Movie: One of the more interesting aspects of anime is how much cross pollination there is between various series and releases, probably owing to the same type of "keeping up with the Jones'" in Japan as our domestic entertainment industries have. By this, I mean that not only do many of the characters look alike, sound alike, and act alike (in a stereotypical set of mannerisms), but they also seem to derive from a common ancestry of creative artists, directors, and production personnel. The down side of this is the sameness that so many shows have but the up side is how a great many shows also manage to appeal to a certain psychological yearning for the comforts of the past (particularly shows we enjoyed). This is a delicate balance to maintain but even in the domestic dubbing industry, haven't you noticed that only a relative handful of voice actors are used over and over? In any case, familiarity of concept and detail seems to be the main selling point of a short OVA from over ten years ago, MAPS, released by ADV Films earlier this year.
The show follows a standard plotline of invading aliens in search of a map to a galactic treasure. An ancient living starship, Lipumira, and its avatar (the blonde on the front DVD cover), essentially kidnap a young boy, Gen, when it's found that he carries a genetic map to a crystal that comprises part of a larger map that forms the mission Lipumira was sent on long ago. Adding to the dynamic mix is the fact that Lipumira is being chased by a larger, more powerful ship that spices things up by attacking Tokyo as it seeks to destroy it. For those who like familiarity in their anime, the enemy ship looks like a copy of the enemy Mu ships from RahXephon, although I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that MAPS was released first, by a long time.
In any case, the four episode OVA managed to detail the exploits of the Lipumira, Gen, and his friend, Hoshimi, as the trio tries to outwit the forces out to get them, various other evil forces standing in their way, and the truth behind the crystal map that they are seeking (which isn't actually a map but you can see for yourself if you watch the show). Without spoiling the show too much, I can say that many of the details here seemed silly when looked at in the light of day. Gen leaving a note telling his parents he'd be on a journey came off as forced, the way the characters acted (like Gen knowingly going into a trap by another adversary), and the plausibility of finding the various pieces of the map after Lipumira had spent "billions" of years (I could have read/heard that one wrong but even "millions of unsuccessful years would make me wince) searching to no avail struck me as problematic.
If the show had been marketed to little kids that weren't as demanding in terms of a story making sense, I'd cut the show more slack but the suggested rating was a "15+", due mostly for a bit of animated nudity and/or adult themes, so I really don't feel all that charitable in this regard. I know ADV Films is currently releasing their back catalog, both good and bad shows included, but this one was so generic on so many levels that it almost seemed like a training ground for the creative forces that worked on it (a cursory search of the Japanese production staff show that a number of them worked on a host of projects far better than this one). In short, I wanted to like it more than I did but the numbing sameness of so many elements made me think it was only worth a rating of Skip It or, to be ultra-robo generous, a rental might be in order.
Picture: MAPS was presented in its original 1.33:1 ratio full frame color as it was made back in 1994. The picture was slightly washed out, had some minor video noise at times, and seemed to reflect a smaller than average budget, even for an older show. The amount of actual animation used to make the characters move was very limited, using static shots far too often for a discerning eye, and fans of better anime might feel this one looked as generic as it sounded and played out thematically.
Sound: The audio was presented with the usual choice of a 2.0 Dolby Digital stereo track in either the original Japanese (with English subtitles) or the mind numbing English dub that was weaker than I've come to expect from the folks at ADV Films. The vocals were clearly heard but the soundtrack (music and effects) seemed a product of a low budget too and any stereo separation between the channels was minimal (noticed only during the battle scenes). I didn't notice a lot of difference in the dubbed track's effects and music either; something surprising since ADV Films prides itself on improving such tracks for the American audience.
Extras: The only extra included here was the inclusion of some trailers and a paper insert of the front DVD cover. I wasn't expecting a commentary track or interviews with the cast but something to add value would've been appreciated.
Final Thoughts: MAPS wasn't the worst anime title I've watched this year but it certainly didn't live up to the quality I've come to expect from ADV Films. The covers implied a lot of fan service footage (there was a little but not much) and the creativity used to write the back cover's comments was more than was shown in the actual show. I like seeing giant ships battling it out and character development but I was sadly disappointed in what this release had to offer considering what I had read elsewhere on the net. Oh well, there'll be other titles to watch but only completists will want this one in their collection.
If you enjoy anime, take a look at some of the recommendations by DVDTalk's twisted cast of reviewers in their Best Of Anime 2003 and Best Of Anime 2004 article!