Tribe Cool Crew
Haneru Tobitatsu is a young boy who has taken up freestyle street dancing due to the influence of his favorite idol and celebrity in the dancing world, Jey El. He starts out practicing by dancing in a seemingly abandoned apartment complex of sorts, but also spends his time traveling back and forth doing something akin to parkour.
While out practicing by his lonesome, he meets up with Kanon Otosaki, which marks the start of their journey towards their dream of dancing with Jey on stage.
Tim: Tribe Cool Crew was a little surprise if I ever saw one. I typically don't watch long (50+ episodes) anime these days, since most anime don't tend to hold my attention that long. This goofy little series, whose character designs reminded me a bit of the video game The World Ends With You, managed to be a notable exception. Once you get past main lead Haneru's stubbornness - he spends the first few episodes of this series being an entitled little brat - you get a pretty fun show with a likable cast, with far more laughs and plot than you typically find in a kids' anime. And the dancing, despite it being CG, is surprisingly good, too. (Very different from, say, Love Live School Idol Project's, and this was the same animation company!)
Stig: I think it was the show's weird, cartoonish style that made me think it would be a good synchro vic... uh, candidate. I don't fully remember if it was me or Tim who recommended it, but I don't see how I could've put up much of a protest.
Tribe Cool Crew has chosen an almost ridiculously cartoonish style for itself. Haneru is a diminutive boy to the point that his head is almost as large as his body (even bigger if you include the two huge lumps of hair that sticks up like antennae from his cap). Kanon, his first friend through dance, is almost twice as tall and even thinner, to the point where she looks like an anime Olive Oyl. Seriously, she has absolutely no chest or hips. Their future friends does look a bit more conventional in design, except maybe Yuzuru, the rotund yet athletic part of Tribal Soul, a three person crew. (I used to joke in the synchs with Stig how he stayed so fat when he dances so much. -Tim ) The remaining two are Kumonosuke Sakagami (mostly referred to as Kumo) and Mizuki Mashiro, a curvy and attractive teenager with a sense for jazz, a sweet tooth, and no sense of keeping her room in order.
We say "more conventional", but the show is still steeped in street styling. Which is natural given the show's subject matter, and we can respect a show that knows its audience and isn't above giving them what they want. Still, neither of us had much interest in street dancing to begin with, which would normally be a bit of a hurdle when watching something to do with it. With that said, despite being in Japan, Tribe Cool Crew has more of an universal appeal. If this show is anything to go by, street dancing in Japan is pretty much like anywhere else in the world. (Unlike...HaNaYaMaTa, which had something vastly more traditionally Japanese on its plate.)
Or rather, "as it should have" in HaNaYaMaTa's case, but not to worry; Tribe Cool Crew actually manages to keep a nice balance of subject matter and diversions. On average, you get one dance performance per episode, though you will occasionally get episodes not centered around dancing at all. Lack of interest in the subject matter notwithstanding, Tribe Cool Crew actually does present its subject matter in a positive and respectful way while having fun with it. At times, it borders on worship at near-ridiculous levels, particularly when dealing with their dancing icon, Jey El. We don't know for sure, but it feels a lot like Jey is modeled after the late Michael Jackson, who also ended up being more of an icon rather than an artist near the end of his life, and was also known for his, to put it mildly, very eccentric personality.
The dancing is done with CG models, but surprisingly it works really well for this series, and the series does mix up the routines for its cast. Sadly, the same can't be said for the music variety for the dances, which mostly consist of techno, rap, and dub step. More egregiously, the selection of musical tracks is too limited, which hurts a show that runs for 50 episodes. If you can't stand sampled music or dub step, it's going to take a solid chunk out of your personal enjoyment here.
And, as mentioned, it sure took us some time to really get to liking the character of Haneru. Sure, his almost limitless energy is admirable, but for a relatively large chunk of the show, he also shows less admirable sides of himself. He's sort of egotistical, he's a sore loser, and he doesn't seem to think much of leaving his friends behind after making what amounts to idle promises on his part. Granted, it's nice for a main character to have somewhere to grow from, and he does at least grow out of most of his negative traits within the show's runtime, but we spent a lot of time during the first third or so grinding our teeth over his behavior.
