An Underrated Gem? Cyberteam in Akihabara

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When I decided to watch this show I wasn’t expecting much. The premise, the art style, reviews and comments of it on other websites, it all seemed to be pointing towards it being a fairly bad or at best average show. So maybe because I had low expectations I ended up pleasantly surprised by how good this show actually is.

Five girls and their robotic mascot character things called Pata-Pi’s have to transform and fight evil. Simple enough right?

Well, let’s get the bad out of the way first. It’s pretty ugly. It’s not even really that old, only 1998, so there’s honestly not really an excuse for the poor art style. The animation is similarly poor. It tries to go for a more cutesy art style when it comes to the characters and while Hibari and Tsubame are pretty cute the girls appearances were never what I really found cute about them, it was always more their personalities. The humor in the show, while I loved it, could definitely be considered hit or miss and I know it wouldn’t be for everyone. But if you don’t like the humor just remember the story and characters are indeed good enough to carry the weight if you give the show a fair chance and some time. There’s also some fan service but not a particularly large amount, a panty shot or two every now and then and the transformations and the enemies’ second robot forms are pretty sexual as well but it doesn’t really end up detracting from anything. Probably cause the show is knowingly very silly.

And that’s pretty much it for the flaws. Besides that it’s an excellent show with surprisingly deep characters. Yeah they’re no paragons of character writing but they’re more complex and interesting than initial appearances would imply.

Like really huge

For instance, instead of just being a polite oujo-sama Suzume is also a huge bitch.

Our main character Hibari is a really fun, not exceptionally bright or capable girl who is looking for her “Prince” who she believes gave her her Pata-Pi (and of course Hibari has now hopelessly fallen for him even without knowing his identity), but she’s hardly the plain idiot super optimistic lead character either. Her past and relationship with her parents are quite good. When you learn where the name Densuke for her Pata-Pi comes from it’s an honestly eye-opening moment as it puts Hibari’s attitude and how she manages to maintain a positive outlook on life through all the crazy stuff happening around her into perspective. This is a girl who has known pain but because of her love for her parents makes sure to keep smiling. The relationship she later develops with Tsubame is also really sweet and the show takes a reasonable amount of time to develop it. To get Tsubame to open up to her Hibari has to do a lot, one of the great things about this show is how it really takes its time to develop these things. You don’t get any rushed or sudden character changes. Things happen more naturally.

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After Hibari we have Suzume, Tsugumi and Kamome. All are fun and different as secondary mains should be. Suzume is easily the most entertaining, the first episode would have you believe that she’s a proper rich girl but she’s actually a rude, envious jerk a lot of the time. And it’s great. She’s hilarious and crazy. Tsugumi as well is very fun, the daughter of a professional wrestler and head of a karate dojo who secretly just wants to become a pop-star. Good luck with that Tsugumi. Tsugumi is also kind of a bitch at times. The show just likes bitches. And Kamome, who has a somewhat more personal investment in what’s going on, she’s not fighting just because she was dragged into it like the others but because she has an actual goal to accomplish and her grandfather is much more connected to what the villains are planning than anyone else. Kamome isn’t a bad character but I didn’t find her as fun as the others. Later on though Suzume, Tsugumi, and Kamome become less important and don’t get as much screen time as the show focuses much more on Tsubame and Hibari. It’s disappointing but as to be expected as the two of them are sort of the real main characters.

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And of course there’s Tsubame. Oh Tsubame, you are such a cliche but so good at the same time. Introduced halfway through the show Tsubame is initially an antagonistic force although she isn’t evil and lacks any real malice. She is completely emotionless and unlike the other girls who love their Pata-Pi’s she treats hers like crap. This alone actually causes some tension between her and the heroes as they don’t know she’s an enemy at first. Her development over the show is handled really well and she essentially becomes the second most important character after Hibari. Like I said earlier the show takes the right time with how it does things and Tsubame’s eventual loving relationship with Hibari and her parents is great.

