Super robot shows are a dime a dozen and though most otaku out there have a place in their heart for the genre it's hard denying the fact that the market is saturated. I mean, honestly, how many times do we need to watch aliens kicking humans around until a giant robot powered by a plucky hero saves the day? It's unfortunate that the genre is so populated because Aquarion probably would have stood out more if that were the case.
Originally airing in 2005 this 26 episode series comes from the mind of Shoji Kawamori from Starlight Studio. FUNimation's approach to releasing it here in the States is actually kind of interesting since it's releasing a chunk at a time. The first volume with thirteen episodes has hit store shelves and a second should be on the way at some point, though it hasn't been announced yet. If the title sounds familiar you may be confusing Aquarion with Aquarian Age, but to be fair the two have absolutely nothing to do with each other.
Aquarion starts off like so many shows do and it features humanity on the brink of annihilation after a massive alien attack. Eleven years have passed since the event that came to be known as the "Great Catastrophe" and the world just hasn't been the same since. Entities known as Shadow Angels have been preying upon humans like lambs to the slaughter and the outlook is bleak to say the least. Fortunately there exists a rare few who are immune to the Shadow Angels as they are considered to be reincarnations of someone known as the Solar Wing.
The show explores this concept vaguely at the beginning and in all fairness you'll probably feel lost even after a couple of episodes. Things just aren't explained as well as they should be early on and trust me when I tell you that it's kind of frustrating. Once things do get going a group of Solar Wing reincarnates and Element Users is put together by a group known as Deava. These people are turned into pilots of machines known as Vectors, which are essentially parts that form together to make Aquarion (the super robot guy).
The set up for the series is quite straightforward once all the pieces are put into place and unfortunately it does little to shake up the dynamic. The team is brought together, the Shadow Angels do some bad stuff, and Aquarion has to arrive to kick evil's butt. Wash, rinse, and repeat. For most of this boxed set the series slips into a monster of the week pattern that quickly goes stale. Sure each episode focuses on one Daeva pilot or another but very few traits of this series actually stand out as unique and interesting.
The characters for instance are all stereotypical in not only the roles that they play but their designs as well. You'll swear that some of these characters were ripped from other more popular anime and you'll begin to wonder what inspired Kawamori to make this show. Did he run out of ideas? Was it a labor of love for the genre? Who knows! The fact is that there are so many ties between Aquarion and other series such as Neon Genesis, Voltron, and so many others that it really feels like an uninspired clone.
With all of that being said the main character Apollo does stand out from the rest of the cast. Sure he's the stereotypical prophesied hero but towards the end of this set he starts to become something more. When all is said and done here Apollo is the only personality that didn't come across as one-dimensional to me. You can tell that most of the background for the series revolves around him and watching his role in everything come to light was entertaining. Unfortunately none of this happens until the very final moments of this set which means you'll have to slog through a whole lot of mediocre to get to the good stuff.
I really wanted to like Aquarion. Considering the show came from the mind of Kawamori I was naturally excited. I mean, with shows like Macross and Escaflowne in his background there's certainly a precedent of quality set. Sadly, after watching Aquarion I feel as though Kawamori locked himself into a genre and has run out of ideas. There is virtually nothing about this show that feels fresh or original from the characters to the concept. Everything from the ground up straddles the line between homage and imitation and that's just a shame really. Diehard fans of super robot shows will get more mileage out of this than most but if you fancy shows with depth and creativity, this one is sadly lacking in both departments at this point.
With the recent production date Aquarion his DVD with a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. FUNimation's transfer is exemplary and you'll be hard-pressed to find a flaw on this release that is a result of their work. The video quality of these discs is quite sharp with practically no grain, compression, or aliasing to gripe about. This allows the design of the show to step forward and impress. While I found the show itself disappointing I must say that the artwork goes a long way to making it entertaining. There's a lot going on in this series and it all looks fantastic.
Japanese 2.0 stereo and English 5.1 surround are the options you'll find available to you on this release. Aquarion's cast fits the show well with regards to both dubs though I felt that the Japanese was slightly better. The English dub had a couple of annoying voices and some of the dialogue just didn't fit as well as it should have. With that being said the English 5.1 edges out the Japanese 2.0 thanks to the sense of immersion and prominence during the show's many fight scenes. It may not be the most impressive track ever but there's a lot going on with the rear channels and the bass gets some attention as well.
Packed into this boxed set is a fancy little pencil board but if you're looking for the DVD extras you'll have to turn your attention to the third disc. Some trailers and textless animation are available here but surprisingly enough there is some meaty content as well. First up is a six minute interview with Kawamori which proved to be mildly informative as he talks about the show's inception a tad. After that is a whopping eighteen and a half minute Talk Show segment from the Tokyo International Anime Fair from 2005. Kawamori is joined by some of the voice actors on stage as they discuss the show to the audience. Finally there are four little segments narrated by the character Tsugumi Rosenmeier (Tsugumi Higasayama) which dish out some information about various topics for the show.
With the state of the anime market such as it is I really appreciate FUNimation's attempt to do something different here. Receiving a thirteen episode set rather than a single volume is a very fine way to sate an otaku's appetite and appeal to their wallet. Unfortunately with that being said Aquarion isn't the best show to experiment with here. The series is very exclusive to fans of the mecha genre and even then there are many who will feel put off by the show's blatant "borrowing" of ideas.
There is very little to love about Aquarion and everything about the series screams "me too!" The story isn't as tuned as it should be, the characters aren't interesting, and the "monster of the week" pattern do not help in the least. Taken for what it is the series may appeal to fans of Kawamori's other works but Aquarion was simply more style than substance in my opinion.