Gokudo (Volume 5: Lover Extraordinaire) Review
The penultimate DVD instalment in the Gokudo series is entitled 'Lover Extraordinaire'... and so perhaps unsurprisingly features a couple of romantic complications for the gang. Never fear; these figure only as sub-plots and don't actually affect the primary story arc of the show. After all, Gokudo is a decidedly shounen [intended to appeal to boys rather than girls] work of animé, so the idea of it becoming some kind of mushy love story is rather risible in and of itself. In fact, if anything the 'romance' exhibited in the four episodes on this disc goes in precisely the opposite direction, becoming merely another useful pivot for the show's farcical nature. For example, what can one really say when a female (mer)tiger woman is smitten hopelessly in love with an Arabian genie trapped in the body of a dashing prince from the Magic World, despite the fact that he can nevertheless say nothing but 'Teralarian' over and over?
In the course of writing these reviews, I've discovered that Gokudo isn't the best-known animé series the world has ever seen, and that it can be somewhat tricky to find more info regarding the actual production. In an attempt to rectify this, here is the first of two quick summaries regarding the voice talent that worked on the show, beginning with the Japanese staff. If such details aren't of particular interest to you, then by all means skip down to the next section.
First off, about the theme music... the OP song ('Prism') is the work of the group Baiser, while the ED song ('Wake Up!') is care of Chisato. I haven't been able to find out anything concerning Chisato, but Baiser was a fairly short-lived Japanese pop group that surfaced in 1994 and had broken up by 2001. (Luckily for us, they were at the height of their popularity around 1999, when Gokudo came out.) For those who like the punchy sound of 'Prism', a list of their albums would include Kuchizuke ['Kiss'], Fleur de Fleurs ['Flower of Flowers'], Ash, Terre ['Earth'], La Luna ['The Moon'], and Hana ['Flower']. Apparently after the break-up, two of the band members hooked up with the indie group Endorphine while the other three joined Swallowtail.
As for the cast, probably the most recognisable name would be that of Shinichiro Miki, the voice of Prince Niari. His other roles include Herman in Cowboy Bebop, Allen in Escaflowne, Taba in Geobreeders, Hidero in Great Teacher Onizuka, Takumi in Initial D, Hikaru in Key the Metal Idol, Keisuke in Fushigi Yugi, Youji in Weiß Kreuz, and Larva in Vampire Princess Miyu! Similarly well-known is Akira Ishida, voice of Gokudo. He has memorably played Xelloss in Slayers, Judou in Berserk, Amari in Inu Yasha, Kaoru in Neon Genesis Evangelion, and scores of other roles. The witch Rayuka is played by Kae Araki, voice of Akane in Cardcaptor Sakura, Shouta in Ceres, Simone in Gundam 0083, Miaka in Fushigi Yugi, Sayaka in Saint Tail, and Chibi throughout Sailor Moon. Tiger-woman Nanya is played by Yuu Asakawa, voice of Sakaki in Azumanga Daioh, Nagi in Boogiepop Phantom, Priss in Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040, Motoko in Love Hina, Shiris in Record of Lodoss War: Chronicles of the Heroic Knight, and Jura from Vandread. Finally, the evil monk Sanzo is performed by Ryotaro Okiayu, voice of Katsuhiko in El Hazard, Kurei in Flame of Recca, Enrico in Hellsing, Kentaro in Love Hina, Gorgeous in Maze, and Brad in Weiß Kreuz.
Episode Guide (and Possible Spoilers)
19: 'The World Is Full of Loving and Shoving!'
Well, you'll remember from the previous review that when we last left our heroes, they were still suffering from the 'old body switcheroo', had just been sent to 'Hell' by the evil monk Sanzo, and upon arriving had run across Pegasus and Djinn (the latter still stuck in Prince Niari's body, natch), both unable to communicate anything more than the word 'Teralarian'. More importantly, though, this marks the beginning of the series' fifth plot arc... not to mention introduces a key character for the four episodes on this volume: Nanya, royal servant of Queen West (the White Tiger Goddess).
We learn via flashback that Nanya rescued Djinn from Hotoke troops (who believe him to be Niari, and thus the enemy of their king, Yama). He in turn saves her from the next wave of Yama's forces, and inevitably she falls in love with him. Alas, their escape path takes them through the Teralarian Desert, which causes Djinn to become delusional... and so it happens that when Gokudo & Co run across the trio, she's escorting them back to Konron Mountain (the demesne of Queen West) to see if she can cure Djinn.
Unfortunately for Nanya, even the desert-crazed Djinn feels an instinctual desire to protect Gokudo (who, you may recall, is technically the genie's master) and Prince Niari's still-lecherous body still harbours lust for Rubette... which, since Gokudo is yet in Rubette's body, means that the effect is doubled. Fearing that she now has competition for the affections of Djinn (whom she calls 'Jade', in reference to the colour of his eyes), she reluctantly loans the gang the fur of a white tiger (which protects them from the Teralarian curse) before striking off again with Djinn and Pegasus in tow.
