Mania Grade: B
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- Audio Rating: A
- Video Rating: A
- Packaging Rating: B+
- Menus Rating: A+
- Extras Rating: C
- Age Rating: 13 & Up
- Region: 1 - North America
- Released By: Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.
- MSRP: 29.99
- Running time: 60
- Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
- Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
- Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
- Series: Sol Bianca: The Legacy
Sol Bianca: The Legacy Vol. #2
By Joe McCulloch
February 18, 2002
Release Date: August 22, 2000
Back in the day there were dozens of generic anime videos floating around the video outlets of America (those that would carry them). In the early nineties, anime was not nearly as well known as it is now, and companies would latch onto any show that looked like it would interest the general populace in any way. Some (ok, most) of these shows boasted large quantities of gore, and even a smattering of nudity. Remember the "not-for-kids" sticker on Streamline releases? The promises of "extreme violence"? These shows tended to be fairly generic, but got the job done. One of those shows was Sol Bianca. Actually, it had no nudity and relatively little blood, but it was good pulpy action, with pretty women flying pretty ships and shooting pretty guns. It was b-anime, pure and true. Now it is the year 2000, and Sol Bianca has returned with a new, upper-crust look and feel. But does this new and improved apple fall far enough from the tree of mediocrity, now that we are halfway to the end?
First, let's get to the technical side of things. The packaging is nice, with some sexy drawings of Jani and Feb on the cover. The back is almost identical to vol. 1's. Also, there is a small insert with the chapter stops listed on it. Nothing revolutionary as far as single-page inserts go. The video is absolutely fantastic. No pixilation as far as I could tell. Some parts, especially on the disc's first episode, are very bright, but there is no loss in clarity and no bleeding at all. The sound is great as well. There is a lot of directional work going on, and everything comes through crisp and clear. Both 2.0 and 5.1 is available for both languages, both of which sound equally clear. A typically fine Pioneer job. More than typically fine are the menus. Unlike most series, which have one singular menu type for every disc, Sol Bianca is apparently going to have a new menu style every time. Personally, I like this one far more than vol. 1's. It is based on the user interface of Jani's new gun (more on that later). Suffice to say it looks very nifty. The only problem arises during the scene selection menu, which suffers from a good second or two delay as you select different chapters. This is due to a large screenshot being displayed for every chapter. Not that this is a crippling flaw, but it sticks out on a usually lightning-quick menu. Oh well.
Now for the meat of the disc: our two episodes. Sol Bianca is obviously not interested in providing a tightly paced story. Rather, each episode (thus far) focuses on one member of the five-woman crew, while providing a general whisper of a connecting story. The episodes are chronological, and references are made to earlier events in subsequent episodes, but they are not really a serial. The series is composed of anecdotes, almost, which flesh out the characters. I suppose a general theme will arise by the end (the relationship between freedom and the ties to the past, I'd wager). Or maybe I'm totally wrong, and the last disc will have a good old-fashioned two-parter that will tie up all loose ends and end the story for good. In that case, episodes two and three are merely filler, which I find to be ridiculously wasteful in a six-part series. I pray that I'm proven wrong. It is interesting to watch this disc from beginning to end, as the two episodes given vary wildly in quality. Episode 3 is not that good, while episode 4 is damn near perfect. Thus, we are given a roller coaster ride. I might want to have you skip episode 3 altogether, as it has little to do with the overall plot (if there is one), but then you'd be missing half the dvd. And Pioneer stopped charging $30 for one episode a long time ago...
