2020 sucked in every way, and I have had nothing but time during the lockdown. I bought a small mountain of Blu-Rays, mostly anime and tokusatsu series, that I haven’t even come close to making a dent in. One thing that was completely out for me was tragic or even gritty fiction. Japan Sinks 2020? Shit, no, that can wait for 2030. What I needed was comedy, and the dumber the better.
You ever think about forgotten moe franchises of years gone by? Like Love Hina, Digi Charat, or Saber Marionette. Series like these are of their own very specific cultural moments. They capture the aesthetic of an era, they become a craze, and then they disappear into thin air as the next big thing bowls them over.
My favorite forgotten moe franchise is the early 2000s anime adaptation of Galaxy Angel. That’s an important distinction, because the Galaxy Angel anime is not exactly faithful to its source.
The canon game series is a trilogy of visual novel/strategy games by Broccoli (outlined by Ryo Mizuno of Lodoss War fame) where the player commands and romances the titular Angel Brigade against an evil empire; very much Sakura Wars in space.
Here’s the interesting part: the anime “adaptation” started running before the game was released. With the source material still in the works, and only the basics of the characters, world, and lore available to them, the staff at Madhouse were allowed to do whatever they wanted. That’s how Galaxy Angel swerved from a sci-fi harem space opera into a wild, nonsensical gag comedy. The anime and the game share no continuity, and are two completely separate animals. (Hereafter I will refer to the Galaxy Angel anime as Galaxy Angel, for brevity’s sake.)
You wouldn’t guess from looking at Galaxy Angel’s fluorescent-haired gal-game character designs that it’s a sharp, cynical, pointedly silly ensemble comedy. It features a delightful group of clashing personalities on a vague and unimportant mission, allowing the writers to do anything they want with the characters from week to week. That includes blowing them up, stranding them in space, turning them into monkeys, whatever. The result is about 100 episodes of reliably absurd gag comedy.
In the game, the Galaxy Angels are an elite force of space fighter pilots commanded by an audience insert character, a teenage boy who they’ve all got a crush on. They battle aliens, protect royalty, and fall in love.
In the anime, the Galaxy Angels are a backwater squad of misfits, driven by their vices and led by an audience insert character, a lazy middle-aged man who they all ignore. They bicker, perform odd jobs, waste taxpayer money, and hunt down “Lost Technology”, ancient relics with invariably stupid powers. That’s the tonal difference. Between the game and the anime, the Galaxy Angels might as well be completely different people.
I love Milfeulle. Maybe Milfeulle is the best Galaxy Angel. The protagonist is a lucky idiot, and the anime milks this single footnote from the original lore to ludicrous extremes. Less an airhead and more a force of nature. Past the early episodes — where the other angels immediately opt to take her to the casino, with cataclysmic results — everybody is resigned to the fact that Milfeulle will invariably cause a very stupid miracle. Sees the universe as rainbows and kitty cats, and by so doing she makes it so. The character who warps everyone to another galaxy and starts a farming civilization because she wants to get out of doing some paperwork.
I love Forte. Maybe Forte is the best Galaxy Angel. Again leaning all the way in for comic effect, the anime makes veteran big-sis Forte into a hothead, a trigger-happy gun nut, an aggressive dumbass who talks like an old man at the ripe old age of 22, and the first to throw a punch. As the leader, sets the irresponsible, headlong pace for the Angel Brigade’s actions in any given episode. Even back in the day Forte must have been the least popular Angel; try having a character this aggressively unladylike as a moe heroine today. But it’s clear that she’s the staff favorite, and I’d argue that the spirit of the Galaxy Angel anime is basically the spirit of Forte. (The staff mention that her voice actress’ audition was so powerful that she wound up defining the character.) Fakes her death more than once. Gets all the tragic backstory episodes.
I love Ranpha. Maybe Ranpha is the best Galaxy Angel. Ranpha is a go-getter girly-girl stereotype: women be shoppin’, gotta find a man, etc. But she’s by no means demure: like Forte, she’s aggressive, short-sighted, and generally underhanded in pursuit of her goals. There’s something about kung-fu in there, but they never really go anywhere with it. Ranpha and Forte butt heads the most and are usually the ones who get the action of an episode going. Despite it all, Ranpha has a charming naivete and the heart of an innocent maiden. The character who buys and falls for a Real Doll.
I love Mint. Maybe Mint is the best Galaxy Angel. If you recognize any of these characters, it’s probably Mint, with her blue hair and little rabbit ears. She was popular enough at the time that there are gags about her sic’ing her fan club on the other Angels. Contrary to appearances, corporate heir Mint is absolutely devious and in it for herself at all times. Lawful evil, obsessed with full-body mascot costumes, and without question the most likely on the team to sacrifice the lives of her comrades for temporary personal gain.
