Shout! Factory's Danguard Ace: The Movie Collection began life back in March of 1977 in its native Japan where a television series called Planet Robot Danguard Ace (Wakusei Robo Danguard Ace) was developed and released by Toei and enjoyed a fifty-six episode run that lasted a year. The series was created by Leiji Matsumoto, he of Captain Harlock and Space Battleship Yamato (or, Starblazers, if you prefer!) fame, and it actually did air on American television in 1980, dubbed and recut, as part of the Force Five TV program, but the guys behind that re-envisioning of the series, Jim Terry Productions, only dubbed the first half of the show.
So for this release, those original fifty-six episodes have been edited and cut down to make three movies, each one running close to two hours each, much like what was done with the Gaiking: The Movie Collection and Starzinger: The Movie Collection DVD releases that Shout! Factory unleashed earlier this year. This was done with Toei's blessing a few years ago by William Winckler Productions.
The series is set in the future where the population of Earth has come dangerously close to using up all of its natural resources. With a future devoid of energy looming, the planet will become uninhabitable but there would appear to be some hope in the form of a nearby planet called Promete. A group of explorers from the World Space Institute heads out on a peaceful exploration of the planet but a strange incident where one ship takes out another claims some of their lives.
Sometime after this tragedy, an industrialist named Doppler (Jason Barker) uses his considerable wealth and influence to take his own crew on his own ship to Promete where he basically takes control of the planet. Any survivors that he finds are enslaved using his mind control powers, those same powers he used to cause the accident in the first place. He even goes so far as to set up an army to defend it from anyone who might seek to take him out of power.
As times passes, the forces of Earth set up a massive base dubbed Jasdam and construct new technology. At this point in the story we're introduced to a young man named Takuma (Paul Oberele) who pilots Danguard Ace, a massive spaceship that can transform into a combat robot should the need arise. This happens after Takuma is trained by one of Doppler's men, now escaped, a masked stranger who winds up being called Captain Dan. It's only after this force which Takuma is part of is assembled that it seems like Earth may have a shot at getting Doppler off of Promete. Given that Takuma is the son of the leader of the original team sent to Promete, he's got a vested interest in seeing the evil dictator thrown out of power, but on top of that the survival of the human race depends on his success.
If you're familiar with other vintage anime series developed by Leiji Matsumoto you'll probably note that a lot of the character design work here looks pretty similar to that scene in his other series, but Danguard Ace, if a little familiar, is still a pretty enjoyable series. This is, much like Robotech, a true space opera in that it not only contains loads of action scenes set in the deep reaches of space but plenty of drama and human relationships you'd expect given that comparison. The action scenes, most of which involve the various ships transforming and doing battle, are epic in scope and nicely designed with some interesting attention to detail paid to the ways in which the various mech creations move and operate.
The series takes a little while to really hit its stride, we spend a fair bit of time with Takuma getting up to speed with his skills before the main conflict between Danguard Ace and Doppler's forces really gets up to full speed but once we're there, it's fun. Even before we get to that the series does at least spend quite a bit of time setting up the story, giving a reason for the conflict and establishing its main villain and his motivations. Doppler, a tall and menacing man in black, is definitely sinister, he's as bad as they come while Takuma is as noble and pure, if naïve, as a good hero should be. In many ways he is the underdog so that makes him easy to cheer for while all of this plays out. The drama is heavy handed and often times over done but it does effectively bridge the action and war scenes and keep things moving in that regard. There's definitely some inspired creativity here, not the least of which emerges with Doppler's forces constructing a series of flying mecha robots dubbed Mecha-Satans which take on various mechanical forms throughout the story.
Danguard Ace: The Movie Collection arrives on DVD from Shout! Factory in 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen and seems to be cropped from what was probably a fullframe aspect ratio when originally created. As such, things look more than a little tight at times, you'll notice that the tops of characters' heads sometimes disappear and that sometimes the onscreen action is chopped off by the reformatting of the frame. Outside of that obvious issue, the transfer is fine. Colors are reproduced rather nicely and the image is pretty clean. Compression artifacts are never a major problem and outside of some minor line shimmer here and there, the quality is decent even if the original source material isn't super ultra-detailed.
The English language Dolby Digital 2.0 track on the DVD is pretty good. Dialogue is clean, clear and easy to follow while the levels remains well balanced. The score and the sound effects never overshadow the voice actors and there are no issues with hiss or distortion. Some scenes sound a little flat, but this would likely be how the audio was originally recorded rather than an issue with the DVD itself. No problems here!
Outside of menus and chapter selection there are no extra features at all included on this DVD. There is, however, some plot synopsis and story info on the flip side of the cover art.
While most fans would probably rather have the complete series in its original form, the Danguard Ace: The Movie Collection is still a lot of fun. Though the framing is tight throughout and this probably would have been better served by a fullframe presentation, this is otherwise a pretty decent looking set even if it is completely devoid of extra features. The show itself, as presented across the three movies on the two discs here, is an enjoyable mix of heavy handed drama and high tilt action. The series is creative and interesting and fans of vintage anime should enjoy this less than perfect release. Recommended more on the strength of the content than anything else, but recommended regardless.
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.