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Anime Review: Tribe Cool Crew October 6, 2015

Posted by navycherub in Anime, Review.
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We should all feel some level of appreciation for Crunchyroll at this point. When I started really watching anime, the popular things were licensed, most of the late-night otaku shows were fansubbed (if not a little late sometimes), and more pertinently, if you were into kids shows, you could count on the big, long-running franchises – your Pretty Cures and Jewelpets – to be subtitled eventually, depending on the demand for such things. Nowadays though, while not everything will get picked up, Crunchyroll does seem to try their best to pick up as many things as possible to serve every possible audience they can every single week. Tribe Cool Crew is one of those weird little kids cartoons that probably would have never seen any exposure in the English-speaking (and Spanish-speaking, and Portuguese-speaking) world had it come out at a different time, but for the past year we have been thoroughly graced by the joy of this show almost every single week, and I couldn’t be happier.

tribe cool crew plane

For most people, Tribe Cool Crew‘s premiere was mostly heralded by everyone watching and subsequently sharing the dancing scenes and music that seemed to be the main selling point of the show. Those scenes look like cell-shaded CG, and they are, but they are also a bit more than that. They are actually all made using motion capture using real dancers, as you can see on Sunrise’s official channel. This has a whole bunch of advantages – namely, range of body movement and camera angles are essentially limitless thanks to this technique, and Tribe Cool Crew takes full advantage of both of these things. It does look a little cooler in real life, but that seems to come down more to the limitations of motion capture than anything else. I will admit that the number of songs and variety of dances used throughout the anime can feel small at times, especially the beginning, but as more groups are introduced and the plot becomes more involved, these problems become much less apparent.

In case you aren’t familiar with what Tribe Cool Crew is actually about, though (and I don’t blame you), the basic premise is as simple as you might expect from Sunday morning children’s television. The fifty episode series follows our group of young street dancing friends who all admire an extremely talented foreign dancer. Named Jey El, this mysterious performer is world famous for his charitable acts and bringing happiness to the downtrodden through his dancing. Luckily for our protagonists, Jey El is looking to expand his influence by finding talented dancers all over the world to take under his wing via a series of challenges collectively titled Dance Road. The titular group, Tribe Cool Crew, spends essentially the entire show participating in this competition to find the dancers that will not only be able to finally perform alongside their hero but also help his long-term cause of bringing people together through their art.

jay el wings tribe cool crew

Tribe Cool Crew isn’t a group of idols, though, nor a bunch of geniuses like in many anime about music and the arts. Our protagonist is Haneru, a plucky and suitably tiny middle school boy whose main joy in life is dancing. He mostly does this alone, until meeting the much taller and insecure Kanon, who initially only dances under a mask and a pseudonym online until meeting Haneru. They are quickly introduced to the older and more experienced three members of their eventual dance group – Kumo, the break dancing tough boy with a heart of gold; Mizuki, a kind and rebellious girl with a surprising past; and Yuzuru, the portly and wise jack-of-all trades. They are pretty much nothing alike aside from all being really nice people, but their love of dance and what it means to them both individually and collectively slowly but surely brings them together

In fact, the diversity of this group in terms of age, body type, and even socioeconomic status is one of the most immediately apparent strengths of Tribe Cool Crew and what allows its narrative to branch out to explore so many ideas. The overarching narrative about Dance Road is the glue that holds everything together, but the dynamic between the members of the group and their individual problems are the wheels that keep the story spinning. The show isn’t afraid of using episodes between major plot beats to delve into more personal subjects that flesh out the cast, push them forward, and eventually express a resounding empathy for their issues in a way that people of all ages can appreciate on different levels. In one instance we may suddenly be given an episode that talks about Kanon’s wealthy and important parents not only pushing her away from expressing herself via dance, but from really growing as an individual at all. In another, we could see how Kumo’s responsibility to helping his working-class family puts multiple barriers in front of his less profitable aspirations – physical, economic, and even mental. Thanks to the wide variety of characters, there are a whole plethora of interesting things to potentially discover, and Tribe Cool Crew is not only not afraid to address those things but also entirely eager to unpack them for all they are worth.

I also mentioned body type, and I really can’t stress that enough: from the very beginning, Tribe Cool Crew never sets a standard for what a dancer should look like, and in fact embraces the possibilities that come with having so many different kinds of characters. Haneru’s size is a sour point for him, but he learns how to stand out despite being so small; similarly, Kanon is frequently embarrassed about her height, and through her friends and dance finds acceptance and even appreciation for her body. Yuzuru is introduced as confident in his ability and never feels limited by his weight. The cast beyond the main group is similarly diverse – muscular, lanky, a certain character in a spider monster costume – and the show uses all of this to its advantage, giving us an abundance of dance styles that show off everything they have to offer and more.

kumo marika tribe cool crew

Not that it is all so serious; another part of Tribe Cool Crew’s appeal is that it is also entirely willing to be wonderfully silly when the mood calls for it. This comes up in both the one-off episodes and the Dance Road plot, too. For example, about halfway through the show, our heroes are introduced to a seemingly malevolent form of dance named “Crowd High”, which proves to be an effective but worryingly mysterious way to win over audiences. Without even knowing the specifics of why this is, though, the show plays it up as the evil, antagonist dance in a variety of absurd yet fun to watch ways. Black and red circles dramatically burst from the dancers as they make big movements, you can repeatedly hear a voice say “what” exactly like Lil’ Jon, and a main feature of the Crowd High songs is literal gun cocking and firing sounds that accentuate beats in what amounts to possibly the coolest but least subtle musical decision ever.

Luckily for everyone, the fun ridiculous bits also come in various other forms, usually to cool down between intense plot-relevant stories. Possibly the most talked about one is an episode that almost singularly involves a character named Master T having strange hallucinations about his least favorite food, pickles, and it is as bizarre and entertaining as it sounds. We are also introduced in the most straight-faced manner possible to a family of people who may or may not be actual tengu, and there are dance-offs against evil dancing robots on more than one occasion. There is even an assassination attempt and a conspiracy or two thrown in there for good measure, all carried with a delicate balance of heaviness and absurdity. The best thing about all of this, though, is that Tribe Cool Crew manages all of these things while paying close attention to its tone so that, at the end of the day, everything still feels like it came from the same quirky anime.

And that is really the key to what makes Tribe Cool Crew succeed – it wears many hats, exchanging them as it sees fit and on whims, but it never betrays the positive and fun core that pulls it all together. This anime came as a huge surprise to me, but never stopped being appealing and finding new ways to improve, bringing me a short half hour of happiness every week for the past year. I’m sad to see it go, but I am equally glad that it exists as something that I can point to when people want something new, different, engaging, and memorable. I’m sure I’ll be recommending it to people for years to come – including you.

tribe cool crew haneru

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