Vandread: The Complete Collection is a 4 disc DVD set jam-packed with 760 minutes of sci-fi action/comedy goodness. Included in the DVD set are the two 13 episode seasons as well as two 75 minute OVA's: Integral and Turbulence. Vandread features a lot of mecha action. Personally, I'm not a huge fan of mecha; I enjoyed most of Evangelion, but usually the genre does not do anything for me. Oddly enough, I enjoyed this particular series quite a bit. There's enough character development, plot, and humor to make Vandread appealing to a wide portion of anime fans.
In the series, there has been a long standing war between the all-male planet of Tarak and the all-female planet of Mejale. Hibiki is a lowly, 3rd class laborer aboard a Tarak vessel who desires more from life. He is a spunky kid who never backs down and is willing to defend himself against all odds. It is this pride that allows Hibiki to be goaded into stealing a Vanguard--a Tarak fighter ship--and get arrested for it in the process. Then, the Tarak battleship gets taken over by a group of Mejale space pirates. Hibiki, along with two other males, Bart and Duero, are taken prisoner by the women. The battleship's core, the Paksis, then mysteriously merges the male battleship with the female's vessel to form the Nirvana, which is now lost in an area of space that is swarming with mysterious enemy ships.
As the Nirvana makes its way back to the known galaxy, the male prisoners prove themselves useful to the female space pirates. Hibiki can fly a specific Vanguard that has the ability to merge with the female fighters, the Dreads, to form a Vandread. Bart is the only one that can control the Nirvana--this is discovered after he is sucked into the core. For some unknown reason, Bart's movements then match the movements of the ship. Duero serves as the Nirvana's doctor. As the show progresses, the female characters are introduced with Dita being the focal point. She rather enjoys being merged with Hibiki, who she affectionately refers to as Mr. Alien, and becomes jealous when other women such as Jura also want to merge their Dread with him. Most of the episodes in the first season fall into a formulaic, monster-of-the-week theme that is greatly expanded upon in the second season. The cast is huge, but each character that is interesting is given enough screen time to develop and grow throughout the 26 episode set.
Vandread is a light, action-packed, comedic at times, space opera. The story sneaks up on you. At first, the plot of men and women living on separate planets and being mortal enemies seems bizarre, but intriguing. It's obvious however, that Vandread does not take itself very seriously and revels in its lightheartedness. Near the beginning of the second season, the monster of the week formula each episode followed is explained with a great plotline that is expanded upon for through the rest of the series. Many other questions are answered as well, such as how men and women became separated in the first place. Vandread's answers to these questions are surprisingly deep and create a tight story that wraps everything together nicely.
Much of the humor in Vandread centers around sex jokes and how the women space pirates of Mejale and men of Tarak aboard their ship stumble around the new issue of sexual attraction. The whole premise of the show revolves around the sexual symbolism of the Vanguards, the men's fighter ships, and the Dreads, the women's fighter ships, combining to become the ultra powerful Vandreads. Hibiki and Dita's combination is especially suggestive because they end up, not only in the same cockpit, but with Dita sitting in Hibiki's lap. Dita enjoys this fact more than she should if she had no feelings towards Hibiki. Many of the other women are jealous of Hibiki and Dita's combining and try to sway Hibiki to join with them instead during battles--a theme which forms the basis of their rediscovery of male/female relationships.
Hibiki's rude and sometimes hostile attitude towards the two women that have crushes on him get tiresome. His outbursts come across as cruel and mean-spirited and make him unlikeable at times. Dita may act like a child at times, but Hibiki does as well. It's like watching two school children where the girl has a crush on the boy and the boy, in turn, thinks she has cooties. This series assumes that men and women do not know that they are supposed to be attracted to one another and be affectionate with one another. Still, Hibiki's reactions to Dita, and later to Misty, are overly harsh and he really fails to outgrow this childish trait throughout the series--he could at least use more tact in dealing with the situation.
Vandread takes aim several times at Evangelion. The character of Meia is very Rei-like in appearance and in her stand-offish personality. One episode is even devoted to Hibiki's existential crisis as he attempts to overcome himself and discover just who he is. This episode becomes a little avant garde and is an obvious tip of the hat to Evangelion, except that Vandread actually answers questions, moves the story forward, and finishes with a satisfying ending--all things that Evangelion failed at miserably and has spent years trying to fix.
Sound: The two series feature English and Japanese 2.0 stereo tracks. The OVA's are Japanese tracks with subtitles only. The sound quality is fine for both tracks--the action sounds fine with some directionality along the fronts. This series, if produced today instead of 10 years ago, would have sounded great in Dolby Digital surround sound as most episodes feature a hefty dose of space battle. I listened to the English dub throughout the series and the voice actors do a great job with the characters.
Video: The video is presented in non-anamorphic widescreen. The quality of the animation is average other than the non-anamorphic transfer. There are some compression artifacts present and some line noise in parts, but these are minor issues and never distracting. The CGI in this series is the one disappointing area. It is very obvious CGI and looks nothing like the animation. The first season's CGI looks especially terrible with graphics that look like a Playstation 2 game. The second season's CGI is markedly improved, featuring better camera angles and more detail, but it still contrasts sharply from the animation. The art itself appears a little inconsistent. Upon viewing the OVA's right after the second season, I initially thought they may have redone the art for the OVA's, but going back and looking at the first few episodes, the art style was a bit different in the earlier episodes.
Extras: No extras are included with this collection.
Final Thoughts: Vandread is an underrated and surprisingly good sci-fi anime series. While it's still not quite Evangelion or other big-name mecha series, it ends well and the story takes some surprising turns. Vandread never takes itself seriously; there are an abundance jokes, comedy bits, and fan service with bouncy parts. The two OVA's, unfortunately, are completely worthless additions. They are merely 75 minute summaries of the first two seasons of Vandread, but for completionists they are there for you. If you enjoy series like Slayers that are light and fun, but also feature a surprisingly good storyline, then you will enjoy Vandread. It's definitely worth a look for anime fans who enjoy sci-fi or mecha. Recommended.