Movie: As anime series draw to a close, it becomes evident (more often than not) at how the original plan was paced and written. Some of the time, there are great big gaps in action, exposition, character development, or simply creative ideas while series with more thought put into them spread out the wealth they have to offer far better. This phenomenon is not unique to anime but due to the manner in which fans are so obsessive and willing to talk about such things, anime manages to see the most criticism sent its way when any aspect is so much as perceived to be poorly handled. One show with some issues in pacing is almost finished with the release of the second to last volume of episodes, Cyberteam in Akihabara 5: Cyber Friends.
Not unlike reading a book, if you skipped watching Cyberteam in Akihabara 1, Volume 2, Volume 3, and Volume 4, you'll be lost as the story builds upon what takes place, in a soap opera fashion. If you have either seen the shows or simply read about them here, you'll know the basic premise revolves 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 in a group called the Rosenkreutz 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. That said, here's a quick look at Cyberteam in Akihabara 5: Cyber Friends, starting with the synopsis on the back of the DVD cover:
"With the Primum Mobile descending from the heavens, Christian Rosenkreutz will stop at nothing to achieve his goal of awakening the Metatron: neither the betrayal of his very own son nor the destruction of the entire city of Akihabara! Meanwhile, our heroines find themselves in over their heads, as new powers and inner turmoil threaten group dynamics. In an effort to coax Tsubame out from under the influence of the Rosenkreutz, Hibari turns to a secret weapon… her mother's delicious vanilla pancakes! But will the rest of the gang welcome the cantankerous (and frankly, just plain evil) Tsubame into the Cyber Team family? Or will the unit collapse under the pressures of defending the universe?"
This time, the volume included Episode 19) Mask, Episode 20) A Time To Spread One's Wings, Episode 21) Summons, and Episode 22) A Momentary Vision. The first three episodes were generic in many ways except that Hibari follows her instincts and attempts to befriend her new nemesis, the incredibly skilled Tsumbame; the lynchpin the Rosenkreutz's efforts to achieve their goal of locating the floating city of Primum Mobile, and its creator. Most of that takes place in the exposition oriented final episode of the group; the only one with more than passing merit to watch. In essence, it provides the final information to complete the puzzle for the last volume to wrap things up as the heroines get a history lesson from a secondary character while we also get to see the villains tell the rest of their tale and somehow less evil goals. As a whole, Cyberteam in Akihabara 5: Cyber Friends was only worth a rating of Rent It to me due to the poor pacing of the initial episodes (whenever a single episode tells you more information than the five that proceeded it, you have pacing problems), but if you've come this far, it'd be a shame to simply walk away from the series as it had some interesting moments. I wonder how well the final volume will handle the loose ends of the series but I'm also kind of ambivalent due to so much of the show being weak.
Picture: Cyberteam in Akihabara 5: Cyber Friends 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 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 an audio commentary with director Joe Grisaffi (of the English language dub) and voice actress Tiffany Grant present to give their impressions of the material at hand, some personal anecdotes of anime in general, and even a few historical bits about a few of the characters. My common issue about the English language commentaries from ADV Films was not present here as they focused their efforts on aspects of the show rather than goof off like some commentaries choose. Otherwise, there were a few bloopers, a set of trailers as well as the usual clean opening and closing.
Final Thoughts: Cyberteam in Akihabara 5: Cyber Friends was a mixed bag of fun to be sure. If you've come to appreciate the characters (meaning you're probably a preteen female) for the two dimensional characteristics they have shown, you'll probably think my review is a touch negative but most fans aren't going to start watching a series that is almost over too. I hope director Joe Grisaffi participates on more commentaries in the future (this holds true for most anime; always include the director and/or producer for a decent commentary) but this series isn't likely to be held in high esteem as his best work. I strongly expect to see better out of him in the coming years but considering he was handed what amounts to a light bit of fluff, it's hard to blame him for the limitations of the material originally created in Japan.
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