It is rather pleasant to not be crying tears of blood as we watch a series for Secret Santa. I can’t say that Metal Fighter Miku was a greatest show ever but thankfully it was not the torture that was Texhnolyze or Dead Leaves. There are a few reasons that people might remember this show. It is the directorial debut of Akiyuki Shinbo. If you are a fan of his work it is an interesting artifact. It is also a cute girls in robot suits anime that only has little accents of fan service. It is not the cyberpunk world of Bubblegum Crisis (although one episode might make you think otherwise) but it is thankfully also not the boobtacular harem world of Infinite Stratos as well. It is a strange little show that mostly seems forgotten by time and fandom. The real question is if Metal Fighter Miku is a hidden gem or a curious footnote.
First, I want to thank our Secret Santa because this is the first year I haven’t wanted to do bodily harm to myself and others having to sit through a show. That being said, Metal Fighter Miku is a pretty average 90’s action/comedy that at times was entertaining, at times perplexing, but overall won’t stand out in the future when I look back at the anime I have watched.
In 2061 professional wrestling has become EXTREME. Neo Pro-Wrestling uses armored suits to take the sport to the next level. In the world of women’s Neo Pro-Wrestling there is a team of four idol singers who are also athletes with amazing potential known as the Pretty Four. The most enthusiastic member is Miku who could be greatest champion Neo Pro-Wrestling has ever seen. Can a burnt out drunkard of a coach train her to beat the mysterious Sapphire and the legendary Aquamarine?
Metal Fighter Miku is primarily a sports comedy. The plot is nothing you have to think very hard about with fairly straightforward stories even when conspiracies are swirling about the players. Villains that are usually laughable and transparent appear thanks to an evil corporation, wrestling matches may or may not consist of rules by which people need to abide, and new special moves are the soup de jour. So on that note, while it is sport-based, it is hard to really feel that intensity that you might associate with a regular sport series.
Of the Pretty Four the only one who really matters is Miku. The other three are mostly there as window dressing and can basically be summed up by their character quirk. Sayaka is the girly girl with the dynamite body, Nana is the spunky cute little girl, and Ginko is the tomboy with the figure in between the other two. They are slightly important in the beginning but become part of the background as the series goes on. None of them really have a character arc and they don’t even participate in the last two major fights. Miku is the your energetic sports hero archetype. She is fanatically obsessed with the sport and is always training as hard so she can be the best. Being the female version of this model it means that she is friendly, cheerful, and kind. She is earnest enough that it is hard to dislike her but stock enough character that she does not really stand out. Kinta is the team mechanic and if this were a harem show he would be the star and all the girls would be in love with him. But since this is a 90s comedy he only has eyes for Miku, she has no idea he exists as a man, and the other girls just rib him for being obvious. There is couple who owns the team. One is the nerdy looking little man that most exists to absorb abuse. His wife used to be a Neo Pro-Wrester and looks exactly like what you think of when you hear female wrestler.
Miku definitely overshadows everyone else on the team, but at the same time despite having a lot of screen time she doesn’t have a big character evolution to really point to. It is simply more about using each characters traits to create funny or intense situations in and out of the wrestling ring. Everything and everyone is so very 90’s which is one of the more endearing qualities, but they also stick pretty close to that protocol when it comes to personalities which doesn’t have much extra spice to speak of. Whether is be love or friendship or that new team of terrifying looking clown women, the girls stick together and believe in one another in true team spirit. Even when doubt comes into play and people try to drive a wedge between them things quickly resolve. Also luckily since the series is so short there isn’t long filler or training arcs to speak of. But the girls do get their butts handed to them by their coach but rarely in the actual matches. It is surprising how much of a beating characters take at times.
As for the antagonists we start with the coach. The plot might try an convince you that he is on the side of the protagonist but I’m not sure the show ever makes me believe that. First of all Eiichi Suo is super creepy. He looks like he is just killing time before his real job as back alley rapist in a hentai. Also they obviously want him to be the super hard shojo sports coach. The one that is merciless to his students but only because he really cares for his students but worries that any leniency will lead to weakness. The thing is when you think that big reveal of of his better nature will come but it never really does. The end makes him seem more like this eternal jerky spirit of pro wrestling. Miku’s main rival is Sapphire who is so very obviously Yoko Shibano. I and not 100% sure if this is supposed to be a joke or just the most obvious secret in the world. Part of me wants to believe that it is par for the humor of the show but they play it so straight I am left to wonder. She is the equally hard-working and honest fighter that sees Miku as the only worthy opponent in the league. Her father on the other hand is a sneaky old millionaire that sends all sorts of underhanded obstacles at the Pretty Four including ninjas, spies, and assassins all to get back and the owner of the team for the gravest of grudges. (WARNING: The grudge is hardly grave at all.) And last but no least is Aquamarine who is at the top of her game but has lost the ability to grow as a fighter. She has a past connected to the old boozer of a coach. She also has major man jaw. She is supposedly to look matronly but she comes off more like a drag queen.
