"Aquarion" Unleash Your Super Comeback Falafel Sandwich Attack!
I don’t know if it’s because of the genre’s lack of hits or just some really poor shows lately, but the mecha genre over here has been rather sparse with offerings lately. The only notable mecha releases of recent memory have mostly been Gundam titles (though many of the latest volumes aren’t all that good), but FUNimation aims to change all that with the first release of Aquarion.
In the not-too-distant future, a Great Catastrophe wipes out most of the population of Earth. Soon after, the Shadow Angels reawaken after a 12,000 year slumber and begin to feed on humans, cultivating them using giant organic spaceships. To combat this, humanity resurrects the giant robot known as Aquarion, but it can only be awakened by joining its three component ships, which require the three pilots to unite their souls and join their hearts as one. Silvia and Pierre, two pilots-in-training, are sent to search for another who can pilot Aquarion, and come across Apollo, a wild animal of a man who just may be the reincarnation of Solar Wing, the one who imprisoned the Shadow Angels 12,000 years ago. However, when Apollo’s best friend, Baron, is one of the Shadow Angel’s victims, the boy decides to become a pilot, though only to save his friend. Now, the various pilots of Aquarion (all told, there are nine pilots) must unite to fend off their greatest enemy or face extinction.
Aquarion is quite an odd title. If you only watch the first two episodes, you would think it’s another “biblical mecha” show along the lines of RaXephon, as the Aquarion is touted as an angelic warrior, the Shadow Angels as devils, and even the opening narration consists of Old English and other such formal speech that makes the legend seem really, really old. Unfortunately, this results in almost immediate confusion, as right after the opening narration ended, I had no idea what the hell had just been said and was completely lost. And while the events of the first episode are decent enough, much of it feels off and in general suffers from typical first-episode-crappiness. Thankfully, the second episode gets a little better, as it rehashes the first episode’s narration in a way that’s actually understandable while at the very least showcasing the really cool mecha fights. However, even the second episode wouldn’t really help lift it up above the rest of the pack, not if the show stays in its uber-serious, biblical-esque path of confusion.
Thankfully, it doesn’t. From Episode 3 on, the show decides that it’s had enough of trying to copy its brethren and injects some hot-blooded, traditional super-robot stylings in the mix. With the setting established in the first two episodes, the story gives way to a lot of comedy, mainly with the way Apollo continues to try and get his way while everyone else continues to get more and more pissed off at him. One episode even has Apollo running away to steal Aquarion, getting lost in the process, and the rest of the pilots end up searching for him as a field trip lesson from their commander. Once these episodes come around, the show gets a lot better, as it becomes easier to relate to the main characters, and much of the focus is put upon the them, instead of the overall plot, like the first two episodes did. Indeed, for most of Episodes 3-12, the Shadow Angels become mostly “monsters of the day” instead of a developed threat, but considering we only get one bad guy with any kind of real development and who only does anything decent in the final two episodes, it’s easy to forgive.
But the true star of the show is simply how absurd the show can get. Some of it comes from the characters, as you have Sirius, the ultimate poetic pretty boy genius who simply must have everything perfect (thus making him denounce Apollo every chance he gets); Pierre, who is able to quite literally kick great balls of fire; and Tsugumi, who’s heart creates a powerful explosion every time she gets too excited (and with her voluptuous figure, you can see where this would lead). But the biggest absurdity is the main commander, Fudoh. Not only does he have such amazing power, such as super speed and seemingly the ability to perform magic, but he’s just so awesome he could probably beat the Shadow Angels all by himself. He teaches in a rough, but cool, way that makes him look even more like a master, he’s able to tell pretty much anything and everything about a person simply by looking at their feet or their footprints for a few seconds, and whenever he shouts for the Aquarion to do something cool, he gets all these speed lines and flashy backgrounds behind him while he pounds his fist into his commander’s desk, breaking it every time. Oh yea, and he’s always, always right, while the vice commander, a pencil-pushing stickler for the rules, is always, always wrong. He even has a scar over his eye, so you know he’s a badass.
