Mecha are just cool. Yes, it's geeky to admit it, but the idea of a giant robot fighting some monster is just neat. The only problem is that it has been done so many times, in exactly the same manner, that the shows all start to run together after a while. To really get people interested in a new mecha show you have to have something more than uber-powerful robots. And that's where Aquarion fails. The show has some neat designs and some wonderful images, but plot wise it really doesn't bring anything new to the table.
This series was created by Shoji Kawamori who was behind such classic anime series as Macross, Escaflowne, and even the amusing show The Daichis - Earth's Defense Family. With a resume like that I had some high expectations for this show and was ready to give it more than a fair chance.
The first episode starts out with a prolog which was supposed to explain what happened to bring the Earth to the state it was in, but just serves to confuse viewers with a lot of made-up words and oddly turned phrases. This introduction tells of how the 'Great Catastrophe' killed much of the Earth's population and nearly destroyed civilization. Then the Shadow Angels awoke after being asleep for 12,000 years and started harvesting wingless one for their parna with their Cerubim Soldiers. Now 12 years have passed, and the Shadow Angels would certainly have wiped out humanity except three Vectors were found and Deava trained Elementals to use them and when the three are joined the pilots achieve orgasm (really, I'm not making this up) and form the giant fighting machine Aquarion.
Translation: Monster have attacked the Earth and are eating people and the only ones who can save humanity are a group of teens who fly mecha. Sound familiar?
But wait, that's not all. In the first episode a pair of Elementals (mecha pilots) discover Apollo, a young boy living by his wits who is immune the Shadow Angel's mind control. When the Angels attack, he is able, somehow, to cause a Vector to eject its pilot so that he can jump into the cockpit. Then, without any training at all, he manages to merge the three Vectors into Aquarion and defeat the monster. Could it be? Is it possible that Apollo is really *gasp* the chosen one? Is Apollo the reincarnation of the "Solar Wing"?
FUNimation is doing something new with the way it releases this series. Instead of individual volumes followed up a season set, it's releasing this 26 episode show in two half-season sets. It's a unique way to distribute anime and I applaud them for finally realizing that anime fans want season sets just like TV shows have been released. They picked a very good series to release in this fashion too. At the end of the first disc of Aquarion I was ready to give up on the show. It was very derivative of other mecha shows, had one-dimensional characters, and had a plot that inspired ennui rather than excitement. The second disc was more of the same, with the Elementals fighting another Angel in their Vectors and bickering among themselves. Various episodes spotlight different characters but none of them are interesting in the least. Had this program been released in individual volumes I'm sure that it would have died a slow, painful death with rapidly declining sales.
As it is, the program does start to pick up in the third volume. The last couple of episodes in the set start to flesh out what happened 12,000 years ago, and that was interesting. It was just enough to get my curiosity piqued about what will happen next.
While the plot and characters aren't the most engaging, the mecha designs and the art used to create the series is wonderful. There are some really beautiful scenes in this show, from the crumbled cityscapes to the imaginative underwater scenes this was a gorgeous looking show. It's only too bad that the story wasn't as strong as the visuals.
The first half of Aquarion comes on three DVDs which are housed in three slimpak cases. These three cases in turn come in a nicely illustrated slipcase.
This set comes with both the original Japanese soundtrack, in stereo, and an English dub that is presented in DD 5.1. It's too bad that Japanese 5.1 tracks are so rare. As with several shows, I enjoyed the Japanese voice actors just a bit more than the English ones, but the surround sound and extra bass really added a lot to the English mix, especially during the action sequences. I alternated tracks for a few shows, watching several episodes in each, and finally settled for the 5.1 dub. The extra *umph* of the multi-channel track was the factor that tipped the scales. Both languages were clean and clear and no audio defects were detectable.
This show is presented with its original aspect ration of 1.78:1 in tact and it is also anamorphically enhanced. The show looks quite good from all angles. The colors are rich and bright, the blacks are nice and inky and the lines are very tight. The sharp, clear image isn't marred by any major compression artifacts either. The only thing I noticed was some very minor banding which wasn't distracting in the least.
All of the extras are on the third disc, and there's some nice bonus items included. First off is a short 6-minute interview with Shoji Kawamori where he promotes the show. Next up is an 18-minute Q&A session from the 2005 Tokyo International Anime Fair where Kawamori is joined by some of the voice actors from the series. There is a series of four short (2-minute) looks at some of the SF themes from the show narrated by one of the characters, as well as a clean opening and closing.
There was also a nice transparent pencil board packed in the slipcase with the discs.
Unfortunately Shoji Kawamori's latest work comes across as a derivative
and unoriginal mecha show that included all of the clichés that
the genre has created. From the new vocabulary for the machines and
their pilots to the possible discovery of the 'chosen one' this show feels
like something anime fans have seen time and time again. While the
last couple of episodes are more interesting, they're not enough to save
the series. The show does have some exceptional images however.
For otaku who are die hard mecha fans this would make a good rental.