Movie: Movies that attempt to project current events into a dystopian future often rely too heavily on singular topics to focus their energy but still manage to provide a glimpse of what "could" happen to society if things don't change now for the better. Most fans of schlocky science fiction are familiar with the movie Soylent Green, a world where over population (a huge topic of the late 1960's) managed to deplete the Earth of most natural resources (and provide a creepy snack for ghouls everywhere). Cut from a similar, if glossed over, cloth is the latest series from Geneon, Daphne in the Brilliant Blue 1: Initiation, a show about a future where global warming has melted the polar ice caps and forced humanity to cope as best we can.
The show initially focused on a young student, Maia, who is studying for her entrance exams for the last bastion of government, the elite Ocean Agency. Unlike here in the USA, the best and brightest in Japan have long been involved in public service as it honors their family and elevates their social status accordingly. The Ocean Agency is the last true governmental body left in a world gone wild so it makes sense that the intelligent, thoughtful, and highly capable Maia serve in the agency as she is shown to be head and shoulders above her peers in every way. Needless to say, sometimes life throws us a curve or two and young Maia soon finds herself unemployed, homeless, and without a friend in the world (perhaps a mystery that the series will delve into later on; at least I hope so) after failing the exam.
Through a quirk in fate, Maia stumbles into a shoot out between some hot looking futuristic detective/bounty hunters (later known as employees of the Nereides Corporation, a nebbish gal named Shizuka and a cold hearted capitalist named Gloria) and a thug on the run. Before long, she ends up working with the two, even though her lack of real world experience hampers her initial efforts at assisting them (literally starting out as bait for a bigger fish). As the four episodes progressed, from the first two (forming a double parter, Maia's Longest Day 1 and 2) that set up the premise to the introduction of another mercenary in Chaka Chaka Bang Bang and the third episode There's No Business Like Nereides Business? sandwiched in between, the characters all got a chance to shine in a series that seems full of surprises but also some familiar concepts.
By the end of the first volume in the series, I was convinced that there was enough to sink my teeth into in terms of writing, character development, and even some fan service for those of you seeking the kind of cheap thrill you'll only find in anime (kidding), to make a lot of anime lovers happy. I was tempted to research the series more thoroughly but I want to discover the plot twists and evolving stories like the rest of you so I've held off. I really think Geneon has a winner in Daphne in the Brilliant Blue 1: Initiation with more potential than a lot of like-minded series on the market at this time and if I'm lucky, I'll get to see more of the show that people have been talking about for months. In all though, given the fallen angel concept, the can do attitude, and the manner in which Maia has been forced into a virtual servitude, I think the DVD is worth a rating of Recommended as it managed to capture these ideas better than a lot of shows I've watched in the past few years. Try it out!
Picture: Daphne in the Brilliant Blue was presented in the same 1.33:1 ratio full frame color it was shot in for Japanese television a year ago. The colors, with some of the most subtle shading I've seen in a recent anime, were very nice to look at and the anime style itself managed to showcase some of the best Japan has to offer these days. The animation approach itself appeared almost as though it were done in the traditional fashion with painted cels but upon closer look I came to think it was greatly assisted by computer assistance (which is not all bad, contrary to what you may have heard).
Sound: The audio was presented with a choice of the original Japanese or an English dub, both in 2.0 Dolby Digital. The music and special effects had the most separation and dynamic range (for each track) and my belief was the original vocals scored somewhat more points for the naturalness of the voice acting. The English dub track won out in terms of the mix as the bass was deeper and the treble somewhat sharper so take some time to acquaint yourself with each track if you want to hear the relative merits of each.
Extras: The only extras included were some trailers, a clean opening, a double sided DVD cover, and a paper insert that unfolded into a small poster. I would have really appreciated the insert to have more details about the city, the characters, or even a timeline of the events leading to this futuristic place or at least to the main agencies playing a role here but perhaps that can come later.
Final Thoughts: Daphne in the Brilliant Blue was one of the highlights of my week for the way it combined story, characters, and an admittedly exaggerated version of graduation (haven't we all worried about that dreaded "final exam" at some point or another?) but the biggest selling point for me after watching this one twice remained the manner in which so many possibilities arose from the circumstances. Will Maia ever find out why she was rejected? Will Gloria show some compassion? Will all three gals strip and have a big orgy (hey, this is a bit of a mature anime with advertised "brief nudity & adult situations" so can't a guy dream?)? But seriously, the show has a lot of potential that I hope to see tapped in future volumes and this was a great start. Daphne in the Brilliant Blue combines excellent technical aspects with solid creative effort, yielding a series to keep an eye out for.
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 or regular column Anime Talk