Shoji Kawamori's series Aquarionbegins twelve thousand years ago when the Earth was left open to attack after a horrible disaster. Taking advantage of the planet's weakness, an assault is launched by a group of aliens known as the Shadow Angels. They've left the Earth pretty much a complete mess and the planet is in pretty serious trouble. Thankfully, there's Mechanical Angel Aquarion, a giant Mecha comprised of three fighter jets that come together to form the ultimate fighting machine.
You're thinking Voltron here, right? You wouldn't be too far off base if you were.
At any rate, Aquarion changes things up a bit by allowing the Mecha to be pretty much completely controlled by the personalities of the three 'Elements' (read: pilots) who help to make it take form. Their different personalities give the giant robot a bit more character which makes it all the more interesting when they form to take on the sinister Shadow Angels each and every episode. It's also interesting that each one of the three Elements can take on a different part of the Mecha and depending on who forms Aquarion's head, the robot can wind up with a slightly different look and some different moves and/or weapons to use in a fight, and subsequently each revision also has its own weaknesses.
While the Mecha itself might be fairly unique, Aquarion's foes don't quite far so well in this department. The Shadow Angels are given a mythological base that attempts to sort them out from any other alien race bent on dominating the earth you might care to name, but not enough is done with it to make them stand out much. They do serve their purpose though, and provide Aquarion with all manner of problems to solve, battles to fight and reincarnations to deal with.
It should also be noted that any time Aquarion forms, the three pilots are shown in what can only be described as a state of extreme physical pleasure. They basically orgasm any time they unite, and while this doesn't ever get taken so far that it renders the content 'adults only' it does lead to some goofy frat-boy humor, presumably to humanize the lead characters. This also leads to some interesting sub-plots involving pilots who get addicted to the feeling they experience and other, more inexperienced pilots wanting to experience this first hand for themselves. Also serving to add a human element are the standard dramatic elements you'd expect to see in a series like this - there's some soap operatic romance here and a bit of melodrama now and then but the focus stays on the action and, surprisingly enough, some really effective humor. Some of the characters wrestle with diets, others engage in cosplay, and while yeah, pretty much every single character in here is an anime cliché of one form or another, once things get in gear the series starts to work really well.
While the first disc's worth of episodes move fairly slowly, once all of the ground work has been established the series really starts to pick up. It all builds to a surprisingly heady conclusion, one which you probably won't see coming. The early episodes are played fairly straight and it isn't until six or seven episodes in that the parody starts to become more obvious, but once it does, and you're let in on the joke, it does prove to be a good one.
The episodes that make up the entirety of Aquarion are spread out in the set as follows:
Disc One: Memories Of Heavenly Wings / Beast Of Darkness / Element School / Barefoot Warrior / King Of The Underground Labyrinth / To The Other Side Of Emotions / Knight Of The Crimson Rose
Disc Two: The First Merge / The Path To Dreams / Stars In The Sky, Flowers On The Ground / Happiness Is At The Bottom Of The Lake / The Time Of Amber / A 12,000 Year Old Love Letter
Disc Three: Shining Shadows / Aquarion's First Love / Black Mirror / Merge To Eat / Cosplay Of The Soul / Mischief Without Malice / Sound Of An Angel's Feather
Disc Four: Crimson Path / Wings Unseen / Fleeting Wings / Heaven's Gate / Final Battle! Atlandia / The Day The World Begins
Those who don't dig the slow burn may be put off by having to give the series a good six or seven episodes to really get moving but stick with Aquarion. It gets pretty good and stays pretty good right through to the oddball ending. It's a beautifully animated show with some excellent character design work on display throughout. The Cherubims, giant war machines that the Shadow Angels tend to use a lot, look fantastic as does the Aquarion machine itself. The fight scenes in particular are quite spectacular, showing excellent use of color, framing, pacing and style. A lot of it feels like a throwback to some of the more popular Mecha series like Voltron, Robotech and Escaflowne but that's not a bad thing. It delivers enough action and sci-fi excitement to keep things moving and enough character development and story quirks to hook you.
Those who purchased the previous two-disc releases of Aquarion won't find anything new here outside of the packaging, the discs appear to be identical, but for those who haven't picked the earlier releases up...
Funimation's transfers here are top notch, with excellent color reproduction and strong black levels present throughout the progressive scan anamorphic 1.78.1 widescreen image. All of the detail in the animation comes through very nicely without any noticeable shimmering or authoring problems to note. The backgrounds in the series aren't as detailed as the characters and the mecha seen throughout the show but they too look quite good if they're a little bit on the simple side. All in all, this is a pretty nice effort
You've got the option of watching the series in its original Japanese language with optional English subtitles in Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo or in a newly created Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix dubbed into English. The dubbing isn't actually too bad on this set, it fits fairly well. You'll notice that the voice actors have lower, gruffer sounding voices in the Japanese versions however. Regardless, both tracks are mixed well with a good, strong low end and some nice surround usage spicing things up when called for. It won't blow the roof of off your house but it certainly sounds good.
Here's where this release disappoints - it's almost barebones. Aside from trailers for a few other unrelated Funimation DVD releases, we get the option of watching the opening and closing theme songs from the series without the text. Aside from that, there are menus and chapter selection options but that's it, there are no extras of any real substance which is a shame.
Despite the lack of any real extra features, this is otherwise a very nice set containing every single episode of a really enjoyable series. You'll probably get more out of it if you appreciate the various Mecha series that Aquarion borrows from and plays around with but even if you don't catch all of it, there's enough good old fashioned entertainment value to be gleamed here that it's hard not to have a good time with it. Throw in some great design work and some very nice animation and you wind up with a winner. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.