Background: How we treat the environment and how it treats us in return is a common theme in modern anime, perhaps the most common thread in many otherwise different series. The law of unintended consequences typically kicks in and the humans find themselves at odds with the fundamental theories regarding physics too (such as "for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction") but that is because the genre is used to enlighten us (some say brainwash us with a liberal mindset) to the follies of our collective actions. Well, most of last year, I remember reading some of the reviews by anime lover Todd Douglas about an interesting series that caught my imagination, the entire set now out as Solty Rei: The Complete Series that combines a number of sub-genres to form a very distinctive experience all its own; one I found particularly enjoyable so I took the 6 disc set in hopes of providing an overview for those of you that might also find it appealing.
Series: Solty Rei: The Complete Series is a series set in a distant future in another time and place. Mankind has colonized the stars but reverted in some ways too, largely because of issues arising from the process of spreading away from mother Earth. One of the planets settled has a single large metropolitan city with the planet surrounded by a protective device known as the Aurora Barrier and the story largely takes place twelve years after an environmental disaster called the Blast Fall killed a large portion of the population, maiming many others as well. The chaos that ensued was widespread, breaking up families and resulting in an organizational nightmare for the ruling elite at the RUC. One of the effects of the calamity was that it slightly altered the DNA and other physical characteristics of many victims and in the aftermath, there was scant chance of reuniting most impacted by the event. A whole industry popped up to deal with the maimed victims too, essentially making a large portion of the population cyborgs or as the story refers to them, Resembles.
As with any such story, it is best told by focusing on a limited number of protagonists; in this case a bounty hunter known as Roy Revant and those around him. Roy was a former detective with the police department whose wife died and young daughter got lost in the Blast Fall. He climbed into a bottle and became the equivalent of a hired gun, licensed by the RUC but not so much under its control. The only thing that keeps him going is the extensive quest for his daughter, every lead followed up upon and no stone left unturned in the large city that has been mostly rebuilt. To say Roy is a determined man is not quite enough, the guy large, brooding, and full of the rage that drives his quest even now, twelve years later. Roy doesn't care how people take his methods and he is results driven so in the gray area that his profession occupies, he pushes the limit as needed to get his assignments done.
Always thinking of his daughter Rita, Roy encounters a young gal (too young to be his daughter) that comes out of nowhere during a risky operation that almost costs him his life. With anime green hair and a perky attitude, her inadvertent collision with Roy's suspect saves his life and he eventually takes the girl into his care, largely as the result of his employer, Miranda and her daughter Kasha, pushing him to do so. While Miranda was going to adopt the amnesiac girl, a screw up in the paperwork results in Roy being named the legal guardian and the comedic high jinx ensue as the now named Solty Rei becomes a fixture in their lives. Within a very short time, it is clear that she is no mere girl either, the amount of technology, top of the line technology at that, in her body is far more than other Resembles, causing some question as to her origins. The rest of the movie then bounces back and forth between these two characters with some interesting others joining in as well.
Case in point being Rose Anderson, one of a trio of hoodlums that steal, break the law with impunity, and use others for their personal gain (or at least it seems that way at first). Rose is a master thief and gets in Roy's way one time too many, resulting in her moving in with him. Rose is about the age that Rita would be but devotes most of her time to the pursuit of personal gain, her brothers using much of their ill gotten gain to help the city's poor folks that are unregistered and therefore off the grid to the authorities. This being another anime society of haves and have-nots, the strongly drawn line between the privileged and SOL losers becomes a major plot point where Miranda and Roy seek to figure out some strange things going on just as a specialized RUC team start questioning Solty. As time passes though, the series undergoes a vast change of gears where the comedic stuff gets outweighed by the drama of the leadership of the RUC; a plot of intrigue that suggests that maybe the Blast Fall was no accident.
