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"Aquarion" Vampires, Fairie Dust, and Cosplay, Oh My!

After a brief lull, it seems the mecha genre is trying for a resurgence here in America. The Gundam blitz is as prolific as ever, Code Geass is beginning to ramp up support, and Gurren Lagann is just around the corner. Unfortunately, all of those have television deals, while the cheesy but awesome Aquarion gets shafted. At least we still have the DVDs.

Previously, the Shadow Angels had awoken after a 12,000 year nap and begun to harvest humans to power themselves. Cue a team of plucky youths who pilot three ancient vehicles known as Vectors that can combine to form the giant robot Aquarion. Apollo, the newest recruit, joins only to save his friend Baron, but when one of the head angels, Toma, kills Baron just to spite our hero, Apollo drops into a huge funk. This isn’t exactly the best time, as most of the other Vector pilots have their own problems to deal with. Self-confident Pierre is obsessed with merging, head female Silvia is worried about what would happen if anybody found out her secret, while she and the other girls must deal with one of the greatest trials ever to face a woman: the period of starvation known as a diet. As if that weren’t enough, a new child Shadow Angel decides to cause some mischief, the main group’s superiors make a controversial decision, an old friend is revived as something grotesque, and the Aquarion itself is literally devoured. Oh yea, and everybody decides to cosplay in true cosplay spirit.

What endeared me to the series in the last volume was the sheer absurdity the show presented and its ability to have fun with all the ludicrousness. Thankfully, the show hasn’t skipped a beat, as the majority of the first disc of this set is made up of the same kind of freaky comedy episodes that I loved so much on the first set. After a relatively mundane season opener, things go back to being great with Pierre becoming obsessed with merging, a plotline that is such a metaphor for sex the writers don’t even decide to be subtle about it. In a change of pace, the writers actually seem to be making a point and going down the path of Eva, but eventually it snaps back to the usual and Pierre rights himself. Normally, I’d see this as a cop-out, but a certain moment of awesomeness redeems it. Later on, we get an episode where the Shadow Angels send bacteria to eat all the food in the area, starving our heroes to death. While this creates some hilarious situations, it also results in the bad guys’ best chance for victory. Seriously, the good guys winning seems like such an Ass Pull (not that this isn’t normal) that it’s amazing things even got that far. Even much more evil villains never get that close to victory.

ImageHowever, my favorite episode is, if you haven’t guessed, the episode where the various characters cosplay each other. It starts out great with Jun imitating Tsugumi (including poking fun at her generous bust size) and only gets better with Apollo, Sirius, Silvia, and Reika all posing as each other and trying to act like that person. This creates some great moments where the various characters use their rivals personalities against them, causing hilarious results, especially Apollo as Sirius. The true stars of this episode, however, are Pierre and Fudoh. Pierre runs with the concept and cosplays as various characters, showcasing exactly how each character feels deep inside and acting as the audience as he hits his targets squarely on the head with what they feel. The fact that he actually gets a girlfriend out of this exchange, complete with dramatic lighting and emotional monologues, is even better. Fudoh only cosplays (at least, when we actually him as a cosplayer) in one scene, but his general awesomeness allows him to perfectly become the one he is trying to imitate. Of course, when he reveals his true form, the disguise stays on, creeping the characters and the audience out at the same time. The second half of the episode is played straight (well, as straight as this series gets), but the first half is classic.

Luckily, the attacks are just as ludicrous as before. While we don’t quite get anything close to the “Hyper Real Nightmare Arrow” from last season, we do get the “Hungry Bomber,” (an attack made up of the power of the girls hunger after their starvation diet) the “Find My True Self Blade,” (an attack fueled by the characters desire for individuality) and the “Orbital Dribble” (in which Pierre dribbles the monster like a soccer ball … while running … up into outer space). However, the cheesiest attack by far this season is the “Super 3D Mugen Attack,” in which the Aquarion shoots a laser, an arrow, and an Infinity Punch all at once, in three different directions. Now, this by itself is freaky, though not altogether strange, but then the three attacks start glowing and, for some reason, create a giant energy box whose sole purpose is to look pretty (as the enemy has long since gone at this point). Apparently, this is supposed to symbolize harmony and whatnot, but I was left rather dumbfounded.

ImageOnce the series gets to the death of a certain Shadow Angel near the end of the volume, the comedy stops and the drama starts ramping up. While there is a heaping helping of cheese (Solar Aquarion’s wings not only shoot fairy dust, but flap during the final battle), much of it is taken up by the drama elements, mostly due to two story elements. Sirius and Silvia’s secret is found out by everyone else and turned to the heroes’ disadvantage (by the way, do not read the back-of-the-box-synopsis for the episodes on the second disc if you don’t want a major spoiler) and an old friend from the first couple episodes that everyone else forgot about returns to the battlefield in a horrible fashion (horrible as in the characters’ reaction to his changes, though it does feel like he was brought in just to give the good guys some more troops and to show off the more military-minded black Aquarion and its super Buster Rifle-type weapon). Thankfully, the drama is well punctuated and the sudden shift in tone will keep viewers on the edge of their seats, although I do wish more was made of the Shadow Angels being pissed off that one of their own was killed.

