Finish or Fail 9 – Neo Ranga is Another of Anime's Most Overlooked and Underrated (OR How For a While, Neo Ranga Let Me Remember Happiness)

(no spoilers until the point marked)

inb4 the requisute 'i was disappointed by the lack of body painted women' remarks.

Neo Ranga is one of those ‘great shows that no one’s heard of’, only this time it’s underrated as well as overlooked. According to MAL, only one of my friends has seen the show (No Name, whose seen everything) and only a small number of total members as well. What’s more, the collective score is only 6.63, and the results are similar on ANN. Why? How could a show so great get so overlooked? Actually, I’m pretty sure I know.

Neo Ranga is, without a doubt, one of the outright strangest anime I’ve seen. Which is funny, because at the same time, it’s not very far off from other anime of it’s length – the plot progression, general themes, and especially the ending are all pretty familiar to anime fans, but the presentation is totally unique. Neo Ranga is composed of 48 half-length episodes (effectively a 24-ep series) which are paced like a raging fucking tornado. The best way to describe the sheer speed and deftness of events in Neo Ranga is ‘brutal’, and this is the series’ greatest strength, right up until the end. What’s more, the series is utterly unexpected in the way it handles it’s themes and wordview, which is to say, it takes them really seriously. …Or does it?

Neo Ranga’s pace takes some real getting used to. The series begins with Neo Ranga itself, an enormous kaiju, stomping through Tokyo, with exactly the kind of reactions and presentation you’d expect from a Godzilla movie. As it turns out, Neo Ranga is a god, and three parentless Japanese girls are the ‘owners’ of this god, thanks to the fact that their older brother, who left home 10 years ago, became the king of a souteat Asian autonomous kingdom called Barou which had worshiped the god to this point. And then we get a whole smorgasbord of themes presented in the most flawless method imaginable.

Neo Ranga covers everything. Military politics, religious politics, psychology, ambitions, morals, the minds and actions of each of it’s characters, social issues, world issues – everything. It starts off with a huge maelstrom of emotions and actions as the whole world has to deal with the sudden appearance of a god and, more importantly, three young women have to deal with being it’s masters. However, it’s not like this show is stiff and serious – on the contrary. The show’s drama is met with an equal force of comedy, tongue-in-cheek, and lightheartedness, but because of the ingenious presentation, it never lessens the blow of the drama. Actually, it enhances it, because it humanizes it. The drama of politics can sometimes seem like a silly and overblown game, but it’s effects are still very real, and something that can seem comically-timed one moment can turn out to have gruesome consequences the next. And this show never, ever ignores the consequences of it’s actions.

This is, however, what makes the show hard to get into at first, because it demands you be attentive and not take anything at face value. This is the point where I feel I should tell you that it’s taken me around 2 and a half years to finish Neo Ranga. The first time I tried watching it, I got through 7 episodes before the stream I was watching fucked up, and I was unable to continue. The second time, I downloaded the series, and I watched 18 episodes of it before I stopped, and while I had never stopped liking the series a lot, I didn’t feel a huge urge to continue. My reason was that I was finding the series terribly confusing. I mistook the constant changing between what felt like serious scenes and comedic scenes to be the series’ simple quirkiness and didn’t look for anything deep in it, so I just took it as one of those series that is memorable for the same reasons it is flawed, sort of like Futakoi Alternative (no to knock that great show, but it’s pacing is an issue just as it is an asset.) However, now that I’ve finally watched all of Neo Ranga on the box set I bought some time ago, I can safely say that I was wrong about my initial impression.

Neo Ranga requires attention. It is so fast, so merciless, and demands such an extent of ability from the viewer to understand what is going on, that it requires real concentration. Unfortunately, though, this incredible strength is also what magnifies the series’ biggest weakness. As I made my way through Neo Ranga, I began to wonder why it was that this show never got to be remembered as a ‘classic.’ I knew it wouldn’t have had a chance to be an Eva-level classic, even though I think it was easily presented as well as Evangelion, but I would have thought it could at least have reached Martian Successor Nadesico-level cult status. And then I got to the ending. Neo Ranga has one of the most disappointing endings I’ve ever seen in anime. In truth, there was a point during the last 8 episodes wherein I thought ‘if it ends right here, it can still be totally satisfying’, but Neo Ranga does a stupefying move in using the last four episodes to rush through a truckload of new twists and plot points that drained all of my interest and eventually had me begging for it to hurry up and end before it got any worse. The last episode doesn’t even have time to provide a resolution to the series, leaving a horrible taste in my mouth.

