Emperor Muge Zarbados and his Empire of Death decide that their next conquest will be the faraway planet of Earth. Muge becomes even more fearsome because of Shapiro Keats, a power-hungry Earthling-turned-traitor. It's up to Shinobu, Sara (Shapiro's old girldfriend), Masato, and Ryo of the Jyusenkitai/Cyber Beast Force to pilot the four Jyusenki/Beast Mecha (Eagle Fighter, Land Cougar, Land Liger, and Big Moth [a mammoth mecha]), which can combine into the giant mech Dancougar.
There's few anime I love more than a good 80's mecha/sci-fi series, and Choujuu Kishin Dancougar is probably runner up for my favorite mech series next to Macross (Macross has the better.....everything). It's hard to find anything about it that separates it from any other given mech show with giant robots, but that means it retains the same charm that keeps you watching anime of the same mold.
[STORY 6] Very clear cut and dry for the most part. Dancougar's plot won't blow anyone away if you're looking for a surprise. The story seems to have taken creative liberties from Genesis Climber Mospeada and
Voltron. Planet is under attack by aliens and a group of hotshot pilots are assembled to pilot machines to fight against the threat, you know the deal. I've always questioned the motives behind evil alien warlords and empires in their schemes to take over earth. If you want this planet for it's resources and atmosphere, isn't zapping it to oblivion kind of counterproductive? Or if you were looking to blow up a planet, why not Venus? We're not using it. Anyway, so much of the first half of Dancougar is establishing the mechs the character pilot, so it becomes a bit repetitive early. Aliens attack, heroes show up, they fight, a new mech transforms, aliens retreat, and skirmish ends. The best element of the plot is an earthling working for the alien invaders and that's what kept me hooked to this show for so long just to see what happens to the weasley creep!
[ART 6] The art is extremely dated, doesn't particularly flow well, and often you'll see a lot of the same footage of tanks and airborne units explode constantly, even in the same episode. Transforming scenes run rampant and might drive you crazy after a short period of time, especially when Dancouga is finally formed. That scene alone lasts longer than the fights it's involved in.
Character designs are by Masami Obari, and I have to give him credit. I really like the designs of the cast and the aliens. It's funny that there are music videos of the pilots singing, because in their casual wear, they may as well form a rock band. The aliens look good as long as you don't mind low-rent inbit knockoffs, but the three generals look pretty cool. Animation aside, the art is passable at times, but gets annoyingly repetitious.
[SOUND 10] As with most mecha shows, especially the older ones, an awesome soundtrack is almost expected, and Dancougar's music is no exception. The theme's for both seasons are really catchy, a lot of the BGM and fanfare music is intoxicatingly fun to hum along to, and by the end of the show, you might be able to sing "Harmony Love". An A+ soundtrack that doesn't get old, except maybe the Harmony Love song. After the 500 encore, you might need a break.
[CHARACTER 8] What robo series wouldn't be complete without a mismatch group of pilots to try and work together. You have Shinobu, a gung ho loudmouth, Sara, one of the prototype redheads that laid the groundwork for future hellcat females with fiery tempers, Masato, the young, carefree comic relief, and Ryo, the tall, scary guy that's fluent in rationality. They're fun as a unit, but after they're intial introduction and sporadic backstory in and out in later episodes, not too much is done with them, which may be a blessing in disguise, I suppose. Probably the highlight of the cast is Shapiro Keats, Sara's ex-boyfriend, resident traitor and all-around jerkbag. It's seldom when a man's grasp for power reaches this level of just complete insanity, I was almost rooting for him. Watching him worm his way to the top of the alien ranks is actually pretty damn admirable. He's one of the most overlooked villians in anime history as his body of work is pretty astounding, even in today's era where villians just stand in a close band and smirk all the time. Shapiro is keen, manipulative, devious, heartless, and sinister, and you want to punch his face in. If you fit in these prerequesites, you're a damn good villian Oh, and take a drink everytime Shinobu gets owned by somebody. It's a blast.
[ENJOYMENT 8] While the stilted, looped animation gets aggravating, I found this show very easy and fun to watch, a must for fans of retro mecha anime. It's got really good characters, a solid, yet paint-by-numbers plot, a great villian in Shapiro Keats, and some mecha that would make awesome toys.
[OVERALL 8] It's a hard show to find. It's only available in VHS in the States, and there's no DVD release to date. It's not as good as Macross or Mospeada, but it's a great slice of nostalgic robo-cake that should be worth checking out for fans of the genre.
PROS: Great music, nice mecha designs, awesome villian
CONS: Poor animation, sub-par story
The mid 80s were a volatile time for the mecha genre, but at the time some didn't realize it. Mobile Suit Gundam ended prematurely in 1980, but it would nonetheless prove to be the kiss of death to the super robot sub-genre, as the ratio of real robot anime to super robot anime would become increasingly unbalanced all the way to the present day.
