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"Burst Angel Volume 6 Guardian Angel": Duel with a Deadly Dull Doppelganger

I’ve long been skeptical of people who offer qualified praise for specific story arcs within a TV series, as if they were somehow cut from a completely different cloth than the rest of the show. Surely if something was entertaining in one episode the writers would not fail to apply it to others. However, this does seem to be the case with the rather uneven Burst Angel (BA), which concludes with Volume 6 Guardian Angel.

Jo's tricked-out ride of fun, exciting, and rather random adventures, the BA writers apparently felt the need to get back to developing a serious overriding plot. Unfortunately it’s a heap of clichés that only serves to weigh things down. The show’s great sense of humor completely vanishes, and the more charismatic characters like Kyohei, Amy and Leo are largely sidelined while the emotionless Jo takes center stage.

On the plus side, the action remains exhilarating and fans will enjoy the wealth of flashbacks on the girls’ backgrounds. We get to see how Sei recruited Amy, Meg, and Jo, and finally learn the truth about Jo’s superhuman combat abilities. There are also several cameos from guest stars of past volumes, although most are quite brief.

Episode 21, “New Sheriff in Town,” sets the final act in motion when Sei’s mafia employer declares her assistance no longer necessary, and she is forced to disband the team. He has opted to merge with a former enemy group to form ZERO. After a mysterious bombing wipes out Tokyo’s government, ZERO’s leader Ricky Glenford takes over as mayor. It seems a bit of a stretch that a prominent member of organized crime and a foreigner to boot can so easily assume such an important position, even given Japanese politicians’ taste for bribes.

In any event the girls quickly become bored and eagerly respond to Tokyo’s RAPT police force’s request for help exterminating a troublesome monster. However, Sei realizes too late that their new employer may not have their best interests at heart.

This costume designer is toast), Meg finds herself prisoner in a research facility while tests are conducted on Jo in “Genocide Angel.” It turns out Maria and Jo were members of a group of genetically engineered super soldiers intended to facilitate world domination.

In “Red Sea Gallows,” Maria falls in love, or at least lust at first sight, with Meg, and certainly no red-blooded male could fault her. Driven by her programming to prove she is the superior warrior, she kidnaps Meg to force Jo to a duel. They clash on a deserted battleship in a no holds barred contest.

Everything comes to a head in “Angels, Explode!” when RAPT begins to enforce martial law in Tokyo and fighting breaks out across the city. Sei reforms the Angels for one final mission: liberate Tokyo from the corrupt ZERO’s control.

Even given the explanation that they underwent behavioral modification, Jo and Maria’s dullness is a real liability. I don’t understand how director Koichi Ohata could feel comfortable with a protagonist and antagonist that exhibit all the range and zest of plywood. Then again, he is best known for M.D. Geist.

Always bring a robot to a knife fightWith that pedigree it’s no surprise that Guardian delivers more thrilling and slickly animated fights, although repetition is beginning to take its toll at this point in the series. The best is a mean and nasty cybot battle between Jo and Maria in “Genocide,” in which they duke it out with guns, blades, and fists. Having seized her opponent, a bloodthirsty Jo rockets under an elevated highway, smashing Maria’s cybot into every support column until the whole thing collapses. There’s also a tense showdown with one of the series’ creepier villains, a mechanical tentacled beast with a partially decomposed human torso.

As far as the other kind of action, there is a shamelessly gratuitous lesbian moment between Maria and Meg that is so abrupt one suspects a quota was being filled. I suppose it is to the show’s credit that the issue of lesbianism is never brought up. It’s accepted as completely natural that women would be attracted to each other. Not to be outdone, Jo engages in a hand-to-hand fight completely nude, but the camerawork deftly avoids compromising her dignity.

Guardian pushes the usual sci-fi message about the dangers of meddling with nature, which Jo and Maria demonstrate violently. It’s possible that the American Glenford’s enthusiasm for martial law is intended as cynical commentary on the Bush administration’s encroachment on civil liberties in the name of national security. I wonder if Jo takes overseas jobs.

BA continues its streak of the worst commentaries around with oodles of inane screeching from voice director Christopher Bevins and voice actresses Alison Retzloff (Amy), Clarine Harp (Sei), Jamie Marchi (Meg), and Monica Rial (Jo) on “Angels.” On the other hand, the booklet is once again full of fantastic production art and interviews with Japanese production staff. Most interesting is Ohata’s remarkably candid description of the production process, in which he gripes about the “inhumane work ethic” and producer Gonzo’s reliance on marketing data to guide creative decisions. It’s also revealed that Jango takes its name from the titular hero of a 1960s Italian western.

Well, you look 18 to meAnother collection of “Radio Dramas” is included, but I’m afraid I can’t stomach any more of them, so you’re on your own there. I’m convinced these were commissioned to induce confessions in Guantanamo.

In the latest installment of Mr. Stain on Junk Alley, “Cassette Tape,” Stain discovers a magic cassette that makes his stereo come alive, and builds a robot out of it. Together they have great fun dancing the day away, but trouble ensues when the robot doesn’t want to stop. It’s another cute episode, although slightly predictable.

Although casual viewers will find it just mildly diverting, Burst Angel fans who have come this far will probably want to check out Guardian Angel to see how things wrap up. Or do they? Rumor has it an OVA is on the way to keep the lead flying. My faith may be a little shaken, but I’ll be there. I’m certain there are at least half a dozen Japanese landmarks the girls haven’t leveled yet.

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