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Yesterday's Menu: A "Galaxy Angel" Retrospective

Nigel, AKA Bubblegum Senpai, was voted most likely to die due to an accident involving a cuddle pillow. Haruhi Suzumiya for Life.

If "TV Tropes" were to ever get an anime adaptation, Galaxy Angel would be it. Seriously, I watched every episode of all four seasons for this article, and it still feels like I've spent more time on the TV Tropes website for research. Galaxy Angel was a multimedia franchise that began in 2000, including an anime series, visual novels, and manga, plus many sequels and spin-offs in each medium. However, the anime is unique among them. The manga and visual novels are played straight, but the anime is a gag comedy, made up of short episodes with almost no continuity, and sometimes even less than no continuity. I watched the series a long time ago, and I recently watched it again in preparation for this article, so it's time to explore this series with a more analytical eye.

Appetizer: Bandai's Pickle

Interestingly enough, Bandai—which is known for games—had nothing to do with the games. The games were developed by Brocolli Corporation. However, there was a problem: Brocolli was behind schedule on the games, so the team working on the anime—which Bandai was producing—had to pull something together, so they commissioned Madhouse to make a gag comedy series of short episodes. In other words, Bandai and Madhouse did the same thing Saban does with their licenses and made it up as they went along. With character artwork and some descriptions of their personality, they made a series of 12-minute gag shorts and the results were pretty weird, and hilarious. Somehow, it worked.

Aside from select characters and the basic premise of the Angel Brigade's mission of searching for lost technology, there was no link between the game's story and the story of the anime series. In fact, in the anime it's not explained what the lost technology is and—at least in the first season—no one really even knows what the lost technology even is, probably due to the showrunners not knowing what it is either.

Some fourth wall breaking is not uncommon in this series, as well as every other possible trope you can imagine.

Some fourth wall breaking is not uncommon in this series, as well as every other possible trope you can imagine.

Side Order: Cheesy Background Fondue

The show managed to gain a cult following, and I myself first learned about the show the way any teenager would: A fan-made adult flash dating sim on Newgrounds that advertisers won't let me link to, but I can tell you it's one of the most played games on the site.

A few years later I came across the first season on DVD. At a time when most streaming services were just thinly veiled piracy, finding a DVD was rather pricey—more than a hundred dollars—and so I hugged my wallet and made the purchase.

This might be because of my country, but the anime DVD market in Canada had always been expensive, sometimes 60 dollars for 10 episodes and no bonus features beyond trailers for other releases. They were mostly imported from the States and sold at specialty shops for geeks—namely shops that specialized in tabletop games and card games—whose prices would often fluctuate based on the value of the US dollar, so this was actually a fairly normal price. I was also still pretty new to the fandom, so I am really glad legal avenues for streaming have come up and home video is much more readily available now.

I had a few days off work, so I put aside a day to watch the series. Gag shorts are pretty hit or miss for me, and I tend to prefer some form of continuity, even if it's a fairly loose one. I think that's how the series tricked me at first, as the second episode does actually follow up the first one. It wasn't a long watch, as each episode is only 12 minutes, but by the end of the series I found myself rather attached to all the characters.

Everything about the show seemed so random, and extremely so, but somehow it worked. I found myself laughing at the sheer randomness and stupidity of everything. But what makes it so enjoyable?

In one of the few serious episodes, Milly insists that Forte could never understand her delinquency.

In one of the few serious episodes, Milly insists that Forte could never understand her delinquency.

Entrée: The Meat of the Show and Choice Cuts

Galaxy Angel is a show about five girls who make up the military branch called the "Angel Brigade," who have the mission to find the lost technology. It's never made clear what the lost technology is, and for the entirety of the first season it's also made clear that no one on the Angel Brigade know what it is either. While what is considered lost technology is never explained, in the second season—the first episode, in fact—they happen to have lost technology, and find more throughout. It still never explains anything, but in most cases it tends to be, like everything else in the show, food based.

The motif of food runs pretty deep throughout the series, with all the characters having food references in their first or last names. Every episode is presented as a menu item too, with some kind of food in the title. Milfeulle, the closest the series has to a main character, is a talented baker and often bakes for the rest of the crew. Still haven't figured out if there's any deeper meaning to the motif, but I'm leaning towards it's most likely they wanted cross another trope off the list of ones they wanted invoked or parodied.

Speaking of tropes, I wasn't kidding when I said at the start that if TV Tropes was adapted into an anime, this series would be it. The TV Tropes article for Galaxy Angel even says as much:

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"Just about every single trope in this wiki gets spoofed at one time or another (yes, all of them). So the tropes listed below are the ones present in every episode or series to some degree or another."

