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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Heavy Gear: The Dragon's Shadow (Vol. 1)
Heavy Gear: The Dragon's Shadow (Vol. 1)
Columbia/Tri-Star // PG-13 // August 13, 2002
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Earl Cressey | posted August 18, 2002 | E-mail the Author
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Though I've never played the role-playing game, the computer/video games, or collected the figures, I eagerly anticipated viewing the Heavy Gear 3D CGI animated series from Sony Pictures Family Entertainment and Mainframe Entertainment, as its from the same producer (Audu Paden) and several of the same directors of Roughnecks: The Starship Troopers Chronicles. The series started last fall on TV and is supposed to encompass forty episodes. Two volumes are being released on August 13th: The Dragon's Shadow, which presents the first five episodes of the series, and Battle for the Badlands, which presents episodes 7, 9, 10, 11, and 12. Episodes 6 and 8 were not included, as they did not air in syndication in the U.S.

Heavy Gear is set on the world Terra Nova in the year 6132 AD. Battles between the north and south are fought between 'gears in contests of skill. Two teams compete in the tournaments: The Shadow Dragons, consisting of six members (Marcus, Sebastian, Zerve, Dirx, Sonja, and Tachi), and The Vanguard of Justice, which consists of five (Major Wallis, Rank, Yoji, Serge, and Groonz).

In The Dragon's Shadow, we are introduced to Marcus Rover, a 'fanboy' of sorts, who supplies parts to the Shadow Dragons and makes repairs on their 'gears. Arriving late at the coliseum, he sees Rank brutally attack Augusta and cripple his 'gear. Commandeering a clown 'gear, Rover manages to distract Rank long enough for the other Dragons to come to their rescue. With this act, the Dragons realize his potential and offer to train him in the use of a 'gear, as Augusta retired. However, the Vanguard is determined to stop him from successfully completing his training, but Rover is determined to accomplish his goal of becoming an ace 'gear pilot.

While Heavy Gear certainly isn't as serious as Roughnecks and Rover doesn't quite have the same appeal as Rico, I have still enjoyed what of the series I've seen so far. The episodes move at a quick pace and there's lots of great mech action. The character of Brutto, from Roughnecks, basically reappears here as Dirx, as the two share the same voice actor, attitude, and character design, which was a nice surprise. However, I did have a few nitpicks. It's often hard to distinguish the two teams 'gears, as they look quite similar and don't have a particular color scheme. The commentator, Maddox, who appears in virtually every episode, gets to be highly annoying after awhile, as he repeats the same lines over and over. Despite these minor faults, Heavy Gear is easy to get into and enjoy, though it does occasionally get repetitious.

Video:
Heavy Gear is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. If you thought the CGI in Roughnecks was incredible, just wait till you see Heavy Gear. The animation is much smoother and crisper in appearance, as well as being much more detailed. The transfer presents the show almost flawlessly, with few, if any, print flaws present. There is some line noise in a few scenes, though, in particular in chapter 26.

Audio:
Heavy Gear is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 in English and Dolby 2.0 Surround in Spanish. As with Roughnecks, the 5.1 surround track surprised me, considering Heavy Gear was originally a TV show. While not as dynamic as the tracks in Roughnecks, the surrounds do stay active, especially the front channels, which do feature some split surround effects. Dialogue throughout the episodes is crisp and clean, with no distortion that I could detect. Subtitles are also available in English, Spanish, and French.

Extras:
Following in the footsteps of the Roughnecks DVDs, the main extras on the disc are the two screen-specific audio commentaries, a filmmaker's commentary and a technical commentary. Both are hosted by Audu Paden and feature rotating participants.

The filmmakers' commentary includes Richard Raynis (Executive Producer, Series Developer), Mark Seidenberg (Story Editor, Writer, Developer), Mark Hoffmeier (Story Editor, Writer, Developer), David Deluise (voice of Dirx), and Greg Ellis (voice of Rank). Of the two commentaries, I enjoyed this one the most, especially the section with the voice actors. The participants discuss the show's origin, characters, the overall story plan for the series, how the story ideas evolved, and the process the actors engaged in for voice recording. Some very interesting stuff.

The technical commentary features several members of the Mainframe animation team, including Fil Barlow (Character Designer) and Vince Toyama (Backgrounds Designer). The participants focus on how the show was brought to life through animation. While the participants spend a fair amount of time reminiscing, they also discuss the puppets, sets, designs, lighting, and the challenges they had.

Also rounding out the disc are an extensive conceptual art gallery and trailers for the Roughnecks series, Cowboy Bebop, and Metropolis.

Summary:
Those finished with Roughnecks and looking for another CGI animated series to fill the void should definitely give Heavy Gear a try. Fans should pick up the disc without hesitation, as the DVD boasts a fantastic audiovisual presentation and some great extras.

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