It’s been a while since I last read Sgt. Frog. Volume 10 finished on cliffhanger, as for the first time in the series’ history, it got serious and presented a real threat and real danger to all the characters in the book. And it worked brilliantly. I’ve spoken before about how the book is a spiritual sucessor in some ways to Urusei Yatsura, but the more I think about it the more I think it’s the UY TV series, specifically the Mamoru Oshii half that is the big influence on the book. There’s occasional forays into nostalgic melancholy in Sgt. Frog that the anime version of UY would do quite often, and in it’s films almost exclusively, whereas the manga seems more vicious to begin with, and then obsessed with cramming references to Japanese folklore into it.
Volume 11 opens with the pay off to the multi-part story involving the Karuru Platoon. Some have argued that this would have been an ideal place to end the series, and they have a point. After 80 or so chapters, the emotional punch of putting the characters you love in a real danger is unlikely to be achieved again. But those 80 chapters of extra-terrestrial/supernatural/ninja/hi-tech comedy shot through with occasional melancholy had to have something pretty entertaining about them to get you this far, so when it returns to that formula it’s still fun.
Having been avidly watching the TV series between volumes, I’d forgotten how much more fanservice-y Mine Yoshizaki’s original work is, and there’s some occasions in this volume that feel a little forced, previously it had seemed he’d excused whatever fanservice was there with some plot requirement, but the second story has a sequence of gratuitous panty shots from lesbian ninja Koyuki that seem crowbarred in. Particularly when that chapter is shot through with the kind of nostalgic feelings I mentioned earlier.
Then we get a goofy chapter involving plastic models fighting a war in the Hinata household. A chapter involving the rest of the Platoon attempting to mentally torture Keroro. Another very Oshii-UY feeling story about Keroro running away from home. A romantic comedy chapter involving Momoka trying to get a photo of Fuyuki that veers from Yoshizaki’s fanservice-y doujin roots, to slapstick, to parody, to sweet melancholy. Then a chapter that wears it’s Urusei Yatsura references on it’s sleeve – it involves characters from space visiting and causing trouble – and numerous characters end up dressed as Lum at points. Then finally a brief chapter involving Keroro hoping to extort money from Aki Hinata (“General Mum”) via back rubs. Aki Hinata is probably the point at where the UY comparisons break down. Sgt. Frog has very few regular adult characters, it’s pretty much just Aki and Momoka’s butler, Paul. Unlike Ataru Moroboshi’s parents and in particular his mother, Aki is successful, has a job she loves and actually appears to love and be loved by her children (and the alien frogs who live with her). She seems almost an idealised parent figure, as opposed to the emotional wrecks that litter Urusei Yatsura.
I seem to have used the word melancholy a lot, so I suppose I should try and pin down what I think this melancholy is about. I described it as a nostalgic melancholy and what I mean by that is there seems to be occasional reflections on the passing of time. In this volume, the chapter about Koyuki involves a flashback to how Koyuki and Dororo met, and about how ninjas are no longer needed in modern Japan. But while there’s an element of sadness, it’s always looking forward to a bright future, which I think in part is what Aki represents.
Sgt. Frog seems to present getting older as something to look forward to, whereas Urusei Yatsura presents it as a depressing array of bills, ungrateful children, regrets and your house being blown up in a mushroom cloud once a week.