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Burst Angel - Death's Angel v.1
Series: Burst Angel is my favorite type of show in production terms as it is released by industry leader FUNimation here in Texas and was originally made by Gonzo in Japan. I know of no other consistently reliable companies that can say that; making the thematic matter all the more poignant if you catch my drift. The show is about a small group of gals for hire that came out in 2004 in Japan under the name Bakuretsu Tenshi; later adapted by David Haynes who took the original work by director Koichi Ohata and writer Fumihiko Shimo. Reminiscent of so many mercenary for hire shows (as well as powerful ladies in charge of things), the show started off with a distinctively western vibe to it, as in the American West to be more specific as things opened up without much explanation. Mankind appears to be largely landlocked on Earth and it is set several decades in the future where crime is out of hand and the authorities have all but given up; effectively handing control over to large corporations. Most people are firmly in the lower and middle classes but there are always those willing to take shortcuts to get ahead. That's when other people hire agencies to take care of things for them or at least protect them now that guns have been made legal in the once prohibitive Japan. The government still plays a role in suppressing the violence though; an agency called RAPT (Recent Armed Police of Tokyo) acting like Dirty Harry's meaner brother with a seeming policy of shooting first and asking no questions later.
In episode 1, Hell Comes Silently, the main character is a young culinary arts student named Kyouhei who dreams of becoming a pastry chef after he trains in France. Kind of lame and effeminate, he seeks a job that will allow him to save his money, nearly being killed by crossfire on the way to his interview. Once hired, he ends up in the thick of things when kidnapped by some mobsters that don't appear to know how determined his new employers are to fulfill their missions (and eat his wonderful cooking); four ladies by the names of Sei (the boss), Meg (the cute gal always in trouble), leading fighter Jo, and the youthful pain in the rear Amy. It doesn't take long for Meg to show her role is usually limited to being kidnapped and Jo to seek her rescue (an understated connection between the two that expands with the series), and cold, calculating Sei always wanting to put their missions first as Amy flip flops between wanting to goof off and get first dibs on all the cool stuff.
Then in episode 2, The Heartless Gunfighter, we get a better understanding of Jo and the large Mech robot she pilots (called Jango) when her hand to hand combat skills simply aren't enough. It's clear that she will sacrifice anyone and anything to save Meg when she is kidnapped, even putting Kyouhei in great peril as a result. That moves into episode 3, City Where The Beast Howls where a couple of brothers are on the cutting edge (some might say the bleeding edge) of biological research gives the ladies their latest mission; find the brother with the answers. This is a two parter that ends with episode 4, The Brothers Die At Dawn but it shows the main cast all involved in what they do best as the large pharmaceutical company tries to cover up it's human experiments that result in a modern day werewolf ripping bodies to shreds. At least this time, it is made fairly clear that Kyouhei is a secondary character to be called on as needed with the ladies handling the action far more efficiently by themselves.
With a touch of Desert Punk, a dash of 009, and a whole lot of Get Backers & Cowboy Bebop; this is a recipe for success in a series that I think I can get into a lot more than usual. The fan service was common enough suggest it was made with a nod to men but the powerful archetypical women in charge showed the female audience was not to be ignored either. The high tech and explosive action in a futuristic Tokyo has been done better before but this certainly used a lot of strong elements from other shows in great combinations. At the newly lowered price, this is even easier to rate as Recommended than it was a few years back; keeping all the original extras rather than dumping them as weaker companies seem apt to do these days. So, if you like guns, gals, gams, and great robot designs, give this one a second look; you won't be disappointed (and thanks for the head's up John; you nailed this one pretty nicely!).
Picture: Burst Angel 1 was presented in 1.78:1 ratio anamorphic widescreen as shot by director Koichi Ohata for airing on broadcast television in Japan back in 2004. The mixture of CGI and more traditional looking anime was well done in the spirit that Gonzo usually offers up. There was not as much fluidity in the characters as a larger budget movie but it was perfectly suited for the kind of show this was meant to be; action packed and always on the move. Does that mean there were no static shots or single frames swept across the screen to simulate movement? No, there was a fair amount of that but again, it tended to work thanks in no small part to the tight manner in which the characters were written into their scenarios and any visual elements not quite in line with the better parts of the show were minor compared to some contemporarily released shows.
Sound: The audio was offered up in a 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround with the usual choices of the original Japanese or the English language dub provided by FUNimation. Each track offered up a solid experience that I could not truly pick one being better than the other; merely different. The music and sound effects were aggressively separated this time and it was one of the few recent releases (even at two years old) that employed the rear speakers as effectively as possible. The dynamic range of the music was above average, if slightly repetitive, and my biggest complaint was how the subtitles got in the way of some onscreen text (it wasn't common but it was a pain). The dub actors were slightly on the shrill side and the Japanese actors were more polarized (exaggerating their responses to such a degree at times that it struck me as comical) yet fans will be familiar with both sets of voice actors and I honestly would like to find the time to listen to both continuously instead of alternating as I did for this review. In short though, kudos to FUNimation's David Haynes and other creative staff for keeping up with their Japanese counterparts in a relatively rare display of offering a subtlety different story but maintaining a level of quality I can appreciate fully.
Extras: With several lesser companies taking the "less is more" approach to re-releases, it's easy for anime fans to become hardened and expect lame extras when the price is reduced. Thankfully, FUNimation has kept the disc extras this time and provided something enjoyable to appreciate in the form of an interesting audio commentary track, some outtakes, and a radio drama. There were also some trailers, clean opening/closings, and a paper insert for those who care. Okay, the commentary track showed the dub cast & crew laughing it up but in such a manner that they were clearly proven to have put in a lot of effort in their respective roles. Monica and Jamie(?) kept playing off one another like ADD children but they were so into the moment that I couldn't blame them. The radio dramas with the original cast (Meg and Jo) were more like interviews for the fanboys but I couldn't stop listening any more than I could stop watching the goofiest (in a good way) blooper reel I've seen in a very long time.
Final Thoughts: Burst Angel 1 is not going to be for everyone so if you're not into fan service, action, ladies with guns having a great time, well written stories that include giant robots and a larger arc just starting off, you may want to skip this in favor of watching The Smurfs but as for me, Burst Angel 1: Death's Angel was a lot of fun and having already seen the next three volumes (they all came in at once), I know it only gets better. The technical matters were solidly handled on both sides of the Pacific Ocean, the extras were decent, and the dub was as good as the original Japanese so I have no problem agreeing with my anime buddy that this was a fun adventure worth repeating more than a time or two; especially at the newly lowered catalog pricing by world renowned anime leader FUNimation. Good work!
If you enjoy anime, take a look at some of the recommendations by DVD Talk's twisted cast of reviewers in their Best Of Anime 2003, Best Of Anime 2004, Best of Anime 2005, and Best of Anime 2006 articles or their regular column Anime Talk.