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  Assemble Insert Operation: Pop Idol
Year: 1989
Director: Ami Tomobuki
Stars: Hiroko Kasahara, Chikao Ohtsuka, Ichiro Nagai, Maria Kawamura, Norio Wakamoto, Ai Satou, Issei Futamata, Kaneto Shiozawa, Kenyuu Horiuchi, Kikuko Inoue, Koichi Yamadera
Genre: Comedy, Animated, Science FictionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Tokyo is overrun by a criminal group known as Demon Seed and their unstoppable mecha army. In a drunken stupor harangued Police Chief Hattori (voiced by Norio Wakamoto) organizes a nationwide talent search for a teen pop idol not only able to carry a tune but also wear the robot-fighting super-suit capable of battling Demon Seed. The winner is Maron Namikaze (Hiroko Kasahara), a beautiful but shy and hopelessly awkward thirteen year old girl with uncanny superhuman strength. Maron makes quick work of Demon Seed but leaves a trail of devastation in her wake. Before long however Hattori's unit are so caught up in promoting Maron's singing career they lose sight of their actual mission. This prompts the super-suit's disgruntled designer, Professor Shimokabe (Ichiro Nagai), to lend his talents to Demon Seed. Their ruthless leader, Dr. Demon (Chikao Ohtsuka), takes advantage of the chaos to stage a surprise attack right in the midst of Maron's TV debut!

Along with Godzilla and transformable robots, Idol Singers are among the most iconic figures in Japanese pop culture. Amidst the economic boom-time of the 1980s idol culture and its sugary infatuation with teen and preteen girls, pop music and all things kawaii (cute) rapidly infested almost every facet of Japanese society. It arguably remains so to this day. Much like the similarly themed Hummingbirds (1993), Assemble Insert arrived on the cusp of this phenomenon (at least in manga form, in 1985) delivering a wry albeit fundamentally benign parody of this new national obsession. Creator Masami Yuki, who went on to co-develop one of the most intelligent, ambitious and just plain greatest anime serials of all time with Mobile Police Patlabor (1989), skews this amiable comedy more towards loving send-up than social critique. Indeed as well as parodying such J-pop culture staples as sentai (Japanese superhero team) shows, TV commercials (via several surprise live action segments) and the entertainment industry, Yuki also pokes gentle fun at his own colleagues. The permanently stressed out and booze addled Hattori is modelled after manga magazine Shonen Sunday editor Fukuda Takahashi, who gave Yuki his big break. Meanwhile the pop idol obsessed cops that make up the Special Operations Group are affectionate caricatures of the likes of mecha designer Yutaka Izubuchi and trailblazing anime auteur Shoji Kawamori. There is even a bespectacled pervert poking fun at Yuki himself.

Away from in-jokes and playful pop culture references Assemble Insert is feather-light fluff. While the anime pulls off a fair share of genuine chuckles (e.g. the running gag where Dr. Demon repeatedly dials the wrong number announcing his terror threats to a local noodle shop instead) it remains amusing rather than laugh-out-loud funny, lacking the madcap energy and comic inventiveness of comparable parodies like Project A-Ko (1987) or Prefectural Earth Defense Force (1986). Yuki’s quirky bug or button-eyed chara designs are well served by the lively animation but the characters themselves are fairly one-dimensional. Maron herself is an engaging enough stock protagonist with an appealing design yet beyond a sunny disposition and can-do attitude has no distinctive personality. Of course that might be the whole point. At a point in time when real television variety shows like Onyanko Club celebrated ordinary, average schoolgirls for being ordinary, average schoolgirls she's the embodiment of a profoundly Japanese archetype.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam


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