In general, I find TV series more satisfying than OVAs. Sure,
the Original Video Animations have a larger budget and the time pressure
isn't nearly as intense as a weekly TV show, but they usually don't have
time to really develop a story the way a 26 episode TV show does.
So instead they usually turn into a case of style over substance with some
really cool art, but not much in the way of plot or characterization.
One OVA that bucks this trend is the awkwardly named Baldr Force EXE.
Based on a video game, this 4 episode series manages to create some interesting
characters along with a plot containing multiple story lines that manage
to merge satisfactorily at the end.
In the not too distant future communication, entertainment, and business
are all centered on an electric network, the descendant of the Internet.
People can enter this system ala The Matrix or Neromancer and manipulate
the code with programs that are represented by various virtual reality
objects. One group of elite hackers who call themselves Steppenwolf
have decided to disband however. Things have gotten too dangerous,
both the army and the police are increasing their patrols and if you're
killed while linked in, your real body dies too. Before hanging it
up however they decide to pull one more job that will let them go down
in history: they're going to hack into FLAK's servers, the military
group that's responsible for computer security.
Unfortunately the job goes wrong. The group gets captured and
one of their number are killed needlessly. Their best member, Souma
Toru, is given a choice by FLAK: join and help defend the net, or
spend a large chunk of his life in prison. It turns out that FLAK
isn't really worried about small-time hacking groups, their main concern
is a terrorist organization called Fe Tao. This group doesn't just
steal data; they destroy servers and kill the people connected to them.
FLAK is also competing with another government agency, the VSS, Virtual
Sphere Security, which is like a net police force. They are tracking
down an elusive killer, someone who prowls the net and can kill someone
just by looking at them.
Given his limited options, Souma decides that he will join FLAK, but
not for the reasons they think. He's really joining so he can find
out who killed his team mate during their last job. When he finds
out who it is, he plans on killing them, consequences be damned.
There's a lot to like about this series. The plot was much more
complex that I'm used to for OVAs, and even the fact that it's based on
a video game didn't seem to slow down the story. Though some of the
characters are typical anime stereotypes (especially the curvaceous member
of FLAK who is always hitting on every guy she sees), many of them develop
over the course of the series into well rounded personalities. This
is very true of quite member of FLAK who seems to be the strong and silent
type but is really hiding something.
The animation was very good too. It was obvious that this project
had a larger budget than your average TV show. They didn't cut corners
by panning across a still image or animating only mouth movements while
people were talking. The CGI was nice too, though it didn't try to
push the envelope much. That's not meant to be a criticism.
Having solid computer graphics that help tell a story is preferable to
really wild and far-out animation that's just eye candy.
Unfortunately this show comes only with a stereo mix, in either the
original Japanese or an English dub. A 5.1 track would have
been very nice and accented the fight scenes. As it is the show sounds
fine, with a good amount of directionality in the front soundstage and
a good amount of dynamic range.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image is very good. There's some
minor posterization in places and some background scenes have a bit of
noise to them, but nothing that's very major. The colors are bright
and the blacks are solid and inky. This show definitely falls in
the above average category.
Not too much in the way of bonus features. There a preview of
the show that last 2 minutes and clean opening and closings. That's
I really enjoyed this show. The multiple storylines and mysterious
events kept it interesting and the battles made it a lot of fun.
I didn't go into this disc with high expectations, but it really is a good
show that deserves some attention. This is strongly recommended.