mentioned the impossibly bosomed antagonists. Then there's the transformation sequence, which though shadowed has clear views of major body parts. For a show featuring junior high school girls, it just felt wrong.

It is very possible that Cyber Team In Akihabara will get better over the course of its 26-episode run, but I won't be watching more to find out. Though the funny fourth episode saves the show from an even lower grade, this is one magical girl show that's simply not enchanting.

Cyber Team in Akihabara -- fantasy violence, lechery/brief nudity -- C-