Shoji Kawamori teams up with Satelight to tell the tale of a tragic love that may doom all of mankind – and the Shadow Angels as well.
What They Say
When the Shadow Angels invade after 12,000 years of slumber, humanity is held captive by fear and sheer alien dominance. Eleven years after the Great Catastrophe decimated the world, most of those left alive are scavengers, dirty and starving in the streets. There is hope, however: Mechanical Angel Aquarion!
Powered by three souls intertwined, a rare breed of pilot takes the controls. Known as Elements, one among them must rise if mankind is to survive. Prophecy is being fulfilled as the end of the world approaches... Through a swirling cloud of love, betrayal, loss and destiny, the last hope for the new century arrives and takes flight!
Contains episodes 1-26.
Aquarion gets a pretty solid audio release for the most part and for the English language adaptation in particular. The original Japanese mix is presented in its stereo form as it was broadcast on TV and released to DVD in Japan at 192kbps. The English mix gets a hefty bump up to a 5.1 mix at 448kbps and really adds something nice to the action scenes. The increased bass to it alone helps to set it apart from the stereo mix and overall gives it a much more in your face feel when the Aquarion gets into it with the Cherubim. The Japanese mix is no slouch for the most part though and it conveys the show in a serviceable enough manner with clean and clear dialogue and minimal but decent placement.
Originally airing in 2005, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. This edition has the twenty-six episodes spread across four disc in a seven/six/seven/six format that does not mirror the original half season releases. The series is spread across three discs in a five/four/four format with all the extras on the third disc. The materials are in great shape here and come across as very clean looking and free of problems. The authoring showcases a bit of banding in a few scenes which is still pretty normal for TV grade CG animation as well as some of the minor aliasing that crops up. Colors in general look very solid and there's hardly any noise to find in the backgrounds outside of the occasional darkened area. A surprising problem with this set is that the chapter marks are poorly set with no chapter marks added after the opening sequence, so if you try to skip the opening it takes you to about 11 minutes in on average.
Aquarion comes in what is a pretty standard presentation for FUNimation with a thin slipcover holding two clear thinpak cases with each case holding two discs. The slipcover is similar to the original release in that it's dark piece that puts the combination form of Aquarion center stage with the arm extended. It's surprisingly murky in a lot of ways as the mecha itself has a lot of dark colors to it so it doesn't stand out all that strongly. The black space has a good feeling to it but the mecha artwork doesn't draw you in. The back of the slipcover works out better as it has a fair bit of lighter space to it in which there are some colorful and attractive shots from the show and a good breakdown of the premise of the series itself. The episode count and extras are listed clearly as well but there's a lack of production information that's surprising but almost welcome as it gives the release a much cleaner look. The technical information is kept to the bottom of the slipcover itself out of the way and fairly easy to read considering the colors used.
Inside the slipcover are the two thinpaks, with their front covers reversed so that it has a foldout feel to it when you pull them out so you see artwork on both sides. The two sides are well done illustrations with the hot colors given to Apollo and the cool colors given to Tomas who has feathers floating around him that adds a bit more coolness to him. The back covers have some interesting small illustrations to them that adds to the classical nature of part of the show with a breakdown of the episode titles and numbers with their associated discs below it. The reverse side covers are interesting as one side on each has more illustrations; one with a big shot of the Aquarion while the other is a fairly good sized cast shot. The opposite of these is a big text dump with a breakdown of just a few production credits for each episode, focusing on script, directing and so forth. It's surprising to see it presented this way and with so much of it the same it doesn't feel like it's done right in the slightest.
FUNimation has come to love the letterbox layout for a number of their shows and Aquarion is little different. Each volume has a different piece of artwork through a small strip placed near the top of one of the Aquarion modes with the logo place to the right of it. There's some nice coloring above it and the bottom portion has a soft subdued image of feathers with sunlight striking out from it. This is also where the navigation is kept, though it does look minimal on the first two volumes since they don't have any extras on them. Add in a bit of choral music to the otherwise static menu and you have a decent looking series of menus that fit the theme of the show but don't do much else. Access times are nice and fast but as usual the discs don't pick up the players' presets when it comes to the language as it defaults to English with sign/song subtitles.
