The evil overlord Makuamuge is planning to take over both the game and real worlds, and it is up to the ninja Goemon, his friends, girlfriend, and giant robot to defeat Makuamuge's henchmen and save both worlds.
Ganbare Goemon, known in the USA as Legend of the Mystical Ninja is a pretty nice example of a video game series that transitioned well into an anime adaptation. Granted, the video game series itself is not well known in the USA and likewise, it's understandable why this gem from the past has mostly faded into obscurity for the English speaking world. If you're a person like me who is lucky enough to have experienced playing Legend of the Mystical Ninja for the SNES or any related titles in the series, you will definitely appreciate what this anime has to offer.
Starting with the story,
it mostly progresses in an episodic fashion as Tsukasa, Goemon, and friends thwart the evil efforts of the villains from the game world. Each episode usually has a mini-plot focusing on one particular aspect of daily life in Japan, an idea from the villains as to how they can mess up that aspect of life to harass innocent bystanders, and a finale featuring a mecha-style battle between Goemon Impact (Goemon's trusty friend and super robot) and a different themed robot that the villains summon based on the type of rage they collect from the people of Japan. While this particular structure can't exactly be called original, the way this show explores and pokes fun at various parts of Japanese daily life and culture is something fresh and entertaining almost every episode. Through the course of 23 episodes, a wide variety of ideas ranging from video games, the Edo period, amusement parks, Christmas, Valentines Day, the magnet train, and even space exploration are covered. Given that, this show manages to cover a lot of interesting ideas.
While one may have suspicions from the fact that this show is G-rated, I don't think this really detracts from the entertainment of this show unless you're expecting fights with blood spilling everywhere. Ganbare Goemon captures a more lighthearted, heartwarming, and sometimes even educational tone. The show is usually amusing, although the good guys, including the young protagonist Tsukasa have their personal character flaws, and almost every episode, a happy solution is achieved where the good guys overcome a personal problem or insecurity which leads to a happy ending each episode. While this is obviously a good appeal for children, I'm a 20 year old college student and I consider this good storytelling. I'm not calling it the best plot ever, but I do believe the show generally carries a good message that everyone can get something out of.
Which brings me to the characters. These aren't the most complete and developed characters you have ever seen, but all of them are enjoyable in their own right and serve a purpose. Tsukasa is an ordinary boy in grade school who by chance ends up becoming friends with Goemon and company. He has a romantic interest by the name of Asuka, and a rich, confident, and snobby rival named Nobouru. A common recurring device in Ganbare Goemon is Nobouru trying to win over the innocent Asuka with his wealth and connections, while trying to demean Tsukasa, who of course becomes jealous, but then Tsukasa makes more progress in winning Asuka back when Nobouru chickens out in the presence of villains from the game world. While the constant use of this device can be considered somewhat annoying, Ganbare Goemon actually does manage to develop this relationship pretty well and expand on the flaws of jealousy in general.
The characters in Goemon's group include Goemon himself, an idealistic and confident sort of character, fat and somewhat lazy Ebisumaru, strong and uptight kunoichi Yae, Goemon's girlfriend Omitsu who easily becomes jealous, perverted but creative inventor old man Monishiri (who happens to be Omitsu's grandfather), and Monishiri's robot Sasuke who is strongly righteous and devoted to completing whatever missions he's assigned. While again these aren't exactly the most complete and developed characters ever seen, most of them (except Yae, who is pretty consistently a "perfect" character) exhibit some kind of flaw or insecurity that gets addressed at some point during the show when the villains cause the citizens of Japan to become upset over the very thing that each character is insecure with. In this way, most of the characters in this show exhibit good quality development. Except for the villains who obviously are meant to be evil and general douchebags.
Given that this show aired before the beginning of the recent millennium, the art style can be called old, or dated if you will. But as a fan of Legend of the Mystical Ninja for the SNES, I found the art style very appropriate and true to my expectations of what the characters should actually look like. The animation isn't truly spectacular, but the drawings are always consistent and clear and well colored. Generally speaking the art quality is aesthetically pleasing, and does what it's supposed to do. Not once did I feel the art quality dropped during any of the episodes, even as they introduced new ideas and themes to work around.
The sound effects aren't the most varied in the universe. However the voice acting in my opinion was exceptional. Especially the English voice acting. After watching this show both English subbed and dubbed, I believe the English voice acting is more clear, concise, fitting, and gets across the general idea of the show very effectively. All the voice actors generally fit their role perfectly, and never once did I ever find the voice acting dull or unbearable to listen to. If only for the sake of watching a good English dub, Legend of the Mystical Ninja does not disappoint here.
As a fun adventure, reflection of culture, insight into common flaws and insecurities we can see in our own lives, and a tribute to an underrated but amazing video game series, Legend of the Mystical Ninja does its job very well. All in all, this is a show that both children and grownups alike should find decent enjoyment in.
Please check out this show or any of the related Ganbare Goemon video games. If you haven't already gotten into this wonderful series made by Konami, you've missed out on a lot, but it's not too late to get started!
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