Teenage kids and giant mecha - now there's something you don't see every day. Aquarion doesn't do much to step outside what you'd expect from the genre (well, apart from having their pilots become.. aroused.. by the whole 'giant robot transformation' thing - I kid you not), but despite some iffy CG it still manages to start as fairly interesting and get better from there...
What They Say
When the Shadow Angels invade earth 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, in the shape of 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 and through a swirling cloud of love, betrayal, loss and destiny, the last hope for the new future arrives and takes flight. Full of action-packed mecha battles and anime heroics, AQUARION is a must-see for fans of titles such as ‘Escaflowne', ‘Neon Genesis Evangelion', ‘Vandread' and ‘Voltron'.
1 – Memories of Heavenly Wings
2 – Beast of Darkness
3 – Element School
4 – Barefoot Warrior
5 – King of the Underground Labyrinth
6 – To the Other Side of Emotions
Audio is provided in Japanese 2.0 stereo and English 5.1 surround versions - I listened to the Japanese track for this review. Good use is made of the soundstage both for effects and background music - which the series makes quite heavy use of - to bring atmosphere and a sense of depth to the show. Dialogue is clean and clear, and there were no obvious problems.
Video is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, and is one of the show's main selling points - a good amount of effort has gone into making the series look good, with detailed backgrounds, lovingly-realised settings and good use of colour to bring the series to life. CG can be a bit ropey in places - it can be noticeably jumpy at times - but not so much as to be a problem. The transfer captures all of this extremely well, with no obvious problems.
No packaging was provided with our review copy.
Menus are a static affair, with Aquarion set against the background of the Earth with options for Play All, Episodes, Setup and Extras arrayed along the bottom of the screen, accompanied by a piece of the show's background music - a rather atmospheric piece that sounds like a child's lullaby. With no transition animations between screens, it's all pleasingly quick and easy to use.
There is a real boatload of extras with this release. First up is a 6-minute video clip that's billed as an interview with director Shoji Kawamori, although it's more of a promotional piece. That's followed by four of Tsumugi's "All About CG!" segments, each one looking at the work that went into creating the CG models for particular ships in the series - this volume features Solan, Luna and Mars versions of Aquarion, and the Shadow Angel Cherubim. Clean versions of the opening and closing credits round things out. All told, there's plenty here to keep you occupied for a while. Oh yes, the trailer for Disgaea that's included on the disc is also worth a look, as it's a little bit more than the creditless OP that these things tend to be...
Content: (please note that content portions of a review will contain spoilers)
Earth, an indeterminate date in the future. The planet is recovering from the Great Catastrophe, where the Antarctic ice melted and flooded huge areas - humanity is still scraping a living, and is far from getting back to the prosperous times before the Catastrophe. Unfortunately, along with the floods, another problem was unleashed - the Shadow Angels, a race of beings that had been sealed away for 12,000 years but are now free again. They live off Prana, the life-force of living beings - and of which humans are a particularly good source. Led by Toma, the Shadow Angels have been harvesting what humans are left from the ruins of the Earth's cities, and the future is not looking bright.
Enter Deava, a military organisation led by the cryptic Commander Gen Fudo. He had been responsible for unearthing the three parts (or Vectors) of giant mecha Aquarion during an archaeological dig, and now he's leading humanity's fightback. Crewed by Element users - humans with special abilities that make them suited to being Vector pilots - Aquarion is one of humanity's last hopes. The other, is the mythical Solar Wing, a Shadow Angel who 12,000 years ago switched sides to help humanity seal away his brethren. We have Aquarion - we just need to find the reincarnation of the Solar Wing.
That's the setting - all fairly straightforward, yes? Add a huge cast, though, and things get a little bit harder to follow. You don't really need to worry about the Shadow Angels at this stage, other than Toma, but Deava's a diverse group. Enigmatic Commander Fudo is as annoying as hell - he speaks in riddles and parables, and is almost impossible to follow. His second-in-command Jerome is constantly over-ruled and made to look a complete fool, just so you remember who's really in charge. But it's the Vector pilots who are the key to the story. First up is Silvia, reincarnation of the Solar Wing's human lover Celiane - short, cute, angry, and worryingly obsessed with her older brother Sirius, another pilot to whom elegance and grace are far more important than anything else. At first it's assumed that Sirius is the Solar Wing, aka Apollonius - but the arrival on the scene of street urchin Apollo raises a large question mark over that assumption, and Sirius and Apollo are soon at each others' throats.
There's also former footballer Pierre; bad-luck charm Reika; telepathic twins Chloe and Kurt; vampiric girl Rena; tech genius Jun; and Tsugumi, who could be described as having an explosive personality. Literally. Each episode focuses on some aspect of the training of this lot of misfits, with part two of the episode inevitably bringing a Shadow Angel attack and a chance for some of the gang to put what they've learnt into practical use. It's a completely rigid formula, at least as far as these episodes go, and that works against watching more than an episode or two in one sitting as the show can quickly get repetitive. Break it up, though, and it's great fun, in a guilty-pleasure kind of way. The series has been referred to elsewhere as Aquaricrack, referring to its addictive qualities, and it genuinely does fall into the "so bad it's good" category - you know exactly what's going to happen in any given episode, and yet you can't stop watching, or stop enjoying it while it hauls you along kicking and screaming.
There's a heavy emphasis on CG graphics, which aren't quite up to scratch - there's plenty of colour and detail to them, but it seems the animators may have pushed the limits of their technology a bit too much as it can get decidedly jerky in places, which really does detract from the eye-candy value of it. Other failings include the characters of Sirius (an annoyingly prissy pretty-boy) and Reika (whose curse of gloom soon becomes tiring), but such shortcomings are easily overcome by what's perhaps the show's unintentionally-comic masterpiece: the gattai or union sequences between the pilots. You see, combining the three Vectors into Aquarion seems to be a positively orgasmic experience, in every sense of the word, and you get to the point where you just want to see how the characters react. Somehow, having Silvia go all cross-eyed with pleasure while exclaiming "Ikuuu!" (look it up - and it doesn't mean "It's working!", as the subtitles would have you believe) never gets tired, and makes up for the almost complete lack of any other fanservice in the show.
Aquarion has the feel of a show that wants to be taken seriously, but you'll get a whole lot more out of the experience if you don't - look for the absurd, revel in it, and the show suddenly works on a whole different level & becomes much more than the sum of its parts. It's far from being perfect, but somehow that doesn't get in the way of it being thoroughly enjoyable - although that's maybe on a level that the creators didn't intend. For those looking for it to break out of its routine, keep an eye out for the second volume, where the first of two frankly epically good story arcs take place, proving that the show can be really good when it puts its mind to it.
This volume of Aquarion sticks firmly to The Formula, but doesn't suffer from that as much as you might expect as the stories served up have an appeal that's hard to definitively describe but that's definitely there. Well worth seeing, in a decidedly guilty-pleasure kind of way.
Japanese Language 2.0, English Language 5.1, English Subtitles, Interview with director Shoji Kawamori, Tokyo International Anime 2005 Talk Show, Tsugumi's ‘All About CG!' Solar Aquarion Edition, Tsugumi's ‘All About CG!' Cherubim Edition, Tsugumi's ‘All About CG!' Aquarion Luna Edition, Tsugumi's ‘All About CG!' Aquarion Mars Edition, clean opening, clean closing;
Toshiba 37X3030DB 37" widescreen HDTV; Sony PS3 Blu-ray player (via HDMI, upscaled to 1080p); Acoustic Solutions DS-222 5.1 speaker system.