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"IGPX": Prepare for the November Revolution

It’s amazing how far Toonami has come. Way back in 1997, it looked like just another generic action block, starring Moltar from the then-popular Space Ghost Coast to Coast to drum up some ratings. It had old-school 80′s cartoons, old-school 70′s cartoons, and the first “reinvention” of a classic series, and some people didn’t expect it to last more than a few years, much less set itself apart from the hundreds of action cartoon blocks that had come before it.

Fast forward to 2005. Toonami is all over the world, has sponsored its own events, paved the way for anime to air on national television (and be sold on DVD), inspired Nickelodeon’s short-lived SLAM! block and Disney’s Jetix block, and even got its own ship in a popular console video game. And the day many have been waiting for since Gundam Wing first aired has arrived: Toonami has now produced its own anime series. Just goes to show that you still can’t count out the televised revolution.

In the year 2049 (just about the time Terry McGinnis is protecting Gotham City), the biggest event in the world is the ultimate racing league known as the Immortal Grand Prix, or IGPX. There, teams of three take giant robots and race each other through a three-lap, sixty-mile course, all while trying to stay alive. Young Takashi Jin is the forward of Team Satomi, who is trying to get into the upper-echelon of the IGPX, the IG-1. But things aren’t going too smoothly. Takashi’s a bit rebellious, scorning teamwork with fellow racers Liz and Amy, and many of their victories seem to rely on luck. But gaining entry into the IG-1 brings new challenges, as top racer Cunningham puts a lot of pressure on the young pilot’s shoulders, and Yama, the leader of rival racing team Sludge Mama, can’t wait to show the kid what it’s like in the big leagues.

The first IGPX series consisted of five five-minute episodes making up Toonami’s final “Total Immersion Event.” It’s also very different from what the world will see on November 1. In the original, the IGPX was a series of battles across a deserted wasteland. Imagine Zoids/ZERO with bi-pedal robots and a Toonami feel. But the new IGPX makes its title more appropriate: the robots race and transform instead of just running and hiding around a bunch of rocks. One continuity, fortunately, is that the new racers still bash each other every chance they get. The world is much bigger too, and we get to see more teams that just Satomi and Sludge Mama.

The racing is much more exciting than the simple battleground, and this incarnation is also much cleaner-looking. Blues, whites, and yellows have replaced the blacks, browns, and dark greens of the original. The designs are also different (Takashi has black hair instead of tan and Liz has brown hair instead of blonde), but the personalities are pretty much unchanged, except for the coach, who’s more weathered. The pilot suits are also a bit bulkier. The changes give the entire world a much more welcoming feel and better overall look.

The first episode suffers from typical exposition pains. Since this is not the same world we saw back in 2003, there are new introductions for the cast. I.G. does pack way too much information into this first episode. Instead of seeing Team Satomi work its way through the IG-2 and IG-3 fields, we pick up just as they get into the IG-1 bracket. The characters are given a little more background than in the pilot, but not by much, and lots of plot threads arise, mainly involving rivalries, without much time to digest the information, though this will likely be resolved as episodes go by. One thing the fast-paced story did show is the massive amount of potential this series has.

For years Production I.G. has been known as one of the best animation studios in the world, and IGPX shows their reputation is more than justified. The 2-D animation is simply gorgeous, recalling I.G.’s previous hit, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. It’s a shame that only one action sequence, in a dojo, is animated in this spectacular medium.

Fortunately, equally eye-popping CGI takes over where the 2-D leaves off. In contrast to Stand Alone Complex, in IGPX computer-generated shots blend with their counterparts almost perfectly. The impossibly fast racing sequences are a highlight, and the robots look cool without looking out of place. The CG work here rivals big-budget network shows like Futurama. If you can watch this without being impressed, you need to get your eyes checked.

The new voice cast brings in bigger names. Haley Joel Osment of The Sixth Sense fame now voices Takashi, and having a genuine teenage actor in the role is naturally a big improvement over the old voice (no offense to Joshua Seth). Michelle Rodriguez puts in an above-average if occasionally flat performance as Liz.

To those who miss your favorite voice artists, don’t fret. Old favorites like Steven Blum and Kari Wahlgren are still part of the voice cast, just in different roles. Blum is now Cunningham, the #1 racer (and yet another Spike Spiegel look-alike), while Wahlgren now plays the talking cat Luca. As with the original pilot, all the music provided for the series is from the Ninja Tune label, giving the show a Toonami pop that distinguishes it from other anime.

Though it packs too much into the first half-hour, IGPX is almost unbelievably excellent in every respect. The animation is beautiful, the voice acting believable, and the robots kick ass. I can’t wait for Episode 2.

IGPX premieres Saturday, November 5, at 10 p.m. on Cartoon Network’s Toonami.

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