It's the end of the line for Aquarion (unless the OVA ever makes its way westwards), with this final volume kicking the series into high gear for a conclusion than, even after several viewings now, still flicks all the right switches for me...
What They Say
Betrayal and death raise the stakes of this end-times battle that is systematically destroying two species. Each believes itself just and moral, the passionate humans and the ancient Shadow Angels. The smoldering debris from the collision of two souls over 12,000 years past has rained destruction for the ages, eons of legends and pain meeting up with the truth as Aquarion soars over Atlandia, on a collision course with fate.
22 - Wings Unseen
23 - Fleeting Wings
24 - Heaven's Gate
25 - Final Battle! Atlandia
26 - The Day the World Begins
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 the three Vectors set against a background of urban decay 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. With no transition animations between screens, it's all pleasingly quick and easy to use.
This volume provides something a little different in the extras department. First up is a 10-minute set of 'music videos' featuring some pieces from the show's soundtrack set against sequences from the series. With Aquarion's soundrtrack being particularly good, it's good to see a little more use made of it in this way, although I would have liked to see a few more songs featured. The second extra is a "manga style silent movie" featuring several of the Vector pilots, although since it's both animated and accompanied by a soundtrack that description doesn't win any prizes for accuracy. What it is is quite strange and certainly different.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review will contain spoilers)
Toma, outraged at Futaba's death, is out for revenge - to take from the humans someone or something that means as much to them as Futaba meant to the Shadow Angels. Back at Deava Base, very few people there are able to sleep - partly out of guilt at the part they played in Futaba's death, but also out of some sort of intimation that the Shadow Angels are going to respond. Sirius, in particular, has been having strange visions, and Silvia begins to realise that something's not right with him. When Toma launches an attack against the base in a mech that appears hugely more powerful than Aquarion, it soon becomes clear who Toma's target is...
Futaba's capture and subsequent death proves to be the catalyst that kicks the series into its closing arc, and that's where Aquarion once again begins to shine. The "crimson road" is calling for the Solar Wing - and Toma finally identifies Sirius as the man of legend himself, before drawing him away to join the other side. Frankly, I wasn't hugely surprised by this - Sirius never did fit in with the Deava folk and has more in common with the Shadow Angels, personality-wise, than with the people around him (it's the arrogance that's the giveaway), so this wasn't so much a betrayal as a case of "what took you so long!?". Sylvia's reaction is equally predictable - she's always idolised her big brother, so it was always going to be tempting for her to join him. How her decision plays out, though - taking up a large chunk of episode 23 - is one of the highlights of the series, and pretty much settles any arguments over the Sylvia / Apollo pairing.
There's some really good music used the final arc, too - not just instrumental pieces, but insert songs as well that do a good job of conveying the feeling of what's happening on screen. The story itself kicks into really high gear, with plenty happening and very little time given to allow events to sink in - either for the characters or the viewers. By the beginning of episode 25, the fallout from Sirius' switch of sides has been dealt with, all the core characters are at Atlandea and the real battle can begin.
That's also when the flow of revelations can get underway, too. If Celiane and Apollonius where two of Aquarion's pilots 12,000 years ago, who was the third? He's still very much on the scene. Who really is the Solar Wing? Despite all hints to the contrary, neither Apollo nor Sirius. What exactly is the relationship between Sirius and Sylvia? She feels a closeness to him for a very good reason - which makes his defection a little easier to understand, but harder for her to deal with. All this is covered, in some detail, in a completely engrossing passage of storytelling.
The final episode then comes along to do a superb job of tying up all the outstanding plot threads, while still being an action show and throwing in some wonderfully touching Apollo / Sylvia scenes that should keep most people happy. All the pain and suffering caused because of one jilted lover, and ending that resolves their differences, and not a reset-button ending in sight - what we have here is a rare example of the near-perfect ending.
Only near-perfect, though, as there are a few flaws. Much is made of the Assault Type Aquarions, powered by fragments of Shadow Angel wing, but they don't live up to their hype - we even get a glimpse of Armageddon Aquarion, 9 Vectors in one union, that has its ass kicked in two seconds flat. So much for humanity's ultimate weapon, and it does make you wonder why they were even bothered with as their impact on the story is minimal. There are a few other points you could nitpick at, but nothing really serious - for the most part, these episodes just carry you away into their own little world, and you don't realise time's passing until they're over. In short: it's damn good, especially when compared to the cheese that most of the series has been made of. If Aquarion had managed this level of quality throughout its run, instead of spending so much time with Angel-of-the-week stories, it would have rated very near the top of my personal top ten. As it is, overall it's a guilty pleasure, but the closing episodes are almost classic material.
I've watched through Aquarion several times now - it's lost none of its appeal with those repeat viewings, and this volume is by far the best in the series. While for a lot of the series Aquarion almost falls into the "so bad it's good" category, the conclusion of the story is done extremely well, with real emotion combining with some very enjoyable action sequences to make sure that there's something here for everyone. For my money, Aquarion is easily one of the most enjoyable recent releases, and is well worth picking up.
Japanese Language 2.0, English Language 5.1, English Subtitles, Music Videos, Manga Style Silent Movie
Toshiba 37X3030DB 37" widescreen HDTV; Sony PS3 Blu-ray player (via HDMI, upscaled to 1080p); Acoustic Solutions DS-222 5.1 speaker system.