Mania Grade: B
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- Audio Rating: C
- Video Rating: C
- Packaging Rating: C-
- Menus Rating: A-
- Extras Rating: A+
- Age Rating: 12 & Up
- Region: 1 - North America
- Released By: FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.
- MSRP: 24.95
- Running time: 75
- Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
- Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
- Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
- Series: Blue Gender
Blue Gender Vol. #1
By Gene Moy
February 06, 2002
Release Date: October 23, 2001
This summer, FUNimation (the Dragon Ball Z people) announced it had acquired North American rights to supernatural epicYu Yu Hakusho and Ryosuke Takahashi's post-Gasaraki effort, Blue Gender. Fans quailed. Would these series meet with the same fate as Dragon Ball, with censoring and rewriting and the like? Would they be released with an English-only dub, names like Yuji and Marlene changed to Doug and Maria, plot altered irrevocably? It seemed almost certain that these were yet another series that we would encounter by chance, shelved low in the children's section, sitting next to a sun-faded, tattered Starvengers box (Beta version).
As it turns out, authenticity is absolutely not an issue with the first of FUNimation's post-DBZ releases. If Yu Yu Hakusho meets with this treatment, fans will have nothing to complain about. As it turns out, the release of Blue Gender is one of the most authentic versions of anime in the market to date. ADV and the other companies could learn a lot from this approach. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that if Bandai, Pioneer, and the other companies who owned the source adopted this type of approach, American companies would quickly wind up just handling distribution. If that.
This release is all about listening to the fans and giving them choices. By skillful use of the DVD multi-angle capability, previously used almost exclusively in adult material, this release features a variety of translation choices. To begin with, there are textless, English, and Japanese language openings and endings. In this way, the vibrantly appropriate "supernatural" type Japanese font and layout used in the original credits is preserved, which I think were integral to the late-night setting of this series. This use of multi-angles, for instance, could have preserved the hauntingly beautiful "computer poetry" sequence that marked the original beginning of each Gasaraki episode, instead of ADV re-presenting it in a way which detracts from the original artistic vision. Both could have been included, unless contractual obligations made it impossible. In any case, choice is a good thing.
The soundtrack is alright in Dolby 2.0. Courtesy of music director Kuniaka Haishima, there are some pretty tasty '80s-style hard rock/metal/industrial background motifs in play here. The original Japanese opening (a killer power ballad, btw) and ending songs remain intact, but there are also fabulous English versions which match vocalist style and timbre exactly. Due to instrumentation and vocal arrangement differences, the English versions have a slightly richer edge over the original Japanese versions, but I still prefer having both to make that comparison. And this is where this release parts ways with the ordinary. Not only are there eigo and nihongo voice tracks, there are two English subtitle tracks. The first is the regular English subtitle track which has been given some editing and polishing to smooth out the transition to English. And that's usually where it ends for the fans. Well, for those of us who often cry out, "That's not EXACTLY what she said!" a base-level translation subtitle track has been provided which, while less polished, follows the Japanese dialogue very closely. This great undocumented feature thus allows the user to view up to four different readings of the series. Added to this is the American seiyuu and ADR director's commentary track for the first episode, creating yet another alternate angle for the first episode (which includes the revelation that director Sabat has a real ear for Japanese names).
There are subtle differences between the base-level translation and its edited English version which, with this regard, brings out a little bit more yamato damashii, and highlights some of the decisions that the editors and writers have to make in translating for the American market. I like the lyrical voice in the close Japanese reading track, but I also like the insider view on the American side of production. As I keep saying, choice is good. Something like this I think raises the bar for everyone. Given that the end user in anime tends to be a highly-educated, somewhat libertarian, slightly obsessive breed, the important thing is that fans should be given the material to judge the quality of a release for themselves and be free to choose their depth of involvement. This is a great thing for anime, because it preserves the director's original vision while allowing the user to become more deeply engaged in the material, creating a more engaged and more loyal viewership. Hell, it might even encourage better translators and talent in this area.
Of course, this is where perhaps someone could get confused in selecting through the title menu, which is very slick and, as it's all text-driven, does not create "added value" by making the user play guessing games with icons. However, when choosing Setup (which is really just language selection), by selecting Japanese with subtitles, you get the Japanese language track with the "close Japanese reading". By selecting English, you get the polished English subtitles and the eigo ADR track. Users unaware of the difference, which is not documented anywhere, will miss this subtle distinction.
But anime is always about the story after all and so we move on. The story is unabashedly derivative of Paul Verhoeven's rendition of Starship Troopers, but with that late '90s twist. Once again, humanity is locked in mortal combat for survival against giant insects for the future of the planet. These first three episodes are seasoned gratuitously with violence and gore, with nary a regard for the fragile humans who die early, often, and invariably horribly. Our terminally-ill hero, Yuji, spends his first and much of his second episode mostly in panic, screaming a lot, after emerging from nearly 20 years of suspended animation. He emerges from deep sleep to find himself whisked down a dark corridor destination unknown.
Encountering the enemy in the form of a giant horned beetle, Yuji frees himself from his coffin to see his erstwhile kidnappers meet with a particularly cruel end, their bodies broken and twisted into a small cocoon, presumably for later consumption. Of course, he escapes meeting that same fate with the help of our other protagonist, Marlene, and the rest of the recovery team in short order. As quickly as we are introduced to new characters, so too do they make their exit, for a true "this is war" feel. By the end of episode three, still a long way off from their rallying point, only three of the original seven platoon members have survived. I can't add too much to what earlier reviewers have already said about the plot, but it's clear that in a world like this, the relationships that survive are very close ones. There's no excuse for lack of character development here, so it will be interesting to see how Yuji fares as his illness progresses, as well as how he will adapt to his future life with his new pal Joey, the stereotypically taciturn commander Robert Bradley, and of course, the Blue Angel, Marlene.
I came away from Starship Troopers with no attachment to the characters. They seemed less important than the over-the-top violence which by the end began to parody itself. But that is Verhoeven for you. With twenty-three episodes left in this series, we can only hope that the characters won't be given as short shrift. I'm looking forward to that development, but just in case, I've got an order in on a hazmat suit for the next twenty-three episodes of blood, gore, and splattered insect guts.
Philips Q50, Apple DVD 2.7, WinDVD 2K DTS 2.3