Wednesdays Watching Anime – Space Patrol Luluco

June 27, 2018 § Leave a comment

Sorry for missing last week, I had an academic conference to attend. Now we’re forging ahead this week with the OP for Space Patrol Luluco, “CRYmax Dohejitsu” by Fujirokku!

At this point, I think we can all agree that, whatever the memes may say, Studio Trigger will not save anime. Even setting aside the structural problems with anime production that aren’t being helped by the massive influx of cash from streaming companies in the West, these veterans from GAINAX have largely proven themselves to be heirs in truth to that latter studio’s venerable but troubled past. It’s understandable that people were excited when Imaishi Hiroyuki, the director of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann and Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt at GAINAX, founded Trigger in 2011 to be free to pursue more creative and experimental projects, and it’s even more understandable when the first fruits of those projects were the charming Little Witch Academia, the absurd Inferno Cop, and the bold Kill la Kill, all in the studio’s first few years of existence. It was a great showing, all told, and seemed to justify the aforementioned memes.

Recent years have been less kind to Trigger. Imaishi has come to shirk the director’s chair, and the talent that rose up to take his place has been mostly unequal to the task of planning and executing full-length anime. The studio’s first attempt in 2014 to adapt a light novel series, When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace, was rejected by longtime fans and newcomers alike for being packed with melodrama and associated filler. The complex, emotional Kiznaiver similarly failed to find an audience. An 2015 OVA sequel to Little Witch Academia, subtitled The Enchanted Parade, fared better but still drew criticism for being a retread of the first entry, just with a larger cast. These problems followed Little Witch Academia into its two-cour adaptation as a TV series in 2017, which flitted from idea to idea before abruptly ginning up a villain to confront and defeat in its last half-dozen episodes. If, after reading all of this, you might guess that Darling in the FranXX, Trigger’s current co-production with CloverWorks, also suffers from poor pacing, mismanaged stakes, and undercooked themes… well, there are people who would argue that point, but I’m not one of them.

Somehow, 2016’s Space Patrol Luluco still manages to stick out like a not-so-sore thumb among Trigger’s handiwork. It’s a series of thirteen seven-and-a-half-minute episodes, divided into four “seasons” and animated in a slapdash style that looks like Inferno Cop was put into a blender with FLCL or even Diebuster. Nominally a wacky comedy about a young girl in a futuristic society falling in love while on a universe-spanning adventure, Luluco is actually a victory lap for Imaishi and his studio. Kill la KillLittle Witch AcademiaInferno Cop, and Sex and Violence with Machspeed, an Imaishi-directed short made for the Japan Animator Expo, are all featured in explicit crossover episodes, and that’s not even mentioning the many, many visual references to Gurren Lagann that pepper the whole series. At the time, people thought that it was a celebration of Trigger’s past achievements and future potential, capped off with Luluco’s transformation into one of the Trigger Girls at the end, but I wonder now if it was Imaishi’s way of bidding farewell after a decade of near-constant acclaim as a director. Who can say?

Nevertheless, precipitate celebration of Trigger aside, Space Patrol Luluco is a lot of fun to watch for a series that clocks in at just over an hour and a half. Luluco’s character taps into one of my favorite tropes in anime, the girl who isn’t normal because she tries too hard to be normal, and she plays really well with Midori, the three-eyed gyaru voiced by the inimitable Shintani Mayumi, as her foil. She’s also in love with Alpha Omega Nova, the most blatant Nagisa Kaworu expy since Akise Aru in Mirai Nikki, and the whole story of transforming spacesuits, pirate queens, and black-hole aliens feels like a banquet for anyone who’s consumed too much sci-fi anime over the past couple of decades. The OP captures all of that perfectly, with its rowdy music full of nonsense lyrics that change every “season.” For the third iteration, a feel-good rant about chasing your dreams even threatens to drown out Fujirokku singing about directors and producers. Onscreen, the characters fling themselves about in fast, kinetic sequences, but they also pause to use their bodies to spell out their names and Midori’s on her phone the whole time. In the end, as Imaishi waves goodbye to the first phase of his career, everything’s fair game for a joke, so why not laugh?

Luluco is embarrassed by her suit’s transformation in Space Patrol Luluco

Now, if Trigger would only own up to the greatness that is Turning Girls and make another season…

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