Background: Shows centering on the use of powerful giant robots are common in anime with titles such as Full Metal Panic, Tetsujin 28, Eureka Seven, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and Sakura Wars but the smallest of samples you'll find available on DVD. The specifics vary but there are numerous archetypes such as the reluctant pilot, the warring factions relying heavily on technological advances, and secondary characters all too willing to engage in battle wanting to be given a chance (which doesn't go too well when they happen into battle). Well, with anime production houses trying their best to gain the attention of females to their work, a lot of newer series combine some of the genre stereotypes with the girl as a heroine theme, the latest of which is Kirameki Project 1: Robot Girls.
Series: Kirameki Project 1: Robot Girls is the first half of a six episode OVA where three princesses are in charge of the security of their small island nation of Genes. The oldest of the three handles things from their castle while Kana and Nene handle field operations. Kana is in charge of their most advanced robot, a towering structure in the shape of a girl wearing a maid outfit. She doesn't like to get her hands dirty and considers robots to be her friends. This leads to problems when sent out into the field because she doesn't believe in fighting and doesn't want to take the chance that her robot gets scratched so youthful Nene tends to get upset; wanting in on the action a bit too much.
The dynamic for this short series is that a group of American (or European, depending on your source material) industrialists have created a very powerful robot that they use to fight anyone that crosses their paths. They defeat all opponents rather easily and as a final blow to their opponents, they rip off their country logo and pin it on their chest; the show opening up with such a battle and the robot (called Super Great or Giant Robot, depending on whom you believe) displaying scores of logos as a veritable scorecard of successes. The machine's pilots report in to a boss that expects victory for all the money he has poured into the project. This works fine until they come across Kana.
Kana initially doesn't want to fight, even when prodded by her two sisters. The possibility of her precious robot companion getting hurt is simply too great so she casually walks away from the battle. This doesn't set well with the Super Great team either since they are under strict orders to fight and win, leading to a mishap that launches a bit of debris towards Kana (that scratches her beloved friend Junerin ever so slightly). Within seconds, Kana goes on a rampage that levels Super Great, barely allowing them to escape with the remnants of their creation, much to the dismay of their leader. The pilots and engineers are taken to task and told to rebuild in order for a rematch since the goal has been to impress the leading industrialists of the world that their design is superior in every way, with the ultimate goal being selling lots of expensive machinery to them. The defeat causes problems in that regard but the rematch is set for the second chapter of the two part series, and with any luck it will be more interesting to watch.
The box cover said it like this: "On the Mediterranean Sea, there lies the beautiful kingdom of Genes. It is ruled by three lovely, mostly innocent princesses and the power of technology. The surrounding kingdoms all fall one by one to a mysterious Giant Robot. Worse yet, the Robot is under the control of several decidedly unattractive Old Guys. When they set their sights on Genes, the Fate of the World, rests on the maid-outfit clad shoulders of Kana, the second princess. Born with a special knack for robot technology, Kana and her android companion Rincle are the last line of defense for Genes."
In general, this seemed to be a copycat of numerous robot shows before, with a few new quirks designed to appeal to the female audience. The problem is that there was almost no character evolution and what was presented was more two dimensional than usual. The advanced techniques used to anime the robots (as seen in the production feature) made it look cool but ultimately, looking cool should always be secondary to a good story with engaging characters. If you're going to jump into a genre, you really should have some idea of what you want to bring to the table to provide something of interest and that simply didn't seem to be the case here. It had some glimpses of brilliance but they were so few and far between that I wish the series had been provided as a double disc set instead of making me almost dread what will take place next. In all, a bit more planning and writing might have made this one work a lot better for me, so I rated it as a Rent It for female fans of giant robot tales (as well as those who like very small amounts of fan service).
Picture: Kirameki Project 1 was presented in a 1.85:1 ratio anamorphic widescreen color as shot by director Katsuhiko Nishijima for Studio Fantasia and distribution domestically by Anime Works. The textures, rendering and other CGI were all top notch for such a show, proving the company has the ability to handle the technical aspects as well as anyone else in the field. The emphasis on spending a lot more time on the leading robot, Kana's Junerin, was evident but in general, it was a colorful and attractive show without many of the issues arising in lower budgeted anime series of late. If the same level of quality can be consistently applied, I would encourage the company to hire a few good writers and make a full season of the show using the same techniques. The blending of CGI with more traditional animation styles worked better here then expected, a tribute to the skill of the artistic team.
Sound: The audio was presented in the original 2.0 Dolby Digital Japanese with optional English subtitles. I was kind of surprised that they didn't include a dubbed track but many fans see those as extraneous so I'm not fussing too loudly about it. The voice actors did a decent job and the sound engineers seemed well within their comfort zones at providing a title with good separation between the tracks. The music was light and colorful, adding to the fun, and while some of the translations seemed to be a bit off, I had to admit that the audio and video portions of the show were well done.
Extras: The best extra was a lengthy Behind the Scenes feature where the project was looked at from beginning to end by the staff with an emphasis on the drawing of the characters and seeing the crew at work. They were proud of their use of the software designed for the OVA and appeared to care a great deal about what they were doing. It lasted the better part of a half hour, making it one of the better BTS features I've seen in an anime release in some time. There was also a short feature called VR Introduction where the voice actress for Kana, in an annoying manner, discussed the show. I would have liked to hear from others in the project too but perhaps in the second volume this will be addressed. There were some trailers, a clean opening and closing sequence, and a character gallery too for those who care.
Final Thoughts: Kirameki Project 1 was the first half of a six episode OVA and offered up enough material that fans of this type of show will probably like it better than I did. The technical side of things was vastly superior to the writing and plot, but as an offshoot of a great many other releases in anime involving giant robots, I've seen a lot worse too. In all, it was kind of bland with a cartoonish set of antagonists and secondary characters, coming across more as a proposal for a full series then as a stand alone OVA but with improved writing and scripting, the technical matters could easily carry the show further than this volume of three episodes has done so far.
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.