Movie: ADV's latest release to combine elements of fantasy, science, mech-robots, and freedom fighting in the name of justice is also an oldie, Aura Battler Dunbine: Tales Of Byston Wells 1. The series is 20 years old but had a lot to like, in a retro sort of way, and reminded me of the original Gundam series in terms of anime style and the overall sequence of events.
The show tells the story of a young Earth man who is abducted by forces from another dimension. Apparently, some people on Earth have powerful auras which allow them to make use of a special kind of technology that powers a form of mech-robot. Otherwise, the dimension is medieval in terms of how things work and a major war is about to start, hence the need for additional pilots. As the series progressed, the lead character finds he's working for the wrong side and switches over to fight with the rebellion. Here's a brief breakdown of the 5 episodes included on this initial dvd.
Episode 1: The Aura Battlers:
In the opener, we get to see a spoiled rich guy, Show Zama, get plucked out of his crazy motocross riding life by some unknown force and put down into a world known as Byston Wells. He arrives in what appears to be a medieval castle that soon after comes under attack by an unknown enemy. He soon learns that he was chosen, along with two other men, to become pilots of advanced weapons in a civil war. His captors are not exactly sweethearts but they offer his only way home, as well as some wealth, if he joins. If he doesn't join, his life insurance company will be paying out some dough.
Episode 2: Given's Mansion:
Show, in an effort to find out more about the other side of the war, joins with the lead champion of the forces that abducted him, Burn Bunnings, on a mission that is supposed to be diplomatic in nature. The rebels are led by Neal Givens who thinks Bunnings is not to be trusted. Guess what happens?
Episode 3: Escape From Laas Wau:
Show helps the daughter, Elmelie, of his leader, Drake Luft, by taking her to Neal. Along the way, he is noticed and stopped, with him dropping the gal into a dangerous forest. Both sides search for her before she is eaten alive by the flora and fauna of the forest, and Show is declared a traitor.
Episode 4: Elmelie's Hardships:
Elmelie, trapped in the forest of horrors, hides from her fathers forces while Show and Neal's forces try to find her first. After falling from a cliff, she throws Neal an object that she claims contains plans for a new advanced robot as she plunges to her death. Neal can't save her and he even loses the plans so it appears all is lost.
Episode 5: Keen In Danger:
Neal, still upset over the loss of his beloved, causes the entire group to go crazy, including his long time ally, Keen Kiss. She runs off half cocked and ends up in grave danger, from which Show saves her (barely). After defeating a monster bird to do so, Neal starts to see how valuable an asset Show may be in his quest to save the people of Byston Wells. Burn, however, tracks the group down and tries to capture them while Keen is healing in a small village.
The show was a lot of fun. While I prefer more modern anime series, some of the older stuff has a lot of value too. The characters seemed to develop as the episodes progressed and the mechs were pretty well drawn, especially for their age, with some real potential to the series. I also liked that there were 5 full episodes here as some releases have been getting cheap (3 is too few on a fully priced dvd). I'm going to rate this one as Recommended although if the series continues to improve, I may move this up a bit. ADV gets credit for reviving a long dead series that really seems to be worth owning on dvd.
Picture: The picture was presented in 1.33:1 ratio full frame color. There were some scratches on the print but considering it's age, that's not a big problem. I didn't notice any artifacts and some of the colors were washed out at times, but ADV did a god job with what they had to work with.
Sound: The sound was presented with a choice of either the original Japanese stereo track with English subtitles, an English dub, and the dub with song subtitles. The original Japanese track was the better of the two but the English version wasn't bad. In all, it sounded pretty good (very good if you consider it's age).
Extras: The best extra was a paper insert with a breakdown of the cast with picture and brief character description as well as a series overview. There was also a number of trailers, a clean opening and closing sequence, and a moderately lengthy production art featurette.
Final Thoughts: I liked the narrative at the beginning of each episode. That'll help make future volumes in the series easier to follow for those who join late. I also think that for all the limitations of the artwork and age of the series, there was a lot to offer for fans of anime in general. ADV's latest venture into releasing older titles proves to be a winner once more.