The only extras included are on the fourth disc which is made up of the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences, essentially omitting the copious amount of extras available in the previous editions.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Originally known as Sousei no Aquarion, Aquarion is a twenty-six episode show that's being released in two box sets containing thirteen episodes each. Created by Shoji Kawamori with Hiroshi Ohnogi working with him for the series composition, Aquarion is an original work that looks to take the classic love of giant robots and merge it with some strong mythology in order to create something that Kawamori says has been overlooked in the mecha genre. With the production done by Satelight, it's a series with a distinct look and feel that has a lot of strong influences of both Satelight and Kawamori.
The story takes place eleven years after an event known as the Great Catastrophe in which mankind suffered heavily and lost countless people. The event also signified the arrival of the Shadow Angels, beings from twelve thousand years prior who have their own mysterious goals and little love for the "wingless" humans who populate the world. In the years since, the Shadow Angels send out their strange little ships that harvest people by sucking them up into them and put them to use within their machines. They're also apparently able to control those who are brought into this process which provides an unsettling feeling. Cities are attacked in this way and suddenly turn into ghost towns outside of a few people who escape for different reasons.
One of the reasons some of the people seem to escape from it is due to an immunity they have as their past lives are connected to the Shadow Angels in some way. This is how we come to meet Apollo, a feral young man who lives by scavenging along with a few friends for food and necessities. When the Shadow Angels attack the city he's living in, his friends all get caught up in it but he's left free and unaffected. His immunity is what has also drawn people from a group known as Deava to find him as they believe he may be the Solar Wing, a reincarnation of someone from the past who is of great significance. Upon seeing Apollo however, there is very little belief that he could be that person.
What changes that is that Apollo is able to easily master the ships that the Deava people use known as Vectors. Comprised of three different fighter craft, the Vectors are able to recombine into one large robot that can deal with the massive yet agile Shadow Angel mecha that show up throughout the series. Each of the Vector's when used as the "head" of the Aquarion it turns into provides for a different kind of experience. This allows for some nice variation to everything and when taken in the context of how the pilot handles it, it really sets the Aquarion up for being used in many different ways. While it's hard for most of the Deava pilots to understand how Apollo can do all of this, he's essentially brought in easily and quickly to the organization which suits his needs since he sees the Aquarion as the best way to find his friend.
And thus Aquarion begins its run of showcasing the various pilots, their quirks and interactions while slowly - ever so slowly - expanding on how this world works. Not surprisingly, Aquarion feels pretty standard in this regard as we get the kind of team building exercises that typify shows of this nature. Apollo has a hard time fitting in with a team and his almost feral nature sets him apart easily as does his confidence and attitude. One of the pilots, Reika, is the cause of much misfortune since she believes herself to be cursed and that only makes it worse. She's very friendly towards Sirius, the handsome blonde male who is something of a prince whose family lineage goes back to the time twelve thousand years prior. Reika's interest in Sirius isn't overly stated but even the hint of it sets off Sirius' sister Silvia who has a serious brother complex going on. On the oddly quirky yet interesting side we also have Pierre, a soccer player who saw his entire team - and stadium - get harvested while he survived. It did give him the power to have a fireball kick however...
As the second half of the season gets underway, a good chunk of it focuses on those smaller story lines that get resolved in one episode. Some of them are amusing to watch, especially as there are a few that seemingly revolve around food. One storyline has the entire region being laid to waste when it comes to its food supply as a Shadow Angel agent destroys it all. Nothing else can get in there at the time so everyone goes for a week or so without food, which leads to them all wasting away while trying to figure out how to deal with the situation. The whining and lethargy is actually amusing to watch as some of their personality traits stand out a bit more because of it.