Then there’s the ending. The final fight is damned good and delivers all the rousing giant robot action we’re all accustomed to, with super attacks being flown left and right and even the side characters getting some great battling in. However, certain events get a bit wonky, as a character who did a Face Heel Turn earlier comes back to the good guys merely after having his pride wrecked. Apollo decides to let Toma help pilot Aquarion to unleash its full power (when mintues before and minutes later Apollo wanted to murder Toma for all he’s done), and then the three Vectors, all in head form, start strangling each other when Silvia arrives to do the usual corny “We don’t have to fight!” speech. Despite these odd events, which seem to have been put in just to fill time or save the animation budget a bit, it flows relatively well, but then the series ends. We get a minor scene of Silvia and then the end credits. If there’s one thing I hate in an anime ending, its the lack of an epilogue. We don’t get to see Jun, Tsugumi, Pierre, Chole, Fudoh, or any of the rest aside from flashbacks, and it really pisses me off.

ImageThe series doesn’t miss a beat visually from the last set. In fact, at points it even gets better, as the Aquarion gets more flashy and colorful attacks to use, culminating in that weird energy box I was talking about before. Also, the black Aquarion is really freaking cool and at times reminds me of a UC Gundam. As if that weren’t enough, one of the previews shows off a deluxe Aquarion toy that can separate into the Vectors, making me jealous that it’s Japan-only. Besides the giant robots, the normal animation continues to be just as beautiful as it always has, with some really nice animation used near the final few episodes. The only negatives are the minor off-model shots and some stilted animation during a few of the episodes (such as the hunger episode), but for the most part these drawbacks, which have been in the series since Day One, don’t really affect the viewing pleasure. However, special mention must be given to “Mischief of the Soul.” Much of this episode is intended to be drawn in a different art style, so I can understand the bad designs there, but the rest of the episode, especially the prologue, is so badly animated (with no details whatsoever) that it borders on Yashigani quality. You know those episodes of Naruto where the action is fast and furious, but everybody’s made of rubber? Well, this isn’t as well-animated and has even fewer details. Yeah.

Since the music is done by the Mistress of Music, Yoko Kanno, you know it’s going to be awesome, and it is. The sweet, beautiful background music reminds me a lot of Kanno’s other audio treat known as Escaflowne, and it’s helped a lot by the highly addictive “Genesis of Aquarion” opening theme. Unfortunately, early on in this set the opening is junked for “Go Tight,” which is decent but much more forgettable. The replacement gets even weirder when you consider that the final episode alone has about five different remixes of “Genesis of Aquarion,” but no “Go Tight” at all. When it comes to the voices, the FUNimation dub continues to be both great and odd. Eric Vale is wonderful as Sirius, and Troy Willingham really gets some spotlight as Pierre, but Christopher Bevins’ Apollo still sounds highly off to me. I will say, however, that Bevins’ impersonation of Sirius in “Cosplay of the Soul” makes the entire scene that much funnier. Granted, all the characters’ mocking voices during the episode are hilarious, but Bevins’ Sirius stands out from the pack.

Like last time, we get a plentiful collection of extras. The sole extra on the first disc is a commentary on Pierre’s spotlight episode with Christopher Bevins (Apollo) and J. Michael Tatum (ADR Director and voice of Toma). While the feature doesn’t reach the greatness of a Jeremy Inman commentary, it is still rather funny, with some great stories to tell, though I do wish they had gotten Willingham in on the act since it is his episode they’re commenting on. Oh, and in a change of pace, they actually talk during the opening and ending! On the other disc, the main feature is another behind-the-scenes look into the creation of the series. While some things are repeated (such as building Aquarion out of Legos), we do get insight into other aspects of the series, such as the creation of that ultra-cool Deluxe Aquarion as well as the Aquarion PS2 game. There’s also several short music videos that range from decent to forgettable (sadly, only one is set to “Genesis of Aquarion” and its a remix at that), commercials for the DVDs in Japan (including a hilarious “DVD ON SALE” Aquarion attack), and the usual textless songs and trailers. But the best extra is the Stage Drama performed by Takuma Terashima (Apollo), Tomokazu Sugita (Sirius), Tsugumi Higasayama (Tsugumi), and Hiromi Satou (Rena) as they act out one of Fudoh’s training exercises that’s even more absurd than usual. This little drama is full of laughs and is easily worth repeated viewings, especially if one wonders about how Fudoh does all the stuff he does.

Overall, if you remotely enjoyed the first half of Aquarion, this second half will be right up your alley. If you’re interested in a super robot series that’s a bit lighter in tone than Code Geass, try this series out. Aquarion is absurdly fun to watch.

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