I love Vanilla. Maybe Vanilla is the best Galaxy Angel. This character hardly speaks: the anime decided that she is devoutly religious and resigned to the will of her God (a giant cyber-monolith in her room, never explained). In the first few seasons of the show this means she’s mostly an observer in the action, but as the seasons go on the writers can’t resist getting her in on the fun. Moves slowly from being a silent observer to a silent, maniacal zealot with inscrutable motives. Becomes a Terminator when angered.
Vanilla is accompanied by her favorite stuffed animal (with the AI of a missile system inside), Normad. An anime-original character, Normad is a Wife Guy who perpetually gushes about Vanilla and insults the rest of the Angels, who in turn use him as a punching bag. Despite her compassionate and collected nature, Vanilla frequently, silently indicates to Normad that she deeply loathes him.
My favorite thing about this show is its devotion to pure comedy at the expense of any real continuity; the show loves to throw its premises in the trash halfway through, and stories spin off into chaos in the dumbest possible ways. The Angels are usually in even worse trouble at the end of an episode than they were in the middle. The show would rather roll credits on a big laugh. What’s a denouement? I forgot.
My second favorite thing about Galaxy Angel is its willingness to make its heroines look bad, mean, wrong, and uncool. Aside from Milfeulle, the Angel Brigade are a team of petty, bitter rivals who will go for each other’s throats at the drop of a dime. It’s usually a character’s bad personality quirk that gets the action of an episode rolling in the first place, and in the end, it’ll be Ranpha’s pride — or Forte’s recklessness, or Mint’s selfish sociopathy — that dooms the Angels. But Galaxy Angel doesn’t come off as mean or cruel: like Milfeulle, it’s grinning big and enjoying the ride.
This is the rare anime that’s way more concerned with making you laugh than it is with making the heroines attractive. In an anime market where everyone’s perpetually trying to create the perfect “My Wife” character and terrified of shattering admirers’ fantasy of her — and this was just as true at the time that Galaxy Angel was made as it is today — the slobs of the Angel Brigade are downright refreshing. They’re well-defined, worn-in characters with minds of their own. Like the best sitcoms, you get comfortable with and fond of them. That’s achieving moe the hard way!
Perhaps owing to the strength of this cast, Galaxy Angel had an unusually long run of about three years and around a hundred half-length episodes. There’s a director change after the first two seasons, and some bumps in the road along the way. But the show hits a lot more than it misses, and it manages to get funnier and funnier as it goes. By the last season it’s swinging for the fences and delivering very big, massively stupid stories. Strongly recommended for anyone who’s looking for dumb laughs about as far away from reality as humanly possible. And I think that’s a lot of us, right now.
I’ve been watching the show on Nozomi’s recent Blu-Ray releases, which appear to be straight from Bandai’s Japanese release (the main difference being the US release costs about $35 a season, and the Japanese release about $120 a season). The Blu-Rays are shockingly clean, like you’re watching the show off the computer monitors it was drawn on. Especially because this is an early 2000s era show that most viewers watched fuzzy digital TV rips of, you’ve never seen this show look this good before. All the Japanese extras are intact, including concert clips, staff interviews, lore explainers, game shows, and Mint and Milfeulle’s voice actresses flirting with each other.
You can watch the first GA season on Youtube subbed or dubbed, and the rest — including Galaxy Angel Rune, a poor imitation which you should avoid — is on Funimation’s paid streaming. Be aware that the final season was never dubbed.
An Aside: The Non-Angel Angels
I should probably address the Scrappy-Doo situation that starts in season 3. I’m not really kidding: the Angels’ new rivals, the Galaxy Twin Stars, are a pair of go-get-em ten-year-old boys who do the Angels’ job better than they do and threaten to take over the show in some brutally unfunny early episodes.
It’s clear that the Twin Stars must have gotten a really bad fan reaction from their debut: I know I wanted them gone. After their first few appearances, the characters slip quietly into supporting roles and even become sympathetic. But the damage done by their Poochie-esque first appearances is impossible to recover. The meta-joke in later seasons becomes “we’re so sorry about the Galaxy Twin Stars”. Towards the end they’re even saying things like “Nobody wants us!”, and in one of the ending sequences they’re unceremoniously dumped off the stage before the dance number starts. You start to feel bad for them. It’s fascinating that this show had its own Poochie. Poochie, but for shotacons. I know. You didn’t need to know that.
There is a final Angel added to the cast in the very last season (as she appears in the later Galaxy Angel games), Chitose. Having learned from the last addition to the cast — and because Chitose from the games doesn’t have much of her own personality to begin with — the writers immediately recast Chitose as an undercover villain who’s trying to destroy the Galaxy Angels for strictly personal reasons. Chitose gets chucked in the “outcast” bin with the Twin Stars, and plots overthrow. Adding an antagonist Angel goes over way better than the Twin Stars ever did, and Chitose figures into some of the funniest episodes of the series.