OVA Review (II) – Cool Cool Bye

[RM] Cool Cool Bye [DB8E05F7].mkv_snapshot_00.46_[2013.03.11_00.24.40]

A number of OVAs of the 1980s aimed to be part of long-running series, or to have continuations; examples include Dangaioh, Relic Armour Legaciam and so on. Similarly there were OVAs like ARIEL, which played with the idea of taking an episode or arc out of a non-existent series and presenting it as a standalone adventure (in ARIEL‘s case this is a conscious stylistic choice; the light novel series it is based on is structured like a series of episode summaries for a TV show, and it is very self-aware in its use of the cliches of mecha anime). As a result, the half-hour Cool Cool Bye sits in a strange place between being an unfinished or undeveloped experiment and an intentionally contextless single episode.

[RM] Cool Cool Bye [DB8E05F7].mkv_snapshot_08.16_[2013.03.11_00.25.24]

The first standout feature of Cool Cool Bye is the aesthetic; character designer Tomonari Kogawa’s style is immediately apparent with the characters in the OVA highly reminiscent of his earlier projects Xabungle and Dunbine – indeed, the protagonist is almost an exact copy of Xabungle‘s own. Kogawa’s use of rounded, very distorted and stylised, characters suits comedic and slapstick action as featured in Cool Cool Bye and the earlier Xabungle; the action is very fluid and mobile, with an emphasis on physical humour and visual jokes. Similarly, the comparatively simple faces allow for expressive and big facial expressions; the style is entirely a cartoon and makes full use of animation’s potential. Even though characters’ builds and body shapes are distorted and disparate, the aesthetic remains coherent and unified thanks to the consistent costuming and colour scheme – and when characters such as the fairy are introduced who do not immediately fit the theme it is because they are different within the narrative. Notably, the fairy is more heavily inspired by similar characters in Dunbine or the female characters of Ideon – still resolutely in Kogawa’s style but in a different aspect.

[RM] Cool Cool Bye [DB8E05F7].mkv_snapshot_01.00_[2013.03.11_00.25.04]

In terms of narrative, a short OVA telling a chapter of a supposed ongoing adventure must have a self-contained plot which is not lessened by the open ending, and may start mid-scene with little chance for exposition. ARIEL, being an adaptation of a longer story from which specific adventures have been chosen, does this with limited exposition and a knowing reliance on super robot cliche. Cool Cool Bye works around the need for lengthy exposition by having a very slight setting and instead a tight focus on the single episode’s action. The result is something which is obviously presented as part of an ongoing story in its assumed familiarity with the two main characters, but it is a familiarity based on easily-understood comic archetypes. ARIEL was selfconsciously a parody of mecha anime – Cool Cool Bye is instead an example of an archetypal comedy series not intended to pastiche or parody but instead to fit alongside other examples. As a result, when it ends on an open promise of continued adventures, it seems likely that more could exist. It is not an unsatisfying ending like Legaciam‘s promise of resolution to mysteries raised in the final few minutes but instead the epitome of an episodic comedy anime where the conflict is resolved and the next installment will promise something new yet familiar.

While the plot of the episode is the sort of slight, archetypal conflict that defines a comedy-SF or comedy-mecha anime, it is curiously reminiscent in many ways of a later series which would draw in its own form on Xabungle – Gurren Lagann. Whether or not Gurren Lagann was consciously inspired by Cool Cool Bye, the two share many similarities. The plot of the latter concerns a crazed old man capturing women from a cluster of villages in a desert wasteland in order to start his own society, using a giant robot called the Penguin. Set against him are the two protagonists – one young and impetuous and one more cautious and taciturn, a talking mole, a mysterious girl found in the aftermath of a battle and a pair of local toughs from one of the villages eager to save their countryfolk. Immediately similarities seem to appear to Simon and Kamina, Nia and Kittan and his crew from Gurren Lagann – and the entire aesthetic of a bizarre desert populated by marauding robots and oddballs is very much like the later series’ first arc. It is fair to say the similarities are hardly conclusive proof of inspiration or much beyond superficial tropes of the genre, but what it does show – if anything – is how for a one-off, little known OVA, it hits all the beats of its inspirations so accurately that it ended up being similar to a much later entry in the genre. Nevertheless, Gurren Lagann was definitely a loving homage to and entertaining pastiche of many sources and GAINAX is certainly fond of allusion and reference.

In conclusion, Cool Cool Bye is a curious kind of collage of Tomonari Kogawa projects that add up to a very effective single episode of a non-existent comedy series. Whether or not the significant number of similarities that the early episodes of Gurren Lagann share with it (far more, in fact, than with Xabungle in terms of tone and setting) are anything other than coincidence is ultimately immaterial – that it has these similarities with one of the most interesting examples of the niche subgenre of post-apocalyptic comedy anime, and that it effectively creates the impression of an ongoing story within a single episode without breaking the narrative framework of that standalone anime episode, makes it an interesting curio of anime history.

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