Background: Okay, along with a preview copy of Mars Daybreak 1 and an anime marathon of Mars Daybreak 2, Mars Daybreak 3, Mars Daybreak 4, and Mars Daybreak 5, I got to see the majority of episodes of one of my more interesting series of the year about five months ago. While the pacing wasn't always great and there were definitely a number of issues needing some heavy polishing up, I grew to enjoy the adventures of the Aurora and her crew on the high seas of Mars. Thankfully, I picked up the final volume in the series, Mars Daybreak V6, this weekend and that provided me the closure for the story that was as fun as expected. Here's some background before delving into the final episodes for you.
Series: The technical matters were the same and the extras were limited but while some of the episodes really captured the spirit of the high seas adventure on this futuristic "pirates on Mars" show, others fell flat. Keeping them straight was a pain in the butt to write up but I think each volume managed to provide something of value (even if a few were better handled than others). If you've read the other reviews you know that it's a story about a young man named Gram Rivers who inherits a pendant that becomes part of a treasure hunt with his new family on the pirate ship Aurora. He cooks in the galley and fights enemies in his mech-robot suit as well but as the story advances, they get closer to the treasure and this forces their opponents into taking increasingly desperate measures to stop them. Here's some background on the earlier stuff but remember that you'll want to see the series from start to finish rather than leap frog around:
"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."
As the series has progressed, a handful of special interest groups have come to the forefront of the playing field in terms of finding the treasure; the Earth government, the Mars government, the revolutionaries wanting to free Mars from Earth domination, other pirates, and the crew of the Aurora. Having fought all over the formerly red planet, Gram has now found the treasure and his crew is unable to locate him as their pursuers hunt them down with a renewed vigor. They find him sitting before what appears to be a huge group of yellow jewels but the secret behind them is even more fascinating then it first appears.
This leads to a betrayal and the capture of the crew by the massive Earth fleet with an execution scheduled for the next day. One thing leads to another and Gram's ingenuity gives them all a fighting chance, with the final outcome impacting the lives of everyone on Mars for better or worse. In the end, it was a better ending than I thought possible with relying too heavily on that which came before but also managed to offer up some twists that brought a smile to my face as well. In all then, I thought a rating of Recommended for the volume was fairest of all, though I reiterate that you'll want to see it from beginning to end in order if you want to experience the shows fullest impact.
Picture: Mars Daybreak V6 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: The only extras on the DVD were a set of trailers.
Final Thoughts: Mars Daybreak V6 was full of enough twists and turns in the plot that it had some decent replay value. I think if you've bought the show from the beginning, a revisit to the previous episodes will yield some interesting results as the smaller details that slipped past me initially came to light near the end. The show wasn't perfect and the fusion of CGI and more traditional looking anime wasn't the best I've seen of late but I'd have been willing to pick up a second season of the show if it had been continued on with all new adventures. For the most part, the modern day pirates on Mars story sounded a bit far fetched at first but the creative forces in both Japan and the USA (at Bandai) made it work and that's why I think those of you seeking something a bit more involved than a battle per episode will appreciate it more than most.
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.