© 1989 Masami Yuuki / Tohokushinsha Film Corp. / Studio Koa
I don't get Japanese parodies.
Sure, Shinesman was worth a few giggles, lampooning Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers and its ilk. On the other hand, anime like Project A-Ko and Otaku No Video left me more bewildered than entertained. Having just viewed Assemble Insert, it falls in the latter category: another parody of Japanese culture to puzzle over.
A criminal organization known as the "Demon Seed" has been pillaging and looting banks and jewelery stores in Japan. The local police are woefully ineffective against the powerful mecha wielded by the Demon Seed, so a special task force is set up to deal with the problem. Their new top-secret project involves auditioning local people for the role of a crime fighting idol star.
The plan looks like it's going to be fruitless, until a cute high-schooler named Maron steps up to the mike (before twisting said mike into a pretzel). While Maron doesn't have any real idol talent, she's young, attractive, and blessed with super-human strength. Chief Hattori recognizes her potential and immediately declares her their new idol. Maron is then launched into a training program, which includes the usual photo shoots, dance lessons, and recording studio time, before making her spectacular "debut" battling the Demon Seed on the sixth floor of a museum.
Assemble Insert claims to be a parody of idol singers and its corresponding cultural elements. The humor is rather relaxed, with little in the way of the outlandish sight gags that make up a lot of anime comedies. Some jokes are in the form of obvious one-liners, whether it's the head villain explaining how "the best actor always plays the villain", or cutesy Maron forgetting her own catch-phrases before a fight. Some of the humor is a little more subtle, such as a main character's otaku-like obsession with Maron's every move. And I can't shake the feeling that there are a lot of in-jokes that went completely over my head.
The problem I have with cultural parodies, is they rarely work outside of their intended audience. I don't expect an American to find Canadian Bacon amusing any more than a Westerner fully understanding a Japanese parody. Either I'm not versed enough in Japanese culture or Assemble Insert just isn't that funny to begin with.
Also featured is a live-action parody commercial for some sort of Japanese drink. Mind you, I couldn't figure out what drink, because the darned thing was in Japanese and not subtitled. This brings me to another complaint: The Assemble Insert VHS dub completely lacks subtitles. This wouldn't be an issue except that there is a good amount of Japanese in the form of musical lyrics and the live commercial. The lack of subtitles makes the VHS release look like a half-hearted after-thought in the light of the DVD release.
Assemble Insert is an older title, produced back in 1989. It was created by Masami Yuki, reknowned for Patlabor, and there are some obvious similarities. The mecha used by Demon Seed look suspiciously like the Brocken Labors in Patlabor, and a Noa Izumi lookalike make a cameo appearence. The art and animation are decent, given the show's age, but it has a less polished look than modern anime. The dubbing is quite good, highlighted by Jessica Cavello's spot-on performance as the squeaky Maron. Most of the voice acting was overly campy, but the voices matched the material.
If you happen to believe Project A-Ko or Otaku No Video are comedy gold, then by all means get Assemble Insert. For the less-culturally inclined, I'd give it a pass.
The Verdict: * * 1/2 (below average)
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