So with that out of the way, let's get into the show itself. The five members of the Angel Brigade are Forte, the member who seems to be the most "military" of the group and an avid gun collector; Ranpha, a skilled combatant who is rather obsessed with boys and finding a future husband; Milfeulle, a pastry chef with incredible luck that helps out missions; Mint, a childlike species who has a love for costumes of all kinds; and Vanilla, a religious girl whose moral compass—while admirable—sometimes interferes with the most efficient way to complete a mission.

The show sets it's tone pretty early on. The first few minutes of each episode are played straight, and then it goes pretty slapstick throughout. Sometimes things are resolved, and sometimes nothing is resolved. Heck, in some episodes the entire brigade is killed off, only to be back again the next episode as if nothing was wrong. It's loosely implied in that each episode takes place in a separate parallel universe. The episodic gag nature of the series makes doing spoiler free critiques rather difficult, since discussing even a brief moment can reveal half the plot, but I'll try, because I do want to discuss moments that stuck out to me.

The first episode begins with Ranpha and Forte stuck in the depths of ennui, and ends with them and Milfeulle—who had yet to join the Brigade—with wealthy payoffs. In between these moments, the Brigade had been tasked with finding a cat who was the inheritor of a vast fortune, all while trying to thwart assassins who wish to knock the cat out of its line of succession. This is where we are introduced to Milfeulle's ironic luck: The assassins manage to succeed in eliminating their target, but not before the cat gives birth to a new generation, making the kittens the new recipients of the fortune.

We are also introduced to Ranpha's and Forte's gambling addiction in which a bet is made where if they lose to the resort owner, the become indentured servants. The resort owner of course fixes the game, only for Milfeulle's luck to once again kick in by having a giant asteroid destroy the casino.

There's an episode halfway through the first season, with Forte being the only main character to appear in it. In this episode, Forte meets a young girl who survives through petty crime, mostly pickpocketing. Forte keeps trying to get through to the young girl and we learn that as a child, Forte also relied on crime to survive. It wasn't until a member of the military treated her well that she considered fighting the good fight.

Of course, "good" is a relative term, as she's still pretty obsessed with money, what with her gambling addiction and all, but each season seems to contain one of these episodes. A break from the comedy for an episode with a much more serious tone. The Forte episode had no jokes at all. What was there was charm, and emotion. It's a beautiful break from the usual slapstick.

The slapstick and the cheap puns drive this comedy, so the change of pace might be a relief to some. Of course, if you're not into puns and slapstick and outlandish situational comedy, this show might not be to your taste to begin with. Like most food dishes, it's an acquired taste and you'll know fairly early on whether you'll like it or not. There's nothing to whet your appetite, nor is there anything you can use as a palette cleanser, though I hear it pairs well with a nice chardonnay.

The evil doubles of the Angel Brigade menacingly taunt the Angels, then are never seen again.

The evil doubles of the Angel Brigade menacingly taunt the Angels, then are never seen again.

Dessert: Chocolate Mousse That's Hard to Swallow

The show had, at the time, a pretty devoted fanbase, though admittedly it's largely forgotten now. The fact that it differed so much from its source material doesn't help much either, as though it were a parody of the very game it was based on. However, you don't get to four seasons and 126 episodes by flopping. It was wildly successful, even getting aired on premium cable in America, since anime streaming services were not yet a thing that existed.

It's hard to properly review a series where nothing matters. Sure, in South Park it's a funny recurring joke when Kenny gets killed off every episode and comes back next episode as if nothing happens, but in this series it is more annoying than anything. While the characters are absolutely true to themselves and consistent at least in that way each episode, there are episodes that honestly end with no resolution, or even a cliffhanger, and the next episode begins as if nothing from the previous episodes ever happened. This includes episodes where characters die. In fact, that's why the episodes that are serious are such a welcome relief: they're the only episodes that seem to have any stakes.

I loved Galaxy Angel when I first watched it, and for good and stupid fun, it's great. I can still enjoy that. Trying to give it a critical eye however, it's honestly not all that good. This is of course, still a subjective opinion, but I still stand by it. Seinfeld was an extremely popular show, but it was—in it's own words—a show about nothing. And re-watching Galaxy Angel I got the same feeling. I never liked Seinfeld, and Galaxy Angel is a show where nothing matters and half the episodes don't even have a resolution. They put a bright neon sign over Chekov's gun, pointing right at it, and then they never fire the darn thing, and it gets frustrating.

Ultimately, Galaxy Angel is a show you either like or you don't, and like the restaurant and food theme the series go for, if you like it, you'll probably love it and feel satisfied, or it will leave you feeling highly disappointed. But you'll never know what it tastes like until you try it for yourself.

© 2021 Nigel Kirk

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