Type: TV Series
Episode Count: 26
Genre: Comedy / Fantasy / Magical Girl
Version reviewed: Japanese Subtitled
Date of Review: 21 Jun 2010
Each episode of Mao-chan is twelve minutes long.
The DVDs for this series should have a warning from the American Dental Association on them. Mao-chan is so chock full of cuteness, sugar may crystallize on your TV set as you watch it.
Japan is being invaded by aliens! But these are no ordinary aliens. They are extremely cute aliens! What’s a nation to do when its safety is threatened by these huggable invaders? The Ground Defense Force Chief of Staff has the answer: send in his eight year old granddaughter Mao to defend against this menace! After all, the only way to fight extreme cuteness is with extreme cuteness. Not to be outdone, the Chiefs of Staff of both the Air and Sea Defense Forces assign their eight year old granddaughters to defend for their respective sectors as well. The battle of cuteness for the ages has begun!
As I once said in another review – ironically for the series upon which Mao-chan‘s director worked after this one – fans of the ultra cute, rejoice. Everyone else, run screaming for the hills.
Mao-chan‘s sole purpose is to immerse the viewer in cuteness. It does this very well. It also knows exactly what it is doing and how to do it. Mao-chan is a calculated, deliberately executed assault on the senses, constructed to find at least one way to have you fall under its spell. If you have any weakness for cute, one way or another, Mao-chan will find it. And there is no turning back once you have been ensnared. The series is almost meta that way. It’s a series about being attacked by cute things which attacks you with cute things. In a way, it’s twisted genius.
The story is simple, as it should be for a series of this type. Cute aliens descend to the earth in what look suspiciously like giant vending or prize machine capsules. Once landed, they begin their assault, making everyone in their path squee with delight and rendering them incapable of rational thought. As it turns out, the cute aliens do have a Master Plan, and only the cute trio of second graders in the United Defense Force can defend Japan from these advances.
Mao is our pink-haired heroine. Her grandfather, Herr Drosselmeyer The Ground Defense Force Chief of Staff, is the one who devised the plan of using his adorable granddaughter to gain the support of the Japanese Diet to fend off these attacks of cuteness. Mao has an indomitable spirit, but zero athletic ability.
Next to join the United Defense Force is Misora, granddaughter of the Air Defense Force’s Chief of Staff. She’s very polite and well spoken. She also has what to me quickly became an irritating mannerism. Whenever Misora speaks, she adds de arimasu to the end of every sentence. De arimasu is a variation on the ubiquitous desu – a word with no real English equivalent which conveys politeness. Misora’s doing this is supposed to be cute. For me, it got old after a handful of episodes. When I say she says it after everything, I mean everything. Every. Single. Thing. Misora almost killed Mao-chan for me. (In the manga adaptation, de arimasu was translated as “don’tcha know?”, and used far more sparingly.)
Fortunately, the third girl to join the United Defense Force saved the series for me, and in grand fashion no less. Sylvie was enlisted with the Sea Defense Force by her grandfather. She’s the outsider, and speaks with an Osakan accent. Sylvie is also laid-back and tells it like it is, and she’s got an unusual sense of humor. She’s also a lot more perceptive than her appearance and demeanor would suggest.
Strictly speaking, Mao-chan may not be a magical girl show, but for all intents and purposes, it is. The way that the girls prepare to defend is lifted straight out of the mahou shoujo playbook, complete with incantation and transformation sequence. The girls even have sidekicks, in the form of sentient full-scale plastic models of various military vehicles.
There are a couple more interesting (or bizarre, if you prefer) elements to Mao-chan which add to its overall feel. First, there is a very specific way that the characters (especially Mao) cry when things go wrong… “ahh-ooh-ehh-ooh”. This is of course yet another device used to nab a portion of the unsuspecting audience with something they can latch on to as being cute. I was pretty neutral on this element myself. (Sylvie was the bait which got me hook, line, and sinker.) Perhaps the most unusual part of Mao-chan is the crush that Mao’s immediate supervisor (and homeroom teacher) Kagome has on Mao’s grandfather. Kagome is probably thirty years old tops, but she’s head over heels for the Chief of Staff, who is at least twice her age. Now, there’s probably nothing wrong with a little May-December infatuation, but Kagome is shameless in her pursuits to keep the Chief happy.
When considering Ground Defense Force Mao-chan, ask yourself these simple questions: Do you like cute? Do you really like cute? Do you really really like cute? Do you really really really like cute? If your answer to all of these questions is “yes”, then load up on toothpaste and mouthwash and brace yourself for an onslaught of sugar the likes of which you may have never seen before. Just be aware that the series is already three steps ahead of you and has a surefire plan to capture you with one of its cute hooks. Once you’ve been caught, there is no escape.