Back in the day before ADV started trimming its licenses and they were pumping out titles left and right one of the series they acquired post-haste was a little ditty known as Air Gear. The show originally aired in 2006 and at the beginning of 2007 ADV already had their first volume being releases Stateside. Typically when you see that kind of rush job it's a sign of popularity or demand for the product. Unfortunately in the case of Air Gear it felt as though ADV simply acquired the license and wanted to push the franchise out there and move on.
That was my impression from the first installment when I reviewed it in February of 2007 so naturally I was a little reluctant to take a look at the whole series, let alone revisit those same episodes. However, I always feel that every anime deserves its fair shake, I never try to judge a series by the first volume, and will do whatever I can to find the good in something. Along that train of thought, today we're looking at the FUNimation release of the complete series. Unfortunately for Air Gear the publisher may be different, but my initial feelings about the show are more or less the same.
In case you're unfamiliar with the program, Air Gear comes from the mind of Chiaki J. Konaka, who worked on shows such as The Big O and Hellsing. The show originated with a manga and since then has been serialized in Weekly Shonen Magazine. As far as the anime version is concerned the series is made up of 25 episodes with a bonus "Special Trick" episode. FUNimation's boxed set collects each of those and compiles them onto four DVDs much the same way they have handled other collections of late.
The series follows the adventures of a boy named Ikki who desires nothing more than to be an Air Trek rider. You see, in the future a technology known as Air Trek (a fancy type of rollerblade) which essentially allows their user to go anywhere at any speed. The sky is literally the limit for Trek users and it's only natural that just about every teenager in the world wants a pair. Unfortunately they are rather tough to come across and even harder to use, but Ikki is determined nonetheless.
Along with the Air Treks comes the formation of gangs, known as Storm Riders, who meet up at odd hours of the night to have races and duel. One gang in particular, Skull Saders gives Ikki a beating, but before Ikki can face humiliation from his sisters he comes across their stash of Air Treks. He busts out into the night, bumps into the Skull Saders again, and discovers that he possesses a unique and rare ability to see slipstreams, known as Wing Road. With this power Ikki has what it takes to be a natural Air Trek user and he easily outclasses people around him who have been riding for far longer. It makes him a natural born candidate to become the Sky King and he more or less stands out in that regard.
Along with Ikki comes a cast of other characters who serve as props for Ikki's awesomeness. Basically the lad brings together some of the riders he meets in order to form a team of Storm Riders. His ultimate goal is to be the best and beat everyone else so naturally it's rather predictable in that regard. The show follows a rather rigid formula that so many other series have done before and on some levels it works. There's a clear, linear path that shows Ikki's rise to glory and the steps he takes along the way to get there. The problem is that I simply couldn't appreciate him as a main character.
As a protagonist Ikki just doesn't stand out, he's a little too "out there", and he's overshadowed by some of the support characters. With that being said the secondary cast doesn't leave much of a mark either. All of the girls serve as fan service props and aside from that each person falls into a stereotype found in action oriented anime. I don't think I need to tell you that no matter how pretty the action is, if you can't care about the characters you're just not going to appreciate what's going on. Sadly that's what happened with this show.
The other element that I find kind of standoffish is the aforementioned fan service. It's taken to a gratuitous degree, to the point that it's actually detrimental to the experience as a whole. I would liken Air Gear to a rollerblade version of Tenjho Tenge, but only with more nudity, sex jokes, and cleavage/panty shots. Now, I can appreciate all of that as much as the next guy (I do like fan service to an extent), but Air Gear uses it as a crutch and it's a gag that gets old rather quickly.
All in all there are some decent moments in Air Gear revolving around the plot and some of the action scenes. Those two positive notes are rather lonely when you take all of the negatives into consideration. Shallow characters, excessive fan service, stereotypes, and the sense that the series isn't complete in the end really just add up to a frustrating experience. I'd still consider the show a rental, but that's only if you are looking for an action series and there's nothing else to watch.
Air Gear is presented with a 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio. The show was originally produced in 2006 so the look on the quality side of things is fairly current. With the shoehorning of 26 episodes onto four DVDs there are compression artifacts scattered throughout the release. Aliasing is a slight issue as well, but it's not nearly as pervasive. Overall the animation and design is fairly attractive though I must admit that the character designs are done rather generically. This isn't a bad looking show by any standard, it just doesn't stand out very much.
The audio for Air Gear is presented in the form of English 5.1 and Japanese 2.0. Depending on your personal preference both tracks churn out a decent output for what they were designed for. The English dubbing may not be the best but the 5.1 sound is quite decent and makes intelligent use of the rear channels. The overall audio presence has been boosted for this track as well so it comes across more prominently than the Japanese selection did. English subtitles are included.
Considering these DVDs came from the ADV release you can expect some trailers and clean animations for bonus selections, but that's all she wrote.
After sitting through the whole series of Air Gear I must say that I still don't understand why ADV signed and released it so quickly. It's a sub-par and rather generic anime that doesn't stand out in many ways. The ridiculous amount of fan service, near total lack of character development, and lackluster story simply don't add up to a purchase. There is some nice action though and some elements of the show aren't so bad, but in the end the best I can give this show is a rental.
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