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Info:

  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: A-
  • Packaging Rating: A
  • Menus Rating: A
  • Extras Rating: B
  • Age Rating: 13 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Bandai Entertainment
  • MSRP: 34.98
  • Running time: 325
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Avenger

Avenger Complete Collection

By brettbarkley     November 11, 2005
Release Date: October 25, 2005



The Review!
A very ambitious anime with a great look, a cool soundtrack, and very appealing packaging, but does it live up to its own ambitions?

Audio:
While not having a tremendous amount of activity in the rear speakers, the Avenger Complete Collection does a nice job of providing very stable and consistent sound. The voice work is crisp and clean with no distortion or noticeable issues of any sort. Considering the series’ strong reliance on the soundtrack, I was pleased to find that very nicely represented throughout.

Video:
Originally airing in 2003 and featuring a 1.78:1, Avenger looks incredibly clean and crisp with vivid, exciting color that is wonderfully reproduced. Throughout the set, I only noticed a few select instances of blurring or jittery lines and, for the most part was very happy with the transfer.

Packaging:
The Avenger Complete Collection tin is a very attractive set. The cover prominently features an embossed image of Layla and Nei in the flat color style similar to how they would appear in the show itself. The background of the tin, however, works really nicely to make the figures leap off the front. The background features some very nice metal flake paint over an intricately designed ominous red moon and some distant wreckage, making the entire image feel more alive. The finished product is really quite nice and will look great on the shelf.

The reverse cover of the tin features a large amount of the metal flake look from the front. It features some very nice design, an image of one of the domed cities of Mars prominently situated in the top half of the cover, the moon lingering just over it. The series break-down is confined within the form of the moon and offer a decent, though a bit minimal, synopsis of the series. The lower half of the reverse cover features disc episode break-downs, and five images from the series, as well as DVD Features and Extras.

Inside the tin, Bandai chose to have all the discs bound directly to the tin itself. For instance, the first disc attaches to the inside front cover. The second and third discs overlap one another on the inside back cover of the tin. A protective sheet of tin fills the space between the discs on the reverse cover and Disc 1 on the front. This was likely designed to keep the overlapping discs on the reverse cover more secure. However, when this set was shipped to me, both Discs 2 and 3 had come loose and had sustained some scratches. Whether this is an indictment of my postal carrier or a case design flaw, or both, it may have bearing on how and where you purchase this set.

Menu:
The menus are gorgeously designed and boast some truly exciting and vivid colors. Featuring Layla and Nei walking hand in hand, in a skewed image reminiscent of the technique used to open each episode. The moon dominates the upper right hand side of the screen. Play All, Scene Select, Setup, and Credits are clearly visible and found in descending order on the left side of the screen. The interesting design element of an arrow featuring images unique to the disc extends up the right side of the screen. An audio loop with a uniquely science fiction feel plays throughout.

Extras:
The Avenger Complete Collection set does not offer much in the way of extras. The DVDs features the more ubiquitous clean opening and closing animations, as well as some previews. The tin itself offers four bonus mini cells featuring Layla and Nei.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Avenger is a very ambitious science fiction series of thirteen episodes set on Mars many years in the future. Earth is no more and Martian colonists eke out a bare existence as best they can in and around the many domed cities. Provisions for these cities have been traditionally determined through gladiatorial combat. Lord Volk, one of the original twelve to settle on Mars is the greatest gladiator of them all, ruling over Volk City, the Capitol city of Mars. On this cold, dead world, no child can be born. That void has been filled by the dolls, automatons resembling children.

It is in this environment a lone Barbaroi named Layla Ashley emerges. A gladiator with skill far beyond those of the average Martian competitors, she bests all she encounters. And while her abilities could provide for her any number of luxuries, it is the need for revenge that drives her ever onward, always seeking out the next domed city, always ready for the next challenger. A dark moment in her past forged who she has become and she is driven to destroy the man responsible. She has vowed to destroy Lord Volk and all he stands for. Together with her adopted doll, Nei, who may be the key to something far more for Mars, and the tag-along doll breeder and Layla’s self-styled manager, Speedy, she sets out on her quest for vengeance.

When I began watching Avenger, I was very impressed with the beautiful colors and often frantic action. Backgrounds were beautifully rendered and the fighting characters moved with a gracefully choreographed ease. I was intrigued with the concept of the dolls, particularly in the way in which the series creators managed to show how their status was so differently regarded throughout the domed cities. In one of the cities, the dolls would be regarded almost as masters themselves and certainly as the most prized possessions. In another city, they would be carelessly cast out, the barrens surrounding the dome filled with wandering dolls, empty eyes staring blankly ahead, watching always.

Avenger has a great deal of attitude. This is easily apparent from the beautiful backgrounds and environments to the wildly shifting music, to the intense fight scenes. All three play vital roles in forming Avenger, and each is, for the most part, successful.

