Uso’s Getting his Money’s Worth!
Well, in a figurative sense at least. Before we begin, today’s article is sponsored by Uso, or as you may know him on Twitter as @obamasnowToo. Having won the New Year’s AMQ special event, I awarded him my $15 Patreon tier where you can suggest just about anything for me to take a look at and cover in some capacity. In keeping with the New Year spirit, he gave me a few suggestions from the 2021 anime lineup to choose from and I ended up selecting Muteking the Dancing Hero. He knows that I’m a fan of Tribe Cool Crew and Brave Beats, so this was something I had some interest in anyway, but thanks to him I had a nice excuse to watch the whole show. With all this preamble out of the way, today I want to talk about anime fans and children’s media, why so many fans seem drawn to it, and what exactly it can bring to the table while looking at this Muteking reboot along the way.
Why Children’s Media?
There’s this unspoken sentiment in the anime community that, eventually, every anime fan either fizzles out on keeping up to date in favor of retreading old favorites or turns to children’s media. As to the actual truth of this, it isn’t hard to say this is somewhat exaggerated, but like all things of this nature, there is a grain of truth to it. A lot, and I mean A LOT of anime fans do eventually turn to children’s media. Think about some of the larger accounts in the anime space on Twitter, even some anime YouTube personalities, and you’ll see that nearly all of them follow some form of children’s media be it Precure, Pokemon, or something else.
This video is by Kamimashita which may be of interest to you if you want to hear more on this topic
I want to take a second here to ensure that I’m not meaning any of this in a derogatory sense. A fair bit of anime, even the more popular and widely discussed seasonal shows, are aimed at older children. Clearly though, this title and the ones I listed as an example, are meant for younger children, but that doesn’t mean they automatically have zero value to a more mature audience. There are several good reasons to engage with children’s media like this from an intellectual, cultural, and contextual standpoint.
One of the big reasons so many anime fans eventually turn to this kind of show though is consistency. At least with the bigger name kid’s shows, not necessarily something more obscure like today’s Muteking, is in its reliability. Many of these series are long running and at a level of general quality that make them very easy to engage with. Not to mention, nearly all of them run weekly with little to no interruption. In short, they are comfortable. However, that doesn’t mean they don’t turn around and pull out all the stops from time-to-time, often having whole sequences of high animation quality known as sakuga among community members.
This isn’t all though, children’s media is often considered to be of a lesser value when it comes to its storytelling and ideas, but at least in anime, this tends to be less true. We forget that kids are more than capable of engaging with mature themes and topics, something several of these shows are aware of. Meaning, they bring something to the table in a real way for the “parents” watching with the kids. All of this invites healthy discussion and positive messaging that is useful in the real world, but also factors as another comfort level. These shows tend to be optimistic even when tackling more difficult subject matter that other more “mature” series don’t necessarily manage.
From an industry perspective, you get to follow some stunning vocal performers, legendary animator careers alongside up-and-coming rookies, all while seeing clear trends in how technique changes over time. This has a ripple effect on how one can view other productions and allow for a deeper understanding and appreciation for what goes into making anime. For example, I’ve enjoyed seeing someone like Ikuraha do work on kid’s shows like Sailor Moon and how that later influenced his more “adult” works later in his career. It’s interesting.
Finally, it bares mentioning that nostalgia, though generally viewed as a negative thing in anime discussions, does hold influence in this discussion. It’s silly to say that having nostalgia for something means we can’t engage with, or even enjoy, media that is clearly meant to pull on this feeling. We all experience this in some way. I’m sure that some of you have introduced your kids, nieces and nephews, or so on to a Disney movie from your childhood. The thinking is similar here, it’s nice to share and revisit some of these experiences in this way, and the anime industry is a master class at exploiting this while still delivering quality product. There’s a reason a lot of these shows I’ve mentioned still get talked about today outside of the historic value, and there’s nothing wrong with that either.
Of course there are other reasons I haven’t mentioned for engaging with these types of shows, like using them as a tool to learn the Japanese language better, but I don’t really want to get into those. Mainly, they are more niche reasons and not productive for today’s larger conversation. Still, it is worth mentioning that more reasons exist, just that the above thinking is more what we care about in this article.
