Movie: Anime is a genre where anything and everything is possible. If someone can draw it, it can take place on the screen so the usual limitations of budget tend not to apply as readily as they do in more mainstream releases (where costly special effects force choices that hamper the creative process). One of the most popular themes in anime is that of a robot or android, all the way from my youth where Astroboy ruled, that can be controlled by a human and is capable of amazing feats. Recent DVD releases employing related themes would be Nuku Nuku and Angelic Layer, although there are obviously more than you can shake a stick at. Another related theme would be that of a group of children rallying their individual resources while on the run in order to save the day (this theme is especially popular in mainstream movies, including but not limited to Disney titles). Combining the best of these two themes would lead into today's review of Saber Marionette R, a show that has a long history in both Manga and in alternate universes, like other popular titles.
First off, before I get into the review, it should be noted that the characters bear a passing resemblance to those in related series but they are not part of the same time continuum. They are very similar and pay a bit of homage to their counterparts but are not the same so keep this in mind when sending me hate mail. That said, the show took place in a small kingdom set in the future called Romania. It looked to have taken place after some kind of major war since the technology employed by the locals is very backwards, nearly medieval in shape and design, with the exception of some interesting androids known as marionettes. The androids are plentiful and all female, owing their popularity to a lack of live women from some kind of catastrophe in the past. They do everything a real female can do (and I do mean "everything") and more, like protect royal family members from those who'd harm them. This sets the stage for the events that took place in the movie, a combination of three OVA episodes, that detailed the adventures of three such marionettes, Lime, Cherry and Bloodberry, as they raced to protect their master, Junior, from his evil stepbrother, Starface, who was trying to take over the throne.
Lime, the ditzy one with more power than most such androids, won a championship match against another opponent and was named as a protector for the prince, to assist his current assistant, the more docile, Cherry. Junior's father is King Virey, a clone that has stood the test of time by leading the country into prosperous times and had but one protector, Bloodberry, an android with more smarts and strategic skills than half the population put together. The real story began when the royal family was attacked in the dead of the night by three sexadolls. Sexadolls are like grown up versions of marionettes with even more specialized skills that men seem to enjoy, although such skills were not shown in this movie (just implied a whole lot). Mostly successful in their coup de tat, Starface and his dolls take over and begin looking for the prince after having defeated his marionettes quite easily. As he attempts to save his father and kingdom, Junior and his marionettes are put to the test once more to see if their "girl circuits" (heart) will give them enough of an edge to combat the more powerful dolls and win the kingdom back.
Well, I liked the show although it had more of an adult nature to it given the darker themes. I think a number of missed opportunities were present regarding the story but that's not the fault of Anime Works since they were left to translate what was already made in Japan long ago. The story looked very familiar given the themes as well as the marionettes themselves and while I would've appreciated an even more adult version, I know that anime tends to go to extremes only when the market suits it (if too adult, it'd limit the marketability of the other series). So, for the interesting themes, decent animation, and way the familiar characters were handled within the confines of the script, I'm going to rate this one as Recommended. It wasn't as well done as the longer versions of the related series on the market but it had enough to warrant consideration of its own place on my shelf.
Picture: The picture was presented in the usual 1.33:1 ratio full frame color that it was originally created in. There were a few moments where the picture looked less than optimal, typically the darker scenes where some video noise was apparent, and some of the daylight scenes, where some compression artifacts were noticed (those were rare however so you probably won't see them if you aren't watching closely) but overall, the show looked pretty solid for a release that's nearly ten years old at this writing.
Sound: The audio was presented with a choice of the original Japanese with optional English subtitles or an English dubbed track, each in Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo. I thought both tracks were well made and even favored certain aspects of the dub when a new friend of mine (straight from Japan) pointed out a few glaring liberties taken with the subtitles (and, presumably, the dub track itself). While it seems counter intuitive, the dub version made more sense in a few areas and the subtitles were almost dubtitles in the sense that the script followed them so tightly with little variation. I'm not going to nitpick the number of times the subtitles made little sense (a few cases where they were directly contradictory to what was said in both languages) but thankfully, such events weren't all that frequent. In any case, the music, vocals and special effects sounded good on my home theatre and that's the important thing.
Extras: There were a few trailers and a paper insert, neither of which was something I like to classify as "extra". This is one area that Anime Works, a good anime company, should work on in the future.
Final Thoughts: The show had darker themes than previous stories involving the trio of marionettes and that couldn't help but set it apart from such series but the show was still fairly old and had the limitations of age going against it as well. In the balance, I think anime fans will enjoy the show more than a few times given the way the material was handled and the technical aspects looked good enough that you'd think it wasn't nearly as aged as it was. Give it a shot if you enjoy the type of show I've described; I doubt you'll be sorry.
If you enjoy anime, take a look at some of the recommendations by DVDTalk's twisted cast of reviewers in their Best Of Anime article!