Distributor: Software Sculptures (USA)
Original Year of Release: 1985 – 1986
English Video Release: 1996 – 1997, Subtitled
Japanese Title: Choju Kishin Dancougar (Super Beast Machine God Dancougar)
Runtime: 38 episodes x 25 mins + 1 x 30 min OVA
Thanks to the early 2000’s boom in anime on DVD in the US, almost all anime TV series released in full or part previously on VHS made it to DVD in English. However there are few curios that never made the transition, such as some of Bandai Entertainment’s stuff like “AWOL”, “Ehrgeiz” and the first TV series of “Eatman”. Apart from those rather forgettable late 1990’s late night anime, you also had the partly released “Zillion” series from Streamline. But the oddity that stands out like a sore thumb is “Dancougar”. Software Sculptures released the entire 38 episode TV series as well as the follow up OVA “Requiem for Victims”. This is the longest anime series released on VHS not to get a DVD or Blu-ray re-issue. This is quite odd as other arguably lesser shows got the shiny disc treatment. As per usual, a synopsis of the series;
During the late 20th century, an alien empire headed by emperor Muge Zorbados is in the process of invading Earth. Earth is fighting a losing battle. At the Space Officer Academy in Australia, even new recruits are sent into battle. This includes the close couple of Shapiro Keats and Sara Yuki. Shapiro believes this is his chance to make something of his life and decides to defect to the enemy. Sara attempts to follow but another cadet, the cocky Shinobu Fujiwara, fires at her plane to disable it which forces her to land. While Shapiro is presumed dead by Earth forces, he surrenders to the enemy. Despite the fact they torture him for information, they eventually accept his defection after he suggests a plan to attack an Earth weapon cache. Since Shapiro’s information is accurate, Emperor Muge soon realises that Shapiro could be useful to them and gives him a prominent position in their army, despite the grumblings of his generals.
Back on Earth, Shinobu is transferred to Japan as part of the Cyber Beast Force. There under the supervision of General Ross Igor and Professor Kotaro Hazuki. The Cyber Beast Force (or CBF) is an agency specifically set up to fight the alien attack with advanced technology. Shinobu is given orders to pilot a machine called the Eagle Fighter. It’s not until he is actually in combat that he realises that though his anger, it changes into “Aggressive Beast Mode” which can defeat just about any enemy. Shinobu is soon joined by Sara who pilots a tank called the Land Cougar. Two others later join them; Masato Shikibu who pilots a tank called the Land Liger, and Ryo Shiba who pilots another tank called the Big Moth (as in Mammoth).
Through the many battles with the aliens, they discover many things about their craft they pilot. All of them have the “Aggressive Beast Mode”, and can change into “Beast Mode” (into a mechanical Eagle, Cougar. Liger and Mammoth respectively). Not only that, their machines can transform into a humanoid form and eventually can link up together to form the giant robot “Dancouga” (it seems the official English spelling of the robot’s name in the show is intentionally incorrect) when Shinobu enters the code word “Dancouga” in his Eagle. Although they are sometimes defeated by the enemy, they always return to counterattack. They are sometimes helped by a mysterious fighter only known as the Black Knight who has his own beast warrior machine.
As the battles progress, Sara accidentally comes across Shapiro again. She discovers that he did indeed defect to the enemy and is quite shocked. The former lovers are now on opposite sides of the war, directly fighting each other. The war against the Muge Empire is soon getting worse and it seems that Earth is losing. The aliens find the hidden CBF base and attack it mercilessly. But General Ross Igor and Professor Kotaro Hazuki have an ace up their sleeve that may be able to save the Earth.
Despite this series looking like a show to sell transformable toys and a combination of “Go Lion” and any number of 1970’s giant combining robot vs alien invaders show, it’s quite entertaining. There’s enough plot twists to keep the viewer interested nearly all the way through. Despite the fact they look like a clichéd fighting team on initial viewing, the characters have a decent amount of depth to them and some really interesting backgrounds. Some of it is predictable though. Guess who General Igor’s estranged son is? Also the way the general acts towards his team is pretty clichéd as well. I’ve never seen so many people get slapped or punched (mostly team mates hitting each other or high ups doing the hitting). While the core of the show is highly reminiscent of 1970’s giant robot anime, the battles and situations the CBF are pretty interesting and varied. Unfortunately some of the animation isn’t too crash hot. For a large number of episodes towards the first quarter of the series, in some scenes only the key animation is used. So there’s only about two frames a second in some of the animation. It looks terribly cheap, even for TV animation. Also some of the character designs are massacred by the animators and are really off model at times. Like a lot of robot anime of the period the soundtrack is pretty good. Most of it is with a full band and includes a lot of brass instruments. It sounds great. There are some synthesised tracks, but these are kept to a minimum and most of those sound good.
Playing an odd role is a girl called Laura Sullivan. Laura is found by Shinobu early on the series. Her mother has been killed in an attack on Sacramento city and only her and her puppy, Becky, have survived. He manages to lose her after an alien attack, but eventually he finds her and the CBF adopts her. Though it would seem she’s only there to sell the soundtrack to the series (she sings a song named “Harmony Love” and her voice actor sings both opening theme songs.), she plays an important part in the end due the song she sings. The creators have also included some odd pop culture references in the show. A child solider they come across is named Dan Akroyd, and the system that controls Dancougar is called “THX 1138”. Even worse is the terrible stereotyping of foreign people. Since the show takes place in many countries, the writers had many chances to show their general ignorance. In one episode the CBF go to Harlem in New York where they meet a group of African Americans who just dance and play Jazz all the time. In another episode they go to Switzerland where a local says “We Swiss are always prepared for war!”, and guns suddenly appear out of thin air. Um yes, that sounds just like what the Swiss would do.
The last volume of the series contains the OVA episode “Requiem for Victims”. Even though the Earth wasn’t in danger any longer at the end of the TV series, not everything was resolved (that’s pretty obvious, but I’m really trying not to give away spoilers here). Originally a 90 minute OVA, it contained mostly flashback sequences from the TV series as well as a true definitive ending spliced in between the recycled animation. Software Sculptures decided to cut out all of the flashback animation that had appeared from the TV series, and left the new animation. There’s only about 30 minutes left. I suppose they’ve decided to do this to save tape, and also as per usual have cut out most of the ending animation and next episode previews from the TV episodes because of that too. I really wish they hadn’t made any cuts at all. Also the subtitles on this show seemed to cut out or severely truncate a lot of the dialogue that can be heard. Unfortunately Central Park Media (who own Software Sculptures) didn’t release the “God Bless Dancougar” OVA or the “White Hot Final Chapter” OVA series. Bizarrely “God Bless Dancougar” was released in the UK several years before this release without the TV series being released there. The UK release of the OVA was another Western Connection effort which of course I’ll be looking at sometime in the future.
Dancougar is a decent robot anime TV series. Without the plot twists and fairly interesting characters it’d be dull as dishwater and just a toy commercial. It just manages to rise above being average. The show is hardly as good as many other robot anime of the time, but still it’s worth a look if you like the genre. It’s highly unlikely this show will get released on DVD or Blu-ray at any point in time in the future by anyone.