Tribe Cool Crew & Brave Beats
What does all of this mean for more “obscure” titles when it comes to children’s media then? Unless you are straying into the truly wild and weird, what you’ll typically find is something that meets a happy middle ground between the comfortable formula of a typical kids show and more risky experimentation. For this I want to briefly mention Tribe Cool Crew and Brave Beats because when it comes to Muteking the Dancing Hero, it is impossible to not draw some comparison to them.
The production of the new Muteking anime has a lot of overlap with these two shows while also setting a precedence and expectation for what one might expect when diving into this 12 episode series. Both of the series before this one featured CG dance sequences and other more technically complicated movements in their productions which is impressive considering how long Tribe Cool Crew was, even if they would later whittle down the episode counts for Brave Beats and further so for Muteking.
In all three cases you have shows that follow an expected formula, but ultimately end up taking some substantial risks thanks to the inclusion of these more complex dancing sequences. Not to mention that anime about dancing, of any capacity, aren’t all that common. There isn’t a ton of precedence set in other words for how or what that should look like. Sure, you could look to idol shows for a few ideas, but that is just one style of choreography and representation.
If I had to say, it’s clear having seen each of these three productions in action, that Muteking learned a lot of lessons from what came before it, but didn’t necessarily implement all of them in the best way possible. Comparatively, this is a more focused show than either Tribe Cool Crew or Brave Beats but overall quality? That’s something you could easily debate. For now, let’s actually get to talking about the series properly so you can get a better idea of what I’m talking about since I’m sure most of you haven’t watched any of these shows.
Muteking the Dashing Warrior
To best understand what Muteking is, we first have to go back in time to Fall 1980. The newest iteration of Muteking is a reboot of a show titled Muteking the Dashing Warrior which is actually pretty difficult to track down in any capacity here stateside. Thankfully, I was able to watch the first episode, the only episode that got dubbed in English, and the only episode that you can find without really diving deep into the web. This is the foundation of what Muteking ultimately is, but knowing a lot about it isn’t necessary to enjoy the new series. That said, it bares mentioning here from the perspective of tugging at nostalgia and the historical context surrounding its evolution.
You can watch the full first episode of Muteking the Dashing Warrior here, not that I really recommend it, but I watched it for the sake of this review. Figured some of you might also be interested in seeing it.
If I had to describe Muteking the Dashing Warrior in simple terms, I’d say it is overly ambitious. There are too many elements in play, but the actual concept isn’t the issue. If you actually watch this first episode and then Muteking the Dancing Hero you’ll see that it is a loving remake of the idea of what Muteking ultimately is while pairing it down to only its essential elements. Does it transition perfectly? No.
Even still, I got this sense of nostalgia going through this experience. It’s funny because up until this request I hadn’t even heard of “Muteking” as a character. I didn’t know anything about this franchise. Yet, now, it’s found purchase with me. I found it easy to get invested in, and follow this narrative that spans over 40 years. I mean, look, I’m doing a deep dive on a children’s show that most of you, I’m very well aware, don’t care about at all. But here’s the thing, I kind of think that’s a shame, even if Muteking doesn’t actually even really deserve your attention. Kind of a bold thing to say, but hopefully you’ll be willing to hear me out.
Muteking the Dancing Hero – Episode 1
I’m only going to talk about episode 1 of Muteking in this section. The concept of the episode is simple: boy from the country moves to the big city. However, as another reviewer put it, the first episode is a fever dream that, if anything, is what you should experience from this franchise. The actual episode is a wild ride, but it doesn’t stray from the core of what The Dashing Warrior gave us. In reality, you should probably watch this for yourself, it’s worth this one episode, just so you can see how truly out there it is. If you have a Funimation account, you can do so here.
Every episode opens with this great OP, it really grows on you
Before we even see our main character, we see a nice shot of a brightly lit city with a couple overlooking it from their car. They talk and then suddenly stars are falling and the world becomes covered in an inky goop. Then we meet Muteki. There are two things we know about Muteki in the opening minutes of the first episode. One, he is moving to Neo San Francisco to live with his grandmother unexpectedly under his mother’s direction and two, he’s really into Amazon’s product offerings. This is maybe the most normal thing about the entire episode.
Shortly after his arrival in the city, Muteki is already quite impressed with how different everything is compared to the country. He then gets caught up in an impromptu street performance so we can learn he loves dancing in order to protect a stray mouse that has stolen from a local shop owner. Everyone likes it, even the shop owner, who eventually goes on his way to catch the dirty mouse. A man carrying a boom box takes notice of our hero. By golly though, Muteki sure is hungry and Amazon has just opened this fancy new taco restaurant, he should check that out.
