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? The scenario has been acted out way too much and unless a series does something unique it runs the risk of being redundant. In the case of Aquarion the series simply doesn't do enough to separate itself from the rest of the pack. I suppose it's true that you can get too much of a good thing because by the time we sat down for this series our appetites had certainly diminished.
Originally airing in 2005 this 26 episode series comes from the mind of Shoji Kawamori from Starlight Studio. Kawamori was paramount in the creation of shows such as Macross and Escaflowne so there's a certain pedigree for this series from the get-go. 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 came out a while ago and the second has finally come around. I suppose that's a good thing that the show was presented in such a fashion because I don't think it could have been sustained by individual volumes.
With that being said some changes are afoot for the second installment. This time the thirteen episodes and bonus features have been shoehorned into two discs. This appears to be a cost cutting measure but is most likely symbolic of the show's lack of sales. Even so that means a cheap packaging is in store for anyone interested in the show. The case the quality of the video and audio also suffers a little bit but we'll discuss that in the appropriate segments of this review.
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 considering about two thirds of its population has been harvested for life force. 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 virtually immune to the Shadow Angels as they are considered to be reincarnations of the Solar Wing.
A group known as Daeva has brought together people with Solar Wing's powers and who are considered to be Element Users. These kids become pilots of machines known as Vectors and when combined they form the super robot Aquarion (yawn). The team is then brought together to beat up on the Shadow Angels in an attempt to save what's left of humanity. This plotline recycles itself again and again in anime and unfortunately the episodic nature and flat storytelling of this series do nothing for it. It's nonsense right from the start and it's never quite clear what's going on or who you should care about. The characters are also so dry and lifelessly follow stereotypes that it's hard to cheer for them.
The first volume of Aquarion had so many problems it wasn't even funny (or maybe it unintentionally was anyway) and it seemed Kawamori's return to the giant robot genre showed that the creator of Macross has lost his muse. Initial impressions were that the series offered more style than substance but does that opinion change with the second half? Not really unfortunately.
This time around the same issues afflict the show if not more so. From dreadfully episodic content to very poor storytelling, bad writing seems to be the biggest offender here. If you took the various set pieces and put them in the hands of a good creative team then the series could have been passed off at least as a campy take on a saturated genre. However by attempting to make a series such as this with a serious tone it simply falls flat on its face. I suppose that's the biggest problem here; Aquarion is trying to be something its not.
The episodes here become even more perplexing as the show fumbles towards its conclusion. Sure there are a few fantastic fight scenes in between but are you dropping money to watch a poorly written show with the occasional great battle? Probably not. In the end this is a series that only appeals to absolute diehards of the giant mecha genre. If you eat, sleep and breath big robots then you may find this show entertaining enough to digest. However if you're looking for something substantial or coherent you're going to want to check elsewhere. The show's a mess from the start and it doesn't get better the second time around.
With the recent production date Aquarion his DVD with a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. FUNimation's transfer in the first release was very good with some great quality that displayed the show's production quite nicely. Unfortunately with the shrinking of the package and fact that as many as seven episodes appear on each of the two discs here the quality diminishes. Grain and compression are the biggest offenders but surprisingly enough they aren't as prevalent as you'd imagine. A little aliasing does crop at here and there as well but that is less noticeable. It's a shame that FUNimation went the way it did because a flawless technical presentation was about all the series had going for it. The show still looks good but the shine enjoyed by the first release has worn off a bit.
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. Like the video quality, the audio here is definitely less impressive thanks to compression. If you're going from the first set to this one you'll notice some loss in quality but not a huge amount thankfully.
The cheaply packaged second installment of Aquarion features some bonus content on the second disc. The lighter stuff consists of some trailers, original commercials, music videos, and textless animations. Some of the more interesting content form the original Japanese releases includes a silent manga movie that lasts about three minutes and a brief storyboard to animation sequence. A fourteen minute stage drama is available as well which features the voice actors acting on stage through some events. Probably the most interesting is a featurette that focuses on the creation and development of the series. Clocking in at just under twenty three minutes this features many glimpses at the creators working behind the scenes and talking about various elements.
For what it's worth Aquarion does have the makings of a decent giant mecha anime. The designs are awesome and the battles are intense so there is definitely plenty to please the eyes. Unfortunately it's the writing that fails this show utterly and completely. A terrible and convoluted storyline full of uninteresting characters and enemies makes the series stale from the start. I just couldn't get into it at all and after 26 episodes I'm pleased to say that it's over and done with. Beyond the eye candy and unintentional humor there's little to endear this show to anyone other than absolute diehard mecha fans. Even they could pass this series off as a rental but everyone else should just forget about it and move on.