Hyper Combat Unit Dangaioh – Lonely Psychics in a Robot

The Crossroads of Dangaioh

Welcome to the  next installment of Hirano Halloween. This time, a very fun ova series that I’ve been wanting to watch for a long time. It feels like another one of those series that is a major crossroads for so many big voices in the anime sphere. Toshiki Hirano is of course one of them because he is the leader behind the project. Masami Obari is there once again as an animation director. There is also Shoji Kawamori (you should know this name very well) behind the mechanical design as you would expect and a certain Hideaki Annno as the key animator. On a visual front, it literally is a tour de force of people who were only starting to get big.

So on the visual front, it’s good for the most part. Something to discuss about that later there too. The interesting thing to talk about is all the story beats that come from it. Dangaioh is a three episode ova series that is full of lots of things. It’s another one of those 80’s situations where the show throws a lot of things together to see they work. That is where the analysis and rub has to be taken into form to see if Dangaioh could succeed. A little bit of a spoiler, but considering that it was canceled after episode 3, that may or may not give an answer to that. Though, I feel like there is a lot of nuance to this situation that I am not giving it. 

Dangaioh’s Story

This is an anime series that starts in mysterious places where it throws us and the main characters in a zone where there is nothing to do but start from ground zero. A young, attractive girl named Miya wakes up somewhere knowing nothing but her name. She finds out that she and three other people she meets in a similar situation have different kinds of psychic powers or use them in different ways as they are on the run from different enemies they didn’t know or expect. Miya’s own powers are mysterious, but Roll has the power to run through objects, Lamba can fire laser beams, and Pai Thunder is just so physically strong.

Then the plot itself revolves around them. These four characters were meant to be sold to a galactic tyrant gang named Bunker who wants them to rule the universe more than they already do. Dr. Tarsan was ordered to wipe the memories of these four but now that they are rebelling, Bunker is sending people that are relevant to each of their back stories. Or Gil Berg who is after the four because he was supposed to be Dr. Tarsan’s best project before these four came along. With Miya, Roll, Lamba, and Pai working together in the form of the super robot Dangaioh, they can stop literally everything that is in their way. Dr. Tarsan is helping them lead the way. 

The Horror of Having No Home

While each character’s memories do return, it doesn’t mean anything to any of them. It is the horror of coming to terms with lives that neither of them actually knows anymore. Cowboy Bebop must have taken some ideas from this ova because that is the horror of Faye Valentine. So this is Faye Valentine times 4 where the medical debt is replaced by the highest bounty in the universe. The first adventure of Dangaioh is versus Gil Berg on the Earth where Miya is fighting to protect her home. The problem being in that situation is that the Earth has left her behind so she has no actual place to return to. The only place she can be is with the other three.

The plot of Dangaioh, if you can call it that, continues with each of them. I do have to mention that Pai Thunder is the daughter of the leader of Bunker. While she could have returned to that position, that isn’t her anymore. In episode 2, Lamba finds out she is a princess of a dead planet with her pursuers being some of the remnants of people who worked under her royal family. Roll himself is one of the freedom fighters who tried to hold off Bunker until he was betrayed and killed. Once again, there is no place for them besides each other as they fight Bunker with the Dangaioh. There is no one else they can understand or trust because their situation is unique. 

The Problem Of Not Being A Weekly TV Show

If there is a major flaw of Dangaioh leading to a lot of its other flaws occurring, it’s that it was a yearly ova series in a show’s format that would work as a tv series. Something which the ova format tried to break away from in the late 80’s because there was enough money to support creators. That works in some formats and ideas, but Dangaioh kind of falls apart because of that fact. While the narrative of Dangaioh is simple enough, it doesn’t have the time to really gain any sort of story depth or world building to make people return to it. 

Thematically strong as it is, I can see why people wouldn’t return to this ova since it never has the major time to do anything besides hint at the character’s backgrounds and developments. Not enough time to do much with them from the conveniences of the plots. Some that are ok, while others lead to it making it feel like things are just happening for them to happen. The women are powerful and memorable based on character designs, but the first act (all three episodes) didn’t feel like it could grab a person in any sort of way. I mean, this collapsed while the bubble economy of Japan was still in full swing so that means a lot. 

Diminishing Returns

Dangaioh is that series where from one episode to another to another had such a strong degradation in its visual style that also affected a lot of its general storytelling. The first episode looks absolutely amazing. So much world building backgrounds, space, earth cities, everything cool, action animation, great scenes of these characters working their hardest together, and so many other things. The dangaioh fighters allowing the Dangaioh to form in classic super robot transformation appeared twice with the first one failing so the characters can fight. The ending scene with the Dangaioh is so incredibly animated that it allows the story to go wherever.

The second episode starts with a twelve minute recap and then centers itself on a forest area afterwards. One simple location, but the character animation and action power abilities are astonishing. In that one space, these characters still had a fantastic character story around Lambda with the assassins from Bunker sent after her. So that extra time spent with the recap allowed each of this production team to think about how to really ground the story in ways that make sense, give characters time to use their abilities to their full abilities, and have that awesome super robot combat at the end which was still emotionally resonant. It works well.

By the time of the third ova, it really feels like this ova series just wasn’t bringing in enough money to make it look that good. That leads to this episode focusing on a more personal story which Dangaioh can do, but it means that no one can move. There is a strong lack of movement with characters standing around or moving around generic hallways. The result is that the show itself doesn’t work because none of the characters can actually be themselves and show how special they are until the very fast and lame last battle which resulted in everything ending too quickly. I admit it tried to do something different, but it just wasn’t Dangaioh. At least to me.

So in the end, Dangaioh is still worth watching because it is a lot of fun with a lot of good, creative energy and thought patterns. Watching just for the character designs and seeing them move is absolutely worth it. Same with the peak Dangaioh giant robot action moments that have so much great energy and power in them are worth watching. I wish that Dangaioh could have had more time to say what it wanted to and do what it wanted to. There was clearly an idea and thought about where Dangaioh wanted to go and say besides the obvious sort of found family trope with super robot anime coolness in it. But there was something deeper that Dangaioh never got to and that’s just sad. If you can find Dangaioh anywhere, give it a watch.

6 comments

  1. This was the very first VHS I bought with money I had earned on my paper round. I don’t remember there being a conclusive end so it may have just been the first two OVAs mashed into a film. I’ve been wanting to revisit it for ages. Where did you watch it?

    Liked by 2 people

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