Rebellion League of Girls in Sailor Uniform (Japan, 1986-1987) – 4/5
Rebellion League of Girls in Sailor Uniform was Nippon TV’s answer to Toei / Fuji TV’s hugely successful high school action series Sukeban Deka (1985-1987). It opened in late 1986, just before the second Sukeban Deka series ended. Yumi (Nobuko Sendo), Ruri (Risa Yamamoto) and Kei (Kyoko Goto) form a three girl rebellion league, backed up insider Miho (Miho Nakayma), in a fight against corrupt high school officials and teachers straight out of a Kinji Fukasaku yakuza film. Expect no peace when classes are led by Rikiya Yasuoka (the madman who tries to kill Sonny Chiba with a traffic sign in The Executioner)
Unlike Sukeban Deka, Rebellion League of Girls in Sailor Uniform doesn’t invest much into the storyline. There is a larger backstory that is introduced in the first few episodes, but in practice it is soon forgotten and the episodes are individual stories only very loosely related to any bigger scheme. The secrets revealed in the final episodes are also somewhat underwhelming. For this reason Rebellion League is rather superficial entertainment; the series is as good as the sum of its episodes, and episode quality is mostly defined by the amount of humour, original villains and inventive fight scenes.
It’s the fight scenes that are the show’s biggest asset. The action choreography, which is by Sonny Chiba’s Japan Action Club, is easily the best ever seen in a 1980’s idol product. It’s obvious from the beginning that these girls have taken a karate lesson or two before walking into the set, and they only improve as the show advances. Watching Sendo, Yamamoto and Goto doing Donnie Yen style split kicks, running on the opponents’ shoulders, or just delivering ordinary roundhouse kicks episode after episode often makes you forget that these girls – although naturally assisted by a skillful stunt team and editors – are indeed adorable idols. Slight stiffness in their performance doesn’t hurt the fun. JAC’s choreography gets most insane in episode 12 where the girls encounter an entire football team on battlefield.
Just like the Sukeban Deka girls, each of the heroines have their signature weapon. Yumi relies on boxing gloves, Ruri throws sharp pens, and Kei uses a combination of scarf and long yellow chain. When going into fight, the girls disguise themselves with outrageous hairstyles, make-up and white uniform. Especially Kei is an attention stealer on battlefield; the war painting on her face almost makes her look like a special forces commando on jungle mission.
Sendo and Yamamoto both contribute one song to the soundtrack. Rock band A-JARI perforns the theme song ’Shadow of Love’. A-JARI is also seen in front of the camera in one episode, and this is definitely a band cameo to remember, unlike their special episode in Toei’s Shoujo Commando Izumi one year later (another high school action series that A-JARI worked on). The songs are all good, however, the amount is quite small compared to some of Toei’s series. Rebellion League also lacks a memorable score by a composer such as Ichiro Nitta.
Sendo, Yamamoto, and Goto are all good in their roles, but not unforgettable. Miho Nakayama, often marketed as the star of the series, is actually a supporting player and doesn’t even appear in every episode. She only becomes equal to the other three leads in the last three episodes. Nevertheless, she’s the first billed star in the opening credits till episode 4, after which she starts taking turns with the real star, Sendo. Nakayma’s selection of weapon is explosive roses. Although she was a successful pop star, most western fans probably know her best from Shunji Iwai’s Love Letter (1995) in which she played the leading role.
Despite its shortcoming in terms of story and characters – as well as a couple of lesser episodes – Rebellion League of Girls in Sailor Uniform is great, occasionally jaw droppingly cool high school action fun. What it loses in depth, it takes back with crazy opponents, ( blind caucasian teacher with a huge afro), solid cast and visiting stars that include Kinya Aikawa, Shinzo Hotta, Noriko Hayami and Jun Izumi, and first grade action scenes. Not a Sukeban Deka beater, but a great challenger.