Aquarion heads into its second volume, which also happens to be the volume where the series takes its first departure from the usual battle-of-the-week formula to provide the first direct confrontation between the Deava team and Toma. With events of 12,000 years ago having been touched on a number of times, it's time to get Toma's take on what happened all that time ago...
What they say
After catastrophe, the world still needs a hero. 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!
7 – Knight of the Crimson Rose
8 – The First Merge
9 – The Path to Dreams
10 – Stars in the Sky, Flowers in the Ground
11 – Happiness is at the Bottom of a Lake
12 – The Time of Amber
13 – A 12,000-Year-Old Love Letter
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 all three variations of Aquarion set against a cityscape background with options for Play All, Episodes and Setup 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.
After last volume's deluge of extras, this time we get... nothing.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review will contain spoilers)
Seven episodes of Aquarion goodness on this release, and for the first five of those The Formula reigns supreme - a day-to-day issue for some of the Deava pilots, followed by the appearance of a Mythic Beast and a combat workout for Aquarion. The first four of them are decent enough, with jealousy, determination and the power of dreams all featuring. The fifth of the set was the one episode here that I found tedious, though, with Reika being the focus of events as her bad fortune seems to be at work again, with Glen, her former partner and one of the Aquarion's original crew, still in a deep coma. Add in the sort of bad mood that only bad weather can produce, and the end result is a deep depression for Reika, which the Commander sees as a problem - she can hardly perform at her best when worried that everything she does will somehow lead to misfortune. Her luck doesn't seem to be getting any better, either, so she eventually decides to leave the Aquarion base, hopefully taking her bad luck with her. As luck would have it, her train encounters a strange phenomenon - one that's already taken a number of children, and now Reika could be the next victim.
Ever since her first appearance in the series, she's been harping on about her alleged "misfortune" and the way that her mere presence seems to bring bad luck up the Aquarion team - it's a subject that I've found annoying since the get-go, as it's really just her feeling sorry for herself and looking to project her own failings onto a curse of some description, so having an entire episode based around her trying to escape her bad luck just rubbed me up the wrong way. On the plus side, I suppose there's a chance now that Reika can move on to being a more positive and useful character, but I'll believe it when I see it.
While most of the 'filler' episodes are enjoyable enough, though, the fun really begins in episode 12, where the show breaks its usual routine to kick off a short 3-episode arc (the third episode is held over for the next volume) that delves into the past, to events in the last war against the Shadow Angels, and to the past lives that Apollo and Silvia have memories of. The trigger to this is an underwater archaeological site that produces an unusual find - a single feather, sealed in amber and dated to have been from around 12,000 years ago. That's unusual in itself, as amber shouldn't be able to properly form in that short a time - so perhaps it's something from the time of the Winged Angels? Commander Fudo's orders for nobody to touch the feather only succeed in piquing Apollo's curiosity, so along with Silvia he breaks into the vault - and together they discover the past. Meanwhile, Toma makes plans for retrieving the feather - and he's not planning to play fair.
This is where Aquarion really shows what it's capable of: most of the series is enjoyable in a 'guilty pleasure' kind of way, where you allow yourself to be carried along by the general insanity of the characters while realising that most of the episodes aren't really anything spectacular, story-wise. When the show gets serious, though, it's in another league, where you can watch a real story unfold, and where the lead characters cease being the cookie-cutter cutouts that they are for most of the series to play their parts in something far more engaging and, at times, quite moving. That a show which plays for laughs for most of its run (even though that does appear to be accidental) can come up with a story arc this good is quite an achievement, and begs the question as to why it's not like that all the time. Not that I worry too much about that, of course, as for better or worse I do still find the standalone episodes enjoyable, in their own flawed way.
All the flaws that I mentioned in the review of the first volume are still here - slightly iffy CG, some characters you just want to slap some sense into, and Jerome being shown to be a complete waste of space at every opportunity - but the charm of the show is almost inescapable. The filler is enjoyable despite itself, and once the real meat of the story kicks in it becomes compelling for all the right reasons. Well worth watching.
Japanese Language 2.0, English Language 5.1, English Subtitles
Toshiba 37X3030DB 37" widescreen HDTV; Sony PS3 Blu-ray player (via HDMI, upscaled to 1080p); Acoustic Solutions DS-222 5.1 speaker system.