Mars Daybreak Vol. #1 (also limited edition) (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Wednesday, September 07, 2005
Release Date: Tuesday, September 13, 2005



What They Say
Life on Mars is hard for those who live here. As the economy worsens, work becomes scarce and food becomes expensive and highly prized. Gram and his friends try to do the best they can but, he finds himself on the run with the most notorious pirates on Mars. The only problem is he soon starts to enjoy the adventure!

The Review!
The folks at BONES roll out their latest project with a rousing science-fiction adventure story on a water filled Mars.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The included stereo mix is a pretty standard one with a fair bit of directionality across the forward soundstage for things such as ships moving across through the water as well as various weapons. Dialogue gets a bit of directionality as well but it's otherwise a fairly standard solid mix with no real issues. We had no problems with dropouts or distortions on either language track during regular playback.

Video:
Originally airing in 2004, the transfer for this series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. Across a lot of their series, BONES has a certain look and feel to their works and it continues here with Mars Daybreak. While the level of CG interaction continues to go up in terms of meshing with the animation, the series in general has a very smooth and colorful look that's not overly vibrant but has a real life to it. Colors look great throughout and avoid blocking but there is a fair bit of gradient issues that come up with some of the CG sequences, particularly the ships. Aliasing and cross coloration are non-existent and the artwork in general has a very clean and smooth polished look to it that's well maintained. This is a good solid looking transfer overall.

Packaging:
The regular edition release of this volume is a good looking piece that has a very colorful if standard opening image of several of the main cast members together set against the ship and a lot of blue water in the background. It's a distinct enough piece due to the art style used and the character designs as well as just something that looks really clearly defined. It doesn't play up any heavy fanservice in terms of skin which is a nice plus. The back cover is tightly laid out with a lot of open space around it as the bulk of the text and images are kept to a central piece where there are several paragraphs of summary and four images showcasing the characters. The discs features are clearly listed and the bottom is rounded out by production information and very little useful technical information. No insert was included with this review copy.

In addition to the disc only release, a special limited edition release was also made. Similar to past tins, this one is designed with the same artwork as the keepcase while the character artwork and logo on the front is raised up. The back cover is the same as the keepcase with no raised material and the entire thing splits in half with no hinges in order to get at what's inside. What's inside is the keepcase as described above in shrinkwrap In addition to this, there's a magnet sheet that has the front cover artwork that can be popped out as well as a smaller magnet of everyone's favorite dolphin. As if this isn't enough we also get the first soundtrack to the show which is in a slim CD jewel case.

Menu:
The menus here are more animated than usual for Bandai as it moves around an underwater setting that has video panels down below and showcases clips from the show as explosions and other vehicles move by, all set to some of the choral style music that's from the show. Navigation is nicely done along the bottom and in submenus and is quick to access and load. The disc unfortunately did not read our players' language presets and played to a default of English language with sign/song subtitles.

Extras:
The only extras included in this volume are the textless versions of the opening and ending sequences.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Mars Daybreak is something of a very welcome title in that it provides a series for what used to be a staple of anime to something that's fallen in recent years; the space opera/adventure type show. With its science fiction setting and a general feel of something out of the old serials and Robin Hood nature, Mars Daybreak has plenty of background to provide interest in detail but plays up the adventure aspect more than anything else.

Taking place in the future where Mars has been colonized and has a lot of water running around the planet now, enough so that there is a lot of ice along the surface, humanity has been living in massive city-ships located around the planet. Mars was a thriving place with a huge running economy for some time as it was the source of water that was needed during a war in space that occurred for some time, but with the end of the war it's turned into an economic disaster as the bulk of the population is either out of work or just working poor. This is compounded by a leader who is seen as vastly ineffective and out of touch with what's going on who is more of a cheerleader for staying the course than anything else.

