Frame Arms Girl, a Guilty Pleasure

Welcome, all, again.  I have recently been watching Frame Arms Girl on hidive.com, and have grown to greatly enjoy it.  And believe me, this was no foregone conclusion.  Like Robot Girls Z, this series focuses upon anthropomorphized cute-girl versions of fighting robots, these originating with the Frame Arms mecha line.  And both lines, original and female, existed as model kits prior to either this series or its previous manga adaptation.  In other words, this show runs the risk of being considered just one long commercial.  But having grown up watching Western cartoons, I’m already quite inured to and unswayed by this situation.  From Transformers to Bratz, marketing by way of animated series has become an established mainstay of toy marketing strategy.  In fact, looking back through the jaded eyes of an adult, even the original Scooby Doo seems like one extended, trippy promo for pot usage–or at least an associated lifestyle.  Not brand-specific advertising, perhaps, but certainly interpretable as marketing.

Yet sometimes these purveyors of plastic blow-molding artifice get so worked-up over a project that they accidentally create real entertainment within their advertising.  Witness My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.  Now, I’m no brony, but I completely forget about the toys et al. while watching this show.  Great characterization is combined with far-ranging storylines–and all those bright, pretty colors (of course)!–to keep me glued to my seat.  (Speaking of which: hey, Hasbro, has Fluffle Puff been licensed yet?!  Officially licensed?  We fans shouldn’t be forced to go to YouTube just to see Fluffle Puff. . .Hasbro?  Hasbro!)  Anyway, getting back on topic, some shows are able to transcend their inherent marketing raison d’etre.  Frame Arms Girl does just that.

This series follows the daily lives of Frame Arms (F. A.) girls as they learn about the world in which they exist while also fighting each other.  The girls are sentient automatons who stand several inches tall and who possess the rough intelligence of a human 10-year-old when initially activated.  They are designed to accumulate knowledge and incorporate it into their interactions with their environment; in short, they are made to learn and adapt.  But also to fight.  Each girl has weapons, armor, and combat capabilities specific to her person, and uses these as she battles other F. A. girls.  Meanwhile (and for some unexplained reason), the girls’ creator, Factory Advance, seeks to accumulate combat data from their matches.  Things seem just a bit suspicious.

Suspicious to me, maybe, but not to Ao Gennai, the high school girl around whom our diminutive cast assemble.  Ao one day receives a delivery–quite possibly a misdelivery–of what she takes to be a doll sent by her father.  This figure is actually Gourai, a Frame Arms girl specializing in ground warfare.  And after Ao accidentally activates her, two more F. A. girls appear, seeking battle with Gourai.  It seems that Ao has initiated the only successful activation of a Gourai unit, so other models of F. A. girls begin to flock to her apartment in order to test themselves against a truly unique opponent.  This quickly becomes inconvenient for Ao, who then considers just returning the small warriors, but is dissuaded by the promise of monetary compensation for hosting the girls and their battles.  Living on her own and beset by everyday expenses, Ao is quick to seize upon this windfall of financial opportunity.  And so the girls learn that money has power.

But they’re learning a lot more, as well.  Interacting with Ao and each other helps them to recognize and develop emotions, even as they gain concrete knowledge of the world beyond their battle stage.  One bit of learning that does sometimes seem excessive is in the yuri undertones of certain storylines–younger viewers might be made curious while older viewers might be made uncomfortable.  There are even brief moments when the word hentai might not be an incorrect description of the action and dialogue presented.  (I haven’t seen this many panty shots since Strike Witches!)  But the show’s real focus is upon the development of affection and trust amongst these many different personalities, creating an opportunity for friendship.   Which is, of course, magic.  Right, Fluffle Puff?

[Parental Note: this series contains a lot of thinly veiled sexual references, from power cord insertion “punishments” to drop-of-the-hat moaning sessions.  The story itself is pretty good, but the show through which it’s told will be a guilty pleasure.]

Action Heroine Cheer Fruits, a Real Treat!

Welcome, all, again.  I have mentioned several times already the abundance of quality shows available this viewing season, and Action Heroine Cheer Fruits continues that trend!  Imagine taking the very best elements of Sakura Quest, Locodol, and Magica Wars, and finding a way to combine them almost seamlessly.  You’d have something unique yet recognizable, compelling but comfortable–you’d have Action Heroine Cheer Fruits, in which a group of high school students come together to create a hero show in their hometown of Hinano City.   But each girl’s reasons for joining the effort are her own, and half the fun is watching as they try to establish and then settle into their individual roles.  Not only are there too many cooks for just one pot of soup, they’re not even working from the same recipe!

Student council president Misaki Shirogane is the granddaughter of the deceased former prefectural governor (I think, although he might have been the city mayor), whose political and personal reputation has been sullied by the legacy of debt he left the city.  Misaki is desperate to restore her grandfather’s honor and is constantly scouring the city for ideas for its revitalization.  (It seems that, in addition to massive debt, Hinano City is also suffering from a dwindling population.)  Chasing inspiration, Misaki stumbles upon fellow schoolmates An Akagi and Mikan Kise as they practice a routine from the popular children’s character Kamidaio, with which they hope to entertain Mikan’s younger sister Yuzuka.  They do just that, but Misaki secretly films them and uploads the video to the web, then uses the popularity of the clip to entice the two into becoming Hinano City’s new local heroines.  (Remind anyone else of the sneaky way in which Nanako’s uncle recruited her in Locodol?)

As in Locodol, we see a group of girls slowly gain members and build into a cohesive unit, becoming more assured and practiced in the entertainment they offer.  And as in Sakura Quest, these girls take their individual reasons for participating and direct them towards fulfilling a common need and goal: offsetting the city’s debt and shrinking revenue while also restoring civic pride.  Also like the characters in Sakura Quest, these seem to operate with a great deal of autonomy and freedom.  And if you’re wondering about the Magica Wars reference, that comes from the competitiveness  between heroines representing different regions.

Of course, our protagonists are not allowed an easy road, and the challenges they face are many and diverse.  But from the personal vendettas of petty rivalries to the legal repercussions of alleged copyright infringement, our team maintains their drive and continues pushing forward (even if forward seems to strongly resemble a brick wall!).  In fact, the question of copyright infringement leads to the watershed decision to morph into an identifiably local group, the Cheer Fruits, performing original material called “Hina Nectar” shows.  These changes then inspire the recruitment of additional members, in turn expanding the group’s creative capabilities even further!  And the story continues to develop along these lines.  Scenarios and focus change from episode to episode, but the show itself maintains a cohesively positive storyline.  This is a fun series that’s well-worth an investment of your time.  (It simulcasts on hidive.com every Saturday at 8AM.)