Then there’s the Aquarion and its foes. The Aquarion can combine into one of three different forms depending on how the ships are aligned, but all of them create a vastly pleasing experience for the pilots. In fact, one could say it’s euphoric, as every time the mecha combines, the pilots exclaim how good they feel and moan in pleasure. Naturally, they become naked and glow bright colors during this time, and 90% of these shots are of the females, with the guys only showing up every 3 or 4 episodes with this animation. Once Aquarion is complete, it then fights against what looks like giant puppets that somehow look even freakier than the giant monsters from Noein, and can do all sorts of things such as disrupt gravity (forcing Aquarion to use the gravity on the opposite side of the earth to counteract this) or even change space and time. To fight these monsters, Aquarion uses a variety of attacks, ranging from mundane attacks like the Infinity Punch (a punch that can literally go on for an infinite amount of time and distance) or a simple flaming kick. Or can use one of its more awesome attacks, such as the Jealous Sword, a sword literally made out of jealousy; the Unlucky Bottom Attack, an attack turning one character’s horrible luck into an energy weapon; and the Aquarion Luna Hyper Real Nigthmare Attack, a bow-and-arrow technique composed of pure dream matter and fueled by the spirit of righteousness. The fact that this is all played straight only adds to the fun.
But, like all things, there are some negatives to be had. Outside of the horrible first two episodes, much of anything having to do with the Shadow Beasts drags the show down unless they’re directly interacting with one of the main characters (usually Apollo). They’re just not that interesting themselves. Then there’s Reika, the love interest of Sirius. Right from the get-go her bad luck makes her almost useless, as she goes insane from despair in her first two battles and is made more and more miserable in each following episode. It’s one thing to be cruel to a character for story purposes, but Reika ends up such a pathetic character that one almost wishes she would die a heroic death just to get her out of the show with some dignity. The show attempts to rectify this in one of the later episodes on this set (giving birth to the Unlucky Bottom Attack mentioned earlier), but it only marginally makes Reika a better character.
Mecha animated in CG has been hit or miss since its introduction, especially when it’s a 2D/3D series instead of pure CG, but Aquarion manages to blend in very well with its surroundings. The mecha itself has some really good designs, and the various CG beings move fast and furious, but while still showing off their movements, instead of normal series where everything in CG looks like it had too much caffeine. The CG backgrounds also enhance the visuals a lot, especially when the pilots are in the cockpit. Most notably, com windows open and close in a smooth motion while the animation inside feels like it’s a part of the window, not just a separate scene digitally inserted into the empty space. Even the traditional animation is quite excellent, with a lot of fluid motions and vivid coloring enhanced by some enchanting fight sequences. The only real negative is that the color palette sometimes seems to be a bit washed out, but that may simply be the focus on faded reds and browns.
Normally, FUNimation delivers a dub of unparalleled quality that it blows the Japanese version out of the water, but the dub falls just short here, mainly because of Christopher Bevins’ Apollo. Now, the guy actually performs well and nothing about his performance is all that bad, actually, but the voice itself just feels off and I’m not sure if it’s the right fit for Apollo. This also applies to Brandon Potter’s Fudoh, whose motions are downright awesome but whose voice seems a bit too hoarse for the role. As with virtually every other one of her roles, Colleen Clinkenbeard proves awesome, as she actually makes one want to watch Reika and hope the character comes around, while Brina Palencia and Eric Vale give Silvia and Sirius the energy and enthusiasm needed for the roles. The Japanese cast is just as much a mixed bag, as I like Fudoh’s voice better, but Tomokazu Sugita’s Sirius falls just short of Eric Vale’s performance, and Takuma Terashita’s Apollo sounds just as off as Bevins’. As for the music, the opening theme “Genesis of Aquarion” is highly, highly addictive and reminds one of the opening themes for RaXephon or Arjuna, which should come as no surprise seeing as how they’re all composed by the Goddess of Music Yoko Kanno. Unfortunately, the ending theme is rather annoying, but the background music is quite a joy to listen to.
All of the extras are on Disc 3 of the set, as one would expect. The biggest feature is an interview with creator Shoji Kawamori as he discusses how he created various elements and how he went about producing the series, such as using Legos to create models of Aquarion to see how everything would fit in CG and if it could actually work. Then there’s a Q&A session at the 2005 Tokyo International Anime Fair where Kawamori and the major voice actors answer questions about the show. Some of the stuff goes into more background about certain plot elements early on, but most of it is your typical con fluff. Then there’s the “Tsugumi’s ‘All About CG!’” segments, which take a deeper look at the three forms of Aquarion and the monsters while giving not only more information, but giving various tech demos to show off the pretty CG. Finally, we have textless songs, trailers, and a pencil board using a modified version of the final shot from the opening theme. All in all, a pretty decent amount of extras, and all in a very stylish thinpak packaging. Good job, FUNimation.
Overall, if you’re looking for a mecha show that can easily be a candidate for Mystery Science Theater 3000 while still being fun to watch, Aquarion is right up your alley. It’s absurdly fun to watch.