As I mentioned in last month’s pick there are a few selections for Manga of the Month’s early run that we never archived and are now lost to the annals of history. I could try to deep dive the collective unconscious of the Internet and find those old posts but I rather just write some of them over now that we have a few years at this under our belts. Lets start with Sgt. Frog. It was always a bit of a strange manga license back in the day. It was clearly one of those titles that would have only been picked up at the height of the manga bubble when manga publishers in the US were trying anything and everything. It sort of existed with a minor US fanbase and it even got some of the anime released with a dub. But as time went on the series never really caught on and has pretty much faded from the collective fandom’s memory.
Since Sgt. Frog is getting a new anime series this year it seems like a good a time as any to revisit the show.
Fuyuki Hinata is a boy who dreams of aliens, occult mysteries, conspiracies, and the other hidden secrets of the universe. One day he discovers the biggest discovery of his life, an alien invader. Sergeant Keroro is the leader of a platoon of aliens stranded on Earth after an aborted invasion. Keroro winds up a servant of the Hinata family barely kept in check for his plans to take over the world Fuyuki’s sister, Natsume. Actually even after Keroro has assembled his own platoon his greatest obstacle from taking over Earth mainly seems to his obsession with Gundam models that he has picked up since coming to Earth. A perfect grade RX-78-2 is not going to build itself.
I remember being won over by this manga when it was first released by Tokyopop back in the day. It has a light charm with a family cartoon feeling, some deep level otaku references, and a wonderfully vibrant comedic energy. In many ways it seems like the manga equivalent of Pinky and the Brain. Most chapters center around some crazy scheme that Keroro or one of his comrades have for taking over the world. Then comes the inevitable flaw in the plan (which often centers around Natsume not tolerating her planet being conquered.) But there is also romantic shenanigans, occult misadventures, or even healing anime reflection to break up the formula. The series has been going on long enough that you can tell that Mine Yoshizaki likes to experiment on occasion.
And speaking of Mine Yoshizaki I have always been a fan of his art. It distinctly has a light cartoony feeling but he clearly also knows how to draw sexy. It is an interesting contrast that keeps the series from going into full on otaku pandering but does give the deep anime nerds something to look forward to each chapter. The fact that the series has a fan base outside of just the typical nerd herd is partially thanks to that duality.
But make no mistake there are some really geeky jokes in here. Since Keroro is obsessed with gunpla sop there are enough Gundam references in any given chapter to make you think you were reading a Gundam Build Fighters series along with sci-fi references galore. Heck, Mutsumi Houjou is just a blatant Kaworu Nagisa joke. But the series is not aggressively in your face about it. If you get it you chuckle inside that is great. If you miss it then no big loss. There are a dozen other jokes and references for you to enjoy.
Overall I feel like reminding people who this series still exists. The manga is still long out of print but it is still easy to find most volumes of it without trying too hard. It is episodic enough that you can pick up a random volume and pretty much run with the plot without any real difficulty. If you miss a volume or two you won’t be missing too much either. The first few seasons of the anime is also still available on DVD in English as well as streaming via Funimation.