Some of the most entertaining parts of MFM are when the try to wedge in some romantic subplots. Just as so many of the villains in the series fail miserably, Nagoya (brother to Sapphire) somehow captures the hearts of women. This is so impossible to imagine (I was reminded of Kazamatsuri from Yawara! A Fashionable Judo Girl). He will make you roll your eyes and slap your forehead as he is a major tool. Despite that he succeeds in seducing Miku and Ginko and almost gets them both out of the way which I think makes him the most successful villain in the series period. Nagoya also randomly leaves later in the series as if he sees the company as a sinking ship. One minute he is there, the next he has left on a business trip so let’s just chalk it up to the staff hating him as much as us!
The problem with going to crazy town is it a major commitment. You can’t go half in and expect results. Macross 7 shows us that is you are going to be insane and trashy you must relentless it your pursuit of madness. As Narutaki mentioned the rules of Neo Pro-Wrestling seem to be made up as the story goes along. They are somewhat based on the rules of professional wresting but there is a whole bunch of unexplained extra rules that are just perplexing. The problem is they need to be insanely over the top like it was Kinnikuman. But sadly the additional rules are pedestrian and seemingly arbitrary. The other teams are goofy like the women named after construction equipment and a team of kunoichi all with peculiar methods of entering the ring but they are never crazy enough to sell the show. There is some good attempts like the Moonlight Jewels having a camel as a mascot, a nun with a killer aura, and Miku fighting a shark but those are far to uncommon to push it unto that utterly surreal realm it needs to be in. There is one episode that hits that mark but it is sadly too short.
Ah yes, truly the most surprising moments of MFM occur in episode 10 – Miku Goes to War: Pretty Miku vs. The Old Man. It begins in a worn torn landscape where people are being attacked, the rest of the episode only descends further into weirdness as Miku must take on a mercenary sent to put her and the other girls out of commission. Strangely Sayaka and Nana have to go to the hospital but we witness no injuries. Then Ginko is kidnapped and tied to a crucifix. This is also the only episode when the world hinges on Miku outside the sports arena. And despite the seemingly deadly climate this episode it is never spoken of again. Sadly, this episode is really only awesome to watch if you watch the beginning of the show to know the stark differences. MFM is wacky but would have benefited from pushing the limits much further. As we are writing about it, it comes off more hilarious probably because the abridged version of events.
If you were not informed that this was directed by Akiyuki Shinbo it might never occur to you. He clearly develops his style as his career goes along because this looks like a very generic 90s show. The character designs, plot structure, framing of scenes, and overall feel is about 90s as you can be. Any of Shinbo’s later design flourishes and quirky sense of style can only be noticed in their most nascent form. His unusual composition and directing that he will become know for in shows like Sayonara Zetsubou-Sensei, Bakemonogatari, or Puella Magi Madoka Magica has clearly not developed. It is an interesting transformation to see him go from the very generic director you see here to the character that would shape Studio Shaft. Love him or hate him his style is unmistakable.
Metal Fighter Miku is cemented in the 90’s from the clothes and character designs to the humor and the music. I know that had I seen this show in 90’s, I would have loved it and watched it many a time. That isn’t to say something ridiculous about now being more mature or having refined tastes, but more about what is available to watch and the other things surrounding a show. Metal Fighter Miku is a cute, silly show but it isn’t particularly memorable.
Miku herself pretty much sums up my feelings towards this show. It is hard to hate but nothing about it stands out to make me recommend the show. With an all pretty girl team there could easily be an exploitation fest with the camera feeling like a never-ending gynecological exam. They don’t hesitate to put some bounce in the girls or throw them in bikinis but those scene are the exception and not the rule. The problem is the show is too goofy to be an Aim for the Ace! or Attack No. 1 with robot suits but only episode 10 hits the appropriate level of insane to make the show memorable. In fact it might be best to watch the first two episodes to get a feeling of what the show is normally like and then watch episode 10 and call it a day. It is truly just a junk food show. It is something you watch to hold you over to a more substantial meal but at the same time you won’t remember any of it a week later.