What do frogs, military incompetence, and Gundams have in common? No, they’re not on the checklist of reasons to invade a suddenly-rogue Japan. Well, maybe they are… the list hasn’t been updated in a while. However, they’re also major points of Sunrise’s Sgt. Frog. Based on the manga by Mine Yoshizaki, Sgt. Frog is possibly the most outlandish, insane, and downright funny take on military life to hit the anime realm.
In the year 2004, the world was invaded by the frog-like Kerons – a cruel, calculating race that laid waste to everything in their past. Millions died, and even more were injured in the Kerons’ great assault. The world was dominated in days, nay hours, and humanity was doomed… or not. In reality, the Kerons proved to be far from a threat, with the Earth-invasion platoon being led by an incompetent failure of a warrior known only as Sgt. Keroro. He’s childish, easily distracted, and absolutely adores Gunpla (Gundam models). Keroro, as well as his four subordinates, were abandoned in the Kerons’ retreat from the planet. Now, they must serve their lives as hostages (more like guests or live-in servants) to the very humans they wished to dominate.
The first volley of episodes serve as an introduction to the world of Keroro and company. The major characters and base plotline are laid out before giving way to absolute insanity. The humans, the Kerons, the world destroyers disguised as Shibuya hipsters… they all have a freakish side that seems to surface in Keroro’s presence.
Episodes are carried out in a manner similar to Galaxy Angel: each 25-minute block is broken into two shorter features, which may or may not relate to one another. In those blocks, Keroro tries to further his goal of world domination… or he just goofs off and makes hell for everybody else, while they go about their daily lives. In either case, a decent amount of property damage and a witty yet somewhat geeky sense of humor are guaranteed. Being a Sunrise show, Gundam references in particular are prevalent, be they in the models Keroro obsesses over, or even a cameo of the RX-78-2 Gundam, made famous by Amuro Ray.
The highlight of this first batch of episodes is, without a doubt, Sgt. Frog Versus The Cavitians of Cavity 9. The two-part series of episodes begins with Keroro shirking his duties to eat a ton of sugary snacks, under the guise of an intel-gathering mission. Murphy’s law inevitably kicks in as Keroro crunches down on a rice cracker, nicking a cavity-ridden tooth, leading to a spastic and over-exaggerated display of pain. The other Keronians seize their injured lord and, one dental investigation later, they discover the obvious: Keroro has a cavity because he didn’t bother brushing his teeth. Unlike with humans, though, the Kerons’ tooth rot isn’t just active bacteria (of course not…). Instead, it’s a vile group of malevolent aliens that hollow out teeth to create dental-based command posts, where they can multiply and launch attacks on, well, other mouths? With such a menace looming in the mouth of the sergeant, what is the crew to do? Don’t say “irradiate the oral aliens with X-Rays and call it a day,” since that would be far too easy. Instead, they shrink themselves to microscopic size, don special combat suits, and fly into Keroro’s mouth for recon. The oral sequences give way to possibly the most intricate and lovingly detailed homage to Mobile Suit Gundam’s epic space battles. Missiles fly, explosions litter the battlefield, and trademark weapons appear, like the RX-78-2’s beam sword, or RX-77-2’s shoulder mounted cannons. The whole segment plays out beautifully and tugs at just enough heartstrings to bring a tinge of nostalgia to the surface.
The series’s overall insanity is carried with an impressive cast of newcomers and veterans alike. Kumiko Watanabe (Planetes, Mobile Suit Victory Gundam) leads the cast with her performance as Keroro. Joining Watanabe are a number of industry vets, including Chiwa Saito (Last Exile, Mobile Suit Gundam 00) and Jouji Nakata (Hellsing, Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040). The cast proves to be brilliant together, with truly enjoyable performances that complement each other perfectly. The show is capped off by catchy opening and closing songs. Keroro March, the opener, is a short piece in the style of a lighthearted military march that captures the essence of the series well. Afro Gunsou, the show’s closing riff, is a hardcore funk track that is both fun to listen to and oddly fitting for a series like this.
Dub fans looking to get a piece of the action may wind up a bit disappointed. FUNimation approached the series with the same strategy as a few other series (notably Shin-chan), and rewrote the script from scratch. A huge benefit from this strategy is that the jokes, quips, and one-liners are distinctly western flavored. At the same time, though, it appears that the dub writers got a bit too eager in their duties. Several character roles and personalities are rewritten, which vastly changes the tone of the final product. The acting is fantastic, and the show is still funny, but it a different type of funny that relies more on silly dialogue, fart jokes, and non sequiturs. The dub script isn’t a good fit for the show.
While it’s still quite early to pass judgment on a 250-plus episode series, Sgt. Frog is off to a strong start. Sunrise’s eye for quality works well with Mine Yoshizaki’s oddball sense of humor. the result is a title that is beyond the realms of fun: it’s addictive. After the first block of episodes, it is hard to find anybody that would be able to wait patiently for more.
Thanks to FUNimation for providing a review copy!