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"IGPX": It's Only Toonami for a Reason

OK, if you’re reading this review, you’ve likely read my review of the first episode as well as my reviews of the Uncut single volume releases of IGPX. But now, it’s time to look into the boxset featuring the same show from the other DVDs, but with the added flair and coolness that could only come from the guys and gals down at Williams Street.

The year is 2049 and the most popular pastime in the world is no longer soccer, it’s the motorized sport known as the IGPX. Two teams of three players race in their giant robots at speeds of almost 400mph through three laps in a 60-mile track. Each team consists of a Forward, a Midfielder and a Defender. The first lap is mainly a race lap, used to implement strategies and for the racers to warm up. The fun starts on the second lap, which is the battle round. There, the two teams slam into each other using their mech’s special abilities to take out the other racers. Some teams use wires, others use smoke screens, while some use ribbon projectiles, and one team even uses an energy attack. The final lap is when racers can switch to Speed Mode and race towards the finish line. Team Satomi has finally made it to the major leagues, known as the IG-1. But this team is still green and falling apart fast. Can they pull it together in order to defeat the dangerous IG-1 teams such as Sledge Mama and Team Velshtein? Or will Team Satomi and their pilots Takeshi, Liz, and Amy be left in the dust?

For those just tuning in: I love this series. But since I’ve already detailed all that in my previous reviews, this one will focus on the overall picture as well as the differences between the Uncut releases and this Toonami version. Now, there have been racing series before. F-Zero GX, Wacky Races, Cyber Formula GPX, NASCAR Racers and the grand-daddy of them all: Speed Racer. However, there’s more than the giant robots separating IGPX from all those other racers. Team Satomi are not secret agents masquerading as racers who have to deal with saving the world from some random, clichéd nutjob threatening to blow up Taiwan. Team Satomi also doesn’t have some super-secret ultimate mech that the military wants for themselves. Hell, Team Satomi doesn’t even have the fanciest or most powerful mechs in the league, as they’re the only team that doesn’t have a special technique. And even when they upgrade the mechs to the top-of-the-line quality, they still rely on physical attacks to achieve victory.

No, what separates IGPX from other racing cartoons is how grounded the show is. These are just regular people trying to run a business in a sports world. Trying to get sponsors, making sure there’s no internal struggle among the team and barely managing to win against all odds are what Team Satomi is all about. The show features rather realistic teams (even if it takes place in a city devoted to the IGPX, which isn’t all that realistic) who have problems with being popular and have trouble staying on top when they’re losing badly. Unlike other sports anime like Prince of Tennis, there’s no DBZ-ish wildness going on (Yeah, you can point out the Indraga Mano, but even that’s not as wild as your random Shonen Jump anime.), there are no extreme moves that real people cannot perform, and much of this first season deals with behind-the-scenes adventures just as much as on the race track. From Michiru searching for sponsors to Mark possibly becoming the head of a powerful technological company, this series just feels a lot more realistic than any other sports cartoon out there. It actually feels more like a primetime network drama, except animated. It’s thanks to IGPX’s grounded and realistic feel that the show works so effectively and offers a breath of fresh air from all the nonsensical sporting titles out there.

As for the differences between the Toonami and Uncut versions, for one thing, the Toonami version has a different intro, ending and bumps. They’re much shorter than the Uncut releases, but they work just as well. Even though the intro is little more than the promo with different music, it’s still Peter Cullen and Peter Cullen is the man. Not just that, but the bumps are much more effective and use the superior US logo as opposed to the crappy Japanese logo. This Toonami version also provides recaps and next-episode previews, which the Uncut DVDs fail to include. Not only does it set up the episodes better, but they’re just fun to watch, as it allows Cullen to be a true narrator instead of just a promo guy like he usually is for Toonami. There are some slight cuts and edits made, but the only episode this adversely affects is Episode 4, as the scene where Luca and Amy first meet is cut out, and a great scene where Luca turns into a prince (and looks similar to the Baron in Whispers of the Heart and The Cat Returns) is removed. However, all the other episodes only have minor cuts that amount to little effect on the series. Also, while the menus on the Uncut version are very nice with lots of movement and background music, the Toonami version menus are just freeze-frames of the Uncut menus with no music, making them a bit more boring than the Uncut menus. The final change has to do with the music.