Unfortunately for Muteki, the menu is very confusing, and since he’s not an Amazon life member, it takes him a long time to place his order. This scene is somewhat amusing. Actually, most of the humor in these initial episodes is reasonable funny. I nearly forgot, the tacos are black, everything Amazon makes in this world is black, because they are evil, obviously. Anyway, he gets his food but that mysterious boom box man trips Muteki without him noticing and now he’s got to starve I guess.
Then Muteki meets the boom box man. His name is DJ, AKA DJ. That’s his full name. He’s named DJ because he is a DJ and his name is DJ. Do you get it? I hope you don’t, because the show spends a lot of time on this and I literally cannot explain how weird it is. Naturally, Muteki is a bit weirded out by this man who rummages through his underwear and keeps acting astonished that Muteki understands that DJ AKA DJ is named that because he is a DJ. He leaves.
You know how I said Mutkei was going to starve I guess. I lied. He goes to a small diner on the pier. There he meets Miss Aida, a young girl who wants to be an idol. For now though, she is a waitress at this diner. He orders a hamburger, but he will not be receiving that. No, Aida only serves ice cream sodas. That’s it, even though this is her diner (I failed to mention that I guess) and she made the menu. She calls it special service though and Muteki falls in love with her. The joke being she serves the ice cream sodas to the older men in the corner, apparent regulars.
As if any of this makes any sense, eventually Hatsune Miku, Amazon’s evil singer, sings her new hit song which turns all those taco loving freaks into inky goop. Muteki is weirdly cool with this and just wants to listen to his favorite singer, Hatsune Miku. Too bad though, DJ makes him listen to his sweet mix tape instead. Seeing all the goop people, Muteki decides maybe they should do something about that, since it’s kind of not normal. DJ says he needs to become Muteking, a super hero who defeats evil with the power of dance and roller blades.
Aurora’s first song, wanted to include them in this article but you should experience this at least once
Muteki has never tried roller blades. He sucks. Thankfully DJ presses play on his boom box which causes good octopus cells to rush to Muteki’s heart, giving him a music-fueled orgasm, turning him into Muteking. The song from the original Dashing Warrior plays, somehow Muteki wins, and everything goes back to normal.
Nothing is explained. The CEO of Amazon, named CEO, is confused why everyone stopped turning into ink and why this DJ guy is keeping this party going that should have ended due to everyone being turned into goop. Muteki goes home. It is then that he discovers that DJ happens to live with his grandmother, where they very unsubtly suggest that the two of them are exchanging sexual favors, and the episode ends.
Not quite as great as the OP but there’s some real love in the ED as well
Somewhere in there there is an explanation about popular TV shows, and one of them being about aliens. That is important. I might have even missed some other stuff or presented this slightly out of order. In any case, it’s a really weird episode that feels quite surreal. After this, the show will never be quite so weird, but boy does this episode grab you.
Muteking the Dancing Hero – The Rest
From here, Muteking engages with various levels of risk vs formula riding a fine line between that aforementioned comfort and experimentation. For better or worse, episodes 2-5 fall into a more formulaic telling of the plot. Muteki learns more about the world, argues with DJ about something, Aurora (who I’ve previously called Hatsune Miku) shows up after CEO shows us his latest scheme, and then the titular Muteking needs to save the day resulting in better understanding between him and DJ.
However, the show doesn’t treat its audience like they are stupid. Sure, it has the kid’s show silliness, but in terms of plotting and messaging, it almost never talks down to the viewer. In fact, it’s even a little clever about a few things that, if I weren’t an adult doing media analysis, I might have even been surprised about a few things that develop later. When I mentioned earlier about how children’s media can tick various boxes, at least early on, Muteking is absolutely delivering on that front.
Episodes 6 and 7 deal with Muteking failing to defeat Aurora as she debuts a new song. In turn, he needs to come up with a new song that isn’t the tried and true theme song from the 1980’s series. It’s a break from the formula that results in some legitimate hype. It wouldn’t be difficult to argue that these first 7 episodes are legitimately engaging, well paced, and a great example of everything we’ve been discussing so far. It is the ideal picture of an anime for kids that offers a lot more than you might expect.
There’s this exploration of ideas in how chasing trends isn’t always the best thing to do, how older ideas still hold value in modern society, and even an exploration on the trans identity. Genuinely, there’s depth here that deserves applauding. It’s just a shame that the series fails to keep that up.