Super Beast Machine God Dancougar came out in 1985, the middle of the transitional period, and unlike many other super robot shows that continued old trends, Dancougar is a strange one that is completely of and away from its time. SBMGD (which
I'll just call "Dancougar") remains an odd duck, a mecha anime that is defined by its titular super robot yet surrounded by influence of burgeoning real robot tropes.
When Earth finds itself suddenly attacked by an alien race known as the Zarbados its defenses prove incapable of repelling the invaders, and the majority of Earth's forces and population are quickly wiped out. The survivors either form guerrilla groups or work with what's left of the regular army, as it hides and rebuilds its strength. The regular army assembles a team of four soldiers known as the Cyber Beast Force, whom are chosen to pilot the army's newest advances in weapon technology: you guessed it - the Cyber Beasts.
The series's main character is Shinobu Fujiwara, an ace fighter pilot whose angry outbursts and confrontative attitude often draw the contempt of both subordinates and superiors. As the first CBF member, Shinobu struggles to balance his temper with being a capable leader. He is soon joined by old flight academy acquaintance, Sara Yuki, who is moderately less combative but still assertive, and much more compassionate. The far more easy-going and playful Masato Shikibu follows, and last to join is the eldest Ryo Shiba, who often rises to play a mentor role in the team due to being the most spiritual and calm-minded, as well as being the only one who can smack since into Shinobu when it's needed.
The Cyber Beast Force aren't your typical super robot Combattler V team, here. These are all young adults, trained military men, and individuals with their own senses of ego. Not straightforward heroes who are simply best friends, but situational allies who support each other just as much as they fight with each other (often even physically). For these reasons, the Dancougar pilots have a true sense of humanity to them that old idealistic super robot heroes often lacked and it's much more entertaining to follow them and watch their interactions. Character development is sadly limited, but the banter is charming and it's easy to root for any member of the team, as they all have likable personalities, often proving themselves capable, and no one feels like a weak link in the team. Without a doubt, the CBF are the toughest, coolest super robot team I've yet encountered, and their clashing personalities and dialogue are without a doubt the reason why I enjoy this show as much as I do.
Supporting cast includes the incredibly blunt and harsh General Igor, who seems like he might take the defeat of the Zarbados more seriously than the CBF's lives, and his right-hand man Professor Kotaro Hazuki who designs the CBF's technology and often advises during missions. There's also Laura Sullivan, an orphaned American girl who comes to live at the regular army base after her rescue, and a mysterious Black Knight who sometimes shows up in his own mecha to save the Dancougar team - much to Shinobu's chagrin.
But perhaps more important than any of the supporting cast is the true villain of the series, Shapiro Keats, Sara's ex-boyfriend whose limitless ambition causes him to immediately abandon the Earth after believing them to be doomed at the superior might of the Zarbados. Though initially rejected by the Zarbados as well, Shapiro quickly earns their trust by leaking information and advice to them which allows him to rise up through the Zarbados ranks to become a commander. Shapiro sets himself up as a genuine threat to the CBF early on as his strategies outmatch other Zarbados generals and his knowledge of Earth and humans prove to be what they needed. Shapiro's extreme arrogance sets him up as some sort of proto-Dio Brando (Jojo's Bizarre Adventure) and the viewer is left curious on how far he'll take his manipulation of the Zarbados empire. He's a good, truly evil villain, and one of the rare that satisfies the "love to hate" type. Sara (for some stupid reason) often finds herself torn between her former love of the sociopath and her duty as his new enemy. To cut things short, I'll just say that the other members of the Zarbados army aren't particularly interesting.
If there's an aspect old super robot anime are notorious for, it's the monster-of-the-week format (often just called "MotW"). This format is defined by an episodic nature where each episode would introduce a new one-off monster that would easily be dispatched at the end of the episode, only for the major villains to escape and things to go back to normal, no real progress being made on destroying the true enemy. Regardless of whether there's a literal new monster or not each episode, this format is used to denote any series with a lot of tasks that are inconsequential to the main goal. Though coming from a time when this was still common, Dancougar does a solid job at avoiding this with a plot that slowly progresses over the series rather than suddenly at the series finale. While it's still easy to come across an episode where it feels like no progress is made, these episodes are often justified through giving character backstory or focusing on a single character and helping them define their personality as well as showing that they're a strong individual team member. The aforementioned realistic drama and character interactions also all go a long way towards keeping the series entertaining for its prematurely ended 38 episode run (probably for the best now that we've got our sequel).