If you’ve been watching the Uncuts, you may have noticed that the music is a blend of orchestral pieces and various electronica from the music label Ninja Tune, which Williams Street has been using for their Toonami promos and packaging for years now. In the Toonami version, several pieces of the orchestral track are replaced with some Ninja Tune tracks. The first few episodes are mostly unchanged, but by the end, the orchestral tracks go from about half the episode to barely a third, if that. Unlike other music replacement anime, such as Pokémon, One Piece, or Sailor Moon, the tracks here actually improve the score. The new music gives this series a Toonami feel, whereas the original music track seemed to lack an identity and at times felt generic. These new tracks really let the series stand out even more and compliment the action extremely well. Props also have to go to the ending music, which is the same track used way back when Toonami itself used to have ending credits (back when Fantastic Four was advertised on the block, but never actually aired there and The Real Adventures of Johnny Quest hadn’t yet been rerun to death). As for the voices, you can get a better idea of my opinion in my previous reviews, as that aspect is the same in both versions. To sum it up: the dub easily owns the Japanese track.

Of course, the easiest thing to notice about IGPX is the fantastic animation. The 2D animation is great by itself, and while not as fluid as Ghost in the Shell, it still easily outclasses Toonami’s other shows. But the real gem is the CGI. As well as Futurama’s CG works inside the show, IGPX’s CG works better. The textures, the movements, and the designs are obviously CG, but they work so well it’s amazing. And since the mechs aren’t cel-shaded like the Tachikomas in GitS, they actually blend in more with the animation. The only problem is that the mechas don’t really get to show off much in the beginning, but that can be chalked up to the staff not being used to the series yet, as by the time Edgeraid rolls around the CG is great and by Velshtein it’s practically perfect. One also has to give notice to the fantastic backgrounds. There are many, many, many beautiful backgrounds to be seen, and are some of the prettiest designs I’ve witnessed since Stargate Atlantis. Hell, these backgrounds would make wonderful paintings. I wish I could get some of these framed and hung on the walls, as they are just simply breathtaking.

It’s time for what makes DVD so wonderful: Extras! There are a couple extras transferred over from the Uncuts: the Hayley Joel Osment Interview, the Sean Akins/Jason DeMarco Interview, and the commentary on the Edgeraid race. All these extras still rock and are still great to watch. And I still really, really want that jacket Hayley wears. As for new-to-this-set extras, we have the entire IGPX pilot combined into one episode, though slightly edited (the scenes with the apparent heads of the IG-1, voiced by Lex Lang and Wendee Lee, are cut out). The pilot is interesting, but extremely rough story-wise and a lot grungier than the series. Next up are every single promo ever created for the pilot episodes, back when Toonami was using the Old English font (I so miss that packaging. It really was ahead of its time.), and like every other Toonami promo that has effort put into it: they freaking rock. After that, it’s the IGPX music video/Season 1 recap that aired on the block for a while, which is awesome, as well as every single IGPX promo made for the new series. More Toonami promos need to be extras on DVDs. Seriously. When you can make ANY show seem freaking awesome, you need to be recognized, and since those Commercial award people ignore Cartoon Network, getting the promos on DVD is a good enough alternative. Finally, we have brand-new commentaries for Episodes 9, 12, and 13. Unfortunately, only Jason DeMarco is doing the commentaries (Sean and Maki are nowhere to be found) and while he does offer some tidbits, most of the time he’s just narrating what’s going on on-screen and the wacky banter between him and Sean is sorely missed.

So, between the two versions, which would I recommend? Well, if you only want one version, I’d say get this Toonami version boxset, as it has everything good about the series and it has Peter Cullen. If you love commentaries, you should grab the singles. The best answer though? Do what I did: Get both versions.

Episodes on IGPX Season 1 Complete Collection:
Episode #01: “Time to Shine”
Episode #02: “Win… or Lose”
Episode #03: “Black Egg”
Episode #04: “The Ghost”
Episode #05: “Come Together”
Episode #06: “Cat vs. Dog”
Episode #07: “Spring Has Come”
Episode #08: “I Like You, I Like You, I Love You!”
Episode #09: “Holiday”
Episode #10: “Showdown”
Episode #11: “And Then…”
Episode #12: “The Final Battle”
Episode #13: “Into Tomorrow”

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