Armored Trooper Votoms Series Overview (of 1) (Mania.com)

Review Date: Monday, December 31, 2001
Release Date: Tuesday, July 17, 2001



What They Say
This review covers the entire 16 volume series of Armored Trooper Votoms. Reviews are also available for each of the individual volumes by other reviewers.

The Review!
Audio
Being an older show, this is entirely in mono and blasts quite solidly through the centre channel. Reproduction is excellent, with no cracks or pops noticable. Very loud segments, especially voice, do seem to clip a bit but otherwise there are no problems apparent. Dynamic range is acceptable although by no means very wide. The lack of a dub track will, of course, annoy many people and impacts the overall grade.

Video
Although certainly not a Macross-level full restoration, this still looks very good for a show from 1983. Colours are solid and vibrant for the most part and the encoding job is reasonable. There are some points where a colour will suddenly change from one frame to the next, not altogether uncommon in older series. Occasionally there will be some minor blocking in large blue areas. Most noticable, though, is the fairly large number of nicks and scratches. Overall pretty impressive and while it's still obviously an older source, the video never detracts from the experience and some bits still look very good. The use of hard subs rather than DVD subs does knock the grade down from what would otherwise be a solid B.

Packaging
Some may hate NuTech's cases, but I find them generally acceptable. The hub design is quite good, with a two-piece locking mechanism similar to Amaray's in overall idea although not in execution. It holds and releases the disc fairly well: all 16 of my discs were shipped US Media Mail and none came loose. Unfortuanately everything else is very flimsy: the hub itself feels like it might not be in for the long haul, the case is made of thin plastic that I could easily tear if careless, and the boxes used for the box sets are razor-thin cardboard. The flimsy casing encloses some fairly good artwork which gives a good idea of the show, and the four DVD's in each box form a spine scene (barely visible through the crowded text).

Menu
Menus are clean, well-designed, the cursor moves quickly from one selection to the other, and actually making a choice results in a prolonged annoying beeping before any response. The menu audio is also mixed WAY above the volume of the show, prompting a quick dive for the remote when putting the next disc in.

Extras
This submenu appears very full when first selected, and there's certainly a lot here. Unfortunately it's not all terribly worthwhile. Absent are the traditional creditless opening and ending. Trailers are listed in the menu, but require flipping the disc to reveal--well, mostly Votoms trailers. The real meat shows up in the "Votoms guide" sections. These consist of a couple of sections: mecha guide, episode guide, character guide, and world guide. These do spoil the contents of the disc they're on, and in fact disc 1 could be considered to spoil disc 13. I'd suggest checking these out after watching the series. Mecha and character guides are sketches with references to what each mech and character did on this disc, and the episode guide provides a basic plot summary. The world guide, however, digs into more detail on the events of the series and the background, explaining a bit more than is described in the episodes. I don't know the source of this material (whether it's from the hand of creator Ryosuke Takahashi or was invented by NuTech or CPM), but either way it is interesting stuff.

Content
I picked this up expecting something along the lines of Gasaraki. In a sense, that's true. Votoms obviously provided grist for a Gasaraki and many other series: the realistic mecha drama of Gasaraki, the movement disc of Patlabor, even the dummy plug system of Eva, all draw from this show. At the same time, though, Votoms is a much less polished and less satisfying work, for reasons that are hard to target.

"Conspiracy drama" would be the label that's easiest to slap on Votoms, and it certainly fits. The first episode opens with Chirico Cuvie discovering something that he probably shouldn't, and embarking on a quest to find out exactly what it means, with essentially the whole world on his tail. Oh, and there is a pretty girl involved, too.

Unfortunately it just doesn't quite pull together. Slower-paced dramas like Votoms only really work if a tension is maintained throughout--otherwise the audience is left wishing for the next plot point instead of enjoying the current one. The single biggest flaw is that revelations are telegraphed far in advance. As a viewer, you can usually stay at least two episodes ahead of Chirico in his quest of discovery, so unveiling bits of the mystery just don't impact you. It's nice that Chirico finally figured something out, but since the audience knew an hour ago there's no sense of wonder. Parts aren't quite so bad, but on the whole foreshadowing feels clumsy and ham-handed rather than subtle. Slightly over half of the mysteries in the show are given away before they are ripe; the rest are satisfyingly hinted at and unveiled at the proper time.

The series also feels quite simply too long. A lot happens which doesn't advance the plot or characterization. Some episodes which should be character-building spin in circles and it's only later that it becomes apparent what the point of the whole exercise was. Honestly characterization across the board is, again, wooden and awkward. To understand the characters the viewer is forced to play games, trying to figure out what the writers intended to portray rather than what they actually did. Actual sympathy with any character is very rare. Even Chirico, who develops significantly throughout the series, actually changes very little and the secondary characters have to describe how he's grown, rather than letting the viewer see.

Perhaps the most mixed bag of all is the action scenes. Again these alternate between tantalizingly good and agonizingly bad. Animation is never as fluid as in a modern series, of course. Within those limitations, some sequences are tense, full of motion, and tactically inventive. The explosions are always big and bright, and Votoms makes heavy use of particles and general debris giving a unique look to its destruction. Unfortunately many battles, especially as the series progresses, consist of the old standby of lining up the armies to stand still and shoot at each other. The good guys don't win by virtue of moving faster or aiming better or even getting hit less often; they win because somebody's fudging their die rolls. One hit destroys an enemy, but Chirico can take hundreds. He stands still and his opponent misses; his opponent moves all over and is taken down with the first shot. There's just no tension. To a certain extent this plays into the plot, but for the most part it's just ridiculous.

I've been awfully hard on Votoms, and it's certainly not all bad. The plot's interesting; although slightly derivative, it's largely original and certainly put together in a way that even now seems fairly fresh. The last few episodes keep you guessing and involved. It's just too bad there was so much pointless messing around between the start and the finish.

NuTech drives in the final nail with the release format: 16 discs at $30 each is a LOT of money for a show 18 years old. Even the boxsets add up to $400. Using last year's new-show release format for a very old back catalog title doesn't sit well. The hardsubs and lack of a dub track drive the value down even further. Although I've said before that there are no ripoffs in Region 1 anime, this is about as close as it comes. Keep your eyes open for specials to make the series affordable.
This is a poor value for the casual fan, although die-hard mecha or conspiracy fans will find something to enjoy.

Features
Japanese Language,English Subtitles

Review Equipment
Review Equipment:
Apex AD-600A player, Acoustic Research component cables, Samsung TSL2793HF progressive TV, Pioneer VSX-509S receiver (via coax digital), random speakers



Mania Grade: B-
Audio Rating: B
Video Rating: B-
Packaging Rating: B-
Menus Rating: B-
Extras Rating: B+
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: NuTech Digital, Inc.
MSRP: 29.99
Running time: 100/75@
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Votoms, Armor Trooper