Kanon is Haneru's exact opposite. She's relatively shy, and has a bit of stage fright to boot. To resolve this, she stages her own video streaming performances instead, dancing under the alias Rhythm, wearing a mask and setting up her hair differently in an attempt to hide her identity from the general public, from which she has already built a solid fanbase. It's a bit hilarious, since her design is so distinct that she stands out among the others, regardless of what she uses to cover her face and however she does up her hair. Kanon's situation is even harder, since she's from a well-to-do family, so she has her standing to worry about. And you better believe they make an episode or two out of that particular subject.
The trio of Tribal Soul leans a bit more towards regular teenagers -- somewhere in the 17-20 range in age, we're guessing. Kumo is a pretty sinister-looking dude who rarely smiles and sounds kind of menacing, but is really a nice guy inside. He specializes in breakdance, which -- much like skateboards -- has had its heyday but still hasn't died out. Mizuki could charitably be called the sex symbol of the group; a curvy girl with a sweet tooth a mile long. She is fairly stylish, but apparently a real slob back home. And then there's Yuzuru, the rotund Fred Astaire of the group. You will hardly believe a man that size can move like he does, but that he does. He's also the most classy and debonaire of the lot of them, even including Kanon, but also the friendliest and inclusive of them all, which would go a long way in explaining his tengu fiancee. And, uh... there's no way to put this nicely, but... his hair sort of looks like a penis.
Yuzuru's tengu fiancee deserves a bit of mention too, because while a lot of shows tend to run with the annoying, self-appointed girlfriend trope, Yuzuru and Momiji's relationship is a bit more complex than that. We're still not entirely sure if the two of them are engaged by appointment, or if Yuzuru just took her advances in stride and liked her enough anyway to go with it (or if it was the other way around), but their relationship rapport is actually kind of cute. (Even if in her introduction, she sort of mildly antagonistically wanted to take Yuzuru away from Tribe Cool Crew before learning her lesson of the episode.) Her appearances are a bit more scattered after that, but they're mostly focused on her being a capable and understanding companion. We don't want to spoil too much, but she actually plays a rather large part of the happenings come the show's conclusion.
Of course, Haneru and friends have dancing rivals to deal with. Unfortunately, most of the rivals aren't very engaging characters, even compared to Haneru himself. The most commonly seen is a team named "Explos1ve Machine guns", a three-guy group of Yuuji, Souta, and Riki. Sadly, Yuuji is arguable the series' most irritating character in terms of comedy, with his tired running gag of referring to every female as his goddess because he's a bit of a womanizer, and an inept one on top of that. There's also the rich twin sisters Manabi and Hinata, who we found a bit too perfect and annoying at times, as if that was their character type. They struck up a bond of friendship with Kanon, though, so they did at least get the chance to shine from time to time.
And lastly, there's Lui and Moe. They initially come across as a duo who show off their ocean color and became dancers for, well, fame and money. Moe likes to end her sentences in "(da) pyon", like she's a Pretty Cure mascot or something, and in following with the thematic of Yuzuru, her hair looks like... well, like a butt. They aren't particularly important characters until the second half of the series, which is mostly one dance contest after another, which accounts for the journey of "Dance Road", a major competition under the name of Jey El.
To avoid general shonen fatigue, Tribe Cool Crew spices things up with filler stores here and there. Mostly they're about the cast's family, but they also occasionally have rather oddball, single episode story lines unrelated to anything in particular. This includes one beach episode which actually cranked up the fanservice element quite significantly, mostly because Tribe Cool Crew doesn't really have a lot of fanservice. But even that aside, there was time for episodes centered around a father-and-son argument between Haneru's passion for dancing and his father's passion for traditional festival drums (with an ultra-predictable ending). On the other hand, you'd have an episode about a haunted house that was centered around pickles (no joke), which ended with lots of wondering just "what the hell was going on" after it was all over.
One nice thing about Tribe Cool Crew is that it gives you plenty of backstory on its cast and family. The cast members have quite a bit of baggage on them, and we were pleased even the show wasn't afraid to let its cast's skeletons come out of the closet. Normally we don't care for flashbacks to explain character motivations in anime, but Tribe Cool Crew manages to do so in a way that doesn't feel forced or manipulative for the most part. Interestingly, even the rivals and villains get these moments, too, which we appreciated.
