Cute High Earth Defense Club Love!: Where the magical girls are boys
Most people, even if they’ve never watched an anime, know of at least one magical girl show. Usually, it’s Sailor Moon, but sometimes it’s Cardcaptor Sakura. Magical girls generally feature a high school age girl who gets magical powers (or technology perceived as magic) and defeats monsters with love, justice, and friendship. There may be romance, but it’s usually more of a plot device than the plot itself. Instead, magical girl shows tend to focus on the bonds of non-romantic love, with some of the characters being obsessed with romance as a side story. If this is in any way confusing, just think of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. That’s a magical girl show with ponies.
As with My Little Pony, magical girl anime has a strong male following. This is for a few reasons, not the least of which is the implied nudity of attractive young women as they transform. Some shows play to their male audience with fan service (Cutie Honey), some with homo-eroticism (Revolutionary Girl Utena), but most are actually geared toward girls. Most, but not all.
2004’s Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha is supposed to be the first of the genre actively marketed toward middle-aged men, but to be honest, I’m a little hesitant to watch it because I’m afraid of how an active male gaze would look with a nine-year-old main character. However, I now know what the reverse looks like, and that’s thanks to Binan Koko Chikyu Boei-bu Love! Or, in English, Cute High Earth Defense Club Love! (And yes, the exclamation point is part of the title.)
This magical girl anime is different from all the others, in that there are no girls in it. In this show, the magical girls are magical boys. You’d think that would dictate a significantly different approach. After all, Yu-Gi-Oh features a boy with magical powers who saves the day and perseveres through adversity with friendship, but it’s not considered a magical boy anime. What makes Binan different is that nothing, not even the tone, is changed. Only the gender of the main characters.
In shows like Yu-Gi-Oh!, Dragon Ball, Yu Yu Hakusho, or Bleach, everything is bleak and serious. It may have moments of levity, but overall, it has a heavy feel to it. On the flipside, magical girl shows handle complex issues with delicacy. They’re like the strawberry soufflé of anime, complex but sweet and light. Binan is the same, but entirely self-aware of how ridiculous certain tropes are.
The show has five male heroes with a talking alien wombat familiar. They are the “Battle Lovers”, and they shout the phrase “love making” to transform, but instead of just accepting this, they constantly question it. All of them wonder why they pause for prosaic introduction speeches, why an alien looks like a wombat and speaks their language, and why they can’t take their costumes off when engaged in battle. The wombat even explains how no one can recognize them even though they don’t wear masks (alien technology blurs out their faces). All of the little things that fans of magical girl anime can suspend their disbelief for, Binan highlights.
In every episode, the good guys have a conversation about a random and inane topic, which later affects the plot. For example, the first episode has the Battle Lover named Cerulean complaining about chikuwabu (a bland wheat-based food that usually goes in soup). Later in that episode, they fight a chikuwabu monster who spits soup. All of these monsters are really humans transformed by the bad guys, and they’re all defeated by the daily moral. The chikuwabu monster is made human again when the Battle Lovers perform their final attack, but until not after a brief speech about how important all aspects of soup are to a meal. There’s a “Sailor Moon says”-type lesson built into every episode, and I love it.
The Battle Lovers even question why the monsters only attack their local area. There’s an entire world that the villains could flood with monsters, but only this one all-boys high school is attacked. This is explained when the audience finds out that the bad guys (the “Earth Conquest Club”) go to the same school. In the last episode, we find out that this isn’t a coincidence, and it’s brilliant.
It hits all the serious notes: an vengeful enemy who’s controlling a minor antagonist motivated by jealousy, a loved one turning evil, a giant mech, and a world-ending plot. It hits all of the silly notes: fan service, monsters made out of weird objects, a beach episode, and magical evil makeup. It even explains why people can’t attack when plot-relevant dialogue is happening.
I’m trying very hard not to spoil anything, because the last episode caught me completely off guard and that’s part of the show’s appeal. When you finally realize what’s going on, everything becomes meta and makes sense. It helps that there are only 12 episodes, all of which are available on Crunchyroll, so the payoff is not delayed.
The only concern I can foresee is that a certain type of person may take umbrage with the homosexual overtones that go from playful to queer baiting. On the other hand, it’s interesting to see something that is arguably viewed through the female gaze. Overall, I recommend it to anyone who has a taste for the ridiculous.