Trying to find their own way there, Team Gokudo once more run across Tei (who turns out to also be the son of Queen West), someone who's been playing fast and loose with the heart of Rayuka (one of the sister witches we met on the last disc). It seems he's since become a huge fan of 'Gon-Gon' (Gokudo's alias when the gals formed their girl-band to sneak into Yama's palace) and has turned into an obsessive collector of all Gon-Gon merchandise!
20: 'Who's That Baby? Whose Baby? Mystery of the Blue Egg'
As if this isn't weird enough, the gang also crosses paths with the magical talking panda from before, who's not only pregnant (from gobbling down a magical blue egg, or so he claims), but proceeds to give birth on the spot to a baby that is actually the demon lord Gokuu in a 'youthified' version of Gokudo's body. (Great stuff, ne?) Soon after, they finally reach Queen West's outpost and she begins to spin her own tale of woe. In order to explain all this, the episode resorts to super-exposition, so hang on tight...
Apparently Sanzo switched the real King Yama with an impostor, turned Horai Mountain into Hell and then lured our heroes in to help him destroy the Hotoke. Why them? Perhaps because the gang unwittingly laid waste to the Hotoke back in Inaho. Queen West tried to stop him, and it was this conflict between their rival powers that caused the soul/body mix-up in the first place. However, she has a backup plan, and hands over a key to something called 'the Saviour Device', which will allegedly bring happiness to the whole world. Niari and Gokuu slip away to Yama's stronghold, but when the others find out they've gone, they decide to reform their Chingensai Sisters act to sneak in as well. (This last is a slightly-disappointing retread of a previously-used plot device... about the first time that the writers have repeated themselves, to my knowledge. It wouldn't be quite so bad if the animators didn't also copy bits of the subsequent concert scenes wholesale from episode 17.)
21: 'Monk Sanzo Appears! What Is Happiness?'
Our heroes do eventually find and confront Sanzo, who at first endeavours to convince them that Queen West has been lying to them and that he has the power to put their souls back in their correct bodies. Naturally this is a misdirection ruse as he then tries to capture the lot of them in some more of his blue stasis eggs. Gokudo, Ikkyu and Gokuu manage to escape, however, and accidentally set free the genuine King Yama by cracking his egg open in Sanzo's dungeons. With his assistance, they discover the location of the Saviour Device and manage to activate it before Sanzo can stop them... which only results in every last one of them getting sucked into the bizarre alternate realm contained within it.
22: 'The Awakening of Miroku - Where Is Happiness?'
As we approach the end of the Sanzo plot arc, the show gets a bit weird. (At least, weird for Gokudo.) This episode sees Sanzo engaging in a full-blown philosophical debate with Miroku (the denizen of the Saviour Device) over the latter's purpose. From what I gather, Miroku was designed by the gods as a last-ditch 'system reset', only intended to be activated at the very end of the universe (if ever).
Of course, the down-to-earth Gokudo argues that Miroku can be whatever he wants and shouldn't feel constrained by whatever purpose he was designed for, and the latter takes him up on this advice by entering Gokudo's body and helping the gang fight Sanzo, who has taken advantage of the opportunity to fuse with the Saviour Device and gain the powers of God.
Just as things are beginning to look bleak for all of reality (as Sanzo's avatar begins to descend from the heavens and encroach upon the mortal plane), our heroes manage to beat back their nemesis with a little help from Jyoka (the Tree of the Sages) and that cute soul-gobbler Ikkyu. Miroku snatches Sanzo out of his heavenly manifestation and carries him off before he can do more harm.
Picture, Sound, Menus & Extras
As for picture/sound quality, things are about the same as ever in the Gokudo universe... but there are a few new wrinkles to report this time around when it comes to menus, music, and extras. Interestingly, episode 20 (and onwards) features a different ED (ending) song for the series: 'Silent Moon'. It's a nice fresh melody, although I've really grown to love the manic beginning of 'Wake Up!', so somehow an episode of Gokudo doesn't feel quite complete without it.
In the 'strange mistakes' department, the main menu of this DVD is mislabelled 'Goddess Extraordinaire' (the name of volume 3) instead of 'Lover Extraordinaire'. I've just gone back to verify that the last disc has 'Witches Extraordinaire' on the menu, so it's puzzling why this error happened on the fifth disc in the set. Perhaps the lads in the DVD authoring department grabbed the old template and simply didn't spot the title text.
However, when it comes to special features, there's good news to report... under 'Extras', you'll find both the textless version of the new closing song sequence (mentioned above) as well as almost 20 new production sketches focusing on some of the supporting characters introduced on this volume.
For whatever reason, the storyline contained on this volume of Gokudo doesn't seem to be of quite the same calibre as the ones that have gone before. Perhaps it's the reuse of the Chingensai Sisters schtick, or the heavy-handed exposition of Sanzo's wicked schemes, or the vaguely-tedious dialogue between him and the bland character of Miroku. Somehow these aspects only served to weigh down the otherwise buoyant comedy of the show I've grown to love. Although it's certainly interesting to have so many of the background connections and motivations explained on this disc, I wish it could have been handled a little more gracefully. And about the only really successful addition character-wise is Nanya, who fortunately will be coming back for one more episode on the last DVD of the set. However, I definitely am looking forward to seeing how this series concludes... see you in the next review!