There is something in the anime and manga industry, which I call “Gainax syndrome”, whereby a company, in an attempt to make as much money out of a particular series as possible, will merchandise it on as many things as possible, at the expense of the original story – thus the choice of name. (Many other companies are as guilty of such actions, but studio Gainax are the most infamous – I mean, just how many Rei Ayanami models ARE THERE?)
Thus it was, with some trepidation, that I bought the first volume of one of Japan’s most popular series, KERORO GUNSO, or “Sergeant Frog” as it’s known in the west. The series, created by Mine Yoshizaki, and translated/released by TOKYOPOP, has, in the short time it has been in circulation, heralded a virtual cornucopia of spin-off merchandise – from key rings, to figures, to beat-em-up computer games, and even an animated adaptation of the series - in fact it wouldn’t surprise me if, out there somewhere, someone is planning a Sgt. Frog... Ahem... “Shoulder massager”.
(Well, it worked for Hello Kitty...)
But enough of the product placement, what about the manga itself?
On an earth not too far into the future, Natsuki, and his older sister Natsumi Hinata, not only inadvertently thwart the invasion of Earth by a race of aliens, but that as a result of said actions, end up the (reluctant) owners of one Keroro Gunso, head of the surveillance team sent to scout ahead, and a truly fearsome figure. That is if you consider a green alien frog, with an addiction for Gundam figures fearsome!
In this, the first volume of the series, we re also introduced to Momoka Nishizawa, who makes Naru from Love Hina look emotionally stable, as well as the first of keroro’s subordinates, Private Tamama, who seems to be a more pleasant countenance to Geroro – just don’t mind his tendencies to fire laser beams out of his mouth when he gets annoyed! Last, but by no means least, there’s Aki Hinata, mother of Natsuki and Natsumi, editor in chief of a major manga publication, and owner of quite prodigious...erm, assets
The writing of the series, as expected for a comedy, is fast and funny, with an avalanche of references and parodies of well known (and some not so well known) manga and anime series – in some cases you have to look twice before realising. However it’s obvious form the get go that the characters are the focus of the storyline, with the writer giving just enough information to keep you the reader coming back for more.
In summary I think this series, which to date has released around 9 volumes in the west, shows definite potential. However I still hold some reservation – all too often a brilliant series can be ruined because the writer has tried to force out extra episodes, and stretch out the plot far beyond its shelf life, to earn more money (mentioning no names *ahem*lovehina*ahem*).
Lock up your Gundam figures, check under your beds and set sense of humour to overload, Sergeant Frog is on his way.