Troubled fourteen year old Asuta Jimon (voiced by Natsuki Hanae) ran away from home but is now starving and destitute on the streets of West Udagawa. Which is where he runs into an adorable, wide-eyed little girl named Kate Hoshimiya (Misaki Kuno) racing by on her tricycle. Kate's kawaii cuteness belies her true identity. For in reality she is Venera the Great, a child super-villain (?!) out to conquer the world with her secret organization Zvezda. "Swear fealty to me and I will share my snacks and my dream!" she tells a dumbstruck Asuta. With no place else to go, Asuta figures why not be a minion to a pint-sized despotic super-vixen? Plus he really wants those snacks. So Asuta joins Zvezda's crazy exploits alongside Kate's devoted, sexy, eyepatch wearing, sword-wielding nanny Itsuka (Mariya Ise), scantily-clad genius scientist Natasha a.k.a. Professor Um (Kana Hanazawa), robot girl Roboko (Erri Yamazaki), skull-faced General Pepel (Minoru Hirota) and snivelling Yasu (Kosuke Toriumi). At high school Asuta struggles hiding his double-life from Renge (M.A.O), the girl he secretly loves, little realizing she is really White Robin, stalwart superheroine with the White Light Organization dedicated to ridding the world of Zvezda.
Admittedly when it comes to child super-villains bent on world conquest Seth MacFarlane got there first. Yet World Conquest Zvezda Plot takes this delightfully daffy concept in a surprisingly charming even emotional direction expanding the moé (obsession with pre-adolescent girls) trend in anime to a whole other level of wacky. How can you not love an anime where a magical moppet stops a tank shell with her bare hands or morphs her bunny-eared cuddly toy into a super-weapon to punch out a giant robot? Sure, there are faintly troubling pedophilic undertones in the depiction of Kate wearing a mask and fetish outfit seemingly out of a kindergarten production of The Story of O. Elements of the tiresome and over-familiar harem sub-genre in anime (e.g. Tenchi Muyo (1992) also rear their head with hapless Asuta surrounded by gorgeous, if pleasingly feisty and faceted girls in a range of super-villain themed lingerie. Yet quite honestly, this twelve-part serial has not a mean nor misogynistic bone in its body.
Instead World Conquest Zvezda Plot delivers an absurdist parody of a typical sentai (Japanese superhero show) scenario pitting 'good guys' against 'villains' who, when they aren't battling to the death, hang out happily together in high school. For while the anime hints Kate is an ageless super-being who has lived for centuries, her so-called schemes are decidedly those of a harmless little girl. She tasks her minions with taking her to the playground, making sure she drinks her milk, has daily exercise, sneaking into a convention to see her favourite anime characters, hardly the stuff to make ordinary citizens quake with fear. Far from world-threatening, Kate's madcap schemes are oddly benevolent notably when she conspires to make West Udogawa a no-smoking zone in an especially funny episode that involves a pro-smoking resistance group escalating into all out civil war.
Each episode is fast paced, gorgeously designed in luscious candy colours and full of witty observational gags. Multiple flashbacks colour the background details on each supporting character as we discover why deceptively stern swordswoman Itsuka is so devoted to Kate, how Natasha survived a traumatic encounter with malevolent fairies and Pepel's past as a yakuza boss. Over time we grow to care about the friendship between this group of oddballs and misfits. Much mileage is yoked from the star-crossed romance between Asuta and Renge, neither of whom are initially aware of each other's alter-ego. In addition there is a touching sub-plot about Miki (Minako Kotobuki) the popular girl at school Renge so admires who unbeknownst to her is secretly her crime-fighting partner White Eglet. Miki is full of admiration for White Robin not realizing she is the school klutz. Japanese culture draws a schism between honne (a person's true feelings) and tatemae (the behaviour and opinions one displays in public) which the plot skewers with some dexterity. Things only grow more complicated when Kate and co. enrol at Asuta's school and her kewpie doll kawaii factor proves a big hit with the other schoolgirls including Renge. Indeed Kate and Renge become the best of friends. In time Renge comes to question whether supposed terrorists Zvezda are really all that bad, especially after the Japanese Special Forces usurp White Light's authority to employ increasingly ruthless tactics. A great late series twist puts Asuta's role in a whole new context expanding the plot into sociopolitical satire before a climactic super-psychedelic sentai battle pitting a nicotine-powered robot against one angry super-powerful little girl. Man, I love anime.