Yes, that's right; this series has a villain. One who wants to show his superiority to Jey, mainly from being disillusioned by his life's goal. It doesn't occur until very late in the series, but this is where we learn more about Jey himself. We also learn that his past is not always a pleasant one. In fact, it actually gets pretty damn dark, and will probably hit a bit too close to home for many of the show's potential viewers, with villages destroyed as a result of battle and even suicide bombers doing their thing. It's very out of place in a show that's otherwise very bright and colorful. Even if nothing explicit is shown, there's no mistake in what's going on here.
On that note, the main villain highlights a new style of dance called "Crowd High". It's portrayed with lots of stomping of feet and throwing of fists, accompanied with various blasts of red energy. And while both of us found this new dance rather obnoxious, mostly because out of all the dancers and their dances, the Crowd High theme is the one that gets reused the most often. It doesn't help that Crowd High didn't really look all that much like dancing as much as aggressive posturing. It's also the most boring of the dance styles on display by a wide margin, far and beyond. This makes its apparently fervent success a bit of a mystery, even if the show does its best in trying to explain why.
Tribe Cool Crew really doesn't make it clear why it should be so reviled, either. While there is a subplot about the dance being damaging to the body, that's the price most people who take part in heavy athletic activities have to pay. The styles of dance Haneru and the other non-antagonists do would also wear out muscles and joints quickly unless you're in good shape, and even then it wear one out if done enough. It's a disconnect that disarms the supposed antagonism of Crowd High.
Another nice thing about Tribe Cool Crew is that it is a show about dancing that actually has a lot of dancing in it. Mostly the in-show thematic kind mind you, but occasionally other styles that the characters' routines may or may not be built upon. We're still kind of reeling from the disappointment over HaNaYaMaTa, which ended up a disappointing "cute girls do cute things" show that barely had any of the kind of dancing in it, and where the comedy and slice-of-life bits were depressingly formulaic and lazy as well. This is most likely the reason why all dance segments are done in 3D CG; it allows for a greater numbers of dance routines. That said, the dancing isn't allowed to rule the entire runtime of the show. It basically strikes a nice balance, with its characters dealing with a nice balance of interests, hobbies, family and social life woes while at the same time throwing in some eccentric stuff that doesn't necessarily have anything to do with anything. Tribe Cool Crew, while occasionally stumbling over its own lessons, is certainly never boring.
Tim: I wasn't hooked in right away, and some of the side characters were tiring, but overall I came to really enjoy Tribe Cool Crew the more Stig and I watched it. Sure, the lavish love for Jey is a little much at times, as is some of the forced comedy, but I had more fun than I didn't, and the show just has an energy and love poured into it that makes it special in its own way. It also actually has a satisfying (if weird) conclusion, which I can't stress enough in this day of anime trying their damnedest to squeeze out any possibility for a sequel or spin-off installment for money.
Stig: We might not have had much interest in the show's subject matter, and I might have gone into this show thinking it would be easy to make fun of. In many ways it is, most of all the way it lays on its ridiculous worship about street dance and its savior, Jey El -- whom I ended up christened "JEYsus" as the show neared its end, and where I fully expected him to dance on water -- but Tribe Cool Crew had more than enough charm to make me like it in the end. It had a tendency to approach every single theme and lesson with the maturity level of Saturday morning cartoons, but that gave the show an infectious energy that lasted all the way up to the cheesy and ultra-sentimental ending. For all the harsh words I might have laid at this show's feet, both in this review and the synchro, I left this show with a smile on my face, and that should be worth something.
Sure, the writing's not the best in the world, and the music can get old after a while, but overall Tribe Cool Crew is a fun, infectious show about a subject matter we don't care about normally. — Stig Høgset and Tim Jones
Recommended Audience: The show doesn't really have a lot of fanservice throughout, aside from the aforementioned beach episode the show throws at us somewhere in the middle, where Mizuki is actively trying to seduce Kumo by showing off her curves (and Kumo being all tsundere about it).
Version(s) Viewed: crunchyroll.com stream, Japanese with English subtitles
Review Status: Full (50/50)
Tribe Cool Crew © 2014 BNP/Sunrise/Tribe Cool Crew Production Committee
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