DICE Vol. #1 (also w/toy) (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:J.J. Matthews
Review Date: Friday, July 22, 2005
Release Date: Tuesday, June 14, 2005



What They Say
A Galaxy Full of Adventure!
The Sarbyllion Galaxy can be a dangerous and troubling place. But when people get into trouble, there's one name they know to call - DICE! This heroic organization will dispatch a highly-trained team to solve any problem. One such group is the F-99 Fortress. Captain Tak, along with ace pilots Marco, Robert, and the fiery Jet, will take on any task, no matter how dangerous. Working with their incredible transformable Dinobreakers, they can do anything! Saving trapped workers, battling space pirates, and even fighting the forces of nature - it's all in a day's work for DICE!

Join Jet and the rest of the members of DICE Fortress F-99 on their adventures throughout the galaxy.

The Review!
Audio:
Being that DICE was made primarily for the USA, the only language available is English and no subtitle options are provided. The audio is recorded in Dolby Digital Stereo and is generally clean and suits the action onscreen. Dialogue is mostly clear throughout, though a few times I caught myself wanting to re-listen to a word or two. Music and sound effects are used liberally and somewhat effectively in the episodes, just in case the viewer somehow doesn’t understand the simple plots and action sequences on-screen. Music and sound effects are also clean and clear. No distortion or other technical anomalies were noted.

Video:
This anime is presented in standard NTSC full frame format. The animation is just slightly better than mediocre, at times exhibiting a slight jitter effect where not enough frames were used to convey completely smooth motion. Many of the vehicles (especially in space scenes) are very obviously CG renders edited into the more traditional looking animated scenes. The video itself is clean and I didn’t notice any defects besides a noticeable pause during the DVD layer change. Colors are very bright and saturated. The video exhibits little aliasing and is surprisingly good quality for a series produced for children 7-12 years old.

Packaging:
The packaging is pretty nice for a children’s anime. The standard plastic keep case comes inside a sturdy cardboard sleeve with nice action poses of the main characters. The case would certainly attract the attention of the target audience. No volume number is provided, but episode titles are listed and numbered clearly on the back cover.


Menu:
DICE has a simple menu system. The main menu navigation style is a straight forward, vertical list at the left of the screen. The following menu items are present: Play All, Episode 1 – Episode 5, Credits and Extra. There is a nice sized frame on the main menu that plays the series' entire opening animation, including theme song. Each episode is divided into four chapters: the beginning of the opening credits, two stops within the episode, and the start of the ending credits. The menus are simple, easy to use and function well.

Extras:
There is only one extra included on the DVD. The extra is a segment about 45 seconds long, consisting of several clips of game play from the PS2 game of the same name. It gives an impression of having been thrown together hastily and slapped onto the DVD, as there's no context given for the clips beyond a brief splash screen at the end with a "Coming Soon" message.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
D.I.C.E. was not a program I'd heard of before viewing this DVD, but doing a little research, I found out that it is a Bandai series created for the North American market and currently airing at 6 AM Saturday mornings on the Cartoon Network. If you didn't realize it before, this is a pretty good clue that D.I.C.E. is targeted primarily to elementary schoolchildren. You're not getting a deep story or complex characterization here. You are getting straightforward plots that showcase a variety of neat gadgets and transforming robots (on sale now at your local toy retailer!), as well as plenty of action sequences that segue easily into a video game format (coming this fall to a PS2 near you!).

With that in mind, I set my expectations back by a few decades and found that I actually quite enjoyed my time with this series! It doesn't do anything particularly new or different, but it's entertaining enough.

The basic premise of the series focuses on a group of teenagers who form Unit F-99, a single team within the larger organization of D.I.C.E. (DNA Integrated Cybernetic Enterprises). D.I.C.E. is the Sarbyllian galaxy's all-purpose problem solving agency, coming to the rescue for every manner of planetary emergency. Teams go into action using special vehicles, called "dino-breakers", which transform from standard vehicles into dinosaur-themed variants in emergencies.

The action is primarily led by Jet Siegel, the "young hothead" of the crew who pilots a "motoraptor" - a motorcycle that transforms into a velociraptor. He is often accompanied by Robert Clapice, a more level-headed, charismatic type whose "hoverptera" provides aerial combat capabilities. The other two main mission personnel are Marco, a frequent complainer whose vehicle burrows underground, and Sam, the techie-geek of the group. Rounding out the team and providing backup support from the F-99 home base are Tak Carter, the captain of the team, Puffy Angel, a computer technician, Chao, the pilot of the F-99 fortress that serves as their home base on each world, and Marsha, who seems to be Tak's second-in-command.

Each episode in this volume follows a familiar pattern, starting with a quick introduction to the crisis-of-the-week:



In each episode, the F-99 crew is dispatched to help, a plan is formulated, and we get a stock transformation sequence as Jet and his teammates don powered suits of armor and head out on their vehicles. Complications eventually arise, requiring the vehicles to transform into their dino-forms. The problem is resolved and everyone lives happily ever after.

I'm probably making this sound pretty hokey, and truth be told, it can be. The silliness of the dialogue in some places had us rolling on the floor. Some of these spots were probably intentional (the pre-flight check of the experimental ship consists of: "All-in-one check? Check!") Others, however, were just plain silly ("You're in the clear, 'cause D.I.C.E. is here!") In particular, we got a huge kick out of the invented catch-phrases used by the team. To don their suits of armor, the kids activate a hand-held device and yell "Gild up!" To transform their dino-breakers, the keyword is "Libertize!" And, inexplicably, the phrase "G.T.R!" is used as an all-purpose affirmative response in place of "OK", "Yes, sir.", etc.

All that being said, I have to admit that I quite enjoyed these episodes. I was a big fan of cartoons with a team dynamic when I was growing up (Voltron, Thundercats, M.A.S.K., etc.) and D.I.C.E. was a nice flashback to that style of storytelling. The characters are all quite likeable and competent, working together believably as a unit despite their ages. (I liked Robert and Puffy, in particular.) Although the flow of the episodes is quite predictable, there is enough variety in the obstacles faced to keep the episodes from being *TOO* cookie-cutter. This is helped by a few recurring elements that gave me some hope that the story will have a bit more of an arc as it goes along: a mysterious "Phantom Knight" appears a few times to challenge Jet in the middle of his missions, an incompetent comic-relief squad called "B-DICE" pops in to cause trouble occasionally - and most intriguingly, several mentions are made of a "Great Lord" Heron that led me to believe we'll be hearing more about this "great lord" in the future.


In Summary:
It's doubtful whether anyone over the age of about twelve will really be interested in this series, but if you're buying for an elementary schooler, D.I.C.E. may provide a nice change of pace from the "Gotta catch 'em all" combat series of the Pokemon/YugiOh genre. And if you're an older fogey interested in reliving the feel of childhood cartoons, at least give this a try on Saturday mornings. It's a fun little show, and I enjoyed it much more than I expected to.

Features
English 2.0 Language,Video game clip extra

Review Equipment
Marantz DV4300 Progressive scan DVD player via HD component connection, Marantz VP-12S3 DVI/Component HD DLP Projector, 110” 16:9 Stewart FireHawk Fixed Wall Mount Screen, Marantz SR9300 7.1 A/V Receiver 140 watts/discrete channel (7), DTS/DTS-ES/DTS Neo: 6, DD, D-PLII THX Certified 7.1 speaker system



Mania Grade: B-
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: C-
Age Rating: 3 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Bandai Entertainment
MSRP: 14.98/19.98
Running time: 125
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: DICE