However, this should not have been enough to defeat the series. Even Martian Successor Nadesico had a pretty disappointing ending (albeit still better than Neo Ranga’s) and there are series like the infamous Escaflowne who fucked their pacing throughout the entire second half of the series and swan-dove into an unbelievably terrible ending, but still got remembered as a classic. There is definitely a lot more to like about Neo Ranga than there was about Escaflowne, and that’s saying a lot.It’s possible that the series never got big in America simply because it aired between 1998 and 1998, and from what I’ve heard, there is a sort of vacuum from 98 to 02 that for some reason, many of the shows that came out in that period in Japan went totally unknown here. someone help me if that’s true of this show.

As per my usual methods of dissecting what I love about a show, I’ll start with the presentation itself. Neo Ranga is the kind of show that could only be some creator’s darling lovechild, and the viewer will certainly notice original creator and writer Sho Aikawa’s (no, not that Sho Aikawa) name all over the place. Indeed, Neo Ranga is spectacularly directed, animated, and storyboarded, but I think the writing is the true force of greatness in this show. The script and the way that events are sequenced have an airtight, brilliant cinematic quality, as if the show was more intent on being a live-action movie or series all along (a fact that seems even more pertinent when you consider the segments in next episode previews wherein characters sometimes talked about how they ‘filmed’ certain scenes.) A lot of the early episodes heavily involve yakuza, which is why I guess it’s no surprise that they are directed like Battles Without Honor or Humanity. This is definitely a show that I think cinemaphiles can get into.

Actually, one movie that I think makes a great comparison to at least the early episodes of Neo Ranga is my favorite movie, The Dark Knight. They are similar in that they are directed like gangster films and deal with all sorts of socio-political issues, from an angle wherein completely overblown entities exist and ideals are blasted around with full force and wide-open hearts.

I think what I really wanted from Neo Ranga was for it to last much, much longer. I loved the way that it studied socio-politics from right in the thick of it, and how it ran these issues through the minds of it’s characters, developing them with each new occurrence. The reason that the ending was so disappointing wasn’t just because it came so suddenly and ham-handedly, but because there was so much left for this series to cover. The characters had made progress, but there was still so much more they needed to learn, and do, and become. There were a ton of potential relationships in this show that were left totally open-ended. Every character had something that they were missing, that they were trying to find, and in the end, we not only didn’t get to see anyone to the end of their path, but we didn’t even get a solid view of where they’d be going.

Did Aikawa know this? Did he intend for his series to be much longer, but couldn’t afford it? Neo Ranga was apparently split into two separate seasons, divided at the 24 episode mark. I want to say that while the entire series was great, the first half had just a bit of an edge over it the second. There were fewer of those moments of sheer brilliance in the second half, even if it continued to be great until it’s sudden, rushed, and botched ending. Was Aikawa disappointed? Did he half-heartedly try to get as many of his points across as he could before having to end his series? Did he purposefully cram the ending into the last few episodes because he wanted more time to flesh out the things that mattered in the series? I can’t ask him, and with the amount of recognition that Neo Ranga has after 12 years since it finished airing, I doubt anyone cares enough to fight for an answer. That’s what makes Neo Ranga the epitome of a ‘cult classic’. It never got the chance to be a fully-realized epic, so all we have left is to take the great things that it gave and try to use our own imagination to see what it could have been.

(Spoilers past here.)

There were so many great characters in Neo Ranga that I wouldn’t know where to start talking about them, but my definite favorite was the youngest sister, Yuuhi, who I very easily identified with. Which is really strange – I am the eldest of three brothers, so it would seem like I’d be able to identify with Minami best, but I think there’s a huge difference between us in that these characters had no parents. If I thought of Minami more as parental, than it would make sense that I not identify her, and what’s more, the way that Yuuhi treats Joel and especially Laburey as younger siblings is far closer to my attitude towards my little brothers. While their personalities don’t really match, if I thought of Minami as my realist mother, and Ushio as my idealist father, then it all falls into place much more easily.