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The thing with Cyberteam is, well, as the name kind of implies it’s not really magical girl. Although it shares a lot of typical magical girl elements it’s still in the end 100% technological. Unlike some other similar shows not even the villains or anything are magical, it’s all technology. So yeah, magical girl site talking about a show that aint really magical girl. It’s also kind of unusual in that for the most part the girls themselves don’t transform, it’s their Pata-Pi’s that transform and fight and it’s just the girls feelings that act as the catalyst for them. Of course there have been shows called magical girl that don’t have actual magical girls for a really long time, this goes all the way back to Cutey Honey and maybe even earlier. And Cutey Honey’s status as being a magical girl show is still debatable. Personally I’ve always seen her as more of a general superhero. Cyberteam still has the mascots, stock footage, etc. going for it so in a very stretched way you could call it magical girl. Like Cutey Honey, Utena, and some modern shows like Vividred Operation it’s just one of those series that straddles the line when it comes to if it’s actually a magical girl show. In the end I wouldn’t really call it one, magic is necessary in some way or another or the classification just loses meaning. Still, it has the same kind of format and style as a magical girl series. Vividred is basically the same way. Of course what Cyberteam has over Vividred is that it isn’t terrible. What’s further amusing is that a late episode in the series actually has the girls being told that all the monsters they’ve been fighting and everything has been the product of technology, they thought the villains were using magic only to incredulously learn that it’s just been very advanced technology.

And so what about our villains? What about the super geniuses who created all this advanced technology and are doing mysterious things for mysterious reasons that are slowly elaborated on over the course of the show? Well firstly none of the villains are really evil. Selfish yes. Maybe a little love crazy and a bit extreme yes. But no one in the show is really evil. Christian Rosenkreutz through everything still has good intentions and while his relationship and treatment of Shooting Star is poor and even somewhat abusive in ways he doesn’t intentionally want to hurt anyone. Shooting Star himself is more complicated, he’s kind of the typical “I want to please my father.” character and it’s easy to feel sorry for him but at the same time he treats Blood Falcon, Death Crow, and Dark Pigeon even worse than Rosenkreutz treats him at first. He cares less than nothing for them and just sees them as tools for a long time although unlike his father he does eventually see the error of this. Even though Shooting Star may have more development than his father he still acts for more selfish reasons. So the show gives us an interesting contrast between the two, Rosenkreutz never changes or regrets his actions but always had a solid purpose to drive toward while Shooting Star eventually comes to realize what he’s been doing wrong to his subordinates who are all in love with him but then still does some evil and selfish things while trying to figure out what meaning there even is in his life after his “father” stops caring about or needing him.

The masked face of quasi-evil

The masked face of quasi-evil

And then we have Shooting Star’s subordinates, who are essentially the Team Rocket of the show. They’re mostly fun and silly villains but they’re a bit too in love with Shooting Star and because of the control he has over them he can get them to do some nasty things. He treats them almost like an abusive lover at some points too, and strangely the three of them never stop loving him. Even when he physically hits them after they’ve failed too many times. What’s good about these three is that the show also takes the time to develop them as well, they’re not random evil minions but actual people who have real lives outside of being Blood Falcon, etc. that were recruited by Shooting Star in a moment of weakness. 2 episodes of the show are almost entirely devoted to these three women and it does a great job of getting us connected to them as well, they’re obviously not well-adjusted and we feel sad for them as they are slavishly devoted to Shooting Star through the show, although his relationship with them does improve as I said above. Like I’ve said repeatedly now this show takes its time with things, it does not rush but it also doesn’t pointlessly pad things out or squander its time either outside of a few pointless flashbacks. This is very apparent with the trio as their changes and development feel more natural after we are given their backstory.

When it comes to the main plot of the show it is not immediately apparent what’s going on. We are given evidence and facts sprinkled over the course of the season. So while there may be a lot of just two characters standing around mysteriously talking about strange things and their secret plans and everything like that it all thankfully is explained and has meaning. One of my favorite episodes in Cyberteam was a purely expositional one that gives us the backstory on Rosenkreutz and his prodigal associate Crane. All of it just helping to build the world of Cyberteam and move us closer to the finale.

