Brain Powered Vol. #1 (of 3) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Tuesday, May 14, 2002
Release Date: Tuesday, May 21, 2002



What They Say
Hime, a seemingly normal girl, has her life forever changed when she witnesses the birth of an antibody (a type of mecha) and becomes its pilot. A new life full of danger, excitement, and intrigue awaits. But is that what she wants?

Created by Yoshiyuki Tomino (Gundam) and animated by Sunrise (Gundam, Cowboy Bebop, Big O).

A two DVD set with over 3.5 hours of content!

Contains 9 full episodes!

The Review!
During its original VHS release, Brain Powered’s dub was dropped while the subtitled version finished out fairly quickly. Bandai’s finally gone back and finished the dub and put out the first nine episodes in one rather nicely priced collection. But is it worth checking out?

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this disc in its original language of Japanese. Only a few years old, the show features a very good pro-logic soundtrack that makes great use of the rear channels when it comes to the music. Dialogue doesn’t get much sent to the rears beyond a few lines here and there, but is well used along the forward soundstage providing some solid directionality at times.

Video:
Originally airing in 1998 on WOWOW, the show features some solid animation to it. The shows colors are bright and vivid and things such as skylines and water sequences are nicely layered. The transfer brings all of this out quite well. The only problem we really ran into it over the course of the nine episodes (five on disc one, four on disc 2) is some cross coloration that shows up. It’s not massively all over the place and is generally limited to some really tight line work or around the edges of characters hair, but it’s not constant like some other shows.

Packaging:
This double disc set comes in a single Amaray keepcase with a flipppy hinge installed in it, giving enough room for both discs to fit snugly while only taking up one slot on the shelf. The front cover features a nice if not terribly inspiring shot of Hime along with one of the Brain’s in the background, landing outside a rural house. The back cover features a number of screenshots and the basic information on what’s on the disc. There’s a nice summary and the usual production information. The insert features the same artwork from the cover while it folds out to give a really good summary of the events leading UP to the show. This is practically required reading otherwise things don’t make a whole lot of sense. The back of the insert has all the production information and the cast listings for both languages.

Menu:
The main menu for both discs uses a piece from the opening animation with the CG DNA animation combining together with pieces of the shows animation floating out underneath the simple menu selections. There’s not much to these discs other than the show, so the menus are nice and basic.

Extras:
The only extras included on the second disc of this release is the textless opening and ending sequences. I’m really glad these are here since they let me take the visuals in with the music, and with the opening having a dozen or so naked women floating around, you want to take in the visuals.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Generally speaking, you mostly hear only bad things said about Brain Powered. A lot of this stems from the creator, Tomino, hyping the show as being better than Evangelion and other sorts of adjectives. The fact that the dub was dropped after something like four or five episodes didn’t help its image either early on and the problems the VHS versions suffered with editing only made it worse.

With this release, we’ve basically got what the Japanese saw on satellite, as the transfer used here has the original Japanese credits for the opening and ending sequences and everything is done with soft subtitles. So getting into that frame of mind and tossing out all the things I’d heard about it, I went into it fresh and curious to see what it was all about.

After the first disc, I had to wonder just what the hell was going on. Frankly, after the first episode, I had no clue. That’s not necessarily bad, but after five episodes I usually like to have some idea of what’s going on. After the second disc, things are starting to clear up some, but there’s a ton still unanswered that should be answered during the first nine episodes. Things that are explained in the insert, which is where we learn about how the world change to bring about the situation we find in the first episode.

The show opens with us following the teenaged girl Hime as she tries to usher several younger children out of a ruined section of what is presumably Tokyo of the relatively near future. While she’s doing this, we’re introduced to Yuu, a teenaged boy whose flying an organic looking robot and chasing something called a Plate, a large silver disc that’s whisking through the air and slashing through buildings.

The Plate nearly kills Hime and the others, but ends up settling down near her. She gets close to it and it suddenly comes alive, and begins to form another of the organic robots on top of it. Apparently this is called a Brain Powered, whereas Yuu is flying a Grand Cher. Since the Brain saw Hime first, it’s taken an affection to her and she’s essentially the only one who can become its pilot as they strike up a bond. Yuu is surprised by all of this and though the two briefly clash, he ends up heading back to his home base.

Yuu’s home base is Orphan, a mysterious thing never fully explained where his parents apparently discovered it years ago. They’ve worked on it as an organic source of energy as it consumes what it finds around it. There’s mention of it being from space and that when it rises from the sea and into the surface, the entire world will be dead and all living things will be no more. Those working on it are dedicated to this cause, regardless of the chaos and tragedy that will ensue.

Flash forward a year later and Yuu has decided to swipe a Brain Powered from Orphan and fight against his parents and the plans of Orphan. He intends to do this by himself, but after several encounters ends up allying himself with the Novis Noah, a UN owned organically powered warship whose goal is to fight Orphan and the Grand Cher’s. The downside is that most people don’t really believe what Orphan is planning to do and considers it a joke, or at least we get that feeling from what little is said by the characters.

The show moves between discovering new plates and the creation of more Brains and Grand Cher’s and the changes in allegiance by several characters as both sides formalize their teams and their opposition to each other. There’s a lot of relationships that come into play as well with various people having connections that affect how their involvement in the battle goes.

As mentioned before, the simple lack of background on the world really affects how this show plays out. With it being so near-future oriented, not explaining the origins of Orphan in the show in the first nine episodes and throwing all of these phrases and technobabble at the viewer doesn’t help. It takes some time to get even an inkling on the relationship between a Brain or Grand Cher and their pilot. The robots aren’t really robots, but living creatures who are born as babies, and use their human to guide them into maturity as they grow and battle. The designs for these things are rather neat as you get into it and more are introduced, but they really suffer from having their cockpit be a crotch entry. This brings up all kinds of bad imagery throughout the episodes, especially when you have two of them in mid-air facing each other and you see the pilots pop out of the crotch to kiss each other. Bad sexual imagery.

What’s really amazing about this series is the music. Though Yoko Kanno tends to be a real fan favorite, many people have missed her music for this series, and it’s a shame. The music here is my all time favorite anime soundtrack, just edging out Please Save My Earth. It’s the kind of music where when listening to it throughout the show, you actually feel that the show doesn’t deserve to have it. The work here with the music is nothing short of stunning and is something that the pro-logic soundtrack really maximizes.

Brain Powered suffers from some very bad storytelling technique in trying to purposefully confuse the viewer by keeping necessary information to allow them to immerse themselves into the world. The pacing is strange at times and there’s just so much that makes little sense early on, it’s easy to see why so many people dropped it. It does improve, to the point where we were very interested to see what happens next, but I doubt we would have felt that way if this was done with the typical six or eight disc release, and certainly not the thirteen volumes that were originally planned for VHS.

The animation is good, the designs are fascinating for the Brains and Grand’s and the character animation has some nice qualities to it. Add in some gorgeous music and a confounding plot and you’ve got a real mixed bag. Those who stick it out might find something that nobody else will though, and I think it’ll develop itself a small cult following. I’m not quite there yet, but I’m intrigued after watching these nine episodes.

Features
Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Textless Opening & Ending

Review Equipment
Toshiba TW40X81 40" HDTV, Skyworth 1050P Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Sony speakers.



Mania Grade: B-
Audio Rating: A-
Video Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: B
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Bandai Entertainment
MSRP: 44.95
Running time: 225
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Brain Powered