Yuuhi was sort of an ‘evil genius’ type of character, which is quite impressive for a sixth grader. It’s not a big surprise that Yuuhi matured quickly, having no parents, and the fact that I arrived at her mindset just a couple of years later sells her character to me. Yuuhi understands the societal and psychological implications of all of the events that transpire pretty much instantly. She analyzes everything around her, and comes to her own conclusions about what she wants out of the world. She has very destructive tendencies, and she doesn’t really care about morals – if anything, she wants to crush them; it’s less her desire to kill the actual people who she decides to kill, and more about her desire to express her ability to do such. When Yuuhi is confronted with the power to take over the world, she immediately wants to do just that, and I am exactly the same way. If I had Ranga in my clutches, I would fuck over humanity faster than you can bat an eye. However, one thing keeps Yuuhi at bay quite often, and it’s the same thing that keeps me at bay from going all-out.

That thing is satisfaction and love. Yuuhi really does love her sisters, and while she hates the nature of the world and hates that she has to suffer it, she can’t deny that there are things in life that she enjoys and while she might not mind loosing them in favor of her potential future, she also would not want to get rid of them if not pressed to do so. Yuuhi is continually and, in many ways agonizingly, forced to face her own happiness and hold herself back, which is what I’ve had to do as well. Is it fulfilling? I don’t know. However, when I saw a particular episode of the girls remembering happiness, and remembering how they couldn’t let themselves loose it, it resonated with me deeply. I have been /very/ suicidal lately, and when you are desperate to die, the things that make you happy only become a nuisance. When I saw Yuuhi once decide to try and enjoy the happiness instead of being antagonized by it, I felt like I really wanted to do that as well. In the future, when I rewatch this series, I will skip the ending, and allow for these feelings to stay in my heart for as long as possible.

Ushio was the show’s shining idealist, and no doubt some will find her annoying. Even I was a tad put-off by how far they pushed her idealist tendencies sometimes, but it’s not like I didn’t totally understand her, and more importantly, Ushio does a lot of developing over the series. As she starts to realize that even if her morals are just her own set of guidelines, she will follow them out of her own desire, I began to enjoy her character more. However, Ushio was made totally confusing by the ending, like everything else. Her development became rushed and it was hard to tell exactly where she came out of this all at the end, but I think it’s pretty clear that she learned the importance of living by her own rules.

Minami was also made confusing by the ending, but otherwise was a fairly great character. It was less that I liked Minami for personal reasons, though, and more that I enjoyed her writing, and her place in the story. She had some truly great moments, and she was definitely the character with the most need to grow and to find more of herself. However, one of the disappointing pieces in the entire show was learning that she didn’t seem to be interested in the director guy who ends up being the girls’ biggest comrade and easily the most compelling side-character in the series. Instead, it turned out she wanted to fuck her brother, which came out of nowhere and got nowhere, and since we didn’t get an epilogue, we can’t find out if she ended up with the director or not. God damn it!!!

Fujiwara was a hilarious and awesome villain. I thought it was great how he was like the best friend who was secretly the worst enemy, and then when it is revealed that he is the villain, he still hangs out with the sisters anyway. There are scenes of him trying to thwart and kill them, failing, and then driving them home in defeat, which was awesome. Also, he was literally in love with Yuuhi, amazing! I love it! I would seriously pay to commission a doujin of Yuuhi using him as her sex slave. That would be the best.

And… that’s all there really is to talk about – there were a ton of amazing side-characters, but what makes them so great is all right there in the narrative. There were a number of awesome episodes and scenes, like the episode where Ranga literally tries to save Christmas, and the many awesome god-vs.-god and god-vs.-mech fights, but there’s not much to say other than ‘damn it was awesome.’ All of the opening and ending themes and videos were great, which is why I’ve littered this post with them. There are certainly a lot of fond memories built in this show.

Neo Ranga – Completed (8.9)

This score could have been higher. If it weren’t for the ending, I could have scored it at least a 9.1. If the story had gone on longer, I might have had more time to really get emotionally invested in it to the fullest and scored it even higher. Like most cult classics, Neo Ranga could have been much better, but that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate the great that there was.

17 thoughts on “Finish or Fail 9 – Neo Ranga is Another of Anime's Most Overlooked and Underrated (OR How For a While, Neo Ranga Let Me Remember Happiness)

  1. Now there’s a name I haven’t heard of for ages. And you know what? I more or less agree with you. But I’ll be damned if I can find anyone else who’s heard of Neo Ranga offline.

    • Indeed. Neo Ranga fans are few and far between. It’s funny, too, because it’s one of those shows I’ve seen for sale everywhere ever since I first started collecting back in 2003, but I guess there weren’t enough people curious enough to bring it home.

