Aquarion Season 1 Box Set 1 -

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Mania Grade: C+

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  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: A-
  • Packaging Rating: B
  • Menus Rating: B
  • Extras Rating: B+
  • Age Rating: TV 14
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.
  • MSRP: 59.98
  • Running time: 325
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Aquarion

Aquarion Season 1 Box Set 1

By Chris Beveridge     March 24, 2008
Release Date: March 11, 2008

Aquarion Season 1 Box Set 1
© FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.

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 1-13 on three discs.

The Review!
Love and death from twelve thousand years ago resurfaces as the world is thrown into chaos and only a combinable robot can save the day.

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. Aquarion is part of the continued changes that FUNimation has been going through with their authoring and there is plenty of payoff to it in general. 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. FUNimation has abandoned the use of alternate angles once again with this release though the first two episodes are kept to their original Japanese text due to there not being a clean version. The remainder of the episodes have their openings and closings done in English which results in a higher bitrate and a much cleaner look than the majority of their titles even a few months ago.

Aquarion is a first for FUNimation in that they're releasing a brand new series in half season sets. Most of their series have been done through traditional single route and the majority of those have had very stylish starter sets with bonuses or unique packaging. Aquarion is weak when it comes to this but it's a trade off that I think is worthwhile. The box that contains the three thinpaks isn't a whisper thin piece but it isn't the kind of heavy chipboard that most have come to expect from them. The front of the box has a good looking dark image of the Aquarion set against a slightly star filled sky with the logo along the top. It's mildly deceptive as it says "Complete Series" below it but just under that in smaller type it says "Part One." The back of the box has a lightly glued on sheet that sells the show pretty well with the artwork and the summary while promoting the past credits of some of the creative staff. Underneath it is a decent piece of artwork of Silvia and Apollo together against a mythic design as well as the rest of the Aquarion. What's missing? A proper technical grid to list things like the runtime, audio formats and aspect ratio.

The individual thinpak keepcases are very well done as each of them showcases the Aquarion in a different mode set against a black background. It's very stylish and looks great with the CG mecha designs. These stand out a lot better than the soft box that holds them in fact. The back of the cases contains a list of what episodes are on the volume, their titles and a lengthy paragraph summary of each of them which must have driven some poor copywriter nuts. Each of the cases are clear which means reverse side artwork. Each of them is given over to a different character with slightly different coloring through which they showcase scenes from the series and the Aquarion in different configurations. Also included in this set is a really nice 5x7 pencil board that features the main cast of characters and the Aquarion above the planet.

Overall it's a decent enough package for the price and the format, but there are a few minor changes that I can see them making. At the same time, I can see FUNimation trying to push through a stronger collectors version box in the future along with the cheaper one like this to appeal to the collectors market.

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 even without the alternate angles FUNimation discs are problematic when it comes to player presets. Nothing is picked up for my presets and the full translation subtitle track is still listed as Japanese.

All of the extras for Aquarion are on the third volume of the set and they put in a nice selection of original Japanese pieces for it. The first is a decent six minute promotional piece with Shoji Kawamori as he talks about the show and what went into it from his end which included a trip to Spain for location ideas and a great diorama and set of models to enhance the CG work. The lengthy extras included is an eighteen minute Talk piece with Kawamori and three of the voice actors on stage at an event where they do standard press junket style Q&A things. The cute pieces included are a series of four two minute spots in which Tsugumi talks about the Vectors combinations, Cherubim and the CG about it. Toss in the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences and you get a nice half hour of extras all told.

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 thirteen episodes we see here are curious pieces in a way as we're operating without a lot of significant information from the start. 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...

To my surprise, the characters that made the show interesting for me were the less supported ones. The early introduction of Gen Fudo who takes over as Commander of the project was priceless. While he was involved in the discovery of the Aquarion, he's able to just walk suddenly into the Deava headquarters, confidently, and take over before anyone can really say or object. Fudo is that calm all knowing character that could likely save the day himself but would rather have others do it under his orchestration. In addition to him, the eventual introduction of a pair of new pilots worked the best. Tech geek Jun fits the bill as the standard dorky guy who is interested in mecha and gets the chance of a lifetime. Tsugumi is the girl in glasses archetype who strikes up a good relationship with him but also has "sempai-lust" with Reika. Tsugumi also has an interesting power in that she can cause explosions when she gets too excited about certain things.

And this in turn is what made Aquarion such a difficult experience. Outside of some very secondary characters, it was incredibly difficult to connect with any of the leads. 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.

In Summary:
If there is one thing that anime has taught me over the years, it's not to judge a series too quickly by its first episodes. Aquarion is a similar beast in that the opening episodes are too chaotic and don't really capture the viewer with what it's trying to get across. It gets to be too much style and not enough in depth substance to effectively use the hooks. As it progresses it doesn't take the time to really expand the basics that would make it far more interesting. It isn't until the final two episodes of this collection that I actually became interested in what the story might be about. Whether that's enough to justify going into the second half or not is another story. Aquarion has a very polished and professional look and feel to it but it really just lacks compelling characters and a heart to get you to empathize with it. There are hints of it towards the end but it's feeling like too little too late.

Japanese 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Interview with Shoji Kawamori, Tokyo International Anime Fair 2005 Talk Show with Cast and Crew, Tsugumi's "All about CG!" Series, Textless Songs

Review Equipment
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.


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