Overman King Gainer Vol. #1 (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Thursday, February 03, 2005
Release Date: Tuesday, February 22, 2005

What They Say
In the distant future, mankind is forced to live in domed cities called Domepolis after an environmental cataclysm ravages the Earth's surface. These cities are maintained and supplied by private corporations, but at what cost to the inhabitants living within them? In a Siberian Domepolis, virtual game champion Gainer Sanga is arrested on suspicion of "Exodus", an unauthorized venture beyond the dome walls and strictly prohibited by the government, but why? In prison, he meets Gain Bijou, a mercenary bent on escaping and together the two will lead an Exodus out of the city to a vaunted land known only as Yapan.

The Review!
Tomino returns with his latest non-Gundam series and while it's just as diverse as any of his past shows, it becomes much more accessible much more quickly than one would expect.

For our primary viewing session, we listened to this series in its original language of Japanese. The series stereo mix is very well done with a lot of directionality throughout it for both dialogue and action effects that go both across the soundstage as well as some good depth areas as things come from the background to the foreground. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and while listening to both language tracks we had no problems with dropouts or distortions.

Originally airing in 2002, the transfer for this series is presented in its original widescreen aspect ration of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The series has such a mix of colors and a lot of focus on whites that it's a pretty vibrant visual experience that comes across very good here. The print maintains a very solid feel with all of these wide swathes of colors as well as avoiding any real gradient issues as well. Some of the areas are intentionally soft and look good without becoming pixellated and overall this is a really good looking transfer that's free of problems. Being produced by Sunrise, the opening and closing segments are fully translated instead of retaining the original Japanese text.

Using the same artwork as the first Japanese release, we get a dark and busy image that has a couple of the leads along the bottom overshadowed by the series logo while above the Overmen are rampaging throughout the self-contained city. It's heavy on the dark colors and browns with very little to really latch onto but the brighter colors of the logo. The back cover continues the brown tones but looks a bit better with more shots from the show here that add color plus all the additional text for the summary and production information. The discs technical specs and features are scattered in a couple of different areas and not all of it is quick and easy to find but it's there. With this release, Bandai does something new that I hope they do more of and that's using the reverse side for all of their insert information. The left panel has some headshots of characters as well as the original staff credits and a Japanese cast credit list while the right panel provides a summary breakdown for each episode plus shots from the show lined next to it. Even nicer is that it's all in full color and not black and white. While this does remove reversible covers, it's something that I like how it's done.

The menu layout is nicely in-theme for the show with a design looking out from inside the King Gainer cockpit. The control panel has the discs navigation selections while the viewscreen has action clips from the show playing throughout it while some of the action oriented instrumental music plays along. The layout is nicely done and has the added bonus of loading quick and being easy to navigate, though I miss having instant episode access at the top level. Language selection continues to be prickly though as once you make the selections there isn't anything that indicates what the show is set at. Access times are nice and fast and the disc did read our players' language presets correctly.

A few extras are included on the first volume but not that much. In addition to a basic line art gallery, we get three promotional spots for the series prior to its airing.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
In the minds of many, equating Gundam with Tomino is very easily done, though if you've mostly just followed the alternate universe series you may not fall into that line of thought. With most of the Tomino based Gundam series, it often takes quite a bit of time before his works really reveal their intent and direction, sometimes upwards of twenty episodes before you really feel he's getting into the groove of the story he wants to tell. This was also evident in Aura Battler Dunbine and to a lesser extent with Brain Powered. There's a creative visionary expression going on in many of these things Tomino's style is one that isn't quickly or easily digested.

It's not that he's holding out on details, but the details tend to be unimportant to him at first. The first thing you're supposed to do when you watch a show from him is to get into the sense of urgency that the characters feel and the way events suddenly rush them along into new worlds. Almost every series is like that in that it grabs someone and just throws them into the winds to something new and life changing. As the series progress, more details about the world is revealed and the various backgrounds that push events, but it's always that chaotic wind that runs through the shows that everything is focused on. For better or worse, it makes watching things he works on challenging in a few ways.

Overman King Gainer kicks things off in just such a way. We're quickly introduced to a young man named Gainer who is the currently champ at one of the battle games currently running who has scored his 200th straight victory and is now named King Gainer for it. At the same time, we see a somewhat disheveled man coming in from the cold wastelands to the Domepolis but he's quickly arrested as his last place of residence is from a Domepolis that hasn't existed for two years. While this man named Gain knows exactly why he's being thrown in jail, Gainer is surprised when the Siberian Rail Patrol comes to claim him at school and throws him into the same jail and accuse him of being involved in an Exodus plot.

What we learn quickly is that the world has changed in the relative near future in that mankind has depleted much of what resources the planet has had so in order to help it survive, mankind has removed much of their footprint bring sealing themselves into massive Domepolis cities. Each of them seem to be run differently and the one we're introduced to here is run by a mixture of royalty as well as the Rail Patrol. While most people are seemingly happy living inside the domed cities and going about their lives while the planet heals, there are those that have taken to the idea that things are already better out there and they plan Exodus events in order to get to these better areas. Citizens within the various towns inside the Domepolis work in conjunction with Exodus Specialists who manage the event so that the people who want to leave can do so with the best chance of survival.