Solty's powers are so off the scale that she becomes labeled a threat, as do a number of the lead characters, resulting in a showdown of sorts that really come out of nowhere too; the origins of the colonization process only one of the many mysteries solved before the end of things. Solty herself is like a sponge to those around her too, alternately picking up bad habits from Rose and Roy while learning how to please as many of her circle of friends as possible. As a result of the events unfolding around her, she toughens up, with a lot of despair surrounding the cast as things quickly go out of hand for them. That the first half of the show was so typical of the "super gal comedy anime" shows of the past and the second part of the show was so hardcore cyberpunk and evil police state was a bit off putting for me though I'll be the first to admit that it worked out nicely for replay value. In this case, perhaps better planning and a more consistent approach might have fused both dynamics into a cohesive whole more believably yet the bittersweet ending was such that the characters won me over time and again (they grew as the series progressed rather than remain so lamely two dimensional as is standard these days). The abruptness of the shift in how the series played out was part of a growing trend too, one that is usually poorly done so with the rough edges presented or not, I liked this one enough to rate it as Highly Recommended.
Picture: Solty Rei: The Complete Series was presented in the original 1.78:1 ratio anamorphic widescreen color as it aired on broadcast television in Japan back in 2005. The colors were often bright and larger than life but when called upon, the show could get gritty and dark so there was clearly a lot of consideration for the two prevalent dynamics mentioned above. There was some aliasing and in the darker sections (night scenes, space antics), a bit of blocking did appear but these were not the typical video issues that arose. The animation itself combined panning and a low frame rate with some highly creative approaches to make it stand out in my mind as one of FUNimation's better series of recent release, not as high budget as some but decidedly more so than others. The bitrate and mastering could have been improved upon too, perhaps making this a prime candidate for a Blu-Ray release in the near future as one of the shows that would definitely take advantage of the high definition format more than most.
Sound: The audio for the show was presented with a few options, the original 2.0 Dolby Digital Japanese, a corresponding English dub version, or a 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround English track that really livened the audio up for me. The surround version was what I listened to most of the time, alternating the other tracks with the corresponding English language subtitles that were included (and rarely strayed too far from the spoken word), and it managed to convince me that FUNimation was again on the ball. While this is expected by now, the extra punch of the music in terms of the bass and high end alone were worth the added audio capabilities and while the separation between the channels was not even close to the best the company offers, it seemed to provide a solid aural experience all the same. As always, the action scenes benefited the most from the surround treatment and I only wish there could have been more effort to use the rear channels more on some of the atmospheric effects and ambient noises.
Extras: While most of the boxed sets coming out these days are barebones editions that allow the company to save face in light of the people that bought the more expensive individual released volumes, this one kept the extras at the lower price. The second most appealing extra for me was the commentary track between Chris (the dub director that played Roy as well), and the actresses that played Rose and Solty. They had some fun with the series by the sound of it and while they didn't include a lot of spoilers in their discussion, I would have liked to have heard more about their individual experiences with the series than was provided. There was a mislabeled Cast Audition extra too (it was more dedicated to the way Chris cast the roles and what he was looking for), some trailers, textless songs, and photogalleries too. The best extra though were the two bonus episodes included where Solty's humanity came into play. The main holiday of the city was the backdrop of the episodes and while it struck me more as a single lengthy episode, it did add some valuable background to the characters in the series (not just Solty). I won't spoil them any more than I did the rest of the series but as sentimental as they were, ("Opportunities Missed" and "Love Shared") the roots of the first part of the series were strongly at work in them; the positive energy much more prevalent.
Final Thoughts: Solty Rei: The Complete Series really did not showcase a lot of new things so the criticisms that it was merely an intricate retread show could be argued to an audience of semi-fans that aren't into anime a whole lot but the closer you look, the more distinctive the specific differences were too. The super powered heroine, the cranky old bastard bounty hunter, the hotty thief, and the intricate network of a conspiracy laden police state were all in evidence but the bottom line for me was that the attention to details and way the show evolved rather than cater to the lowest common denominator audience as other shows have tended to do, made Solty Rei: The Complete Series well worth checking out. I'd have liked more unique extras made just for the boxed set and the three page book format that overlaps discs is my least favorite available yet I cannot deny the replay value and strength of the show for those that watch it closely enough so consider me a fan.
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.