Episode 3: El Arreglo (The Cleaner), focuses on Jani. Jani is the "tough" member of the crew, who looks more than slightly masculine, and has a propensity to lash out violently. Sadly, this is basically all there is to her. This episode tries to expand, but goes about it in a forced way, and none of it seems really plausible. The Sol Bianca docks at a planet where the police must be hired privately. Most of the crew, exhausted from the journey, goes to sleep. Jani, constantly full of energy, goes shopping for guns instead. She latches onto a neat little rifle (with matching body armor!) which connects directly to the user's brain. But she barely has time to pay when news arrives that a deranged psychic assassin named Booster has taken the whole crew of the Sol Bianca hostage! Ok, I'll buy that the girls were too sleepy to notice him, but doesn't the ship have any automatic defenses? Ok, we'll just believe that Booster took control of them, although how would he know beforehand what kind of technology the Bianca had on board (since we're told that he can only control mecha that he understands)? And how did he shut down G (the master computer)? Did he just read everyone's mind and learn on the fly? None of this is ever explained. Anyhow, Jani hurries back and is joined by another assassin (who bears a striking resemblance to Daddy Warbucks of "Little Orphan Anne" fame) named Glen. At first Jani refuses his help, but then runs afoul of Booster's hordes of mechanized beasts (which I guess he loaded onto the ship along with himself; must've been a huge procession to the docks!). Luckily, Glen holds the secret to defeating these foul concoctions: shooting them in the head. As if Jani wouldn't have done this by accident anyway (*sigh*). Well, the two bond, Jani displays her sensitive side, a connection is revealed between the two killers, and finally Jani and Glen face down Booster (who bears more than a passing resemblance to Rene D'anclaude of Armitage III, director Hiroyuki Ochi's past work). Overall the episode is more reminiscent of the type of show the old Sol Bianca was, which is not a plus. There is plenty of action and gore, but with a contrived plot and an almost totally absurd ending, not to mention many money-saving scenes of Jani in "stealth mode" (i.e. not on screen). The biggest flaw, however, is the lack of depth read into Jani. We never find out why she drives herself so hard, or how she met up with April. All we see is: "Hey, guys, she's sensitive too!" That's not enough.
Especially compared to episode 4: Lamovrex (Lovers). This one focuses on my favorite character, Feb, the ship's alcoholic... uh... person. It's okay though, because the members of the crew are also beginning to wonder exactly what Feb does aboard (aside from running up the bar tab). The Sol Bianca docks on a resort planet dedicated to pirates, for some r&r. April and Feb hit the bars, while Jun drags Mayo and Jani to a silly amusement park. At the bar April meets a team of novice pirates and hits it off with their boss. The two drink and flirt, which leads to a romantic stroll outside, which leads to some (13- and-up rated) anti-grav lovin'. Feb, meanwhile, gets blitzed and kicks the crap out of some lecherous scumbag. April arrives back at the ship late (must have taken a while finding all of her clothes again...) and Feb chews her out for being irresponsible and self-centered. April informs Feb that she's a whiny, useless lush, and Feb proceeds to leave the ship. She wanders around until she finds a bar (naturally), and soon is striking up a conversation with none other than Gunther, leader of the Sol Bianca crew's old foe Terra Force, and easily among the most laid-back main villains in anime history. This man is in no hurry to do whatever his plan is (I'm still not 100% certain he even is a villain). Feb passes out and is taken back to Terra Force's ship. Aboard, Gunther tells Feb that he has been following her for a long while and feels a sort of kindred spirit between them (their mutual love of hard liquor, perhaps?). He also reveals that he too was once a space pirate, but he has found better things to do, and they are on Earth. Meanwhile, April is wracked by guilt, and decides to pursue Terra Force in order to save Feb. But does Feb really want to be saved? As soapy as this episode seems in a synopsis, you really have to see it to admire how well it is executed. As opposed to the cheesy action/pathos blend in episode three, this is constantly dramatic and filled with tension, both emotional and sexual (Gunther is beginning to seem like an older, more reserved version of Touga from Utena; he is also very subtly threatening... he has the makings of a great villain). It elegantly uses computer effects to illustrate Feb's hazy memories (as opposed to that horrific digital panning, which is nearly non-existent here). Feb really comes alive during this episode, and there are definite hints that Feb and April's relationship may be... more than it appears to be. The disc ends with everyone heading for Earth, and hopefully an interesting climax.
Oddly, the extras are automatically loaded after the show, which may be confusing for some viewers. Not that there are a lot of them, of course. We have an "extended" trailer for the final volume (still only one minute long), and another animetronic clip. And while I'm sure the music is nice, it uses exactly the same footage as vol. 1's did. That's a turn-off. The other extra, which you must select from a menu, is a character design collection for Jani and Feb. They're nice, though a little hard to see against the menu. Oh, and we also have the Pioneer information page, which is so out of sync with the rest of the menu that it looks like it was ripped from another disc... oh wait, it was.
So there it is, a genuine mixed bag. I have high hopes for the rest of the series, though. The last two episodes look like they'll focus on Mayo, and... hmmm. Only five characters. Perhaps the Sol Bianca itself is a character, though. We'll have to wait and see. And remember to save your special collector's redemption card! If you have all three at the end of the series, you can send them in and get a free deck of Sol Bianca tarot cards. Spread 'em all over, down half a bottle of scotch by yourself, and be just like Feb! Who could ask for better interactivity?
Toshiba SD-2008 DVD player, Toshiba FST stereo monitor (36'), all internal sound.