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"Burst Angel" Vol. 2 to 4: Dangerous Beauties

Burst Angel is yet another in a long line of girls with guns anime series trying to recapture the magic of 80s classic Dirty Pair. And it does an admirable job, adding giant robots and monsters to the familiar mix. Though frankly, I hardly noticed them as my eyes must have been somewhere else. Let’s take a look at the series’ second, third and fourth volumes: “A New Tokyo,” “East Meets West,” and “Hired Gun.”

Jo and Meg embrace (platonically?)

Burst Angel is the story of an elite female strike team serving justice in a futuristic Tokyo: heavily armed operatives Jo and Meg, leader Sei, computer whiz Amy, and token males Kyohei the chef and Leo the mechanic. Personal gun ownership has become legal and all but the nastiest criminals have become very dead. Fast-paced John Woo-style lead slinging is the order of the day, but there’s also a healthy amount of goofy comedy, a tiny amount of severely overstretched spandex, and even a hint of drama. It’s never very deep, but usually a lot of fun.

In the first two episodes on “A New Tokyo,” Meg reluctantly goes undercover at a preppy girls’ academy to investigate a case of hallucinogenic dementia suffered by one of its former students. These bland stories come off as part Mean Girls and part Scooby Doo, and the Scooby vibe continues in the next two-parter, featuring a huge crow cybot (organically controlled robot) that carries off teenage girls, including Meg. However, just when you have your arm cocked and a rotten egg in hand in anticipation of a Scrappy appearance, things finally get interesting. It turns out the crow is after a nanobot virus, but before it can be stolen a scientist injects Kyohei with the deadly substance. A wild race against time develops as Jo violates orders and abducts Kyohei in hopes of bartering the virus for Meg while being relentlessly pursued every step of the way by Sei and the police.

Burst Angel really hits its stride in “East Meets West.” It begins with a mob story on a cruise ship where Sei’s grandfather tries to mend ties between his powerful clan and a rival faction by offering her hand in marriage. Unfortunately not everyone’s intentions are true, and like so many relationships this one ends in gunfire. Next is a comedy episode in which Amy must escape the clutches of some Akihabara hacker otakus obsessed with her. Then we begin a sensational three-part story in which the girls travel to Osaka to help protect it from a mysterious terrorist threat. This involves Jo serving as bodyguard at a wacky pro wrestling match, a desperate stand by the police and people of Osaka to protect Osaka landmark Tsutenkaku Tower from the massive warrior cybot Gigantes, and a furious duel between Gigantes and Jo’s Django cybot in downtown Osaka’s Dotonbori River.

After wrapping up the Osaka saga, “Hired Gun” flashes back to New York where we get a look at Meg and Jo’s very first meeting: the former the protective leader of a gang of street urchins and the latter a genetically-enhanced super soldier on the lam. Then it’s time for another heavy dose of comedy when the girls vacation at a seaside amusement park, only to have their fun in the sun cut short by a giant squid. I hate it when that happens. The volume concludes with the beginning of a serious and yet bizarre adventure in which Jo encounters a medieval samurai (!) deep in the forest and together they try to protect his ancient village from a cybot.

There are so many wacky moments in this series I hardly know which to point out. When Jo radios Kyohei to “Give it to her” an appalled Meg watches as he starts to strip off his clothes to reveal a spy camera. In exchange for helping out Amy’s effeminate hacker friend demands some “data”, which after much code breaking turns out to be photos of tattooed male posteriors. Defiantly fighting alongside Osaka’s police in their last desperate stand is a motley crew of machine gun-toting transvestites, chefs wearing metal baking sheets as armor, and fishermen firing frozen fish heads out of bazookas.

Although set at least several decades in the future, Burst Angel offers a very realistic portrayal of many aspects of today’s Japan. Amy’s visit to the Akihabara electronics district is only a slightly exaggerated vision of the infamous geek mecca. This clever roast of otaku culture shows them salivating over unreleased video games and even turning themselves into computers. The dull school episodes are partially redeemed by a look at the rigid social hierarchy in Japanese high schools, where the elite upperclassmen are nearly gods and new students humble serfs. Also featured on this Japan tour are pachinko, arranged marriage, sexual harassment, pro wrestling, corporate corruption, and most everything you need to know about Osaka.

Jo takes no lip.

The cast is colorful to be sure, but a little short on originality and charisma. Main star Jo is an unstoppable warrior and usually the one to save the day. Although one suspects there is more to her than meets the eye (well, not physically perhaps) her expressionless macho shtick gets old after a while. In sharp contrast Meg is giggly, whiny, a bit annoying, and only rarely useful. She is the team’s Aquaman, bumbling into trouble whenever the plot needs advancing. She and Jo are very close, and there’s no denying a certain vibe between them that is perhaps more than friendship.

Goofy youngster Amy delivers amusing commentary on adults’ odd behavior when she’s not being overly cute, and Sei is the responsible but not overbearing leader type. The unassuming Kyohei is rather overwhelmed by the girls, and often ends up getting the short end of the stick, such as when they sink his new scooter in Tokyo Bay or pummel him unconscious in volleyball. Not quite as visible is the testosterone-laden ladies man Leo, who is quick with a corny joke and seems to have a thing for Sei.

The Japanese voice cast is solid, although I didn’t really warm to Jo’s husky deadpan or Meg’s occasional screeching. I can’t really recommend listening to the English dub, however. The main character voices are all right, but major changes to the dialogue have been made, often making it more generic. Also the Osakan characters have been marred with a ridiculous southern drawl reminiscent of Spongebob‘s Sandy Cheeks. If it’s really necessary to find an English equivalent to the distinctive Osakan dialect something like a New York accent would be much more appropriate.

Burst Angel‘s cel animation is attractive and smooth. The attention to background detail is fantastic, and there’s a lot of neat mechanical design. A few vehicles, including the gang’s Sigma Six-ish mobile base and Django, are done in average CGI, which though certainly superior to Transformers Cybertron is not up to IGPX‘s standards. The opening theme is a cheesy Japanese rap number, but most of the score is very catchy, ranging from rock to Sergio Leone western material.

And speaking of Leone, the extras offer both good and bad, but certainly no ugly. All volumes come with fantastic booklets packed with full color pictures of all characters, equipment, vehicles, and locations that appear in the volume, as well as interviews with the Japanese staff and cast. The reversible covers also feature stunning artwork.

Each volume has commentary on one episode from the dub voice director and some of the voice actors. They contain more giggling than information, so they’re probably only for fans. Each volume also has a lengthy Japanese talk radio program promoting the show, hosted by the two main voice actors. I applaud FUNimation for including this highly unique feature, but unfortunately the material is torture to listen to and definitely for fans only. Finally there is a couple of those wacky and surreal Mr. Stain Japanese CGI shorts that FUNimation has been promoting lately. In “Refrigerator,” Stain and his starving animal “friends” alternate between trying to pry open a refrigerator and trying to eat each other.

If you’re a Dirty Pair fan you can’t help but be won over by Burst Angel. First-timers might want to skip the slow Volume 2, but 3 and 4 are an infectious blend of action and comedy. If that’s not enough there’s plenty to tide you over until the next Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. I’ll bet you won’t see any Desert Eagles there though.

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