Shimahara Minami, the eldest of three sisters, does her morning round of deliveries and returns to her youngest sister, Yuuki who is watching the news on television. Minami asks Yuuki about what she’ll be doing today, but she doesn’t reply. Apparently a large mech with weird markings has made its way into the Tokyo city limits, but Minami and Yuuki are not surprised by this.
Ushio, the middle sister, happens to see the reports on the television and a single word comes out as a whisper "Neo Ranga." The military try to get involved in stopping this using all the firepower they can to stop it before it destroys the rest of the city on its unknown trek through Tokyo. Ushio drops what she was doing and grabs the hand of a unique boy named Joel. Joel seems to be connected somehow to this strange mech and sports strange markings on his face. He also carries around a dragon-type monster that is equally weird.
Rewind into the recent past, the Shimahara sisters receive plane tickets to go to a remote jungle in South America to find out what happened to their eldest brother. They find a number of villagers dressed in odd masks and regular clothes who seem to worship Neo Ranga, which is found asleep within the side of a nearby mountain. A mysterious sculpture of the Shimahara sisters’ eldest brother seems to be a religious icon in this village. Meanwhile, in the present, the Shimahara sisters are still unsure of why Neo Ranga is here in Tokyo. Could it be Neo Ranga is seeking them out? Yuuki seems to think so. The military want to capture it for study. Ushio disagrees and runs to Neo Ranga in the middle of a skirmish with the military to save it. She finds out where her brother has gone as familiar eyes look down at her from Neo Ranga’s eyes. "Big Brother?" Neo Ranga then starts to become a regular part of the family and seems to be connected mentally with the three sisters who seem to be able to control it.
It would seem that the anime industry is doing a good deal of experimenting with its marketing--first a big wave of 13-episode TV series (instead of the usual 26 that most of us are used to) and now we have the 15 minute long epidoes of the Neo Ranga TV series. Why 15 minutes? Who knows! Amazingly enough tho, it does actually manage to work fairly well. The episodes don't feel rushed, quite the opposite in fact. Because of the shortened nature of the episodes, you find yourself wanting everything to be widened and sped up. Mind you, the show is rather difficult to classify; at first glance it looks like it is going to end up as a "Pretty Girls and the Mecha who love them", but it quickly becomes apparent that this just isn't the case. The story is complicated and dramatic (though it does seem to take its time to achieve even a momentary resolution), but there is still plenty of humorous bits thrown in at just the right times (the "overzealous mecha pilot" gag is funny no matter how many times I see it). Thankfully the drama doesn't give one the feeling of "Sledgehammer Melodrama", probably the biggest failing of the entire Mecha genre. The girls themselves aren't particularly interesting yet (lets hope that changes in later episodes) but one gets the feeling that there is a huge story about to blindside them any second.
One thing Neo Ranga has a surplus of is story potential...let's hope it all gets tapped into. The art is very nice for a TV series, smooth line work, fluid motion, and a nice high cel count that's relatively free of any image recycling. Neo Ranga itself is quite interesting, quite an unusual design but still aesthetically pleasing to look at. While the animation was nice, the music is what really caught me; somber ballady songs and "Mayan"-like tribal rhythms mix together and fit the show perfectly...well, except for the really weird jazzy ending song that just doesn't fit at all. I'd like to say that Neo Ranga is a great story-driven show, with deep characters and an involving plot, but I just can't say that yet. Right now there is no real conflict, no clear-cut idea of where this show is going, but it sure is an interesting prelude. Hopefully I will see more of this show soon, as it has the capacity to be a real winner if they pull everything off well. Be warned though, that with this capacity for greatness comes the possibility of a lot of disappointment--just look at Brain Powerd or Blue Submarine #6. And for those of you thinking of showing this to any newbies, DON'T. While it could end up being a good series, it is very hard to tell how this show is going to play out from the first few episodes, and I can tell many people will get annoyed by the slow pace and weird cutting of the show (4 episodes just to introduce the namesake of the show can be a good thing, or a very very bad thing). Tentatively recommended.
Available from AD Vision in March 2003.