This odd blend of realistic drama and situations combined with supernatural super robot abilities is also the reason why Dancougar is sometimes referred to as a deconstruction of the super robot genre. While this is technically true, I doubt it was intended as such, though a major point of advice given to Shinobu being "battles are no longer going to be won through force, but through scientific strategies" makes one wonder otherwise. Another thing is the team members confronting General Igor over being sent to take care of small problems rather than fighting the enemy directly, a reference and meta criticism to the MotW format. On top of this drama, there's also the odd mechs themselves. Let's get into that.
The Cyber Beasts have three forms plus their combined form, with the exception being Shinobu's Eagle Fighter, as it doesn't need to separate its default and beast form. The default forms are all tanks besides Shinobu's fighter jet, and other than the fact that they fire laser bullets are completely standard military technology, hence they're real robot mechs. Things get iffier when they transform into their beast mode, each one representing an Eagle, Cougar, Liger, and Mammoth. These forms and beyond are powered by the pilot's anger (another super robot trait: gaining power through emotions) and move like the animals they're named after and even bite and rend enemies with their fangs and claws. Later the team gains humanoid transformations, going back to real robots. Breaking another super robot anime convention, the team doesn't gain the ability to combine into Dancougar itself until about a third of the way into the series, allowing some build up to this major event you know will inevitably come. This immensely strong combined form makes it more traditionally super robot, but it still uses primarily ammo-based weaponry, melee attacks, and is dependent on an energy source. On top of all this, the mechs are predominantly colored black and grey, standard military colors instead of a more elaborate cartoonish color scheme. This gives the Dancougar a more modern, sleeker look when compared to combining mechs before it. With many themes of the show being inspired by Taoism, the mechs also follow a subtle evolution motif, going from machine (weapon), to animal, to human, to God.
A man named Osamu Totsuka apparently did the music, and considering the low budget he almost certainly wasn't paid enough. The Dancougar series is regarded as having some of the best music from any mecha show, and the theme songs Burning Love, Ai yo Far Away, and Burning Rage are possibly more well-known than the series's actual storyline, as they're popular among people who've never even watched the series. If the big poofy haircuts and flashing lights during transformation sequences didn't tip you off, then the heavily synthesized soundtrack will remind you that this is an 80s anime. Nonetheless, there are plenty of organic instruments and electric guitar to keep up variety, and there's even many highlights among the background music in addition to the vocal songs.
Now, being an old super robot anime you can still be certain that Dancougar has its blotches, many due to its time. For starters, the budget is absolutely horrible, leading to several nearly unbelievably hilarious moments in trash animation and constant stock footage. Though pretty much just a big detriment, these animation flubs can oftentimes make scenes a lot more charming and entertaining than they would've been otherwise, but that's the only good thing to say here (well, the art itself is.. decent). Secondly, too much of an episode's time is often caught up in transformation and battle (again, often stock) footage, sometimes even showing aliens and regular grunts fighting for several minutes when we have no reason to give a damn about these faceless battles. Finally, though a step away from an episodic nature, story developments still happen slowly and many episodes primarily revolve around boring new characters who are quickly forgot about forever once the episode is over. Like I said before, it's probably a good thing the series was forced to end early and put the important events on fast-forward, since there's no reason to complain now that we have the series concluded in short sequel releases.
I've been singing a lot of Dancougar's praises because I completely love the team, mech, music, and would not hesitate to slap the "underrated" moniker on it, but it's still a flawed show that could've done more with the great ideas I mentioned. It's not something I would recommend to someone who's not already a fan of old super robot anime, but it's still a fairly unique show in an often stagnant genre which alone deserves respect, and it could make a solid entry point into old super robot anime. In a way Dancougar shows us an alternate future of the super robot genre, where it met halfway with the real robot drama that killed it, instead of modern super robot shows that simply take the old tropes and turn the dial up on them. My love for the Dancougar team got me through the series's many troughs, so your mileage may vary greatly, but for people interested in the range and history of the super robot genre there's definitely at least something to find in this somehow underrated classic.
I first picked up dancougar in a bargain bin and when i watched it, this must be the worst mech anime I have ever seen in my opinion. The story is very simple , nothing amazing, but nothing horrible either. The anime is old , so the art is a little dated, but thats not really a big factor. The sound in my opinion doesnt fit at all at some points, its an action show but the opening is slow, VERY slow . The show feels the need to rpeat things many times " this person is making his mech transform!" " This person is
making his mech transform AGAIN!" although its helpful to know the information the first time you see it, it gets old and annoying very fast. the characters are really nothing special, they have thier own personalities but the show only focuses on one of them each episode so character develpoment happens at a snails pace. The shows plot is very repetitive, bad guys come to earth, people get into machines, the machines transform, they win, next episode, Dancougar quickly becomes a seen it before show with nothing really new to offer. Unless youre a die hard mech anime fan , you may not enjoy this show too much.