Movie: Having watched scores of anime series over the last couple of years (well, several decades if you include Americanized titles), I've noticed that friends of mine either "get it" or they don't with little middle ground outside of some of the feature length movie classics. Granted, some series are much better than others but depending on the audience, I've found titles that even the most uptight buddy could enjoy. On the other hand, I've found some titles that are borderline dreck unless they hit you just right. One series that I've bounced around on has been Cyberteam in Akihabara, a show about young ladies fighting the good fight as they fend off evil doers of various caliber.
If you've read my reviews of Cyberteam in Akihabara 1, Volume 2, and Volume 3, you'll know the basic premise as revolving around several girls, Hibari, Suzume, Tsugumi, and Kamome, each of whom carries a small mechanical pet that under the right circumstances brings forth a grown woman geared up in a bioelectrical super suit. Behind the scenes, a group of very long lived people are manipulating world events for their own ends, primarily using a male that looks like a boy but is, in fact, a much older genius called The Black Prince. The Prince employs three gals with powers similar to the heroines and the mix of serious plot to silly humor is sometimes a bit uneven. Here's a quick look at Cyberteam in Akihabara 4: Cyber Rebirth:
Episode 15 Sandcastle was the obligatory beach story (much like the earlier hot springs episode) that centered primarily on the PataPi's as they fought against a group of crabs while the gals took care of some peeping Toms. Episode 16 Anima Mundi centered more on the gals as they had to look forward to Parents Day at school (as I recall, the least favorite day of the school year outside of the opening day). Episode 17 Rebirth was actually kind of interesting with some solid exposition by the Rosenkreutz as well as some interesting developments for Hibari as she becomes one with her previous defender. Lastly, episode 18 The Abyss, where Master Shooting Star (The Black Prince) advances the plot as the viewer gets to see the background of his female minions (complete with audio commentary by the three of them).
I actually liked most of the episodes this time and went so far as to revisit all the older episodes in order to assess it more accurately. While it still had its weaknesses, I felt it was improved enough to warrant a rating of Recommended, but only if you watch the rest of the series in order beforehand. The development of the characters, the glimmer of some imagination not seen since the opener, and better use of the myriad of concepts from other sources made it better for my enjoyment. A bit more polish might've made it more solid overall but I can't deny the essential value of the underlying ideas as brought forth here.
Picture: Cyberteam in Akihabara 4was 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 as seen on the front DVD cover but it also looked a little low 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.
Extras: The best extra for me was the inclusion of a voice actor's commentary with several of the voice actors (Jessica Boone, Monica Rial, and Kristine Auten) present to give their impressions of the material at hand as well as some personal anecdotes of anime in general. My common issue about the English language commentaries from ADV Films was present here as well; they spent too much time goofing around and not enough time commenting on the show itself but they managed to tie in some of their observations about the series; making it better than last time. Otherwise, there were a few bloopers, a set of trailers and a advertising paper insert as well as the usual clean opening and closing.
Final Thoughts: Cyberteam in Akihabara 4: Cyber Rebirth was more fun than I had seen in a long time out of this series, making me thankful that I stuck with it this long. Yeah, the fan service aspects were out of place and the rest of the show geared towards a much younger audience but it also kept me watching as though some life had been breathed back into the series. If you like science fiction, fighting by powered up beings, and some complex threads, you'll like this one a lot more if you watch the rest of the series first.
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