It can also be hard to place just what kind of show Cyberteam is. The first 8 episodes are completely comedic and even when it does get more serious it never forgets how to have fun either. One of my favorite things about Cyberteam is that it never becomes overly dark or tragic. There are sad moments and even a few potentially disturbing ones but it thankfully never goes full Evangelion (although like Eva it certainly enjoys its use of religious terminology and symbolism). It starts off as a comedy show that as the plot unravels gets more serious as required and it works really well. Another great thing is that it never gets too “out there” with it’s ideas. It doesn’t try to be super deep or philosophical, knowing full well that it wouldn’t work in what is basically a 75% comedy show, but still has some intelligent ideas and important topics that are well discussed and developed over the course of the show. Furthermore is its use of historical figures, Christian Rosenkreutz is a fictional character said to be the founder of the Rosicrucian Order which is all brought up in the show (However take note that it’s not referred to as such in the show but merely called “The Rosenkreutz’s”). The ideals of Rosicrucianism is initially everything that drives Rosenkreutz in Cyberteam and in a way are the reason why everything even happens in the first place, although Christian Rosenkreutz’s plans do change over time. His associate Cigogne is also said to be the Count of St. Germain. Cyberteam is a show that has really done its homework with these historical figures and ideas. The Count was a strange fellow who made outlandish claims such as being 500 years old, and  so Cyberteam has him brought into a partnership with Rosenkreutz and likewise made immortal through the use of a special elixir that has also allowed Christian to live since the middle ages (a clear reference to the elixir of life).

Crane and Rosenkreutz's fateful meeting

Crane and Rosenkreutz’s fateful meeting

With Cyberteam never going too crazy or cosmic with its messages and themes it keeps things much more down to earth and relatable for our heroines. And things that the girls can relate to easier makes it easier for us to relate to them and empathize with the problems they’re going through as well. It doesn’t try to make drama out of entropy like Madoka. What makes it better than Madoka and many of the modern magical girl shows influenced by it is that it doesn’t confuse dark with serious. Yuuki Yuna is a good show but just like Madoka the world they’re in is too tragic and sad to the point of absurdity (the “shocking reveals” are exceedingly problematic for Madoka as nothing is built up well enough and everything in the show is horribly rushed) and then ends with silly cop-outs anyways. Cyberteam isn’t like that, there is no real cop-out, things are resolved in a way completely fitting in with the rest of the show. It helps that the villains are human and themselves relatable. And if any further proof was needed that Madoka is not original in any way shape or form Cyberteam has the whole “heroes actually recruited by the villains to complete a hidden agenda” plot down already.

Now I’m not saying a show can’t be dark and good at the same time but you’ve got to do it well. You can’t just throw whatever craziness you want into something, character deaths, depression, hopelessness, etc. without having a proper development for these things. How the hell can I care that Mami got her head bitten off when she’s basically a talking prop? Yeah it was sad but I didn’t care that Mami herself died. This is where Cyberteam comes out ahead because of the extra time it takes with everything to get us really attached to the characters so even though there’s nothing as extreme as one of them dying the sad moments are much more heart wrenching and bring out a far greater emotional response. To learn of Hibari’s mothers miscarriage was a genuinely depressing moment in Cyberteam because one, Hibari was well developed at this point and she loves her mother so in turn I feel something for her as well, and two it was part of a great episode that focused on the familial relationships of everyone and how their relationships with their parents have impacted their lives and who they are today.

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The conclusion to the show is good and has many levels to it. What I like about the end is that while Rosenkreutz up to the point has been the type of infallible villain who knows everything going on and has everyone moving about like puppets he can still be surprised and caught off guard by things. And he does indeed end up underestimating Hibari and starts to lose his cool the closer and closer he comes to his goal, he’s devoted so much to this that he starts to lose it just a little bit when he can finally see the goalpost. Thankfully it’s not character assassination or completely overblown, merely a noticeable change in his mannerisms and attitude as Cyberteam reaches its climax.

