Background: One of the most common themes in Anime deals with a future where things did not turn out as nicely as they could have, horrors abounding as mankind if essentially further down the ecological chain due to his mismanagement of the environment. Considering how Japan has long held a spot in historical context of placing the needs of business over the general benefit of mankind, this is understandable, a sentiment shared in large part by the majority of people in the USA too. Recently, the best anime company in the USA, FUNimation, has been re-releasing their back catalog titles in the form of Viridian Collections; keeping all the original extras and episodes in booklet form for fans that were cost conscience when the admittedly expensive individual volumes came out. Recent reviews of these show that my fellow anime reviewers appreciate them as much as I do, the lower costs associated with picking up anime titles well worth going back in time (especially when so few compelling new titles have been coming out). The latest of these coming to me has been Blue Gender: The Complete Series; a show about a dystopian world settled by large insectoid critters hell bent on populating the Earth for themselves alone.
Series: Blue Gender: The Complete Series first caught my eye when I read the review by Todd Douglas recently, his approval enough for me to pick up the set for review too. The protagonist of the series is a young man named Yuji Kaido, a guy that was put in suspended animation 22 years prior due to a genetic defect that would kill him. The idea was that scientists were working on a cure and the process would allow him to live a full life once revived a short time later. Sadly, as most shows document, the best laid plans are bound to go astray and what was going to be a short sleep became a nightmare filled slumber where the guy was woken up in the midst of a battle between huge venomous bugs and soldiers all decked out to kill. The remaining cryogenic pods around him all shattered and full of corpses, his first inclination is to run away; though he is chased by both sides of the conflict and has no idea what is going on.
The year is 2031 and Yuji finds that the soldiers come from a space station in orbit over Earth. Their mission is to recover him at all costs, most of the squad dying as they fight their way to a secure facility where they have a chance of getting back in orbit. The leader of the band saving him is Marlene, a blond with a strict set of orders that she takes very seriously, the mission more important than any of them as far as she is concerned. Yuji finds out the creatures that attacked were called "The Blue" and are genetic mutations that started appearing in the year 2017; nest of them all over the defunct city surrounding them. There are expendable human survivors living in squalor all around the city, most of them defenseless and randomly picked off by the creatures. The majority of the movie's first half shows Yuji and Marlene fighting the Blue off in battles, the rest of the people joining them ending up as cannon fodder over time. Those that like mech styled fighting against insectoid bugs bestowed with super abilities will therefore find this portion of the show to be pretty sweet.
As with most such shows though, there is a wrench tossed into the mix as political types show up once Yuji is on the station. He is trained to become a warrior himself, something about him lending itself to being a superior fighter, the reason why he was brought back to life. Others of his kind prove equally skilled in handling the weapons of the future, the dark secret behind why this is so a spoiler I won't divulge at this time. The 26 episodes (and one movie culled from the series) all detail the maneuverings of the two major factions of humanity orbiting in the station above, Yuji trying to make sense out of his lot in life before he succumbs to the wily leaders that all have their own agendas. For his part, Yuji is a whiny teenager that starts off continuously complaining about why he wasn't left to die; everything and every one he knew being long dead. As the series progresses, he matures and accepts that he can be part of the restoration of the planet as a habit for humanity to safely live on, though his genetic malady plays a role in this too. Not knowing exactly how long he will live makes his plight a bit easier to understand but unlike those that save him in the first part of the series, Yuji retains some compassion for the common folk still stuck on Earth. Marlene grows in this sense too, coming to appreciate Yuji as something different than she has been subjected to in the military, the pair naturally finding themselves drawn physically to each other over time.
As expected, the series builds up (slowly at first, then at breakneck speed) to the finale, friends dying along the way as sacrifices must be made for the greater good. The horrific elements aside, there was a bit of nudity here for the prudes to rail about, neither making the series all that perfect for the younger crowd but never so explicit that reasonable people will find fault in the natural presentation either. While the series was one of the first that came out on DVD in the last millennium (1999), it looks slightly dated but thematically it set up a long chain of similar efforts that fans should find most appealing. If you like futuristic fighting shows with ample amounts of gore, environmental issues, and government conspiracies, you will likely appreciate this new version of the show as worthy of at least a rating of Recommended, if not more, my apprehension at saying more (increasing the amount of spoilers) causing me to suggest you will want a copy.
Picture: Blue Gender: The Complete Series was presented in the usual 1.33:1 ratio full frame color as directed by Abe Masashi for presentation on broadcast television in Japan back in the 1990's. There was a bit of aliasing in almost every episode, more in the later ones though, and some of the brighter colors, as rare as they were, bled over a lot but otherwise, the show did not look nearly as old as it is. The lines were drawn very nicely and while most of the animation was limited in some ways (panning used a lot), the audio was employed to assist in nicely fusing the technical values for best impact. There was also some macro blocking in darker portions of the series but this was another area most frequently seen in the space portions of the show, particularly during the battles. The bitrate was on the low side most of the time, typically in the lower 4 Mbps area, but this did not seem to have an impact on any compression artifacts for those that keep track.
Sound: The audio was presented with a choice of 2.0 Dolby Digital in the original Japanese or the English language dub for the series itself using a 256 Kbps bitrate. This limited the separation of the channels, the directionality of the action, and the way my surround sound system played it but for this type of show, it sounded pretty solid all the same. This was a case where I enjoyed the dubbed version better than the Japanese track too, the music sounding a bit punched up in some cases but none of the rears or subwoofer getting a work out as some of the modern titles would offer up. The movie included on the last disc was a step up in this case, the 5.1 English dub an improvement but the elements always sounding like they were merely being juiced up in post production rather than recorded that way as with newer shows. The audio was comparable to the video for a show this old though so it won't matter too much either way for fans.
Extras: The extras were where this collection really shined compared to some of the packages other companies have been offering up (particularly one based in Houston) since all the original extras were included and a copy of the series recap movie, The Warrior, was added in as icing on the cake. Seeing as how there were 9 discs in the set, you know that it had plenty of room for such extras, the best of the batch being the movie itself. The audio commentary was a bit on the fluff side, as were the trailers, cast biographies, and trailers. There were some character profiles in text format that gave decent overviews of the main characters but they included spoilers so beware when watching the series for the first time. There were some textless songs, image galleries, sketches, and a bunch of Japanese commercials for the various formats the show was released in over the years. There were some extended versions of the main theme songs too that I really liked; music videos always among my favorite extras on an anime title. There were also some limited files that gave a head's up on the show but they also had spoilers so wait until you've seen the show before engaging them. The movie was merely a recap of the entire series though, eliminating major events in favor of an often appealing movie hitting the highlights.
Final Thoughts: Blue Gender: The Complete Series was not a perfect anime package but it did manage to merit considerable applause over the years from fans, myself now included as one of them. I had seen part of it before and while it took me longer to watch this one from front to back in both languages, it was worth it as far as I was concerned since spot checking the episodes would not have been nearly as interesting to me. Each language version offered a slightly different take on the material too, the dub aptly handled by the FUNimation crew to provide a fun alternative. In short then, Blue Gender: The Complete Series was nicely handled for the level of anime coming out when it was originally released, standing the test of time well enough to merit consideration in this new Viridian Collection format.
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, Best of Anime 2005, and Best of Anime 2006 articles or their regular column Anime Talk.