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Jinki Extend 1
Background: Modern anime often borrows heavily from other shows in the genre, tweaking some of the elements as similar stories are brought to life. There are plenty of titles relating to war, alien invasions, giant robots, and even romance stories for the multitude of fans that have sought to find series they could relate to in one way or another. I'm a fan of the giant robot titles and as such, I come across a great many that seem to liberally borrow so many elements that there should be footnotes at the bottom of the screen. Still, there tends to be a lot of press concerning the subject of today's review of Jinki: Extend V1 so I was happy to receive a preview copy containing the first trio of episodes; enough to whet my appetite but not enough to draw any conclusions about the full version that will come out next month. Here are a few observations from my own experience with the title.
Movie: Jinki: Extend V1 is a series about a 13 year old girl whose guardian, her beloved grandmother, dies while the two discuss the finer points of life. Grief stricken, she then finds herself kidnapped by a transvestite (I'm not making this up) and soon finds herself in the jungles of Venezuela on a military base of sorts, surrounded by a number of men and women that appear to be very secretive. Her captor is named Ryohei and his role in her abduction is certain although she soon finds out he is the lead pilot for a large mech-robot in humanoid shape. While trying to avoid being recaptured, she escapes into the robot but soon finds herself in the middle of a battle against another such device, this one having definite plans to destroy everything in its path. Suddenly, her life is endangered and she ends up relying on her kidnapper to save her, even as obnoxious as he is about the whole affair. The battle ends and she finds out she has family alive in this remote location, herself endowed with a special ability to operate the robot which was apparently modeled after the creature or device they just destroyed. With all the usual rivalries and intrigue, Aoba must learn all she can about the weaponry she intuitively operates as well as the enemies she must face as a result. With misgivings by all those involved, the young girl becomes a secondary pilot on the main robot, lending her skills to battle the creatures from the past that are hell bent on eliminating the human presence in Venezuela as well as the rest of the planet. Can Aoba survive? Well, she'll have to beat a colleague at a soccer match first and that's easier said then done.
The back DVD cover put it like this: "In Aoba Tsuzaki's world, everything seems normal. An over-the-top modeling fanatic, she spends her days locked in her room, happily building plastic robots. But rumbling beneath the surface, an evil enemy of mankind threatens to destroy the Earth. And when a cross-dressing kidnapper brings Aoba face-to-face with a real fighting machine, her robot dreams give way to frightening nightmares. She is unwittingly recruited into Angel, an elite fighting force who not only pits its giant robots against the Ancient Jinki, but against an unseen evil that is working behind the scenes. Jinki:Extend is a world of explosive action, arresting intrigue, and battle-trained babes who are bent on revenge! Nothing is what it seems, and no one can be trusted. But one thing is for sure – you're in for a seriously wild ride!"
The three episodes included here were 1) The Battlefield the Girl Saw, 2) After the Tears, and 3) Quality and Quantity. They initially set up the basic premise of the three volume series by establishing who Aoba and the other major characters are, the concept of the Jinki, and how each of the players is motivated by something different. The story reminded me a lot of the cliché reluctant pilots from RahXephon, Shingu, and Neon Genesis Evangelion with all the youthful robot love of the indomitable Noa Izumi for Alphonse in the Patlabor titles. Aoba is initially unwilling to accept her lot in life but struggles to find acceptance from the battle hardened members of her team that are led by some mysterious purpose they have yet to explain to her. The designs of the mechs are similar to the other shows (at times reminding me a lot of those shows as well as so many others like Neo Ranga and Full Metal Panic). The thematic elements of the show are also similar to those and others where a larger conspiracy is clearly at hand and enemies other than the obvious Jinki (which are ancient fighting machines of unclear origin) around lurking in the shadows. It might be a great ride from what I saw in this advance copy but with so many similar series of quality on the market, it could also become yet another copycat unworthy of your time and money. As such, I give it a qualified Rent It for now and I'll update my review if I get a chance to see the final product when it comes out at the end of next month.
Picture: Jinki: Extend V1 was presented in the same anamorphic widescreen color it was shot in by director Murata Masahiko for release in Japan. The aspect ratio looked to be 1.85:1 in the version I had to review and the designs were as impressive as the animation style employed by the episodes I saw. It looked to be moderately high budget, especially for a half season show, and there was even a little fan service for the perverts out there. I didn't see a lot of CGI mixed in with the more traditional looking animation, a marked difference from many recent shows, but this was just a taste of the show so who knows if it is just as appealing on the retail version or not. There were no obvious flaws to the picture that I could discern and apart from some light grain that appeared to be intentional, it seemed well worth checking out.
Sound: The audio was presented with the usual choice of a 2.0 Dolby Digital track in the original Japanese or the newly commissioned English language dub. I'm not a snob of either so let me say that the original vocals seemed more natural here but the music and sound effects were slightly better in the dubbed version. I had a friend check it out and she said the levels were slightly higher on the dub's music track, with some added bass slightly flavoring the track. In general, both tracks were okay though with little separation between the channels compared to other recent hits except on the music tracks.
Extras: The best extra for me was the video interview with voice actress Fumiko Orikasa (playing lead female role Aoba), Takuma Takewaka (Ryohei), and sound director Kazuhiro Wakabayashi. It lasted fifteen minutes and went into some detail about the hiring process, the quality of work that went into the show and you should be forewarned that it did include some spoilers. There was also a clean opening, clean close, (as well as some "on air" versions that weren't included on the screener DVD), some location notes about the base in Venezuela, a short glossary of terms, some trailers, and DVD credits. The text material that was advertised on the cover was not included in my copy so I'll get back to you on that one if a full version comes in.
Final Thoughts: Jinki: Extend V1 is unlikely to be called the next Neon Genesis Evangelion or Shingu but I thought it showed a lot of potential in terms of the writing, the animation style, and the way the characters interacted. Three episodes is barely a taste of the quality a show provides but I'll keep you informed if the chance to more fully investigate the series pops up. In summary, Jinki: Extend V1 might be a solid selection to pick from if you're a fan of the giant robots fighting invaders genre is your preferred type of story but it did make extensive use of the cliché elements of anime so the potential may not be fully realized.
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, and Best of Anime 2005 articles or their regular column Anime Talk.