A 4 episode OVA based on a shoot-em-up gives us a decent show where elements of other shows come vividly into your mind…
What They Say
What Is Reality? An entire world exists unseen, one that can be accessed only by the mind... the Wired World. A place of freedom. And occasionally a place of death... As a hacker of the renowned hacking group Steppenwolf, Souma Toru and his partners earn their living by hacking into servers and selling the information they steal. They hack into a military server, only to discover they have been lured into a trap to catch terrorists. They are drawn into battle between two factions, at the end of which one of Souma Toru s closest friends is killed by an unknown assailant. To investigate and avenge his friend's death, he accepts the offer to join the ranks of FLAK; a military organization charged with protecting the hidden data paradise deep within the vast network of servers.
Presented in standard format 2.0 in both English and Japanese, I listened to the Japanese track for this review. The audio standard is fine, if unspectacular as per standard by Manga releases. The lack of 5.1 is always a minor disappointment but there were no problems regarding transition with subtitles and the audio was clear in both English and Japanese so no problems noted.
The video transfer with Baldr is excellent – considering the combination of CGI/anime hybrid there wasn’t a problem with distortion or over layers. It comes through perfectly in a good mix of lighting, combining the dark atmosphere of the show with some of the colourful scenes involving Ren and Tohru – a lot goes on but it doesn’t effect sound or sight at all, especially considering the complexity of the designs in the show. Very good.
No packaging was released for this test disc.
The menu is fairly standard, with easy navigation with the menu selection for play, audio, trailers and selection. Each section also has a nice artwork of some of the characters, the opening menu has a nice shot of Ren and Tohru, the trailers menu has one of Ayane, the audio one of Minori, it seems like it would be something straight out of the video games artwork which is a very nice touch.
No extras to note of aside from trailers for Black Blood Brothers, Jyu-Oh-Sei and Xxxholic.
Based on a video game that I haven’t played, the concept of Baldr Force Exe was something that was definite unusual, but also with a bit of familiarity. A place where a virtual world almost becomes reality, where fatalities are caused and a mysterious aura which if you’ve seen you can get killed. The fact that the first scenes you see are soldiers fighting off internet terrorists but then a mysterious blue haired girl appears, and soon after, the solider back in the ‘real’ world get killed in a very violent matter made me wonder what I was into.
We’re introduced to one of the terrorists who has been captured, Tohru Sohma, who was part of a group named SteppinWolf, however one of his friends Yuuya had been killed in the virtual world known as ‘The Wired’ and his fellow friends have also been captured. To compensate for his freedom, the protection group who captured him, FLAK, ask him to work for their First Platoon because of his great skills. He does accept, but on the condition his friends are released, and his own personal goal is that one member of FLAK killed Yuuya, so he’s joining them to get revenge.
This leads to him being involved in various work to combat cyber terrorists, the one main group namely Fei Dao, which had a Chinese girl named Lian as one of their main, and a psychotic afro guy named Genha. Also important is the group named the VSS, which former SteppinWolf member Tsukina is part of, much to Tohru’s annoyance. However, the first episode ends with a trip to the Wired where he is alone, and meets up with the supposed killer ‘ghost’ a pretty young girl named Ren.
Ren and Tohru obviously have some sort of connection, and using the Wired’s unique ability to metamorphose a world into something you want, Ren and Tohru go on a psuedo-date and make a promise. There’s a lot of obvious hints at their relationship however when Ren mentions she can’t return to the main world, you realise there is something fishy. When the VSS and FLAK team up it makes things worse as both have their own objectives, and one of the FLAK First Platoon team, Ayane Shidou, a stoic woman has a huge hatred of Genha who killed her brother. However, it turns out Ayane also has a connection with Tohru, and a rather brutal and disturbing scene showcases the total madness between real and virtual…
To make matters worse, after the disaster VSS kidnap Tohru thanks to brainwashing Tsukina as the past begins to reveal itself. It turns out Tohru is an experimental subject with a chip in his brain as subjects for the transfer of body and soul into the Wired – and the relationship between Ren and Tohru is revealed…however the boss of VSS, an overzealous woman named Reika Tachibana calls her Invy, and the ghost powers of her revealed other self (named Revalla) are what they are after, as they can literally absorb and control the world. However, Tohru is saved by a combination of Lian from Fei Dao and her boss Quon, and also the phantom member of SteppinWolf, Bachella, an ambiguous young human whose very childish but intelligent. The finale is a battle between the reunited Platoon trying to stop both the VSS and the power hungry members of FLAK controlling Ren, trying to avoid anyone getting killed, and Tohru having to make the ultimate choice between Ren and the world…
A lot of Baldr Force EXE is quite brilliant. The mix of CGI and anime works very well in this type of show, as the virtual reality sitting combined with the Simulacrum (internet mechas that the Platoon, SteppingWolf, Fei Dao and VSS use) makes it for quite an exciting show during the action sequences. Also it’s beautifully animated, switching from dark and dreary hospital and slum scenes to beautiful aura like scenes between Ren and Tohru. The plot is also quite interesting with the connection between reality and fiction explored in a very direct way where actions in both can affect you personally, albeit perhaps in an over the top fashion when your heads explode…
However, there are a lot of issues I had with it as well. A lot of the sub plots were increasingly rushed (namely Genha/Ayane, and also when the other SteppinWolf member Akira came in, he hardly got any action), the characters bar Tohru, Ren and later Lian were barely interesting and didn’t register much in the action – it is a short OVA of course but there could have been more exploring towards the past especially with Ayane) and it’s also not a show for everyone – it gets very violent at times, as the heads exploding is one point, but also a very disturbing scene in Episode 2 which gets not only quite bloody, but also Genha’s internet ‘rape’ scene of Ayane is very twisted. And it’s hard not to unfortunately compared this to Lain, with the Wired theme, and reality vs. internet – however Lain did this nearly 10 years prior and was infinitely better in explaining the situation despite it’s confusing imagery. Granted, it had 13 episodes and Baldr only had 4, but Baldr had more characters you had to make note of, making it infinitely more confusing. More could have been said about the past of Ayane for example, in relation to what happened to her brother, and of course the revelation of how she is connected to Tohru. However, the final OVA, with everyone teaming up, is fantastic to watch. It’s quite brutal, and Tohru’s decision is heartbreaking, but it wraps up fairly nicely, despite as mentioned several loose ends that needed to be tied.
Baldr Force EXE is certainly not a bad OVA – indeed, it’s quite entertaining as the mecha/reality/fiction combination does work mostly, a great show to view and Tohru/Ren whilst being the crux of the OVA is at least intriguing and different enough to make it stand out of the crowd. It could have done with a couple more episodes though as it was trying to tell a story within a story, and whilst it almost succeeded, there were too many loose ends to really see it as a classic.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
Toshiba 37C3030 - 37" Widescreen HD Ready LCD TV – Tangent Ht-50 Home Theatre System Multi-Regional DVD Players/Speakers – Tangent Subwoofer 50-150 Hz, Impedenced 8 OHM.