We're introduced to River Gram, a young man whose one of those hard working types that does the job and really doesn't complain about it when he knows it's not worth it. We're introduced to him as he learns that they've all just been fired from their latest job so he heads back with his young friend only to find that waiting for them is a trader who wants to drag them into a job that will pay a bit up front but is certainly illegal. Gram declines it but his friend goes for it since they need the money. The job, stealing from the government, goes badly when the military police show up and they find themselves under fire. Gram does his best to help his friend escape from the situation but the entire thing goes from bad to worse when the infamous Ship of the Aurora, a pirate ship of the Martian seas, smashes into the city-ship right where they are and it ends up sucking Gram out into the ocean.

At the same time we're introduced to Gram we're also introduced to Vestemona, a young woman in the military who has finished their basic training and have been assigned to Mars to hunt down and find the Ship of the Aurora using the cabled underwater mecha that they have. Vestemona's quite frustrated by the entire laid back nature of everyone she's encountered so far, from the way it took forever for equipment to show to the fact that it's not even set up yet. What she's finding though from the senior commanders there is that they feel that any newbie sent to Mars in order to find the most infamous of pirate ships is being sent there to just get some basic training and to learn how to lose since even the most experienced soldiers haven't had any luck. In other words, it's a wild goose chase as training. Vestemona doesn't believe in this and takes her mission seriously though just like any rookie would.

So when the Ship of the Aurora shows up in the same city-ship that they just arrived in, they're eager to head into battle. While that happens, we see Gram falling into the deep when his necklace begins to mysteriously glow and suddenly a giant mecha shows up that opens up its cockpit and lets him float into it just before he loses all oxygen. These mecha, called Round Bucklers or RB's, come in two flavors so far. One of them is like any standard mech in that it's big and humanoid and can pull off some really surprising maneuvers. The other is the cabled type in that a central command ship called the Seahorse has cables attached directly to the RB's for communication and presumably power and control as well. These guys have far less range and are more subject to the whims of their commanders.

Gram takes on the adventure of being a pilot of Round Buckler and finds himself joining on board the Ship of the Aurora and essentially leaving his life behind to do something like this. He goes through the usual kind of amusing initiation period which is having a sword fight with the gray haired older female captain who has a really fun attitude about things, dealing with the highly skilled cool pilot, the kid who wants to become a pilot and a generally varied crew. It's the varied nature that has some of the initial appeal. One of the characters is a dolphin who wears a water suit so he can participate in the adventure, there's a talking cat that seems to have some level of command and then there's the BALLS. These things are fun as they're basically two foot tall mechanical balls that have spider like legs that run around and do repairs and other things on the ships and in the city-ships in general. On boar the Aurora there's one they call Grandpa that's colored differently and has a cute face painted on it and has a matching attitude.

Over the first five episodes, the series is really focused more on getting into the adventure and playing up the characters. There are some connections that will become important as we see in a flashback that Vestemona, who is the adopted daughter of the most powerful company on Earth, used to be friends with Gram when they were both your basic street urchins on Mars. There's a general exploration of who makes up the crew on the ship as they go along and what motivates some of them but there's nothing truly wild our out there but rather fairly standard stuff. It plays out well enough but there isn't a real huge hook into the viewer yet for the show.

Depending on how you feel about BONES in general will determine how you feel about the animation in the show. I've really enjoyed their previous works and their slightly different style for things such as character designs and overall mechanical design but the hair designs are starting to look a little similar when it comes to the leads. But that's typically the worst I have to say about them so it's really rather petty. The animation here is quite good looking throughout and the designs overall are very nicely done with a lot of different looks to the cast, particularly Vestemona with the way she wears her hair. The designs and animation are all very slick and smooth but much more varied than what we got in Wolf's Rain and definitely much more polished than back in RahXephon.

In Summary:
What it does play up is the Robin Hood mentality and it's even mentioned as such in the dub at one point when the subtitles just talk about the nature of the pirates. The economic and social disparity on Mars is definitely a motivating factor for what's going on but it's really not clear how much of that, the previous war and the overall nature of other worlds will really play into it at this point. The one time that the lead character gets up to the surface, several satellites try to kill him with their laser weapons. That's a secure feeling. But in terms of being an adventure show that's just focused on the day to day things with interesting characters that have room to grow, this series has plenty of potential and works it well here.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Clean Opening,Clean Closing

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and 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: 29.95
Running time: 125
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Mars Daybreak