At the end of World War 1 Crane had become horribly disillusioned with what he was doing in the Rosenkreutz association and with humanity in general. Seeing the mass death and destruction caused him to undergo a breakdown and he left Earth, leaving the mechanical Diva’s he had created with Rosenkreutz and using an advanced A.I. to create a huge spaceship that would stay undetected above Earth for years. Christain Rosenkreutz finally was able to find a way to get Crane to return to Earth through the use of the Diva’s, the Pata-Pi’s and our heroines. Christian never stopped loving Crane, he saw him as basically the messiah of humanity and the greatest genius the world had ever produced and his sheer joy at being able to see Crane again is completely genuine. He really thought he could usher in a new era on Earth with Crane. But he didn’t realize how much Crane had changed since he last saw him. Crane didn’t care about any of that anymore, I honestly didn’t see this coming up until the episode it happened but it turns out Crane is the real villain of the show. Turns out the true puppet-master was Crane, as he foresaw everything that Rosenkreutz would do to get him to return to Earth and has pretty much just been waiting for this moment so he could take Hibari, Tsubame, Suzume, Tsugumi, and Kamome into space as his chosen ones and leave Earth for good. The show does a good job of not letting this reveal be obvious almost right up until it happens. Many previous scenes and the flashbacks to Crane before he left make him come off as someone very benevolent who wants to help humanity. However the reveal makes complete sense as well, Crane had completely given up after World War 1, he didn’t leave just to wait for humanity to change he left because he realized they never would and immediately began formulating his plans. This change of heart in Crane is something Rosenkreutz simply never foresaw happening. Again though like the other villains Crane is not overtly evil. Although he has certainly lost a lot of empathy and morality he does not go out of his way to harm people, though he essentially kills Rosenkreutz it’s not entirely clear if he was directly responsible or not. Speaking of that Rosenkreutz’s death is incredibly pitiable and even pretty sad. He dies in a horrific way as his body rapidly ages while he begs for Crane to just kill him and laments how his long life has now been completely pointless.

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But Crane’s goal is still not to hurt humanity or the Earth and he doesn’t, he’s simply given up on it and will now take his chosen girls who he sees as worthy of starting a new world with him somewhere. Unfortunately for him they might just not want to go. The real grand finale takes place after Rosenkreutz has died and involves Crane simply announcing to the world that he will be taking Hibari and the others. Although Hibari is “happy” in a way since she’s found her Prince she still doesn’t want to leave everyone else she loves behind. Crane doesn’t take this the best way but after seeing the deep connection formed between the girls and their Pata-Pi’s, who sort of sacrifice themselves to override Crane’s control of the Diva’s, he decides to let them stay. While in a way this whole finale could be considered anti-climactic it works because the show had previously used such things as Tsubame’s character arc to set up a theme of understanding and getting things done without just beating up the villain. And it still manages to be sad because of the friendship between the girls and their Pata-Pi’s. It’s a good if not spectacular finish that fits in well with the rest of the show.

Cyberteam also does not have a huge focus on romance. Despite Hibari’s infatuation with her Prince driving a lot of stuff for obvious reasons there is no real relationship that begins or gets a lot of focus on between the two of them. Love is used as a device to get characters to do things without there being actual romantic relationships between characters. And as a lot of magical girl shows have their is some yuri teasing but it’s just that, teasing. Yuri is pretty much treated as a complete joke by Cyberteam and honestly it’s pretty funny when it devotes an episode to a girl who has a crazy crush on Hibari for having a flat chest.

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So in the end Cyberteam in Akihabara is a pretty good and I would definitely say quite underrated and under appreciated show. As far as shows like that go it may not be as good as Brigadoon or Shamanic Princess (few are) and I’m not sure if I would exactly use the term “Diamond in the rough” either but it’s definitely a worthwhile experience and show that I believe is worthy of more attention. It’s also just such a 90’s show, the humor, style, everything about it just screams 90’s anime. There are so many great shows, old and new, that don’t get near as much love as they should and if you like magical girl anime or just enjoy this silly 90’s type of anime show I highly recommend giving it a shot.

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