The backgrounds and their vibrant color schemes go very far toward establishing this strange and alien environment. The lack of vegetation, replaced instead with billowing dust storms and great expanses of purples and blues, reds and grays, speak to the harshness of this dead place. The copious wreckage, scattered remains of dolls, and ruined domes only add to the foreboding feel of this future Mars. Considering the amount of time the characters spend outside the domes, wandering this barren environment, this world as envisioned by the series creators almost seems to take on a life all it’s own.

Similarly in importance, Avenger uses music to great success in determining the ambient feel for a scene. Far more than simple background effect, the music moves and advances the plot, adding feeling and emphasis to character interaction and expression. From the frenetic title sequence as it wildly winds its way through a Middle Eastern-inspired feel, to the almost taunting closing theme, the music of Avenger is certainly a powerful aspect in forming the feel of the series.

The fight scenes are also nicely handled, doing a great job of switching the pace of a fight through use of varying speeds. The action plays out smoothly and with intensity. Layla acts and reacts with an almost robotic efficiency and while there is little doubt Layla will actually lose in an altercation, I would have liked to have seen even more of the fighting as handled in Avenger.

While watching this series, I found a number of surprising parallels to be drawn between Avenger and Sergio Leone’s classic western, Once Upon a Time in the West. Both feature strong, quiet protagonists on a bloody quest for revenge for something from their childhood. Both feature, as an antagonist, a man who rose to prominence and was subsequently corrupted by his power, his goals and ambitions changing him. Both rely heavily on strong, intense close-ups (Sergio Leone basically trademarked the strong close-up). Both also rely heavily on music to define the mood of a scene. There are more, actually, from the concept of two opponents caught up in something far bigger than themselves, to the emphasis on the scenery and environment around the characters, to even the concept of the importance of water. However, whereas Leone combined these features to create a powerful film, some of these aspects don’t work as well in Avenger.

By placing the emphasis on creating the beautifully painted backgrounds and environments of Mars, while rendering the characters in a more simplistic, flatter fashion, the characters don’t appear quite as real, quite as genuine. This becomes problematic considering the massive amount of close-ups used in this piece. While the idea behind these copious close-ups was to build mood and tension, to define what the characters were feeling, it doesn’t work because expressions are too flat to properly emote. Considering the overwhelming majority of characters were continually expressionless throughout the piece, their faces rarely changing in situations ranging from realization, to fear, to even death, the tight close-ups fall just as flat. They completely lose all meaning as anything but filler.

Additionally, character development is stilted at best. Beyond the general lack of character expression, dialogue is overly florid and melodramatic. However, I can’t fault the voice actors, as it appears to be simply scripted far too stiffly to actually flow. Throughout a large portion of the first half to two thirds of the series, there were so many reflective and ponderous non-words (such as, “huh”, “uh”, “um”, “humph”, “hmm”, and “eh.”) used for reaction, it was more than a little frustrating. Nei, for instance, appears to be able to say little more than, “Layla” and Layla herself can say little more than something along the lines of, “Just try…try and kill me” throughout the larger portion of this series. In this regard, it is genuinely difficult to discover the characters’ motivations when so little is revealed. But aside from feeling like little more than frustrating filler, it gave absolutely no window in to who these characters are. Aside from Speedy, who appears to be the most genuine of any of the characters, I had a genuinely difficult time caring for them.

One other flaw, though I’m not certain to attribute it to the poor dialogue or fuzzy plot definition, rests in the larger background issues facing the people of Mars. I was left wondering about many of these things, feeling little explanation was given. This becomes a flaw when these background issues are so large in prominence. Aside from the most obvious, I didn’t find clarity in Nei’s importance to the future of Mars. I was left searching for explanation regarding the science behind the moon’s decent toward Mars. Finally, I was most confused by the connection between Layla and the large column of subterranean ice and why it appeared to crack and eventually melt and flood Mars in direct correlation to the changes she underwent as she herself warmed in her almost maternal role to Nei. Was this simply metaphor? If so, the method of filming (Layla makes a realization about herself and the ice cracks) suggests too great a link between the two, otherwise, what is prompting the ice to melt? Another issue, one in which a character develops a gender toward the close of the series (when the viewer would likely have considered the character’s gender already defined) is simply inexplicable and subsequently remains unexplained.

In Summary:
Avenger is a series with great aspirations. Some it fulfills, others it does not achieve as successfully. The series looks great and has a very nice feel. Environments are beautifully designed and contribute a huge amount to the series. While we’ve already seen the basic revenge premise found in Avenger, this story has a great deal to offer beyond the norm. From the strange Martian environment, to the gladiatorial/survival of the fittest form of government, to the potentially interesting characters and even the issue of the dolls themselves, there is a great deal of potential for Avenger to really stand apart from the crowd. Unfortunately, aside from some great visuals, nicely done fight scenes, and a propelling soundtrack, much of the rest is not performed to such great success. I would probably most recommend this series to hardcore fan of the fighting anime genre, or even a fans of studio Bee Train.



Review Equipment
34” Sony FD Trinitron Wega HDTV KD-34XBR910 and Sony Dav-FR9 progressive scan Home Theatre System with 114 watts per channel to each speaker and 115 watts to each of the subwoofer's two woofers.

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