Linebarrels of Iron Part 1 (of 2) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Tuesday, January 05, 2010
Release Date: Tuesday, January 19, 2010

When a parallel Earth invades our world, it's up to one young man to save it – unless he decides to be the villain instead.

What They Say

Kouichi dreams of being a hero, but in reality he's a punching bag for every bully on the block. His life flatlines when the mysteriously naked Emi crash lands on his pitiful existence, thrusting Kouichi into the middle of an intergalactic showdown between rival races of self-regenerating Machinas.

Through his death-bed partnership with the Linebarrel mecha, Kouichi gains the strength to stand up to his tormentors and crush the alien invasion force that's determined to conquer Earth. There's just one problem: all this newfound power and special attention from nearly naked babes is turning Kouichi into a jerk. His friends can't stand him, he makes his dream girl sick, and those aliens want to kill him extra dead!

Kouichi may have the mechanized muscle to save the world, but he has much to learn about being a true "Hero of Justice."

Contains episodes 1-12.

The Review!
Audio:
FUNimation has a good bilingual presentation for this series though the English language makes out better as is the norm. Gonzo didn't create an original 5.1 mix for it so the Japanese language track is in stereo encoded at 192kbps while the English language mix is in 5.1 encoded at 448kbps. The Japanese track is solid, though you can see it having more impact with a 5.1 mix and additional bass, and the English language mix does provide some of this but still has to work with the source materials. Both languages are very sharp and clear though the English language feels a bit louder and more defined. The stereo track works well and has plenty of placement and directionality across it which makes out better in the English language as well. We didn't have any issues with dropouts or distortions during regular playback of either language track.

Video:
Originally airing throughout 2009, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. This release has twelve episodes spread across two volumes in a six/six format, with just under two and a half hours per disc. The series looks quite good here with vibrant animation that has a lot of movement to it. The action scenes are where the show shines a lot as the battles are very fast paced at times and the flow of the animation is strong with no breakup or blocking to it. There are a few scenes that don’t fare as well, where the deep blues of the underwater have more noise than anywhere else, but they’re few and far between to begin with. Cross coloration is non-existent and there’s very little to notice when it comes to line noise during panning sequences. Colors are generally very strong and solid with only some noisy sections in backgrounds here and there scattered across the twelve episodes.

Packaging:
Linebarrels of Iron has the same approach as most other collections from FUNimation with a slipcover that holds two clear thinpak cases inside, essentially taking up the space of one regular keepcase but providing for a lot of artwork and a better feel for the price. The front cover looks good as it features Kouichi looking very serious and dark as the champion of justice while Emi is to his side. The background has a cross section of black and white with a red strip through it to add a bit more color and continuity as it sits behind a darkened image of the Linebarrel itself. It’s a surprisingly dark cover for a show that you don’t expect to be quite so dark but it sets the mood well for the first few episodes. The back cover continues this slightly angled look with the black and white while introducing several shots from the show along the top at a different angle. These look quite good, showing off both action and character shots, as well as the episode and disc count along with all the extras. The text below it is kept horizontal which is a plus and it’s intriguing that they start off by noting the directors Pokemon origins for this show, which really is a good idea as it changes what you think it may be like. The summary covers everything well and I like the tagline of “Everything you never wanted in a hero.” The technical information is kept along the bottom of the back cover which is welcome and the information is clean and clear – if small – and is accurate.

Inside the slipcover we get a pair of good looking thinpaks with solid artwork to each of them. The first volume features Kouichi and Emi together inside the Linebarrel, though we mostly just get the character artwork set against the red, black and white background design that’s really quite appealing. The second volume pulls out a side by side shot of Reiji and Satoru together with serious looks which contrasts the action expressions we see on the other cover. The back covers are laid out the same with the black, red and white layouts that uses different mecha done in black and white against the red backdrop. Episode numbers and titles are presented here along with an accurate listing of which extras are on that particular disc. Each disc has a reverse side piece of cover artwork, where the left background has a shadowed mecha in black and gray while the right side features different character artwork, one of them being the twins and the other showing off Miu and Rachel to good effect. No show related inserts are included in this release.

Menu:
The menus are appealing, though I’m not sure the artwork choices are the best for it. The layout does a sideways piece with the background design that uses the black, red and gray layout to give off a mechanical/industrial feeling with the cold colors. The volume number is given a large bit of space in the middle next to the four navigation selections which is just to the left of the character artwork, with the second volume using the reverse side artwork from the first thinpak and the second volume doing the reverse. The logo looks good, though a bit soft on some displays, and there’s a good action piece of instrumental music that plays for about a minute before looping again. The layout and navigation works well but the character art just doesn’t click or set the mood right. Submenus load quickly and navigation is smooth and easy.