Other stories are a bit unusual and play to some fairly standard fears. One such episode revolves around the idea that Rena is actually a vampire as everyone starts to become anemic and some have apparent bite marks on them. Naturally, Rena simply looks the part and plays the part well, but it finally does go a bit towards explaining her nature which has been left fairly untouched so far. It’s episodes like these where the show has a hard time maintaining its energy since it’s using a fairly standard plot idea and trying to stretch it out while also making sure it provides for some story continuity with what’s going on. Sometimes it works well enough but more often than not it comes across as contrived, which is admittedly fairly standard for many series so it’s not a heavy black mark against this show. But I feel like Kawamori – and Satelight – should have done better with it.
As Aquarion starts to get to the meat of things, it does become a lot more interesting. The changes it goes through as Tomas starts to mess with everyone by tweaking Sirius is a lot of fun, since it shows just how gullible Sirius can be for all his intensity. The twists with Sirius and Silvia wasn’t exactly original or something that you couldn’t figure out, but the reveal for it was nicely done through the way Tomas hinted at bigger things for him. The show does play a few tricks as it tries to confuse the viewer as to who may really be who when it comes to the past lives, and that adds to some of the fun as you wonder whether we’ve been fed false information for some time.
With so much of the core storyline occurring in the final six or so episodes, there is a bit of a rush to it, especially when you get to the last two and start to wonder how they’ll wrap it all up. Like many stories, it does come to a fairly quick and epic conclusion, and not without some mystery to it, but overall it does feel pretty satisfactory. Elements from the past get brought back which feels a bit forced, but so much of the show is simply shrouded in mystery. What’s backing the Aquarion project and those that keep it going is kept out of the picture which helps to keep it from feeling complete. The Shadow Angels get a fair bit more play about what went on in the past during all of this, but their history feels rather incomplete as well which keeps it from reaching a proper epic level. Aquarion has so many grand ideas here and such a length of time to work with, but it instead spends a bit too much of its time on the inconsequential stories, stories that do help to build up the secondary cast a bit admittedly.
What made Aquarion difficult to connect with is that the primary characters weren't all that interesting. Apollo isn't likeable enough or has enough to him to really be the lead character. He has his quirks and they're amusing enough at times but it's not enough to carry the show. Silvia's infatuation with her brother is something that gets to be a bit too much at times as does Sirius' over confidence in his skills and his heritage. The only time that these characters exhibit anything interesting is when it comes to their past lives and who they may have been back then since there's some dissent about who is the real Solar Wing. When the show gets to around episode twelve and thirteen, more of that back story from twelve thousand years ago is brought up and the connections - and the story - does get more interesting. But at the same time I don't know how many more times I can hear these characters say "twelve thousand years ago" whenever discussing important things.
Visually, Aquarion is something that I found to be rather appealing since I like Satelight's production work in previous shows. The mechanical designs that Kawamori and others come up with are intriguing enough and Satelight's style is definitely similar to what they did in Noein and earlier in Geneshaft. The blending has gotten better over the years but there looks to be a very stylistic choice made in how the mecha blend into the character and background animation. Some of it can be off putting at times, especially the fluidity with which the Shadow Angels move, but it fits in with what the series has been presenting. Character designs themselves look pretty good though there isn't anything that stands out terribly strongly. At the same time, they don't appear to go for a lot of easy fanservice ala tight uniforms with lots of skin showing. The upskirt action is apparent every now and then but for the most part it's all treated rather respectfully which isn't a surprise for a Kawamori show.
The first time I watched Aquarion, I liked parts of it and felt frustrated by others. Some of the dynamics of the world were not clear and that made it difficult to enjoy as much. Something as simple as seeing people running in terror while wearing suits just didn't feel right. It is eleven years after a great catastrophe and the world is in ruins, yet we've still got people wearing suits and ties? Aquarion does have an interesting tale to tell and I enjoyed it more in full form this time than in the half season form I saw it in before. There are a few strands that tie together better, also with hindsight in mind as well, and seeing the characters arcs with that in mind helped to make some of them a bit more enjoyable though more for the secondary characters instead of the leads. Taken as a whole, it's still a show that I think is a bit weak in some ways, but I found myself enjoying it more this time around. From a mecha perspective and the combination factor though, Aquarion has a lot to offer and I liked the continued change-ups of the machine and the way everyone adapted to it.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.