Movie: One of the problems with modern anime is that so much of it either relies heavily on a viewer's past experience to understand the basic concepts of the show (forcing a newbie to feel clueless if he/she has no background watching anime) or it borrows too much from other releases. On one hand, a very original show will be exceedingly inaccessible to the beginner and on the other hand, the show will be repetitive in how it treats the material. The latest release from ADV Films, Cyber Team in Akihabara: Cyber Genesis: Vol. 1 (Akihabara Denno Gumi), certainly borrows from many other past releases but also manages to contain a bit of original thought. While I'm not really certain if it will appeal to me by the end of the series, I did manage to crack a smile often enough to write this review in order to share what I saw, although I'm still trying to figure out some of the angles the show took in the first five episodes as presented here.
The show started off with Diva, the introductory episode that, like Angelic Layer, starred a young gal trying to get in on the latest craze. In this case, the craze centered around a little robot pet, PataPi's, that could learn to talk and interact with their owner. If you've seen Furbys, Robosapiens, or any of the countless others on the market, you'll understand what I'm talking about although they looked very much like the yellow character from Pokemon more than anything else. In any case, the lead, Hibari Hanakogani, is moving up to junior high school having turned 12 years old and wants to get her own pet. Having had dreams of a young, handsome prince (much like in Wedding Peach); she is surprised one day to meet him in real life whereupon he hands her a PataPi that she names Densuke. Shortly thereafter, a guy names Black Prince and his minions try to take her precious Densuke away from her by force, and the little robot energizes to produce a large combat fighter like Nuku Nuku. The being is called a Diva and is no surprise to the bad guys, many of whom look like smaller versions of RahXephon mech-robots.
As the episodes progressed, from The Black Meteor, Homunculus, and Death Crow; additional characters were added that displayed similar powers based as much on emotion as anything else. This seemed similar to the Pretear series almost as much as the aforementioned Wedding Peach (a show that had a similar trio of super powered heroines). Hibari's friends, Suzume Sakurajosui and Tsugumi Higashijujou filled out the trio and while the fighting appeared to be cookie cutter battles that could've come from any of a dozen other series, I liked the non-battle stuff a lot. The final episode of the volume, Cockatrice, was interesting in how the bad guys went to a lot more planning and thought in order to capture their victims, and those who enjoy Angelic Layer will have a lot to identify with.
I'm not sure where the series is going and the whole set of episodes seemed more like an homage to anime (without the parody aspects of Excel Saga) than a stand alone series but for those with minimal ties to the genre, I think it's a good starting place. Heck, there was even a bit of animated nudity and panty fetish like some of the weirder releases although it was scaled down too much to really spice things up for fans of that niche. I'm going to rate this one as a Recommended for anyone who likes anime and finds this description within their tolerances for entertainment but the cute factor was very heavy here and the demonic aspects somewhat out of place because of it. On several levels it worked well for me but I can't say that I'd be overly happy giving this to a young girl as a gift because of those darker elements.
Picture: Cyber Team in Akihabara was presented in the usual 1.33:1 ratio full frame color, as originally released in Japan. The series was made in 1998 and shows its age in terms of the slightly muted colors and minor pattern noise but I saw no compression artifacts or major issues in repeated viewings of the show. It did have a visual appeal all its own as seen on the front DVD cover but it also looked a little lower than average in terms of the budget for the animation as the movements didn't always track the audio (either lip movements or special effects) but I didn't detect this being related to a synchronization problem. In all, it was colorful and cute but wasn't cutting edge by any means.
Sound: The audio was presented with the usual choices of either the original Japanese audio track in 2.0 Dolby Digital stereo or the dubbed 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround English dub. The dub sounded far fuller on my home theatre set up but purists will likely throw a fit over some of the liberties taken with the translation and the over the top performances by some of the cast. Most of the time, the separation, bass, and special effects were enhanced by the revisited audio but the original vocals beat the dub in almost all cases (and I'm not a snob about dubs either). The music was light and fluffy, adding a measure of fun to the show (and I hope ADV Films releases an audio CD of the music soon).
Extras: With five full episodes, I really didn't expect too many extras. I'm one of the most vocal critics about companies putting less than four episodes on a single DVD so I generally ease up on lack of extras when a company wisely gives such a value as five shows on a regularly priced DVD. The extras this time included the usual production sketches, some trailers, a clean opening and closing, and a paper insert that listed the chapters on one side with some advertisements on the other.
Final Thoughts: Cyber Team in Akihabara 1 will not set the world afire in terms of originality, high end production values or even in terms of top notch entertainment but it was fun to watch and had several layers of appeal which surprised me early on in my viewing of it. Where it goes from here will determine if fans make it a success over here in the USA but as long as it doesn't jump the shark too quickly, it did seem to borrow some good elements in order to combine them in a fanciful manner allowing for good replay value. If you liked most of the shows mentioned in my review, you'll almost certainly enjoy this one for many of the same reasons (keeping in mind that many of the characters were archetypal in nature to Japanese anime, even more than the shows themselves). My hope is that the series grows instead of rests on its laurels as far too many similar series have done in the recent past as that'd make it quickly become a bother to review.
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!