Movie: As this week progresses and I continue looking at some of the Bandai titles I missed when they first came out, I revisited a series that I appreciated from the opening with Mars Daybreak 1. It's a futuristic show about humanity's expansion to the red planet of Mars where the surface of the planet is covered by water and the local government is similar to the colonial government of what is now the USA; feeling oppressed by the homeland. Times are tough and the story is mainly about a young man, Gram Rivers, searching out his destiny aboard a pirate ship when circumstances thrust him into the spotlight (making him stand as wrongfully accused by the authorities). Here's a glimpse into what I said previously before I expand with some volume specific comments on today's review of Mars Daybreak 2:
"Mars is now almost entirely covered in water. Humanity exists in large city-ships that float through the open seas. But life is hard for those who live on Mars - the economy is in bad shape, work is scarce, and food is expensive and highly prized. Gram and his friends try to do the best they can, but the work keeps drying up.
Some have taken to a life of piracy to combat the corruption in the government; one such group is the pirates of the feared Ship of Aurora. And the Earth government, which rules Mars, has dispatched a new team of military pilots to combat them. In their specialized mecha called Round Bucklers, they must make the seas of Mars safe for humanity.
Caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, Gram finds himself on the run with the most notorious pirates on Mars. But here's the thing- he's starting to like them!
Rather than flesh out the scenario early on, the series seems to be willing to let the audience fill in many of the blanks as to how Mars became a water world and colonized by mankind. Whatever the case, the primary factions shown in the first five episodes were the local Mars government, the ruling Earthers, and the pirates like those on the Aurora (who are tied to a rebel leader of sorts but this relationship isn't completely explained by the end of the DVD). The lead protagonist is Gram, a man in his early twenties who scrapes by on whatever work he can get. His problem is that he gets pissed off easily and those around him aren't as willing to forgive his sins when there are dozens who'll replace him at the drop of a hat. He acts as guardian to a couple of kids and after turning down a creepy guy wanting to break into Gram's last place of employment, finds his charge more than willing to take the job. Needless to say, this leads Gram into a life of crime with circumstances putting him at the helm of a powerful mechanized robot (Round Buckler) and working for the most notorious pirates on Mars in their submarine. As time progresses, he finds out the government propaganda about the pirates to be as accurate as it was about the bright future of Mars so he joins them in their quest to plunder for the masses.
On the other side of the coin is the governmental forces that seek to prevent the pirates from stealing everything not nailed down. One of the troops is a life long friend of Gram and upon seeing him listed as one of the criminals in a warehouse burglary, she takes it personally and tries to apprehend him now that she's assigned to Mars. On the face of it, he's just another thug in her eyes since the supplies the pirates have stolen are desperately needed on the watery world of Mars (water is often considered a virtual universal solvent and the main supply stolen was tons of desiccant needed to prevent the moisture from eating away at the infrastructure of the floating city it was stolen from). Neither side is pure and noble, making their actions all the more interesting as the characters live their lives, fight their battles, and engage in a series of battles for what they believe in."
Okay, so Gram is taken in by the pirates and due to his piloting skills is soon made an integral part of the crew, overcoming some initial resentment on both sides, and the first episode of the second volume deals with the Aurora hunting down the maggots that scratched the ship. The trio of socialist wannabe's have kidnapped a young girl, who later turns out to be a key player (and the Earth President's grand daughter) Enora. After tracking them down to an abandoned floating city that used to be a college overtaken by radical elements, the crew searches them out, with often predictable results though Enora joins the crew willingly as they try to figure out the best way to get her back to her family safely.
This leads to a pirate named Kubernes, a man that Gram ran into previously, being hired to hunt down the Aurora by the Mars authorities. He becomes a central element in the series as he initially tries to regain Enora (for a huge bounty) and then notices Gram's pendant (that has been with him since birth). It has a significant effect on the pirate, who then asks Gram to join him even though the answer was known before the question was asked. Kuberness' attempt to sabotage the ship aside, he meets up with them again at a state function where all the big dollar, big name, and influential people of Earth and Mars attend aboard a luxury ship (under an amnesty policy that allows foes to meet safely). With such high stakes, there is a lot of conflict but it isn't until Kuberness attacks the ship with his huge Kraken-esque ship, endangering all aboard, that Gram gets to strut his piloting skill once more. There was also a side plot continuation where Gram's childhood sweetheart Vesta continues to hunt him down (being a Lt in the military, it's her duty) but she's interrupted by the attack too.
The rest of the show starts the ultimate plotline of the series where Gram comes across an aborigine who tests him to see if he is the chosen one of legend. If he doesn't handle himself correctly, the consequences will be dire but he isn't even aware of her tests. In the meantime, the Captain attempts to secure an artifact that supposedly will help find the Stone of the Gods, the single most precious item on the red planet, but local thugs want it too so the ensuing battle of wills finds Elizabeth bucking heads with the gangsters, with Gram tossed in the middle of the fight unknowingly. It wasn't a bad set of episodes though it seemed decidedly geared towards a younger audience this time, securing a rating of Recommended from me for the clever way many aspects were handled.
Picture: Mars Daybreak 2 was presented in the original 1.33:1 ratio full frame color it was shot in by director Kunihiro Mori for release on Japanese broadcast television. The colors were properly muted for the undersea action, the depressed areas properly dirty as if to convey the underlying economic times, and the elite offices of the provisional government and other factions looked pristine (trying to subtlety push the notion that the upper levels of society have it much better than the rest of us). The animation was the current combination of traditional anime and CGI with decent, if unremarkable, results. The character and setting designs were nicely handled; looking a bit different than the usual offerings you'll see in shows by other companies (this was another collaboration between Emotion and Bones as distributed domestically by Bandai). There were no compression artifacts and I don't think anime fans will be unhappy with the majority of the visuals here.
Sound: The audio was presented with the usual choice of the original 2.0 Dolby Digital Japanese stereo track or the newly made 2.0 Dolby Digital stereo English dub. I liked the vocals of the dub better this time even if a couple of background characters didn't seem to fit all that well. In terms of the sound effects and music, both seemed about equal to me with limited separation between the tracks and a dynamic range less pleasing than some of the other modern releases I've listened to lately. In all though, it was well enough handled that no one should complain too loudly (as some extremists tend to do).
Extras: With five full episodes on hand, the extras were not as important to me and that's a good thing since there was a set of trailers only here.
Final Thoughts: Mars Daybreak 2 continued the high seas adventures on Mars much like some of the classic science fiction of yesteryear, still coming across like a cross between 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Robin Hood (with healthy doses of the usual mech-robot styled fighting). That the characters were motivated for their own purposes made them more realistic but the tension of the series relied as much on the skillful manner in which the music accentuated the plot elements and the writing seemed pretty good this set of episodes made it more enjoyable to get into. The series falls off a bit after this (making me think it could've been trimmed down substantially) but the first couple of volumes worked well for me and the latter ones seem geared towards a younger audience (look for reviews later today on a few more of them).
If you enjoy anime, take a look at some of the recommendations by DVD Talk's twisted cast of reviewers in their Best Of Anime 2003, Best Of Anime 2004, and Best of Anime 2005 articles or their regular column Anime Talk.