Extras:
The extras are split across both volumes and there’s a nice amount of them included here, something we don’t see all too often anymore. The first volume offers up an English language commentary for episode six as well as a nearly four minute music video. The second volume has the welcome standard in the clean opening and closing sequence but they also include the nearly two minute promotional video – which heavily pushes the Ali Project music – as well as over a minute of the original Japanese TV spots from before its premiere.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga series that's still ongoing by Eiichi Shimizu and Tomohiro Shimoguchi, Linebarrels of Iron is a twenty-four episode series from Gonzo that definitely fits in with the kinds of shows they often do. In some ways, the series starts off by potentially offering the viewer a series that breaks out of the norm and might offer something really engaging. But as it gets to just before the halfway mark of this set, it shifts gears and falls into more traditional male wish fulfillment material. Rather well done material overall that's more fun than I thought it would be, but it missed the boat in offering something more compelling.

The premise, as explored over a good part of this set, is that there is a parallel dimension where events have shifted slightly compared to events in our world. The ideology of that world is as yet unclear, but there is a definite invasion taking place as a group known as the Katou Organization has set up in our dimension under a man named Hisataka Katou. Katou has brought a lot of people from this dimension to his side as well as a couple that he brought over with him for the mission. Katou's mission hasn't gone completely as planned as he had two people in his organization that came over with him defect and fight against him. Katou's group uses large mecha named Armas which are skinny but effective machines that easily cause a lot of trouble.

On the flip side, the JUDA group is set up to deal with Katou and his people under the auspices of the UN and various governments. JUDA has a public face as the most successful medical corporation in the world but underneath they have a growing force to combat Katou with their Machina's, which are a variant of the powerful mecha used in the other dimension known as Linebarrels. The Machina's aren't as powerful so the JUDA folks need a Linebarrel to help fight off  Katou and his Armas. One of the defectors, a professor named Kizaki, has sent his daughter along with a Linebarrel across the dimensions and she's now landed in Japan.

That landing didn't go well though as the powerful mecha essentially crashed down on a middle school student named Kouichi Hayase. Kouichi has something of a victim mentality as he's regularly beaten up by other students and finds himself being defended often by his friend Yajima. His death, which gives him the ability to pilot the Linebarrel, empowers him to serve as the champion of justice that he's always envisioned himself to be. With the help of Kizaki's daughter Emi who came across with the Linebarrel, Kouichi takes to the role and doles out a beating against the Katou Armas that come to try and take away the Linebarrel. There's a fair bit of action and a lot of devastation along the way as little concern is given over to the locations they fight in or civilians who get caught up in all of it.

It's in these first four or so episodes that Linebarrel of Iron has real potential to stake out some fascinating ground. Kouichi has a lot of issues because of how he's had to live, being used and abused by stronger boys in his life all while having the belief that one day they'll understand just how important he is because he's righteous. When he gains all of this power, which transfer to him in his real life as well as helping him to heal easily, Kouichi takes the role of a champion of justice too seriously and metes it out to all of those who have given him grief over the years. In fact, he takes it so seriously that his friends no longer recognize who he is and he's ready to cast them off. His relationship with Yajima is the most fascinating as both of them realize things about themselves as it plays out.

The potential here that really got me intrigued is that everything was so perfectly set up in that Kouichi could be the villain of the series. He's not acting evil, but his methods and his lack of really thinking of the consequences pushes him in some dark directions where people are dying around him but he doesn't notice – nor is he ever held accountable for it. When we get to explore his feelings over what he's been through, and how he's viewed Yajima because of it and as Yajima really understands it, Kouichi faces that moment of truth that would be either the birth of a really solid villain or the beginning of a redemption for a champion of justice. Someday I'll get the kind of series I hope for...

Linebarrels of Iron does run through a lot of familiar material at times, such as a Christmas based episode that gets interrupted by a battle and there's another that has an island retreat for everyone. What's really engaging about this show is the ties that bind the characters, especially in the chief of JUDA which has a strong connection with Katou that's slowly being exposed. With the mixture of people who have crossed over from the other dimension as well, it gives a different perspective on how things might work and what Katou is really after. Sadly, his ideology isn't really explored here yet so we aren't sure what his driving force is outside of actually just conquering this world, or saving it as he seems to indicate that he's doing. But in the end, so many seeds are planted here that the potential is strong since it looks like it's going to take a few more chances than other shows, especially when you see what seem like primary characters dying.

In Summary:
Linebarrels of Iron is a fairly predictable show about a young man who gains incredible power – and a giant robot – who has to discover what it is that he's really fighting for as the entire Earth is threatened. Gonzo has some strong animation design here – especially with the characters as they manage to not make any of the women look inhuman with their chests – along with solid mecha designs and a concept for the story that works really well. The series has a lot of hallmarks of a shounen show of this style but it's the execution overall that makes it succeed. Kouichi isn't a likable character throughout a lot of this but the story concept itself is one that's always fascinated me with parallel worlds and invading forces. This set has a few minor missteps but it left me wanting to see the second half as soon as possible to see if we really get to find out the motivation for everything.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing, Commentary for Episode 6, Japanese TV Spots, Music Video, Promotional Video

Review Equipment

Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.



Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: A
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B
Age Rating: 17 and Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.
MSRP: 59.98
Running time: 300
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Linebarrels of Iron