Grade schooler Yuuta Tominaga stumbles upon Deckerd, a humanoid robot under construction by the Japanese police, built to fight advanced forms of crime. Yuuta's constant contact with Deckerd gives the robot a "heart", or personality; when Yuuta is recruited as the "boss" of the "Brave Police" as a result, a true human/robot partnership occurs.
Yuusha Keisatsu J-Decker is the 5th entry to the Yuusha (Brave) series, a franchise known for its’ over the top antics, super robot action and heavy merchandising themes. Immediately this might be a turn-off for some, as it could easily be written off as childish drivel, peddling expensive figures to a young audience. While this sentiment may not be entirely inaccurate, it’s not entirely fair to write off an entire series based off its’ pedigree. Yes, this is a show aimed at children, but if you can get past the surface level flaws, you’ll find a charming enough show underneath, with plenty of entertainment to
be had across its 48-episode run.
The story begins with a police robot named Deckerd is granted sentience due to the positive emotions of local Grade Schooler, Yuuta Tomonaga affecting his AI chip. It’s a fairly simple setup to an overall uneventful plotline, but it certainly works in setting the scene and getting the action rolling in a quick, engaging manner. As the series chugs along, Yuuta and Deckerd join forces with a wide range of ally robots, granted sentience through the same hybrid of technology and childish passion that brought Deckerd to life. They band together to form the titular Brave Police, and fight off against the forces of evil in a standard monster of the week format, with a few significant enemies granted brief multi-episode arcs. Much of the storyline is dedicated to exploring the bonds between man and machine, and how such relationships affect those involved. It’s an interesting theme for a children’s television show to take on, and it does lead to some interesting events, but most of the time it simply acts as background material to fill in gaps between action sequences. It’s a shame to see an interesting theme go to such a waste, but those moments when this theme is brought front and centre are some of the best moments in the series, and it does eventually reach a satisfying conclusion at the end.
I mentioned earlier that this series was by all intents a merchandising ploy. This is made increasingly evident as the series trudges along, as more and more characters are brought into the fold. An expansive character roster is not necessarily a bad thing by any means, but a problem arises when character development begins to suffer. Early on, the Brave Police members are few in number, so they all receive a reasonable amount of backstory. However, later on, the Brave Police squad rapidly bloats from 3 members to 8. To be fair, an effort was made to accommodate this rapid influx of characters, but by the end of the series, later members like Gunmax and Duke feel about as fleshed out as some of the earlier monsters of the week. However, as a whole, the cast is entirely likable, if not cliché, with pretty solid voice acting all around. All of the characters were specifically designed to fulfil a particular purpose within the team, and for the most part, the dynamic between them works pretty well, with some well-written witty banter and wisecracks thrown around to add to the personality of these sentient hunks of metal.
As a Sunrise mecha production of the 90s, the Brave series has a pretty high pedigree when it comes to animation and design. Unfortunately, J-Decker suffers from budget issues, and it becomes very clear even early on. Action sequences frequently consist of about 70% stock footage, character animation often consists of very few frames, and be prepared to see a lot of cuts to still images in intense moments. However, such practices are fairly common in earlier animation, so if you’re used to it, or if you’ve seen it all before, it really isn’t that much of an issue. The stock footage used is of a high standard for the time, and is generally used to great effect. The colour pallet is rich and varied, relying mostly on bright colours and pastels to create an inviting atmosphere, and heavy use of shading to create a foreboding atmosphere. Fairly standard stuff for classic Saturday Morning cartoons, really.
The mechanical design is all of a very high standard, with all of the Brave Police members looking both aesthetically pleasing and entirely functional. Corners were cut in terms of enemy design, but with over 40 unique entities to design, I think they did a very good job creating a diverse bunch of sword fodder for Deckerd and Co. to bring to justice. You may have noticed that up until this point, I have made virtually no reference to the human characters. This is because they are almost entirely un-noteworthy, with only Yuuta really contributing to the development of the plotline. Any other human character interaction was inconsistent and infrequent, which is especially disappointing because of the relationship theme of the series as a whole.
I did want to speak a little bit about the soundtrack, but unfortunately there isn’t a whole lot to say on the matter. The OP is a lot of fun to listen to, and fits the overall cheerful tone of the show. The ED isn’t quite as effective, coming off as a fairly generic kid-focused J-Pop number. It serves the purpose of bookending each episode fairly well, but it does leave a lot to be desired. The OST as a whole has a few noteworthy numbers, but it’s quite clear that visual design took precedence over sound design. Most tracks are fairly simple big band affairs, with a lot of brass usage. Action themes consist mostly of guitars and percussion, with some violin work sprinkled about. As a whole, the sound design is generic, but serviceable.
In fact, ‘generic but serviceable’ seems like a fairly apt summary of this series. I’ve rambled on a lot here, so I’m going to bring this into TL;DR terms. J-Decker is a fun, enjoyable series, assuming you’re a previous fan of the Brave series or early mecha anime in general. It doesn’t offer a lot of value outside of a bit of fun, light-hearted action with a police theme, but I don’t think it was intended to. If you’re not alright with archaic animation techniques, undercooked storylines or cookie-cutter characters, perhaps this series isn’t for you. For those of you looking for another GaoGaiGar, I don’t think this is the place to find it. Perhaps try Da-Garn for a more serious approach.
As a side note, I am a Brave Series fan, and J-Decker was one of my favourite seasons. I enjoyed the ride (particularly the panda) but I understand this isn’t for everyone.
This was a merchandise driven anime aimed at children so expect some nonsensical moments.
This was the first Brave Series/Yuusha Series anime that I watched, it has comedic moments that will keep your laughing. It is a police themed story but isn't focused on mystery at all, just monster of the week fights.
Nonetheless there are surprisingly some serious moments in this anime due to the fact that the main characters are sentient robots who can think and feel like a human through the invention of Artificial Intelligence, examples of what they have to deal with include the following:
A character goes through an existential crisis because criminal
hackers are messing with this programming and perception of reality.
Whether they are machines who can be replaced by a newer model.
Whether their memories can be erased, such as Deckerd's warm-hearted friendship he developed with the human boy Yuuta.