Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Gulliver Boy (1995)

Gulliver Boy, also known as Imagination Science World Gulliver Boy, is a 50 episode anime from the 1990s.  It is an original story not based on any existing works.  First things first, Gulliver Boy has a great soundtrack, including an adrenaline pumping opening theme, great battle tracks and catchy ending themes.  Naturally, the anime stars Gulliver, who starts off being imprisoned in a magic school but escapes by awakening the powers in his left hand.  He is quickly joined by his childhood friend, Edison, who loves science and is a genius to boot.  Last is Misty, who is on the run and eventually become friends with Gulliver after running away from Spain.

Well, Phoebe also joins the cast later on as the fairy who has fallen in love with Gulliver and will follow wherever he goes.  One thing to know is that the early episodes can be cheesy and corny.  Gulliver himself is often immature and both his and Edison are initially fixated with Misty's beauty and body proportions.  It is set in a unique world where technology and magic exists, based mainly in countries inspired by Europe (the opening episode is set in Venice, and Gulliver ends up travelling the "world", most of which are European cities).

However, the belief in magic and in its powers is overshadowed by technology, leading to a lot of people becoming disillusioned by magic and giving up on it.  That is, until Gulliver appears and reaffirms the potential that magic has.  The anime mixes all sorts of concepts suhc as giant mecha that it can become somewhat messy.  The main driving force for Gulliver is revenge.  He is travelling around the world to gain power, enough to defeat Judau, the King of Spain who personally slained his father.  It doesn't help that Judau wants to personally capture Misty back to Spain to be by his side.

Gullver's left hand not only shoots out magical beams of energy, he will eventually gain power discs which fits into his glove allowing him to fire/summon beings of power or spirits (it's never fully explained).  In addition to finding the discs, they are also searching for the four blue stones which Judau is searching for in order to gain ultimate power.  It is a classic big fetch and travel quest.  Unfortunately, the plot has convenient coincidences such as the island they needed to go just happening to be on the way where the villain was running towards.  There are a heap of stock footage and repeating frames in order to pad out the episode length.  The short battles don't help satisfy any of the anticipation from the build up.

Throughout the episodes, Gulliver is usually overpowered (or he will quickly gain a power that will make him overpowered) and he only gets more power as he gains further discs.  His ego can get overwhelming and annoying especially when he gets too confident.  For character development, thankfully he is brought back down to earth being defeated by a more powerful adversary.  During his travels, Gulliver meets a lot of people and all these side characters are underused.  Each has unique powers and ideas but they just show up for a few episodes (if that) and then the team carries on with their journey and the side characters are left behind and forgotten.

The pacing is off in terms of the progress of their objectives.  They'll have long stretches where Gulliver doesn't get anything new and thus you're subjected to the same summoning stock footage again and again.  Then suddenly in back to back episodes, Gulliver will gain two blue stones or he'll gain two new discs in quick succession.  While Gulliver Boy has a monster of the week type of format for the first half, with some disappointing battles against Gullver's enemies, it redeems itself with a much more focused storyline when Gulliver finally gets to Spain in order to fight against Judau to avenge his father.

Judau's backstory and his relationship with Misty is brought fully into light, which finally makes his character more than the one-dimensional villain that he had been so far and makes him much more compelling.  There are a few surprising twists that were done well and the battle between Gulliver and Judau was not a short affair, it is appropriately fleshed out and truly showcases what a powerhouse Judau is.  Judau is absolutely crazy but there is a good reason for that.  The writer did a fantastic job of causing a 180 for the viewer to feel the sadness and sympathize with Judau and his history that had eventually caused him to become what he is now.  That is a great twist int he middle of the anime and this is where everything suddenly becomes amazing, with the huge amounts of revelations.

The pacing does not relent from the halfway point as the plot moves forward at a very quick pace.  It's one twist after another with extremely emotional scenes which are done really well.  The way all the characters' fate are intertwined is perfect and the world building and backstory building is just sublime.  The second half can feel very different to the first half.  The first half was more lighthearted and episodic whereas the second half is darker and the characters become much more powerful, frequently gaining new powers.  This is also the point where it can get freaky, fuelling the stuff of fantasy nightmares.

There are not only more fight scenes but more elaborate ones too, such that all of the first half felt like filler that only served to allow the animators time to developer the second half.  It is definitely a poor design to have the vast majority of Gullver's powers obtained in the second half of the series, as it meant his earlier powers outstay their welcome due to being repeatedly recycled (even after he gained more powers no less) and his other powers are under utilized.  It's frustrating when Gulliver uses one of the first powers he had obtained, when it is repeatedly shown to be the weakest one, to waste time as it was defeated easily.

Perhaps the strongest aspects are the sacrificed made by many of the characters to help Gulliver achieve his destiny.  Coupled with the sad music that plays during these sections when you realize that one of your favorite characters are about to perform a heroic sacrifice and it really tugs your heartstrings.  The level of cruelty from the main villain and the seemingly betrayal of a few characters just feels "right".  The final battle is suitably epic and while it treads on the side of being corny, cheesy and idealistic (using the power of all the people Gulliver had helped during his travels to bolster his strength), it is a satisfying end to the villain that had done so much unforgivable evil.

Yet Gulliver Boy surprises you once again in the last part where the plot and pacing changes to become more lighthearted and acts as a type of elongated epilogue.  It's a nice way to end the series by having the plot device of the repercussions of what Gulliver did instead of quickly showing a happily ever after.  It settles the relationship issues between the characters, however, it is still extremely cheesy and over the top.  There is more fan service towards the end too and it knowingly makes fun of itself in this aspect.  It's to the point of defying your expectations when you'd expect a stock footage to go on as normal but it gets interrupted to hilarious effect.

Overall, Gulliver Boy is not perfect.  It has a heavy reliance on stock footage, an extremely filler-esque first half and ending (probably to make the 50 episode length required) but the story has so much potential and a lot of it is realized.  It created a deep and interesting fantasy world that blends together technology and magic without falling into the trap of making one or the other redundant.  The twists, including the betrayal of some characters, the opposing powers of some villains (that is like the yin to Gulliver's yang) and the bonding displayed in the final voyage, makes Gulliver Boy a classic fantasy adventure that's enjoyable and keeps you thinking after it has finished.


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