Enjoy some more Aurora music, it’s almost better than whole show, they super nailed that aspect of things
That’s when episode 8 happens. It’s one of the worst episodes of anime I’ve watched in awhile. I understand what the show is going for but it’s a huge red flag. Basically DJ and Muteki reveal to everyone their identities and become famous. This acts as one part recap episode and another part stall for the plot. It feels as if the writers knew where the show needed to go but didn’t know how to proceed once they got there. The result is watching two characters behave in a completely unlikable way while spinning its wheels.
Episode 8 also happens to be where the show breaks pretty hard from formula and enters more into experimentation. Now, there are still moments of formula, such as the cast coming together to defeat the villain by episode 12 and the bad guy even transforming into an evil version of the hero, but most of it is truly bizarre in the worst way possible.
I actually felt relief with episode 9 when it seemed like the show was getting its mojo back. It’s a dark, and frankly, kind of intense episode for what this show is. Even though it’s shown to be a false depiction in a later episode, there’s even an unambiguous on-screen child murder. Needless to say, this set certain expectations for the finale (spoilers, it didn’t live up to them).
Even in episode 10, where the villain gloats and explains how they’ve been pulling the strings since episode 1, the show seems to grasp what it needs to do and how to do it. It’s not the strongest episode but it does the job. Again, I felt relief here as I thought that we might be in for a show worthy of this framed discussion.
That’s when the ending hits. Episodes 11 and 12 are where the show crumbles to dust, being the most trite and tired experience full of out-of-nowhere “twists” that quickly get exhausting. Even going as far as having a character “die” like 8 times before actually killing them off. It’s truly awful and not something I can express well in the remaining space I’ve allotted for this article.
So here I am, having promised an article about the positives of children’s media and their appeal but am ultimately left with a show that abandons this kind of thinking at the end. It’s the antithesis of the writing, right? I don’t think so. Rather, it would be better to frame this as an exercise in pointing out what works in a kid’s show, what can give this broader appeal, while highlighting exactly what not to do.
The weird, whacky, and colorful world of Muteking does well to draw the viewer in and respects their intelligence. Does a great job navigating its themes while establishing a unique world. All of this is helped by some great musical performances along with a charismatic villain who seems sympathetic at first glance. Unfortunately, the cracks start to show through as it continues to push on the more wild aspects of the show instead of trusting in its audience and storytelling like it had before. As Uso put it when we were discussing the series as I was writing this up, it feels like there’s an excellent skeleton of a show here, but the connective tissue holding it all together is flimsy.
At the end of all of this I’ve walked away with a better understanding of children’s media and its relationship with so many anime fans. I have a healthy respect for those who are willing to look past the surface and advocate for better media across the board, which is something I hope you have seen me demonstrate here on the site time and time again. Having gone through this experience, it has made it even more clear exactly what makes a good kid’s show vs a bad one, and for that I have to thank Muteking.
For the record, I believe that these are the things that allow a show like this to stand the test of time:
- Built-in Nostalgia – Nearly all of these shows evoke some sense of nostalgia, even if it isn’t actually pulling on some existing franchise or idea. This breeds loyalty and propagation for the title.
- Respecting the Audience – This is a big one, but a lot of these shows trust their audience to be smart enough to get its messages without plastering them on a neon sign. Of course, it’s not as if they never do this, but the big ones like Precure, Sailor Moon, and so on all follow this principle with their bigger themes.
- Consistency – Again, most of these shows are long-running and aired with little interruption week-to-week. There’s a lot of value in always having that one thing to come back to. It also helps that they tend to look good most of the time as well, even occasionally going all out on some sequences.
- Industry Relevance – This is more for serious fans, but usually shows like this have something to offer in a more meta context. Whether it be about following a career or two, commentary on the nature of the industry itself, etc… there’s this extra layer of depth for those who want it.
That’s why I say that Muteking almost nails this. After all, it checks the boxes, but it gets sloppy with the delivery by its end and only acts to highlight what other shows are doing right instead of what could have allowed it to be a shinning example all its own. If anything, I got a lot more out of this than expected. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below and tell me what you think draws people into children’s media while you’re at it.
Finally the end of the article! I hope you enjoyed and would appreciate it if you took the time to like, comment, and share. If you found this article valuable, please consider a donation via the provided buttons below. Thanks again for reading and see you for the next one!