      • Pssh.. of course not. Everyone’s too distracted by more popular anime :)

        Heck, even suggesting to some of my friends to try watching something less banal than Railgun or BakaTest gets me blank stares. They just like to laugh at how bad modern anime is, not find the good stuff. Typical channers :)

        It’s especially tough to ask them to watch something that’s older than a year or two. They immediately suggest re-watching Haruhi or Geass instead of trying out something new. Sometimes it makes me sad inside.

        • That’s horribly depressing. I like shows like Railgun and BakaTest enough, but they are just a tiny drop in an ocean of amazing anime. It’s always sad to see people refuse to broaden their horizons. I have a personal dream of watching every single anime in existence that has a possibility of my enjoyment, as will be chronicled on this blog, so when someone tells me they have a stopping point, I just don’t know how to respond.

  2. I think you’re overlooking a more obvious reason for failure — it was advertised as naked tribal paint chicks (and pretty much only sold on that visual) and failed to deliver that in any satisfying way in the time most people are willing to give these things. The marketing staff seemed to know that was the hook, but the people creating it didn’t; they failed to use it as a hook within the context of the show, and what they did give us didn’t really replace it.

  3. A weird, hyperactive anime? This really sounds up my alley. I’ve seen the DVDs all over the place, hopefully I’ll be able to find them now that I want to check it out.

    • :D You should enjoy it. Anyone should, because like I mentioned, it really could have been considered a classic if it weren’t for the circumstances.

  4. Rented years ago off netflix and I enjoyed the series, until their brother came back. The series changed tone quickly as if it had different writers and direction.

    I’d give it an 8 out of 10.

    Maybe I’ll rent it again.

  5. I had started Neo Ranga (DVD 1. only) a long time ago well before the “slimpak” came out and I enjoyed it at first I’m now just barely going through the entire series now, and I agree whole heartedly this damned show needs to be LONGER. Roughly we only get about 10~11mins of story excluding the intro and ending… What a shame, its quite fun and needs more nudity and hanky panky, but thats just me. It has enough innuendo though to keep the young’uns away.

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  8. i have a new sequel to NE o rang a takes place nine years after the shim a bar a sisters became kings of a small island nation of bar o u they still continue back in mostly normal lives the oldest sister is now 33 years min a Nam i the middle sibling is now 24 years old us h i o and the youngest sibling y u u hi is now 22 years old now they spend their vacations on bar o u and started making treaties with other nations from around the world and min a Nam i appoints Joel their nephew to act as prime minister which the people now elected into office. they also decided to open up new roads, a school, fire department and a police unit plus a small volunteer armed forces division as well plus opening up a hotel for tourists and a hospital. about four years after these changes 37 year old min a Nam i, 28 year old us hi o and 26 year old y u u hi now live back and forth between japan and bar o u and rang a is still their close friend and guardian the small island nation is now openly doing trade deals and has very good international relations with the rest of the world. the sisters even gave their friends from their youth important key positions in their kingdom the 3 kings of bar o u now serve a largely ceremonial purpose while Joel has won another term as prime minister and a parliament was also just established some nations still have issues regarding the god rang a and new groups have risen up to oppose the kingdom of bar o u. the 3 female kings now have new boyfriends and a year later their boyfriends become engaged to the 3 female kings.

  9. eight years after the 3 sisters get married they each get pregnant and give birth to a child one a young prince named Adam a princess named Eva and a princess named Lucy some seven years later we see them enter school age by bar o u new educational platform then six years later we see more changes to modernize the small island nation they host a festival in the summer to celebrate the reign of the 3 female kings and their children some five years later the kings open up the new national central bank and print out new currency with the 3 sisters or Joel’s face on them then 3 years after that Joel and the 3 sisters sign a peace agreement between japan and their island kingdom and two years after the treaty they get a statue of the 3 sisters Joel and Mash a Ru their deceased older brother near the downtown area of Bar o u’s main capital a small town or small city named after their deceased brother.

  10. we later see the 69 year old min a Nam i and her sisters witness the coronation of Min a Nam i’s only child as the new king of Bar o u king Adam after a very long successful reign and hand the throne while they retire along with their husbands. then 100 years later Bar o u has led by the Shim bar a family and using science they made a new god for their island nation after the old rang a has went to deep slumber under the water.

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