A good chunk of this city is ready to move as we learn from Gain who is apparently an Exodus Specialist. Realizing how much trouble he's in, Gainer takes advantage of Gain and escapes from jail with him and the two end up going through a very fast series of events that leads to them hijacking an Overman and other mechanicals from the royals while the dome itself starts to undergo a change. Occurring in sectional pieces, large chunks of the dome basically starts to split off and are pulled along by a carrier vehicle at the front. Something like eighteen massive pieces all strung together start making their way away from the dome and off to the place of Yapan where they'll start their lives anew and free of the dome. While all of this is happening, Gain and Gainer work together to fight off the SR Patrol folks in their own mechanicals and Overmen, buying time for the Exodus folks to escape.

Initially, this was a difficult concept to grasp because the visuals for the opening episode or two don't show the exterior of the Domepolis at all nor the pieces that are leaving in any large detail so the big picture of what's going on is very unclear and difficult to gauge. Much of the focus is given to the fights between Gainer, who in the powerful Overman mechanical, is able to fend off the SR attacks due to its heightened powers and abilities which place it higher than most of the regular mechanicals. The concept of the Overman isn't too difficult to latch onto, though each of the various Overmen that we come across in the series are wildly designed and very creative looking, especially in comparison to the more utilitarian mechanicals that serve as grunts and basic defense cannons.

Once the Exodus starts to get further away from the Domepolis, the frenetic nature of the first two episodes slows down a bit and we're able to see more of the big picture, such as seeing these massive city units being strung together and hauled overland to some place new far away. The troubles of doing such a journey start to become a bit more of the focus as does the continual attacks by the SR Patrol who are trying to stop the Exodus and bring back parts of the city. The SR Patrol side of things is very amusing and interestingly set up. Lead by Yassaba, he's an older and more grizzled kind of pilot who handles an Overman that can stop time in various instances. Those under him are an amusing mix of people who either are completely afraid of him or start to make fun of him after Gainer starts handing him his ass in battle. One of the best characters in the SR Patrol though is Adette, a sexy blonde who doesn't mind skimpy outfits since she can back it up with a lot of intelligence, skill at combat and being a rather good spy.

As the show starts to focus more on the Exodus journey itself, the characters on board these units become the main show and it's a very interesting and varied cast as one would expect. From the "abducted" princess from the royal family from when Gainer was stealing the Overman to Gainer's classmate Sara whom he is clearly and openly in love with, everyone has their own agenda it seems but they're all positive about where they're going. One of the more amusing characters is a young woman named Lioubov who was the young princess' guardian. Since she lost her charge, she's made it her mission to negotiate her release from the Exodus but she's having a hard enough time just making her way through the various units to try and deal with Gain.

Overman King Gainer has a very strange but compelling sense of style to itself that's very evident right from the start. With similarities to previous opening sequences, it's a bold and bright vibrant piece that doesn't exactly make complete sense. There aren't any flying naked women here like Brain Powered, but a good chunk of it has the various characters doing line dancing bits, the Overman and other mechanicals included. There are some beautiful visual moments here though that just won me over from the first time I saw them, such as the dancing between Gainer and Sara as well as their ice-skating moments. One of the most telling moments is when the waving between the two sides begin in a very theatrical/musical sense since it's reminiscent of the early Gundam opening, as is other instances in it. There is just something insanely catchy about the opening that I didn't skip it once here.

The character designs in the series as well as the designs of the Overman are just great. I love the character designs for most of the characters as they're very expressive and there's no chance of confusing any of the characters with someone else. Other than an amusing hairstyle or two, these characters are very well done. I like the simple style and line work applied to Gainer and Sara while Gain gets a rougher and more detailed approach. Adette herself is very well detailed and curved and she makes good use of wearing a wide range of outfits in these early episodes to show how she can blend into things. I was even liking Yassaba's design with its heavy lines in his face and his almost over the top facial expressions in battle. The Overman are much the same as they're vibrant pieces that have little resemblance to most other things that have come out in recent years. Though the Gainer itself will certainly get some jokes about its dreadlocks, it at least looks wildly different than a lot of other standard "mobile suits" that are created.

In Summary:
In the last couple of years I've managed to see a fair amount of Tomino's works and I always approach each of them with a sense of dread, particularly after Brain Powered. Though his works always seem to capture me in the end, even if they fail spectacularly like that series did, there are generally such interesting ideas and presentations within that make it worthwhile. With Overman King Gainer, Tomino's been able to produce something that is far more accessible much earlier than his other works. While I still expect a lot of changes and things to not go smoothly, the opening five episodes of Overman King Gainer proved to be visually exciting and with characters and situations that just engaged easily and quickly.

Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Lineart Gallery,Promotional Clips

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI with upconversion set to 720p, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

Mania Grade: B
Audio Rating: B+
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: 29.98
Running time: 125
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Overman King Gainer