It’s been about a year since this anime aired, and truth be told, I actually like this series. In fact, in its four-season run, it became one of my favorite shows from 2015. The only reason I haven’t gotten around to it was mainly because I needed some more clarity on some of its more critical points. And I personally believe that it can’t be fully appreciated until you see it for yourself.
Now keep in mind: Tribe Cool Crew is an original anime that is made for children. But since I am known for making things a bit more complicated, this review is for my mature audiences, as the series does present a lot of different ideas, from dance routines, to the pangs of growing up, to political conflicts that bring about resistances that can change the world. But of course, all of this is in playfulness to me. And sometimes, theory can get in the way of what makes a show like this one so much fun!
Tribe Cool Crew is a hip hop themed anime that gives us a different side of urban Japan that many of us are not used to seeing. The main story follows a group of street dancers of which the title of this series gets its name. The crew– consisting of Haneru Tobitatsu, Kanon Otosaki, Kumonosuke “Kumo” Sakagami, Mizuki Mashiro, and Yuzuru Tenpoin –have clashing personalities that often come in conflict with each other. But even so, they find a way to work out those differences and help each other to perfect their dance routines.
Together, Tribe Cool Crew aims to come out on top in the underground dance battle tournament known as Dance Road, for a chance to share the stage with their idol, the idealistic yet mysterious Jey El.
Now this series is by no means without its criticism. Hip hop as portrayed in this series does appear to look gentrified. You may not like my answer, but part of what you are seeing is just how hip hop developed in Japan (or at least mainstream Japan). Japanese hip hop has been around for as long as hip hop has been a thing, but a lot of what has now developed came out of misconceptions of Black American culture.
For now, I consider this to be a limitation of the series, as it does offer its own unique flavor. A variety of hip hop styles are shown in Tribe Cool Crew, and of course, it adds its own anime flare as well.
I will admit that I’m no expert when it comes to dance, let alone hip hop. However, some fans have pointed out to me that a lot of the routines shown in Tribe Cool Crew are extremely technical. And in some cases, even professional dancers have a hard time replicating them, despite its slow animation in CG. One of the most memorable dances to me was the rival Yuji Shishido’s solo towards the end of the series, upon which (SPOILERS) we have come to know what he’s been fighting for.
But regardless of their maximum moves or whatever competition they face, Tribe Cool Crew learns that there is more to dance!
Since this anime is geared toward a younger audience, a lot of episodes may often feel side-tracked and otherwise out of place, because they were themed around certain events or holidays that occured in Japan simultaneously with the show’s four-season run. I actually found those episodes to feel refreshing and entertaining toward the series as a whole. And even if this series is a hip hop anime, it meshes together well with its Japanese context.
Tribe Cool Crew consists of a very colorful cast, and truth be told, there aren’t a lot of characters that I absolutely hated. But what fascinated me most was the complexity shown in many of its characters, and how they come to interact with each other both in and out of dance.
Haneru’s family runs a local snack shop that specializes in making senbei (rice crackers). His parents worry that street dancing won’t give him financial stability.
Kanon Otosaki was first introduced to us as the web sensation Rhythm. Being the youngest daughter of a politician’s family, she struggles to find her own way to express herself.
As the most spiritual yet wacky member of the Crew, Yuzuru comes from a mysterious family and is engaged to the girl tengu Momiji. Yuzuru offers his own flare by bringing tap dance to Tri-Cool.
Leading an independent lifestyle, Mizuki has no trouble making herself known, but doesn’t always know how to say “no.” In an episode where we see Mizuki’s stressful side, we get a chance to see just how troubling it is to be unable to refuse things in the moment, along with Mizuki’s genuine “okay” that we can believe.
Tri-Cool’s leader Kumo may strike people as cool when he dances, but he is very shy and reserved outside of it. Always looking for strength within himself, it may seem strange to the discerning eye that he cares a lot about others.
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Tri-Cool has plenty of rivals along the way as they advance through Dance Road, from the bouncy Explos1ve Machine Guns (Ba9on Machine Gun), to the twin duo Team Sakura. But nothing quite stirs up as much conflict as Crowd High. Given some fictitious elements, Crowd High can be simply described as an intense form of Crumping, and the trend is spearheaded by perhaps the goofiest of rivals, Lui and Moe.
This was perhaps the most distressing part of the series for me, because these two were the characters I sympathized with the most, besides the members of Tri-Cool, of course. Coming from a small town that would otherwise go unnoticed, Lui and Moe (whose crew name is too long to remember) had big dreams of becoming recognized globally for their Suwa Blue. But after they were knocked out of Dance Road, they made a contract to strut their Crowd High Red instead. It is then that they become the trendsetters of the mystic dance form that catches on too quickly, even for the mainstream. And as Haneru comes to realize, it became a form of dance that would undermine all of Jey El’s ideals.
Now by no means is Crumping as villainous as it is portrayed in this Crowd High style, and even in this series, Kumo acknowledges it as a powerful form of dance. He even goes so far as to tell Haneru to try the dance for himself before he continues to mouth off his opinion about it, and Haneru does come to learn of both the positive and negative sides of Crowd High.
The real enemy turns out to be (surprise surprise) the conglomerate responsible for putting on Dance Road: Jey El’s estate. I’ll try not to spoil details, but essentially, the dance idol has been on a mission for peace all around the world by bringing his dance to marginalized communities. However, Jey no longer controls his estate after being hospitalized, and his best friend Gallagher has had a different approach to Jey’s so-called “peace.”
Jey El has inspired many through dance to create world peace. However, as Gallagher points out, war, poverty, and oppressions will still exist, regardless of how much effort Jey and his followers will continue to exist. And for what it’s worth, I do agree with him. To think that dancing will magically make those problems go away is rather naive, and Gallagher is looking for a more practical solution to continue his best friend’s legacy.
What he created was a form that he figured would take the world by storm. And for the purposes of dance and as an antithesis to Jey’s ideals, it certainly did.
At the height of conflict, clashing ideals, and displays of power, Crowd High is beautifully expressed in the final battle between Tri-Cool and the DanceRoid, and would entice many viewers to come. But like I’ve said, Tri-Cool discovers more to dance than just techniques and flashy moves. After going through so many different trials and routines throughout Dance Road, I can only sum it up as the Moves of Spirit.
Dance is the one form of art that baffles many aesteticians, seeing how it does exactly the opposite of what many theorize to be the purpose of art. For some, the finest art is something that does not move you to action. However, dance not only entails action, it demands it. The most powerful forms of dance will move you to feel the beat and dance along with the performance. This is something that Jey El would have wanted to achieve for world peace, and something that groups like Tribe Cool Crew have carried with them. Crowd High lacks the Moves of Spirit, for even though its form caught on, it was backed exclusively by monetary value, not from the spirit within.
And with that, I’m just going to throw theory out the window from here. There is no road to world peace. But if we continue to feel the power in forms like dance, we can make a road to get there.
And if there is anything that I find truly valuable in this series, it’s that I have wanted to join in that dance, too.
So if you want to see what a hip hop anime can do to move your spirit, check out Tribe Cool Crew. Regardless of what thoughts or criticisms that I have presented here, I had a lot of fun writing this review and watching this series.