Like many anime fans I have a fondness in my heart for giant mech shows. There's just nothing better than watching a protagonist hop into his big mechanized beast and charging into battle, destroying cities in the process. Unfortunately there seem to be too many of these shows on the market. Every year we see one incarnation or another to varying degrees of success so in most cases these series feel kind of redundant. That's one of the biggest flaws with FUNimation's latest release from Gonzo, Linebarrels of Iron.
This particular series made its debut in manga format in 2005 and was turned into an animation a few years later. With 24 episodes in all FUNimation has decided to release the series in a two-part 12 episode apiece format.
Linebarrels of Iron starts out by introducing us to the main character in the series, Kouichi Hayase. Despite how he feels inside, Kouichi is about as useless as they come. He's a punching bag for bullies, never stands up for himself, and constantly has to rely on his two best friends, Yajima and Risako. All around he's a very weak character and one day when he's on a quick errand for some bullies to stave off a beating he's killed. Now, when I say killed I mean giant-mech-crash-landing-from-space-on-top-of-him killed. You don't get a much more unlucky than that.
The pilot of this giant mech, Emi Kizaki, uses its powers to resurrect Kouichi and save his life. Doing so meant that the boy became what's known as a Factor and his life would forever be tied to the fate of the machine, Linebarrel. The two are soon put under the watchful eye of an organization named JUDA and chased relentless by a group known as Katou. Needless to say there's a lot of giant mecha battles and destruction that follows.
While the action in this series is absolutely incredible, the rest of it unfortunately is not. For his part Kouichi is without a doubt one of the worst protagonists I have ever seen. He's whiny and pathetic at the beginning, and once he's bestowed with powers that make him inhuman he does a complete 180. At that point he constantly runs around claiming to be a "champion of justice", but in reality he just becomes a giant douche-bag. His cockiness grows to such an extent that he alienates his friends and doesn't care that he's causing just as much damage to those around him as his enemies. The show matures his character a little as it moves forward, but considering he's such an ass at the beginning it's hard to shake that image.
Making matters worse is the fact that the support cast does nothing to alleviate the headache of watching Kouichi. Emi is too quiet and useless, Yajima is level-headed but not used enough, Risako is nearly as winy as Kouichi, and the rest of the cast from allies to villains fits one stereotype or another. There's just nobody in the cast that stands out for positive reasons and the only person who is mildly interesting is Moritsugu, who heads up the special task force at JUDA.
Aside from the flaws of the cast of characters, the story that backs Linebarrels of Iron isn't outstanding either. Once the show gets going and starts following Kouichi it meanders about for a while with one goofy episode after another. Several episodic staples are included here and they really hinder enjoyment of the show. However, I must say that the core setup revolving around the history of the world, how the mechs came around, and what Katou is after truly stands out. The series has a fascinating background and the lackluster elements that surround it truly make it pop, so I guess that's one saving grace.
Ultimately Linebarrels of Iron is just an average (sometimes below) anime series. There are some things this show does very well. The animation is stellar, mech battles look great, character designs are attractive (did I mention an abundance of fan-service?), and the setting for the series holds a lot of promise. Unfortunately the characters are absolutely terrible and the show fumbles the ball far too many times in these twelve episodes. Diehard mech fans may want to rent it to see what it's all about, but everyone else can just skip it.
Linebarrels of Iron is presented on DVD with a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio. The show is bright, colorful, and maintains the level of animation and design quality you'd expect from a Gonzo production. Some aliasing can be spotted at times, but for the most part there's virtually no grain or compression to complain about. All around this is a solid looking series and let's just say the letdown you'll experience with this show isn't with regards to the transfer.
Like you'd expect Linebarrels of Iron is presented on DVD with Japanese 2.0 stereo and English 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound. As far as the dub quality is concerned both tracks are good, though I felt the Japanese cast was a little more on-spot with their performances. With that being said the English easily takes the cake with its boisterous presence on the soundstage. The action really kicks in with the rear channels and all around the surround package is very good.
Some original Japanese TV spots are included here as well as trailers, clean animations, a music video, and a promotional video. A commentary track is available for the sixth episode and it does a pretty good job of letting you in on the personality of the cast. There's nothing groundbreaking in this commentary, but it's entertaining enough to listen to once you finish with the boxed set.
Linebarrels of Iron just isn't off to a great start. The first 12 episodes of this series waste a lot of time and things don't really get interesting until the last episode here. It's very generic in many regards and Kouichi is without a doubt the worst "hero" in an anime in recent memory. The action is great, the production values are solid, and the background is interesting, but aside from those points this one is a huge letdown. I say skip it, but diehard mech fans may be interested in a rental.
Check out more of my reviews here. Head on over to my anime blog as well for random musings and reviews of anime, manga, and stuff from Japan!